Break­ing up fam­i­lies in the name of child pro­tec­tion

In the United States, child-pro­tec­tion agen­cies have been given un­lim­ited pow­ers to con­fis­cate chil­dren and pros­e­cute par­ents with­out due process and in con­tra­ven­tion of ba­sic hu­man rights.

The Sunday Guardian - - Society - CON­NIE REGULI

Amer­i­can so­ci­ety is un­der tremen­dous strain, in part be­cause of the loss of fam­ily in­tegrity and the con­se­quent in­abil­ity to pro­vide the right en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren to be raised into well-ad­justed and pro­duc­tive adults. Since the Six­ties, di­vorces, un­wed moth­ers, teenage preg­nan­cies, and opi­oid ad­dic­tion have sky­rock­eted. If one were to truly as­sess the un­der­ly­ing fac­tors in these crises, surely fam­ily dis­in­te­gra­tion would be at the top. But the re­sponse to these crises has been to cause fur­ther dis­in­te­gra­tion of the fam­ily through ag­gres­sive laws that see fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion, and not sup­port of the fam­ily as unit, as the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.

Fam­ily in­tegrity is im­plod­ing at the hands of an overzeal­ous govern­ment that chose to fi­nan­cially in­cen­tivise re­mov­ing chil­dren from their “less- than- per­fect” homes and place them into the homes of strangers, in fos­ter care or forced adop­tion. The bi­o­log­i­cal ties that are sup­posed to be pro­tected un­der the Four­teenth Amend­ment of the US Con­sti­tu­tion are for­ever bro­ken with the swipe of a pen by a judge in a court­room in a mer­ci­less act called “ter­mi­na­tion” of parental rights. It is noth­ing less than gen­er­a­tional geno­cide.

In the USA, we have wit­nessed a 40-year so­cial ex­per­i­ment in child pro­tec­tion ini­ti­ated in 1974 by the Child Abuse Preven­tion and Treat­ment Act (CAPTA). This ex­per­i­ment has failed. The project of cast­ing lay­ers of leg­is­la­tion on the Amer­i­can pub­lic in the name of the “best in­ter­est of the child” and pro­moted with the be­lief that ev­ery fam­ily needs govern­ment over­sight, has back­fired.

It is hard to imag­ine in a first-world coun­try like the United States, that govern­ment of­fi­cials can walk into your child’s school, have them re­moved from their class­room, in­ter­viewed in pri­vate, taken from school, and placed in the home of a stranger; all with­out your knowl­edge. And for what rea­son? Maybe they feel you don’t feed your child enough, maybe your child missed a few days from school, maybe some­one just lied and said you were a drug dealer, and your child could not give the right an­swers to ex­on­er­ate you.

It is hard to imag­ine in a first-world coun­try that a new­born baby could be stripped from his mother’s arms in a hospi­tal be­cause the mother had one pos­i­tive test for opi­ates dur­ing preg­nancy, even though there was no show­ing of drugs in the mother or the child at birth, and there is no other ev­i­dence of child abuse or ne­glect.

It is hard to imag­ine in a first-world coun­try that a child could be forced by law to stay in­car­cer­ated in a hospi­tal with a rare and un­treated disease and sep­a­rated from her en­tire fam­ily sim­ply be­cause her par­ents wanted to take her for a sec­ond med­i­cal opin­ion.

It is hard to imag­ine in a first-world coun­try that these dras­tic and in­tru­sive mea­sures can be taken by the state on anony­mous re­ports that might be from spite­ful neigh­bours, hos­tile exspouses or other ill-in­tended per­sons.

Par­ents shud­der when fac­ing child pro­tec­tion agen­cies be­cause at ev­ery stage of the case they know that the same agency is gath­er­ing ev­i­dence against them. The same so­cial worker who comes to their home to in­spect for safety rea­sons is likely to be the per­son who gets on the stand and tes­ti­fies that the laun­dry was not done and the home was clut­tered, pre- vent­ing the re­turn of their chil­dren.

This is the state of the child pro­tec­tion sys­tem in the United States.

Af­ter the rolling out of a fos­ter care pro­gramme un­der CAPTA, it was found, in the 1980s, that state agen­cies had not kept track of chil­dren placed in fos­ter homes and chil­dren lin­gered for years with no fam­ily and no fi­nal­ity. Sev­eral states were faced with class ac­tion law­suits. In re­sponse, bril­liant leg­is­la­tors in the Clin­ton era de­signed and passed the Adop­tion and Safe Fam­i­lies Act, 1997 (ASFA) with the goal of pro­vid­ing per­ma­nency for chil­dren. To do so, the fed­eral govern­ment put in place a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive pro­gram to the states and fos­ter-to-adopt par­ents (i.e. par­ents who took in fos­ter chil­dren with the ob­jec­tive of even­tu­ally adopt­ing them) so as to fa­cil­i­tate the move­ment of chil­dren out of the ail­ing fos­ter care sys­tem, and into per­ma­nent place­ment.

The states were pro­vided a $6,000 bonus check for each child adopted to strangers. The fos­ter par­ents who adopted were pro­vided bonuses for cloth­ing, tax in­cen­tives, and a monthly stipend on the chil­dren for the re­main­der of their mi­nor­ity. This was 1997.

