Monday, August 12, 2013

'The Village' (CPS) Is Failing Miserably

Child Protective Services (CPS) is an arm of "the village", or the government's intrusion into families. Like public education, it is a common sense and necessary bureaucracy. Like all bureaucracies, though, it has become self-defeating.

All states and most municipalities, be they city or county, have some agency or division set up to help children and parents. Their missions, though the wording may vary, are to protect the best interests of the children, allegedly. They are the government's arm to protect children from abuse and neglect. They seek early preemptive means to cease and prevent abuse and neglect. In more extreme cases, they are a bridge between the laws, the courts, the children, law enforcement, NPOs and the parents. They work for the government, though, and not the tax-paying parents.

Despite what some believe, in most places, CPS are not law enforcement. However, if they suspect abuse or neglect, they become a "probable cause witness" and a means to bypass Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure. There have been cases where a false report has lead CPS to accompany police to private homes, kick in doors, and forcibly remove children without any evidence or court order.

In some cases, CPS is perceived to go too far. In others, though, not far enough. San Antonio, Bexar County, and the Republic of Texas serve as some case studies regarding a need for CPS restructuring and oversight.

The parents of Alexandria Hill had to take their two year old daughter off of life support and watch her die. The Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS), the state-level CPS, had taken Alexandria from her parents after they admitted to marijuana use. With no family members nearby that met foster family criteria, DFPS used an organization to place Alexandria. Not long after, Alexandria's parents noticed, during a supervised visit, signs of potential abuse. DFPS then placed Alexandria in a second home. July 29, '13, those second foster parents called 9-11 to report Alexandria was unresponsive and not breathing. She had been beaten and slammed to the floor, abused by the foster parents.

In May, 2012, young Kayla Garcia died of wounds received during an extreme round of "discipline". For parents, disciplining children can be a difficult task. Young minds want to learn. They are also curious. That curiosity may lead to trouble. Kids also can be clumsy. Their young bodies are growing and they need to learn to adjust with each growth spurt. It can be frustrating. The point of any discipline or punishment needs to be a learning experience to enhance growth. "Corrective training" serves better than many other options. But whatever option parents choose, it needs to be appropriate for the child's age. This did not happen in Kayla's case.

In March of that year, CPS was called to investigate possible abuse. They closed the case as "indeterminate".

In May, Kayla died. Kayla's crimes? She was walking too slow and looking around. She dropped a meatball from her sandwich onto the floor. In other words, she had short, 4 year old legs, she was curious, then she was clumsy. So, her mother's boyfriend decided to "discipline" Kayla, again. She was beaten (not spanked) and put through what the US DoD calls "stress positions" like holding heavy objects up for long periods of time. Eventually, the abuse was too much for her small body and she collapsed.

It appears the so-called "child abuse and neglect investigative experts" missed a few details in March.

Recidivism and repeated victimization are startling. Of the nearly 6,000 cases of suspected abuse or neglect in Bexar County, TX in 2011, almost 1,000 of them were second cases with the same victim. Those are the "confirmed cases". Some speculate that, with unreported re-occurrence, the rate may be above 25%.

In a more recent (2013) case, Treallen Williams, died of abuse and neglect. His mother had been investigated twice before for neglect. In both cases, CPS closed the cases and took no action. Her boyfriend had also been the subject of a third investigation. Yet the child was not protected and died as a result.

These are examples, not isolated incidents. In 2010 a young boy's parents were the subjects of investigations of both abuse and neglect. His parents used illicit drugs, mostly marijuana, and drank heavily. CPS, following protocol, found a family member to foster the boy. He remained with his second cousin and her daughter for months while the parents went through parenting classes and drug counseling. They went from supervised visitation to overnight visitation and eventually back to custodial parents.

