Wednesday, April 15, 2009

“Enhanced interrogation” in the war against child abuse

    As newspapers do their "one year later" stories about the raid by Texas CPS on the YFZ Ranch, we're learning more about what happened to more than 400 children torn from their families – and why.

    We'll never know the single worst moment for the children. Perhaps it was the initial removal from the Ranch. Perhaps it was the terrible conditions where the children were interned for the first days after the raid – essentially their own private Guantanamo. Maybe it was being sent to institutions hundreds of miles from home. But for many of the children, especially the youngest, the worst moment probably came a year ago yesterday, when they were taken from their mothers.

    None of the mothers had been accused of abusing the children. They had not been accused of arranging underage marriages. Some were accused of "failure to protect" children from underage marriages – which, in fact, is a euphemism for sexual abuse. Most were accused, in essence, of living in the same place where other mothers may have failed to protect children from this kind of sexual abuse. This is much like the all-too-common practice of taking children from battered women simply because the women had been beaten and they had "failed to protect" the children from witnessing the beating. A class-action lawsuit led to a ban on this pernicious practice in New York City. (NCCPR's Vice President was co-counsel for plaintiffs in the case.) During the trial one expert testified that, for the child, being taken from his mother under these circumstances is "tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound." The approach of Texas CPS boiled down to "please pass the salt."

    Initially the explanation from Texas CPS was the same chilling explanation they gave for everything they did wrong in this case: "It's what we always do." And, as I've noted before, the most frightening thing about the entire FLDS case is that this particular claim is true.

    But now, it turns out, in the FLDS case, CPS actually tried to be a little kinder to the children. It's well known that many of the children were allowed to stay with their mothers at first, only to be torn from them after their first days in internment. Now we know CPS was pressured into taking the children from their mothers.

But who would do that? Who would know – or care - so little about child development that they would go out of their way to impose an extra measure of misery on helpless children? Who would be so caught up in their own self-righteousness that they could advocate something so cruel?

    CASA, of course.

    The San Angelo Standard Times reports that it was the local chapter of Court-Appointed Special Advocates that "pressed CPS and the court to remove the mothers, something that eventually occurred April 14."

    In several previous posts to this Blog, I've written about the enormous harm CASA does to the children it is supposed to help – and who most CASA volunteers genuinely want to help. I've written about the major national study, commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, which shows that the program accomplishes almost nothing except to prolong foster care and reduce the chance that children will be placed with relatives – while doing nothing to make children safer. And I've written about the vile racism by a performer at a CASA fundraiser in Kansas.

    And now we find similar poor performance by CASA in the FLDS case.

    The CASAs don't even pretend they thought the children actually would be abused by their mothers. No, their only argument was that some of the mothers "began to inhibit efforts to elicit truthful answers from their children." That isn't necessarily cause to take any of the children from those mothers, much less tearing all the children from all of the mothers. What CASA is saying is that it's ok to inflict cruelty on hundreds of children to get "the truth" out of them and build a case against someone who may have abused some of them.

In fact, it might have been easier to question some of the children once their mothers were completely out of the picture – just as it probably is easier to get a story out of a terrorism suspect if you waterboard him. And yes, it's even possible that the information gleaned this way from hundreds of children who were never abused might reveal a child who was abused or prevent some other child from being abused. It also may be that if you waterboard hundreds of innocent people, and a few real terrorists, you might prevent a terrorist attack.

    But there is no more justification for "enhanced interrogation" in the war against child abuse than in the war against terror.

    Of course no CASA wants to hurt a child; on the contrary, they genuinely want to help children and keep them safe. But once you decide the ends justify the means …

    The CASAs go on to dismiss the anguish of mothers seen on television when their children were taken. They say the mothers were faking it. "Most of that was just staged," one of the CASAs said. How do they know? Because the mothers on TV weren't the same mothers they were working with. But CPS took children from all the mothers, not just the ones these particular CASAs were "working with." (Also, as it happens, CPS' justification for taking the children was that the YFZ Ranch functioned as one family. If that's true, then it stands to reason that all the mothers would grieve for all the children. You can't have it both ways.)

And it gets scarier.

    Almost anyone who followed the FLDS case will recall the courage of 11 mental health professionals sent by Texas CPS itself to the places where the children were interned in those first days. They put their careers on the line by breaking confidentiality oaths to tell the world just how horribly the children were being treated. Their statements are available here. Again, these are statements not from advocates for the parents but from professionals sent in by the State of Texas. And what do the CASAs say about this? They suggest it never happened.

    According to the Standard Times: "Although not explicitly questioning the truthfulness of the claims, the CASA workers said they saw none of the alleged incidents detailed in the reports." Talk about being "in denial."

    And, it appears, the CASAs only wish the children were still far from everyone they know and love. They condemned Texas CPS – not for inflicting all this damage in the first place, but for supposedly dropping cases too quickly after the courts ruled that the removals were illegal.

    Toward the end of the story, even one of the CASAs admits that "There were definitely some of the cases where the children shouldn't have been removed and should have been returned quickly." But she expresses no remorse for this, or for her role in it; no sympathy for the suffering these children endured when taken from the ranch and then from their mothers. Rather, she simply declares that "these are children who were removed for a reason."

    Well, yes. But that doesn't mean it was a good reason.