Family Attorney Blows the Whistle on State Child Protective Services Agencies
Practicing family attorney Gregory Hession confirms child protective service agencies engage in abusive, deliberate and dirty tricks motivated by federal funding.
By Danny Bernardini
Posted: 07/18/2009 01:01:00 AM PDT
Child Protective Services in Solano County was hit with a slew of complaints by the county grand jury Friday regarding how investigations are conducted by the agency.
In its report, the Solano County grand jury points out several problems, including how potential offenders are notified, suspects being prematurely labeled as offenders, how appeals are handled and paperwork issues.
Those discoveries were made during the investigation of the policies and procedures regarding citizens whose names are placed on the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI).
When Child Protective Services receives a complaint of alleged child abuse, a social worker investigates. The worker then must classify the category of abuse and determine whether or not to place the accused on the CACI.
It is also decided if an in-person contact with the family within 24 hours is needed or if a visit to the family within 10 days is appropriate.
A referral is then sent to another social worker who further investigates and interviews those involved. That worker then must determine if the accusation is unfounded, inconclusive or substantiated.
If deemed unfounded, the case is closed. If found inconclusive or substantiated, the child may remain with the family, be removed or placed in the custody of the courts.
Being deemed inconclusive places the name of the accused on the CACI for at least 10 years. If the claim is substantiated, the name of the accused is put on the CACI for life.
Those people put on the CACI are notified by first class mail after their names are sent to the Department of Justice. Being placed on the CACI may prevent someone from being employed where there may be contact with children.
That list contains more than 800,000 names and is not routinely purged of erroneous or unsupported entries, the grand jury said. People can appeal being on the list, but that doesn’t mean the name will be removed.
Because of this, the grand jury recommended the accused be notified before being put on the list, so they have the chance to respond.
The jury also suggested contacting the accused through certified mail with a return receipt to ensure that person is aware they will be placed on the CACI. It was also discovered that in some cases, the accused was not interviewed before being placed on the CACI.
For the full report, visit www.solanocourts.com.
By Patrick May
Posted: 07/07/2009 06:16:41 PM PDT
Updated: 07/08/2009 09:02:50 AM PDT
A Stanford University physicist and his wife, whose kids have been held in a Nebraska foster home for more than a month after an ugly family altercation, will appear this morning in a courtroom outside Omaha, hoping to persuade a judge to let their children come back home.
The bizarre chain of events began when the couple — Suwen Wang, a visiting scholar at Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, and his wife, paralegal Charlotte Fu — traveled to Nebraska last month so their 12-year-old daughter, Alice, could be honored in an international art competition. On June 6, a witness told police the parents had hit their son, 13, while their car was parked on a road outside Omaha.
“This is an Orwellian nightmare,” said Larry Markosian, a computer scientist at NASA/Ames Research Institute and longtime friend of Wang and his family.
“Every family occasionally has difficulty raising kids, especially teenage boys. I don’t know what happened. But we know they are a loving and kind family and we see no reason whatsoever to keep these kids in a foster home so far from the community they grew up in.”
Both Wang and Fu deny striking their son.
According to police, a witness saw Fu get out of their car and punch the boy, sitting in the back seat, in the face several times. The couple’s Omaha attorney, Michael Nelson, said “there was an incident with their son. He was needling his sister, and they pulled over to discipline him,” he said. “He used an expletive to his mom, but beyond that I can’t go into specifics.”
Nelson said the incident lasted “probably for 20 minutes or so, as they lectured the son. A witness made the call after watching from their front lawn.”
No formal charges
After the boy allegedly pushed his mom away, police said, Wang turned around from the front seat and also hit him several times in the face. Nelson said the boy was not treated for any injuries. Wang and Fu were arrested and kept in jail for two nights before posting a $250 cash bond each, said Nelson, adding that they had not been formally charged in the abuse case.
Wang and Fu declined to comment to the Mercury News about the incident. The Mercury News is not naming the boy because of the nature of the case.
But according to accounts in the Omaha World-Herald, the responding officer said Fu had blood on her face from a cut on her nose and that the children appeared to be upset.
