Nathan Clark (a pseudonym to protect the writer) was falsely accused by Mississippi’s Child Protective Services of child abuse. He was separated from one of his young children for more than a year, but he and his wife prevailed at the state Supreme Court level.
After Mississippi Matters published Nathan Clark's first article, State Rep. Joel Bomgar (District 58) quickly responded, saying he is making examination of Child Protective Services a top priority during the state's next legislative session.
[LAST IN A THREE-PART SERIES]
Are our citizens really free when an anonymous phone call to an impersonal government agency can rip a good family apart?
If your answer is no, then federal and state Child Protective Services (CPS) must be held accountable.
Today, CPS literally steals some children from innocent parents. (See Parts I and II of this series to examine this evidence at mississippimatters.info under "Investigative" on the menu.)
Three actions would address this serious matter.
1. Mandatory reporting laws must be reformed.
Currently, daycare workers are told to report anything — even a jumbled three-word sentence that is possibly construed to intimate child abuse.
But are all daycare workers that trustworthy? Do some overreact? Do some have malicious feelings for a parent for no real reason? Are some simply incompetent at their job? Of course the answer is yes.
If not, then CPS has a 100-percent success rate in hiring and training practices far ahead of our nation's best businesses. Yet some substandard daycare workers are empowered to wreak havoc on families.
Falsely accused parents fall prey to false reporters and then are burdened to prove their innocence in a CPS system stacked against them.
Mandatory reporting empowers often-poorly trained daycare workers with frightening control over families.
But there are also many very fine daycare workers. Can these good people still make mistakes and misreport a family? Of course they can. However, sincere and well-trained workers admit to being so paranoid that they sometimes report to CPS out of personal fear, not compassionate concern. "Report lest you be reported” is the mantra daycare workers admit is thrown around. This attitude infects the system. Think of it: the end- result can be daycare centers that actually pose a threat to the very customers they pledge to serve — trusting parents.
Today, CPS workers can swoop in — either covering themselves or simply intoxicated by power — and remove a child. CPS has its own mantra: “When in doubt, get the child out."
CPS can act before actually proving a parent has done wrong.
Now imagine a three-year-old one morning jerked from her parents and stuck in an unfamiliar room with a counsellor paid by a CPS system funded via grants based on how many children are removed from families under its purview. (Again, see Parts I and II.)
Do you think that three-year-old can fathom the stakes in play? Can this little child's answers to leading questions be deemed reliable? Is it easy to imagine that child feeling pressured to satisfy that counselor?
Can you conceive of a counselor intentionally or unintentionally leading this child with questions aimed at a preset conclusion? I can, because this happened to my child.
2) The current youth court system must be reformed.
When a daycare worker in Mississippi (who simply may have had a bad day or who truly was incompetent) reported my child's naïve offhand comment, I was disallowed contact with her. That started a nightmarish year. I was considered guilty until proven innocent. I was forced before a youth court that is not designed to issue real justice.
This youth court system should be scrapped. Let an accused parent stand before criminal courts with legal representation where “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard. Currently, accused parents go before “youth courts" with no legal representation.
"Due process" must be restored. I lost custody of my child after a counselor asked my three-year-old leading questions she had no capacity to understand. Her three-year-old replies were twisted by this "pro" paid by the government. In any criminal courtroom, a defense attorney would have cried— "Objection! Leading the witness!" and the judge would have agreed. What if the witness being "led" was your child, but with no attorney to object?
Now consider how after weeks away from my child, I was brought before a youth court armed with hearsay collected by CPS social workers. Is this really happening in Mississippi?
Reforming this system must insure that if a parent is accused, he or she goes before a criminal court. There the standard is “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” and “innocent until proven guilty." A grand jury would consider if a charge merited indictment. If not, the case would be closed.
In my case, the very opposite happened. A grand jury dismissed my case with no indictment in the spring of 2015 but the case was not really closed. The youth court's "no contact" order against me still stood until the spring of 2016.
An arduous heartrending year-long trek was required to our state's Supreme Court. All of this time, I was separated from my daughter. An amazing attorney took my pro bono case, and without him all might have been lost, which some cynical CPS workers count on with their interventions.
3) CPS must be re-conceived or even abolished.
The task of stamping out crimes against children belongs to the entity that stamps out all other crimes — local law enforcement.
Unlike CPS, local law enforcement must get search warrants before invading someone's home; must inform people of their rights when making an arrest; and must study and know the broader parameters of our laws.
By contrast, CPS operates from its handy “policy manual" that lets workers invade homes without search warrants; seize children without inquiry; and count on upset parents not knowing their legal rights.
Only two weeks had passed before the detective assigned to investigate my case decided to drop the investigation, concluding there was nothing there. Had it been solely up to him, my case would've ended then, instead of dragging on needlessly for 18 months. But the current jumbled CPS system doesn't follow such logic.
What about clearcut, dramatically dangerous child-abuse cases that undoubtedly need quick intervention? If a good-faith assessment by our elected state representatives proceeded, such concerns would surely be properly addressed.
Eliminating CPS would free tax dollars now in CPS's coffers. This fresh funding could go to more child-abuse training for local law enforcement.
* * *
Do these three suggested changes seem outlandish? If so, then upon taking up the issue, our state legislature could wisely conclude as much.
So what is holding state representatives back from dealing with CPS?
Do certain bureaucrats and/or politicians fear that shining a light on the current system might be too risky?
Might government programs or employees be put on the stand and fairly accused?
Yes, and many paid government workers aren't into that.