Sunday, August 3, 2008

Some things are just evil

…and what child protective services in Arizona did to an eight-year-old boy last week certainly qualifies.

The boy already had endured the death of his younger brother, allegedly at the hands of his mother's boyfriend. It was another of those cases where, if news accounts are correct, there were more "red flags" than at a Soviet May Day parade. That's why the Arizona Daily Star, which regularly ignores other failings of CPS, even to the point of downplaying fatalities in foster care, was interested this time.

One of those who is furious with CPS, and has said so, is the boy's father, Oscar Silva Jr. Silva also has brought a lawsuit, which probably is how the Star found out about the case and learns of new developments.

The Star story, including Silva's criticism, ran on a Sunday, a day Silva is allowed to visit his surviving son. The boy saw the story and was, of course, curious about it. So Silva let him read it. Silva also had visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But not anymore. Last week, the Star reported that hours before the Tuesday visit, Silva was notified that visits were suspended at least until a meeting with his CPS case manager. The nominal excuse: Silva had discussed the case with his son, violating a verbal agreement.

Now, on top of everything else, this boy not only is deprived of the love and comfort of his father, he also gets a truckload of guilt - as he tries to imagine what he did wrong to be punished by losing the chance to see his father. CPS claims that there were behaviors by the father "seen as potentially harmful to the child." Any such behaviors can't come close to the actual harm done by the agency. (Now that CPS' cruelty has been publicized, it appears the agency is backing off; claiming they're just changing the location and supervision of visits. Right.)

I can believe that whoever made this decision managed to convince himself or herself that it was for the child's own good. Rationalization is powerful. That doesn't make what CPS did here any less evil. As is so often the case with agencies that have vast power and no accountability, this was really about payback; about showing who's boss.

And no one has done more to enhance this power than the very reporter who wrote the story. Working hand-in-glove with a favored politician, they've started a foster-care panic in the Tucson area that's raged above and beyond the statewide panic that began in 2003 and never stopped. (See NCCPR's Arizona Report and these previous Blog items: Arizona: State of willful ignorance and An Arizona newspaper's double standards are showing).

Story after story portrays birth parents as the only danger to children, and leaving children in dangerous homes as the only mistake CPS makes. And in almost every story, the reporter makes sure to toss the pol a softball question of the "This is really outrageous, don't you think?" variety, to which the pol replies: "Why, yes, it is absolutely outrageous, and that's why I…" Then the pol rubs a little salt in families wounds by stereotyping all of them as hopeless meth addicts – and portraying addiction as a "decision" freely made and no more complicated than the pol himself choosing which tie to wear to be sure he looks his best on camera.

This only further increases CPS' power to take away children, like Oscar Silva's surviving son, and do whatever it wants to them after they're removed.

Why, then, is it so hard for so many Arizona journalists to believe that an agency this arrogant, this powerful and this unaccountable often mistreats children by wrongfully taking them away in the first place? Why are so many who know full well that CPS is wrong in this case, so willing to believe every word when CPS says they only take children when absolutely necessary? Why do so many Arizona journalists accept and amplify the pol's vicious stereotyping of drug abusers - and his willful ignorance about drug abuse - without allowing a word of dissent? Who do so many Arizona journalists respond to the failings of CPS by urging that an organization which so flagrantly misused its power in this case should get more power?

And how many more children are suffering right now because of this very credulity and the foster-care panic it encouraged - especially in the Tucson area?

If anyone is wondering why the surviving child isn't living with his father, so am I. But apparently the reporter never asked. And, to top it off, the reporter blew the lead. He wrote: "A father whose son was killed while under CPS watch had his visitation with his surviving older son cut off after talking to the boy about a Sunday Arizona Daily Star story on his brother."

If the reporter really understood who suffers when parent and child are separated he would have written: "An eight-year-old boy, already coping with the death of his younger brother under CPS supervision, had his visits with his father cut off …"