But the ag­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion sur­round­ing fed­eral fund­ing of state child pro­tec­tion pro­grammes (called “Ti­tle IV E fund­ing”) and ASFA has evolved into a govern­ment-sanc­tioned so­cial en­gi­neer­ing project that has bro­ken fam­ily ties. Ti­tle IV E funds ne­ces­si­tate that the state main­tain a quota of lies from the be­gin­ning of our na­tion un­til the Civil War; chil­dren were picked up off the streets of New York and placed on trains to the Mid­west where they were ran­domly taken in by strangers from 1850 to 1910; indige­nous chil­dren were re­moved from their tribal homes and forced into East Coast board­ing schools for fifty years; chil­dren were stripped from un­wed moth­ers at birth un­til 1950; per­sons con­sid­ered “im­be­ciles” were sub­ject to in­vol­un­tary ster­il­i­sa­tion.

The Con­sti­tu­tion gives cit­i­zens ba­sic hu­man rights as a weapon to fight against the state when it en­gages in such op­pres­sive and mis­taken projects. The right to due process is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant in the cit­i­zen’s ar­se­nal against state agen­cies gone wrong. But as an at­tor­ney work­ing in both crim­i­nal law and fam­ily courts for 24 years, I can tell you that par­ents have fewer rights than crim­i­nals.

Par­ents and chil­dren are de­nied due process, they are sub­jected to se­cret courts, non-dis­closed re­ports, mas­sive at­tack by govern­ment so­cial work­ers, and loss of the con­sti­tu­tion­ally-pro­tected right to par­ent. Chil­dren are stripped of their right to as­so­ciate with their fam­ily mem­bers.

The state agen­cies op­er­ate with con­flict­ing roles and fi­nan­cially in­cen­tivised mo­tives. Ev­ery state agency was cre­ated un­der the pub­lic pol­icy of pro­vid­ing ser­vices to fam­i­lies, pro­vid­ing safety for chil­dren, and re­uni­fy­ing fam­i­lies. But, in ad­di­tion, they serve to pros­e­cute par­ents and sever their parental rights. This built-in con­flict of in­ter­est stacks the deck against re­uni­fi­ca­tion and places fam­i­lies en­tirely at the mercy of the child pro­tec­tion agen­cies.

We now have a new law, the Fam­i­lies First Preven­tion and Ser­vices Act of 2018 (Fam­i­lies First Act). Most leg­is­la­tors prob­a­bly do not even know what is in it. It is in­tended to re­di­rect funds from the fed­eral govern­ment away from fos­ter care and into pro­grammes to pre­vent re­moval from a fam­ily by pro­vid­ing ser­vices aimed at fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

But here is the first prob- lem. Num­ber one, it is op­tional for the states. Leg­is­la­tors in Wash­ing­ton D.C. are naïve to be­lieve that the pri­vate fos­ter care in­dus­try will not op­pose any par­a­digm shift on how they han­dle re­ports of abuse and ne­glect. There are, af­ter all, 114 reg­is­tered lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton DC for “fos­ter care”. The cor­po­ra­tions are huge, such as Prov­i­dence, Omni, Eck­erd, Youth Vil­lages, and the mul­ti­ple “church- based” fos­ter-care com­pa­nies. They are in the busi­ness of get­ting con­tracts for the pro­vi­sion of fos­ter care and now they will be con­tract­ing to pro­vide the “ser­vices” for fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion. This is a se­ri­ous and in­tol­er­a­ble con­flict of in­ter­est. Why would you seek to re­store a fam­ily and re­turn a child to his home, when it means you lose a sta­ble monthly in­come while the child is in fos­ter care?

The pri­vate agen­cies then con­tract with men­tal health con­trac­tors who al­ways re­port that the fam­ily is “not ready” for re­uni­fi­ca­tion for any num­ber of rea­sons.So the sec­ond prob­lem with the Fam­i­lies First Act is that it does not sep­a­rate those who pro­vide fos­ter care from those who pro­vide re­uni­fi­ca­tion ser­vices.

What you have in the Fam­i­lies First Act is a recog­ni­tion of the prob­lem: that the cur­rent sys­tem of child pro­tec­tion in­cen­tivises fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion and dis­in­cen­tivises fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion. But un­til the com­mer­cial in­ter­ests are re­moved and ro­bust due process pro­tec­tion of par­ents and chil­dren is built into the law, it will not suc­ceed in liv­ing up to its name and putting fam­i­lies first. Con­nie Reguli is a well-known fam­ily and crim­i­nal law at­tor­ney based in Ten­nessee, USA with spe­cial ex­per­tise in child pro­tec­tion cases. She is the founder of the Fam­ily For­ward Project, one of the big­gest ad­vo­cacy groups in the USA for re­form of their child pro­tec­tion laws The Global Child Rights and Wrongs se­ries is pub­lished in col­lab­o­ra­tion with www.savey­ourchil­dren.in, lawyer Su­ranya Ai­yar’s web­site cri­tiquing the role of govern­ments and NGOs in child-re­lated pol­icy

Con­nie Reguli (far left) demon­strat­ing in the US in Septem­ber 2018 for CPS re­form.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.