Saturday, May 24, 2008

UPDATED MAY 25: Texas CPS’ latest tactic: Disseminating kiddie porn

See the end of this post for updates.

By now everyone has probably seen the photo: Warren Jeffs, leader of the FLDS – and a man convicted of being an accessory to rape – kissing a girl Texas CPS says is 13, in the manner that "a husband kisses a wife."

The photo provides strong evidence that Warren Jeffs should not have custody of his children. But the photo wasn't entered into evidence in the trial of Warren Jeffs. Rather, it was put on display at the trial of an FLDS member who is trying to stop the state from separating her from her newborn. This mother's oldest child is 3.

That makes the photo about as relevant as using a compromising photo of the parish priest to take the children of all the parishioners. (And before anyone makes the "pervasive" argument, take another look at the NPR story about an isolated rural parish in Alaska that was the subject of an earlier post on this Blog.)

Of course the photo wasn't really meant to be evidence in that particular case at all. It was another sleazy CPS exercise in shock to influence the court of public opinion, a tactic it's used from the beginning (remember the "cyanide document" which actually was from a first aid manual and the allegations about broken bones which turned out to be no more widespread at the YFZ ranch than in the general population). And if it was aimed at any real court at all, it would be the Texas Supreme Court which is preparing to hear CPS' appeal of a decision ordering many of the children returned to their homes.

CPS' little exercise in disseminating kiddie porn is, in fact, the state's entire case. It goes like this: Warren Jeffs is evil. Everyone in the FLDS is a sheep, slavishly doing anything Warren Jeffs tells them to do. Therefore every child is in danger.

The case fails because: The state has provided no evidence that every member of the FLDS is a sheep. Where the children are young, there is plenty of time to find out if the parents will or will not protect them when they are older, and plenty of time to teach the mothers that pressuring, let alone forcing a child into an underage "spiritual marriage" is rape. And even where the children already have reached puberty, there is no danger to them in living with their mothers, away from the men.

In contrast, the children have been placed in severe and immediate danger - right now - by CPS itself. As the lawyers from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, who won the appeals court victory put it, in asking the Supreme Court to uphold that victory, and deny CPS' request to "stay" the order from the appeals court:

Right now these children are experiencing the irreparable harm, pain and distress of enforced separation from their parents (and, in many cases, siblings). That clear, continuing harm outweighs any other potential countervailing interest, including any concerns about cost or other administrative difficulties. By denying the stay and allowing the court of appeals order to take effect, this court would halt the only harm that everyone is certain is occurring. As the court of appeals correctly determined, there is no evidence of any equivalent harm - including abuse - that could justify the stay.

That is made abundantly clear by the statements of the mental health professionals who witnessed the children's first days in foster care. And in one case that was the subject of an individual hearing before the appeals court ruled, CPS forgot to stick to its party line about how all the children are "doing well." The Deseret News reports that during the hearing "CPS caseworkers acknowledged that the children, 3-year-old Amber and 2-year-old Rulon – are not doing well in foster care. The children have become withdrawn and have not been eating well or sleeping well in foster care."

The state's position is the equivalent of taking a child to a doctor because he may have a serious infection in his big toe. The doctor says: "We're not sure if the toe is infected or not. If it is, it could spread and become a serious danger to your child. But it spreads very, very slowly, and there are lots of very effective medications we can use to cure it. But instead, we're going to amputate your child's leg. And while we're at it, we'll cut off his other leg – just in case." (And before anybody says: This is different because the children can be returned, the fact is limbs sometimes can be reattached, too – but plenty of damage remains.)

There is a reason every doctor is supposed to learn the adage "First, do no harm." Unfortunately, they don't teach it at child welfare agencies.

The case the state used as an excuse to enter its kiddie-porn into evidence illustrates the point. The mother, Louisa Bradshaw Jessop, does indeed some across as clueless, and as someone who might well follow any orders issued by an FLDS leader – with no idea that those orders were harming their children. So in this particular case, CPS offered evidence that that it would be ill-advised for this particular mother to have her children returned and to live on the ranch unsupervised – if, that is, her children were approaching puberty. But Louisa Bradshaw Jessop's oldest child is 3. So there would be no danger to the child in returning the whole family to the ranch under CPS supervision. Or there would be no danger in reuniting the family away from the ranch, as CPS has done in cases involving 12 other children. And if even that seems too scary, there certainly is no danger in letting the children live with their mother away from the ranch. Any of those options leaves plenty of time for Ms. Jessop to learn where the line is between religion and rape – without punishing her children for her ignorance.

CPS wants us to believe that there are only two options: Amputation by foster care or do nothing at all and let the infection, if there is one, spread. They've managed to sucker at least one newspaper, The Houston Chronicle, which declared in an editorial that:

The appellate justices might be correct regarding the law and the rules of evidence. However, common sense suggests that society has a right to remove children from an environment in which 13-year-old girls are made to marry older men and bear their children. CPS officials maintain there is abundant evidence of a pervasive pattern of sexual abuse.

Perhaps some of the children had not yet been abused, but for many, that fate lay clearly ahead. Those who might be spared physical or sexual abuse were still vulnerable to emotional trauma inflicted by a grotesque and unhealthy environment that has little to do with worship and religion and everything to do with underage sex.

Wow. First of all, who would have figured a prominent member of the MSM (mainstream media) would go in for state-sanctioned lawlessness? (The court might be right about the law, but…???) Second, this argument assumes everything CPS alleges is true, and CPS hasn't had a good track record for accuracy. And third, even if everything CPS alleges is true, there are ways to protect the children without amputating their mothers.

But at least the Chronicle isn’t bored

The same can’t be said for a very young, very much full-of-himself producer (or perhaps lower ranking staffer) for a television news organization – the kind of young man my wife’s family would call a “freshaffril.” (pronounced fresh-uh-FREEL). Johana Scot of the Parent Guidance Center had an encounter with this young man while in San Angelo for the court hearings last week. Given the chance to be an eyewitness to history, he pronounced the life-and-death struggle in the courthouse “boring.” And he added: “I just want to get home and go to sleep in my own bed."

To which Ms. Scot replied: “So do the children.”


There are signs that the rest of the country may be catching on, at least on the editorial pages. Ever since the appeals court ruling, editorials supporting the ruling and opposing Texas CPS have turned up in the St. Petersburg Times, the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Kennebec Journal (a very good newspaper in Augusta Maine) and the Paris Post-Intelligencer. (That’s Paris, Tennessee, not France or Texas). Yes, a couple of these newspapers have been all too willing to support the overreach of CPS in their own states, but perhaps this will give them second thoughts.

I have yet to find an editorial favoring CPS outside of Texas since the appeals court issued its ruling. It is a different story in Texas, where, so far the only paper I’ve found favoring the appeals court ruling is the Wichita Falls Times Record News. And Sharon Grigsby, an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News has publicly dissented from that paper’s support of the take-the-child-and-run approach on the paper’s Opinion Page Blog.

Scott McCown's commendable candor. No one has worked harder to promote a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare in Texas than Scott McCown, a former juvenile court judge who now heads a think tank known as the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Like most people involved with child welfare, McCown means well. He is beloved by Texas liberals because he champions throwing money at social problems (a view with which I concur). And he is the “Godsource” for journalists covering child welfare in the state – that one source whose words always are treated as Holy Writ and whose claims are never questioned.

But McCown is a great example of the fact that nothing will get a liberal to renounce everything he believes in faster than whispering “child abuse” in his ear. McCown’s advocacy has encouraged not one but two “foster care panics” – huge surges in child removals – in Texas within the past decade. As a result, whenever new money is wrung out of legislators, most of it winds up wasted on more needless foster care.

He takes the all-too-common liberal position on child welfare: We’d like to spend more so you’re not mired in poverty, but since the legislature won’t do that, we should take away your kids instead.

But at least now his extremism is starting to show. While others have said that the issue is not polygamy per se, McCown has made comments indicating that he might well have supported the raid even had there been no allegations of coerced “spiritual marriages” and all acts of polygamy were committed by consenting adults. And while almost everyone who favors a take-the-child-and run approach pretends they don’t equate poverty with neglect, it appears that, in an interview with the Deseret News published today, McCown let the mask slip. He was explaining why Utah and Arizona, which have so many more polygamists, can’t, as a practical matter, take away all their children, while Texas can, when he drew this analogy:

"Inside Texas as well, along the border where you have thousands and thousands of children in very severe poverty, a child might be left in a neglectful situation. But in a rich, suburban area in the northern area of the state, it might not be tolerated. What's the difference? You can remove one, you cannot remove thousands."

Or, maybe, the difference is that in poor communities, people are less likely to confuse money with love.

Perhaps it’s time for Texas media to at least stop referring to McCown’s think tank as “progressive” or worse, an organization that “advocates for low-income Texans.” Unless of course, there are a whole lot of low-income Texans saying: “take my children – please!”