That sounds like a success case. Ideally, this is how cases should turn out. In a Paul Harvey moment, you'll get more of the story. The foster parent knew psychology and child development. She had worked or volunteered with abused women and children at various places including NPOs and the San Antonio Police Department's FACT team. She had more knowledge and experience than your average foster parent. When the young boy returned from one visit, the cousin (foster mother) noticed bruising on the boy's ears. She reported it. The CPS case worker seemed uninterested.

Later, CPS was preparing to return the child to the parents. During a consultation with the foster mother, she expressed concern to the case worker. The foster mother laid down the issues and the indicators. Over the months, the foster mother had stressed the need for psychological counseling for the child (and stated the laws and ethics the prevented her from performing that role with a family member). The foster mother even suggested several strategies that would work, to include "play therapy". The case worker ignored the foster mother. When told the child was to return to the parents, the foster mother cautioned "They aren't ready, yet. They need more time, more therapy, and better proof they aren't just 'playing to an audience'. I give them six weeks, at most, before the next incident." Five weeks later, CPS was contacting the same family member to, again, foster the young boy.

The boy was fostered by a different family member the second time. CPS went that route because they didn't want an educated person identifying their shortcomings. The boy continues to bounce between his parents and extended family members. Of note, the parents have a daughter a few years older than the boy. The daughter was removed from the parents by CPS and is living with another relative who adopted her. How they didn't see any of this coming is a mystery. The indicators presented a flashing neon warning sign.

Another case, in San Antonio remains unresolved, though currently closed. The case revolves around two children with different mothers but the same father. There were several reports made regarding the father over a year period.

Both children have their mothers named as primary custodial parents with joint custody arrangements under standard possession orders (by Texas Family Code). That means the father gets possession, or visitation, each first, third and fifth Friday of the month starting at 6pm and running through Sunday at 6pm.

Both mothers grew concerned when they heard about "daddy time". During "daddy time", the father would tell the kids to go play, unsupervised, at a nearby park, while the father smoked marijuana. The kids began sharing stories about things happening at the park during "daddy time", to include adventures walking along active railroad tracks. Both the children were under age 10, with the younger being 4 years old at the time. Their father had showed them a cut in the fence on the backside of the park and had walked the tracks with them before. So, the mother of the youngest called CPS and made a report under suspicion of "neglectful supervision".

The case worker interviewed both children, the mother who made the report, and the father. The father admitted to "daddy time" and smoking marijuana. The case worker told him that smoking pot was "not that big of a deal". The case worker spoke with the father and discussed a "plan of action". The father promised to not smoke pot while he had possession of the children and to no longer allow them to go to the park unsupervised. The case worked closed the case with notations that mild neglect was indicated but inconclusive. It was inconclusive because, luckily, neither child had yet been injured. A "safety plan" was in place. The case was closed with no follow-up.

A few months later, the father left the children with a woman he is quoted as describing as having "questionable parenting skills" while he went to work. They were cohabiting at the time. The older of the children broke an arm in a fall. That woman was at the park, but was inattentive. Neither the father nor the woman sought medical attention. They called the child's mother.

No report was filed because the mother rationalized that kids will be kids and the accident could have happened regardless of who was watching the kids. However, the lack of seeking medical attention left the mother worried and suspicious.

A couple of months later, both children returned to their mothers with deep, unexplained bruises. The younger child looked as though he had been punched in the eye. The older child had a 41/2 x 23/4 deep bruise on her thigh that looks as though she had been struck, hard, with the handle of a pinata baton. Both mothers attempted to get explanations from the father. He knew nothing of the leg bruise. He claimed the younger one hurt his eye running into a bedpost. Both mothers filed separate reports with CPS.

The father admitted to case workers that he smoked marijuana almost daily. He admitted that the woman with whom he lived, also used the illegal drug. This was the second (and third) report in which he admitted to using drugs and not adequately watching the children.

Because, in the cases of both children, the mothers appear to be rational and responsible, CPS stated they could not take any action. They informed both mothers that if they did not seek legal action, though, that they could be charged with "willful and neglectful supervision" for not doing all they could. So, both mothers were threatened.

CPS ruled the unexplained leg bruise as "incidental" and "not life threatening". They ruled the eye bruise as "accidental, no indicators of abuse". When they were subpenaed for the case records and to testify, the cases were suddenly and suspiciously closed as "ruled out". This was despite the lectures they gave both the mothers as well as the pledges of support in any hearings.

CPS claims that they have a subpena process. Case workers cannot voluntarily give any testimony or records. The records need to be subpenaed, processed, and redacted before they can be presented as evidence. The case workers also need to be subpenaed in person. The case workers as well as their website claims they do their best to accommodate all subpenas and requests by the courts. However, that is not how they really operate.

To subpena the case workers, you need to find them. The lawyers cannot subpena them at their residences, but must do so "through channels", meaning "at the office". They have to have "enough time to process" to files, meaning they can administratively deny any subpena because they are "understaffed" and the deadline is an "unreasonably short suspense". The case workers need supervisor permission to head to court. If they are warned that they may be subpenaed, they are kept in the field or buried in offices. The process servers gain no access and cannot serve the paperwork. So, come the court date, nobody shows. Lindy Hall and Brandon Godfrey (case workers/investigators) had claimed they would help cut the red tape so they could testify, as long as the mothers and their lawyers processed the subpenas. In short, they mislead the mothers.

So, in a case where there is a clear need for preemptive and preventive action, none is taken. Correspondence and conversations with CPS on the case resulted in responses that indicate the kids need to be hospitalized or receive life-threatening injuries before CPS will do anything. In some cases, the "anything" they do is to circle the wagons and protect their bureaucracy, because that is more important than the welfare of the children.

Meanwhile, CPS claims it is understaffed. They have high case loads. They have a high turnover rate. Currently it's just over 20%, which would indicate severe problems in the private sector. Any report that results in a case they feel they can close quickly, they do so. They do not follow-up. Their job is to close cases as quickly as possible and go onto the next one.

What CPS needs is a restructure. Some may require better funding. More than likely, though, they need better accounting practices and budgeting. They need oversight. They need a structure that includes an inspector general and internal review staff that works for taxpayers, not the bureaucracy.

They need some form of law enforcement authority. They also need the restrictions that go with it. That is, they need to follow the US Constitution, upholding it, not looking to sidestep it. There is no need to break down doors or do illegal searches without a warrant. However, if somebody is caught lying to them or falsifying a report, there needs to be some recourse.

They need staff counselors, Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) assigned to every case alongside the case workers. Kids need to be counseled. An LPC can sometimes open kids up or get them to communicate in ways that case workers (or parents or teachers) may not. They also provide mental and emotional health treatment from which every neglected or abused child needs and can benefit.

CPS needs to be under another entity, such as local or county law enforcement. They do not need to be some entity that remains unaccountable.

CPS Investigators or caseworkers do not require social work or human services degrees. All they require is a bachelors' degree from an accredited 4-year program. That may be another of their shortfalls. Perhaps they should look closer at their qualifications. Perhaps an assistant case worker or investigator should have a BA in social work or human services. Perhaps such a degree in criminal justice would suffice as well. But for a an actual investigator, perhaps a masters degree in psychology or social work would better serve the families. Of course, this would require those investigators to be paid what they are worth. the average LPC-Intern makes $33k a year starting salary in the private sector, with full LPCs averaging $70k a year (average teacher's salary in San Antonio, with only a baccalaureate).

They need to enforce a policy of mandatory follow-up on every report, even if the case or file is closed. Six months after a case is closed, they should do such a follow-up to make sure that things haven't reverted. In many of the failed cases, waiting for the next report was waiting until the damage was done. A follow-up may have prevented the deaths.

 What they don't need is a further inflated bureaucracy created by legislators seeking feathers to wave come time for their re-election campaigns. The system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt. It is obviously failing.