Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CPS gets even

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call or an e-mail from people who say their children were wrongfully taken and they want to tell their story. In many cases it would help the cause of reforming child welfare systems if they did just that. But I always give the same advice:

Don’t. At least not until they’ve checked with their lawyer (if they have one).

That’s because child welfare agencies can be very, very vengeful. They are agencies with enormous power and little accountability. Inevitably, that breeds a certain arrogance, even in people with the best of intentions. The system also is geared toward extracting confession and repentance from parents. So the very act of challenging a caseworker or supervisor is seen as evidence that a parent is guilty, and further justification for keeping the child away from the parent.

Because these are actually parent punishment systems, not child protection systems, the harm this does to the children is rationalized away.

So, it is likely that, when some of the mothers whose children were taken from them in Texas dared to speak out – CPS got even. That’s not how they rationalized it to themselves, of course, but that’s likely what really is behind the decision to tear the children taken from the YFZ ranch from their one remaining lifeline, their mothers. (Similarly, look what happened after cell phone photos of conditions in one of the shelters turned up in the Deseret News: CPS allegedly confiscated the mothers’ cell phones.)

In some cases, it’s going to be virtually impossible for the mothers even to visit their children. ABC News reports that they’ve been shipped 400 miles away to “Cal Farley's Ranch for Boys and Girls,” in other words – an orphanage and/or residential treatment center; the worst kind of placement for children taken from their homes.

According to ABC News:

“Dan Adams, director of the Cal Farley ranch, told ABC News.com that the placement of 27 teens from an austere religious sect was ‘a little extraordinary.’ He said the children usually sent to his ranch are in need of supervision. Mixing the two, he conceded, is ‘going to be difficult.’

No kidding.

No doubt Texas CPS will claim that they had to get the mothers completely out of the way to make it easier to get the children to tell them what happened at the YFZ Ranch. That may be true (though, on the other hand, tearing a child from her or his mother, apparently through trickery, may not be the best way to win a child’s trust.) It also would be easier to get information out of the children if you waterboarded them – but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

As a practical matter there is no way a judge is going to send these children back to the YFZ ranch. And the nature of child welfare law is such that child protection agencies can do pretty much whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want. Given the minimal standards in law, they don’t need more from the children in order to hold onto them. So there is no possible justification for inflicting upon them the emotional torment of separation from their mothers.

And notwithstanding the happy talk from CPS’ house doctor, torment is the right word. Here’s what the doctor told the Salt Lake Tribune:

“But Sandra Guerra-Cantu, a physician with the Texas Department of Health Services, said Monday: ‘In general, children are very resilient in adapting to change. These children are adjusting to their new environment.’ Asked about the children's mental health, Guerra-Cantu said people were made available for the children to talk to, and the same service was offered to the caregivers."

Oh, well then. As long as the children have total strangers to talk to, obviously there’s no problem. One can only fear for the psyches of children left to the tender meries of the likes of Dr. Cantu.