The couple and their attorneys hope to persuade the judge to allow Nebraska child-welfare officials to work with their California counterparts and speed the children’s return back home.
Alice’s paintings clinched the North American division of the 2009 International Children’s Painting Competition and the parents hope she’ll be able to travel to South Korea for an Aug. 17 ceremony where the worldwide winner will be announced.
Nelson suggested that the parents’ ethnicity may be playing a role in the case. “The parents and children are all U.S. citizens,” said their attorney. But the court-appointed guardian for the children is trying to take away their passports.
“These are people of Chinese descent, and it’s as if authorities see some dark cloud here or fear there’s something more to this than this one incident.”
However, the Omaha paper referred to “California documents” that state Wang and Fu have “a ‘previous history of domestic violence,’ explaining that the father restrained the mother after she threatened to leave during a 2008 argument.”
In an interview with the Omaha paper, Fu seemed to be making a special plea to authorities on her daughter’s behalf, saying “this whole thing has nothing to do with Alice. She has become the ultimate victim.” And traveling to South Korea “would be a lifetime opportunity for her. It would be devastating for her to not go.”
Kathie Osterman with Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services said her agency “is working with California to get the kids back home. I don’t know what the time frame might be, because there are a lot of people to work with on this.”
Paul Sullivan, the Cass County deputy attorney handling the matter, did not return phone calls for comment.
Osterman could not say how unusual it was for authorities to remove children from parents visiting from another state and hold them for weeks so far from home. She did confirm that the court order required the foster family to monitor the children’s e-mail and telephone calls with their parents.
And it was details like that that have rallied dozens of supporters to the parents’ side, including 10 who have made the trip to Nebraska for today’s court hearing.
Nebraska officials said they are simply carrying out a court order meant to protect the children. But Markosian, who is the boy’s assistant scoutmaster and who helped organize a news conference Tuesday evening at the Omaha Children’s Museum, said Nebraska was guilty of overkill.
“These kids are very much involved in the Palo Alto community, with Boy Scouts, art and Chinese lessons,” said Markosian. “And they are being ripped away from not only their family but from their whole community.”
Markosian on Tuesday read aloud from an e-mail he says Alice sent June 17 to her parents.
“Dear Mom and Dad,” it said. We “love you a lot. Remember that. We know you’re doing everything you can to bring us back home and we are very thankful. Love you a lot.”
Markosian said the girl signed her e-mail with 10 exclamation points.
BY KARYN SPENCER
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
PLATTSMOUTH, Neb. — A young award-winning artist and her brother are expected to return to California after spending a month in Nebraska foster care.
“This is absolutely the best outcome that could have happened,” said Sharon Silverman, one of more than a dozen friends and supporters who flew from California to attend a Wednesday hearing in Cass County Court.
Alice Fuzi Wang, 12, the artist, and her 13-year-old brother have been in a Nebraska foster home since an argument during a family trip a month ago.
The family had traveled to Omaha for an art exhibit that features Alice’s painting, which won the North American division of the International Children’s Painting Competition. The family was scheduled to go to an Aug. 17 award ceremony in South Korea.
Instead, the children were put in a foster home after parents Suwen Wang, a physicist, and Charlotte Fu, a paralegal, were accused of hitting their son June 6 in Plattsmouth. The parents deny the allegation, and feared their daughter would miss the trip.
Cass County Judge John Steinheider approved an agreement to send the children home in the care of California’s social services department.
Attorneys on the case came to the agreement this week after Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services staff and their California counterparts developed a plan.
The children got to visit their parents and friends at an Omaha hotel Tuesday. “The children really want to come home,” Fu said, her lip quivering, before the hearing.
The parents’ attorneys have said the case was moving too slowly. HHS attorney Susan Buettner said: “The most important thing has been lost: This is a case that involved alleged child abuse.”
California authorities proposed requiring the parents to complete a 16-week parenting program, continue family therapy, allow social worker visits and refrain from corporal punishment, according to a copy filed earlier in Nebraska court. Lawyers did not say in court whether those were the conditions of the new plan.
