Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Put CPS on a “Scarsdale diet”

OK. So now it turns out that, according to her attorney, Madlyn Primoff, the high-powered lawyer from Scarsdale, had only intended to scare her squabbling 12-year-old and ten-year-old daughters a little when she evicted them from her car in downtown White Plains. But by the time she drove around the block, the children were gone.

The 12-year-old caught up with the car somehow, but the ten-year-old already was at a police station when Primoff reported her missing. Primoff spent a night in jail; then the whole family was reunited.

Here's what almost certainly will happen next:

Primoff tells the judge how sorry she is and what a lesson this has been to her.

The case either is dismissed outright, or she gets an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.

Child Protective Services (CPS) continues to do nothing.

Case closed.

All that is as it should be.

But here's how it would play out had this been an impoverished Black mother who left her children in downtown Yonkers:

The criminal case is dismissed - but the kids stay in foster care, where they've been from day one. Because Yonkers police notified the child abuse hotline immediately, and CPS launched a full-scale investigation. Within 48 hours, the children are interrogated, stripsearched and thrown into their first foster home – separated indefinitely from everyone they know and love. (After all, if mom is "unstable" enough to throw her kids out of the car …)

The criminal case has no bearing on Family Court, where, days later, they're still waiting for the results of the "psychological evaluation" of mom. (After all, if she'd do something like throw her kids out of the car…)

The "psych eval" finds "borderline temperament disorder." I'm making up the diagnosis – but these kinds of evaluations always find something. See the current issue of Child Welfare Watch for an excellent discussion of how they really work in New York. Or check out the Michigan Race Equity Review, which documents cut-and-paste psych evals, in which evaluators take boilerplate they wrote about one case and apply it to another.

So mom is sent to counseling, parent education and, especially "anger management." (Because if she was mad enough to throw the kids out of the car…)

The kids stay in foster care. If they're lucky, they get to see mom once a week for an hour, under supervision.

More months go by as mom completes her "service plan." The kids have been split up and sent to separate foster homes. The ten-year-old is on at least one psychiatric medication, in order to control her anger and depression, which, of course, was caused by being taken from her mother and thrown into foster care.


One year later, the family is reunited. By now, the children are in still another foster home. Several studies indicate odds are at least one in three that one of them has been abused in foster care.


Mom finally finishes jumping through all the hoops. But now CPS decides it doesn't like mom's housing, and she's not getting her kids back until she finds a better place to live. Nationwide, several studies have found that 30 percent of America's foster children could be home right now, if their parents had decent housing.


Because of all the time spent complying with the CPS "service plan," and visits scheduled only during working hours, Mom loses her job. She can't get her kids back until she finds another one.

And that's why we need to start treating cases involving poor people the way we treat cases involving rich people. That's why we need to put Child Protective Services on a "Scarsdale diet."