Litigation not legislation is the fastest way to reform Child Protective Services & Family Court
By Daniel Weaver
June 30, 2009 / examiner.com
Child Protective Services took my child in October 2004 based on false allegations of neglect. I had to fight to get her back and finally did, but not before Child Protective Services had caused great harm to my child and my family.
There has not been any meaningful child protective reform in the United States, but there needs to be. One of the biggest problems with Child Protective Services (CPS) is that they spend too much time investigating false allegations and therefore are unable to investigate real cases of neglect and abuse. So we have the anomaly of innocent parents rotting in prison, while children still die from abuse.
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta claims that there are three million child abuse and neglect reports made every year. Two million of those reports are without merit. What has created this situation?
Mandated reporting is the primary culprit. Doctors, nurses, teachers, psychiatrists and numerous other professions are required by law to report any suspicions of child abuse and neglect. If they don't, they can be charged with a felony and go to jail. So to protect themselves, mandated reporters report things that they wouldn't report if the threat of jail wasn't hanging over their heads.
We need to get rid of mandated reporting. We need to trust doctors, nurses and teachers to make the right decision when they suspect abuse and neglect. This would cut down on the number of baseless child abuse reports and give Child Protective Services the time and money to concentrate on real abuse.
Currently, filing false abuse reports is only a misdemeanor in most states, and it is not taken very seriously. It needs to be made a felony. I listened to a guy on talk radio the other day who has had twelve false reports of child abuse made against him. Even CPS admits that he is innocent, but they claim they cannot do anything about it. Someone has it in for this guy and is using CPS to retaliate against him. If it was a felony to file false reports of child abuse, the number of false reports would diminish and CPS would have the time and resources to investigate real abuse.
There are several other areas where Child Protective Services needs reform. If CPS investigates you, they have sixty days to issue a report. CPS can find that the allegations are unfounded or they can indicate them, which means that they believe there is some credible evidence to substantiate the report.
If a report in indicated, your name automatically goes on the State Central Register for Child Abuse and Neglect, even before you have a trial or hearing. (Sex offenders, on the other hand, aren't placed on the sex offender registry until after their trial.) People who have been accused of child abuse or neglect are punished even before they can prove their innocence because employers use the register to check on prospective employees.
In Missouri, several laws concerning Child Protective Services have been successfully challenged by some day care workers who were falsely accused of neglect. In the State of Missouri, the standard of proof for indicating a report has been raised from some credible evidence to a preponderance of the evidence, and your name cannot be placed on the registry unless you have been given due process through a trial or fair hearing.
Unfortunately, lawmakers have been very slow to bring about Child Protective reform. Any attempt to reform either Child Protective or Family Court laws are seen as being soft on child abuse, rather than an attempt to protect innocent people, give people their due process rights and allow CPS the time to investigate real abuse claims rather than bogus ones.
CPS reform will take place in the courts before it does the legislatures, just as it has already to some degree in Missouri. Parents who are falsely accused must challenge the laws and, if necessary, bring law suits against those who trespass on their constitutional rights.
While I dislike the idea of litigation, our politicians have cut off all other options. While we should continue to press for legislative change, litigation is our best hope for real child protective reform.
We need parents who have been falsely accused of abuse and neglect to not only challenge the false allegations when they go to court, but to also challenge the lack of due process in Child Protective Services and Family Court proceedings. Then if they lose their case, they can appeal it on constitutional grounds as well as other grounds.