Friday June 5, 2009
Just about every person in America would agree with the statement: child abuse is a terrible crime, and we should do whatever we can to prevent it, or to stop it.
But Americans often disagree on the details of how to do that. In particular, battles have arisen over the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and whether this amendment applies to social workers investigating a claim of child abuse or neglect, even if this claim has come from an anonymous tipster and there has been no corroborating evidence that it might be true.
On the one hand, no one wants a child who is being abused to have to wait a long time for help to come. In cases where there is clearly immediate danger of harm to a child, we don’t want to tie up investigators’ hands with too much red tape.
On the other hand, heartbreaking stories of parents who are investigated, and children removed from their parents’ loving care overnight or even longer, on the strength of what turns out to be a malicious or completely fabricated report of abuse made by someone who wants to hurt the family (sometimes, sadly, a feuding relative) send chills up every loving parent’s spine. Sad statistics show that a child is much more likely to be a victim of some kinds of abuse while in foster care than in his own home (often at the hands of other children in the home, not the foster parents). The thought that a misunderstanding, or worse, an act of malice, could lead to one’s children being removed is terrifying to many parents.
That’s why I was interested in this blog post, written by the head of the Texas Home School Coalition, Tim Lambert:
SB 1064 by Senator Kirk Watson was filed early in the session, and it sought to allow CPS, in the course of an investigation of abuse or neglect, to get the medical or mental health records of children who are the focus of an investigation. In order for CPS to accomplish this, the person refusing to give the records and parents must be given notice and a court hearing and CPS must show “good cause” for the action before the court would order the release of said records to CPS.
However, the bill was substituted in committee for a very different SB 1064, which was passed out of the Senate and sent to the House. The new SB 1064 gave the court authority to force parents to give CPS access to the child and/or transport the child for “interview, examination and investigation,” without a court hearing or notice to the parent. Worst of all, the language in the current statute that requires CPS to prove “good cause shown” was stricken. Thus this bill would allow CPS, during an investigation in which the parents would not waive their 4th amendment rights, entrance into their home, access to medical or mental health records of their children or transportation of the child, on the simple filing of an affidavit by a CPS worker with no hearing or opportunity for the parents or their legal counsel to present their case.
The reason that the committee substitute was not filed as the original bill is clear. It would have caused a firestorm of opposition for the wholesale destruction of parental rights in the course of an investigation of child abuse by CPS. When the bill was scheduled for a hearing in the House Human Services Committee, officials of the Parent Guidance Center – a pro-parent group that helps families who are under investigation by CPS – presented written testimony and signed witness cards in opposition to the bill. Strangely, that testimony and those witness cards were not entered into the record of the hearing on the bill.
On the last day of the session, Representative Patrick Rose, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, offered a floor amendment to SB 1440 (another bill by Watson), which was on the Local and Consent Calendar. The amendment offered by Rose was the language of committee substitute SB 1064, and since SB 1440 was considered non-controversial and the sponsor of the bill (Rose) agreed to the amendment, it was adopted on a voice vote, and the final language of SB 1440 includes the committee substitute language of SB 1064.
(UPDATE: be sure to read the lengthy comment in the comments thread by Richard Wexler, the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.)
The bill, now SB 1440, has caught the attention of other concerned parents in Texas in addition to homeschooling parents; the issue isn’t really specific to homeschooling, but affects everyone who thinks that allowing CPS workers to show up at your front door and remove your children from your home without probable cause, without a warrant, without any evidence besides an anonymous tip that somebody heard a child yelling in the back yard (no, seriously, CPS investigations have been conducted for no more than that), isn’t really the best idea in the world.
I’ve read and seen some things from the CPS side, too. They’re often understaffed and overburdened, under-budgeted and overextended. They see heartbreaking stories unfold of children treated worse than most of us would ever like to imagine, and when they’re handed a stack of cases and told to investigate, they do.
But the anonymous tip system, while saving some children, is tearing apart the lives of others. How long does it take a four-year-old, say, to recover from being taken from his home and placed with strangers, even just overnight? What lasting fears of danger or of abandonment will cause him to suffer, especially when the case was without merit and his parents good, loving people who never harmed him at all? And from the CPS side of things, how many hours and how much time and effort is wasted investigating people for no reason other than that their neighbors don’t like that they let the kids play outside in the early evenings, or because an ex-husband or ex-wife wants to hurt the spouse who got custody?
SB 1440 should be opposed by Texans; I’ve already made my opposition to this bill known. But what I’d really like to see is an end of the anonymous tip system–yes, let the person reporting be anonymous to the family, so long as they’re willing to give their names and addresses to the CPS workers to be kept in a confidential file. That would decrease the number of false or malicious tips made, freeing up social workers to spend more time on the tips that have some merit or some evidence aside from a tipster’s word.
At the very least, I’d like to see language inserted into Section 4, subsection c-2 of SB 1440 that says something like this: “Neither the reasonable and prudent belief that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse or neglect, nor the fair probability that that allegations of abuse or neglect will be sustained if the requested order is issued and executed, may be based on an anonymous tip, on hearsay evidence whether anonymous or not, or on any single allegation which has been unsubstantiated by corroborating evidence or signed testimony by at least one other party.
Richard Wexlers Comment On this Post
June 5, 2009 10:38 AM
Speaking as a lifelong-liberal-non-countercultural-lapsed-card-carrying-member-of-the-ACLU: Ms. Manning, you’re absolutely right.
But it’s not just the children needlessly interrogated, stripsearched and taken from everyone they know and love who suffer. All that time, money and effort wasted on false allegations and trivial cases is, in effect, stolen from children in real danger. That’s why CPS agencies are so overwhelmed, and that’s why, all over the country, it is only systems that have curbed excessive intervention and needless removal of children that actually have made children safer. Details are on our website, http://www.nccpr.org
And nothing wastes more time, and endangers more children, than anonymous reports. That’s why your recommendation – to replace anonymous reporting with confidential reporting – is exactly what we’ve proposed for years. It’s part of our Due Process Agenda available on our website here: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/dueprocess.pdf Our answer to rjohnson’s question, “what do you folks have to offer that might help improve the system?” is called Twelve Ways to do Child Welfare Right and it’s available here: http://www.nccpr.org/index_files/Page410.htm Our comprehensive report on Texas child welfare is here: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/texasreport2.pdf with updated data here: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/statsupdate.pdf
The particular bill Ms. Manning writes about is intended to legalize Texas CPS’ illegal behavior in the FLDS case and another in which its actions were overturned by the courts. We have a detailed discussion of the bill on the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog. You can find it, and all of our FLDS commentary, by going to http://www.nccpr.blogspot.com and entering FLDS in the search box. There’s more about the bill on the website of an excellent Texas advocacy group, the Parent Guidance Center, http://www.parentguidancecenter.org
Three final points:
–This is an issue that crosses ideological lines in important ways and both left and right have a lot to answer for. Too many conservatives think “family values” are solely a middle-class entitlement – witness Newt Gingrich proposing to throw poor people’s children into orphanages. And too many of my fellow liberals will gladly discard everything they claim to believe about civil liberties and embrace a framework of law that only John Ashcroft could love as soon as soon as someone whispers the words “child abuse” in their ears.
–The notion that cash-strapped localities “underinvestigate” is mistaken. It assumes a logical, rational system of screening calls to child abuse hotlines where none exists. On the contrary, child welfare systems are arbitrary, capricious and cruel. This can be seen in the enormous variations in rates of removal from state to state and, in California and elsewhere, county to county.
–rjohnson is mistaken in suggesting that caseworkers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t I’ve followed child welfare for more than 30 years, first as a reporter and now as an advocate. In all that time, I have never seen a caseworker fired, demoted, suspended, reprimanded or so much as slapped on the wrist for taking away too many children. All of these things have happened to workers who left even one child in her or his own home and had something go wrong. When it comes to taking away children workers are not damned if they do and damned if they don’t – they’re only damned if they don’t.
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform