On Child Protective Services, Part 2: Law/Enforcement Disconnect

Imagine you are driving down the road five miles under the marked speed limit and a police officer pulls you over for speeding. He says, “Yes, the speed limit says 45, but me and the boys have decided it would be better for you to drive 30. So we’re gonna take your car away. If you don’t like it, you can take it up with a judge. Oh, but not at a regular court. At our court. And not with elected judges. With judges we’ve appointed and can fire at will. Oh, and my verbal testimony in court has as much weight as physical evidence or eye witness testimony. So, in other words, you’re cooked.”

This is basically what is going on with Child Protective Services. The stated definitions of abuse and neglect written into state law are not strictly what CPS uses to determine whether abuse or neglect is actually going on. The courts that decide abuse cases—juvenile courts—are often presided over by “commissioners” (not elected judges) who have the same authority as judges but are appointed by the courts. These commissioners are accountable to the courts, not citizens, and they can lose their jobs if they end up increasing the court’s liability. The court-appointed lawyers generally come from firms that are contracted to the court, so these firms have a financial interest in “playing the game.”

Further, hearsay is totally permissible in juvenile courts. In criminal cases, hearsay from a single accuser is not enough to convict someone of a crime—some hard evidence or independent corroboration of eye witnesses is necessary. But hearsay alone is legally all that is required to establish a prima facie case to remove children from the custody of their parents. One person with a vendetta against you can call CPS, accuse you of abuse, and basically turn your life and your family upside down.

And child abuse cases don’t even always have to do with crime. When my children were taken from us, my wife and I were not once accused of any crimes. The district attorney had the option of pressing charges against us, but, given the flimsiness of the case against us, he decided that it wasn’t worth his time. This did not change the fact that our children were kidnapped by the state and that my wife and I were basically held hostage in California for three months. If this is an issue of the law, law enforcement should be the only ones involved. This strikes at the very heart of the problem: CPS is not operating within the law. They are basically an independent executive agency enforcing their own special set of unwritten rules.

You don’t think this is going on? It is. In fact, it’s happening every day. It happened to me. In my answers to the special interrogatories of the court, I specifically brought up the disconnect between the stated laws and the actual enforcement. I wrote:

The most reasonable interpretation of what constitutes child abuse in the state of California is apparently not the basis upon which DCFS makes decisions. Agents for LA County DCFS took my two children even though the actions of my wife and I were not clearly contrary to the stated laws of California. Our actions were, rather, contrary to DCFS’s narrow and ideologically prejudiced interpretation of California state law, an interpretation that is arbitrary and inconsistent from case to case. If the speed limit says 55, it should be reasonable to assume that 55, not 15, is actually the speed limit. If the law and its enforcement are severely incongruous, however, the citizen has no fixed rule to guide his behavior and suffers the injustice and tyrannical encroachments of lawless executive force.

Do you know the laws in your state concerning child abuse and neglect? After our children were taken from us in California, we looked into the laws there concerning corporal punishment to determine if we were on the right side of them. We were. Decidedly and obviously so, actually. Here’s what the state of California says constitutes child abuse (found in “California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300–304.7”):

The child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm inflicted nonaccidentally upon the child by the child’s parent or guardian. For the purposes of this subdivision, a court may find there is a substantial risk of serious future injury based on the manner in which a less serious injury was inflicted, a history of repeated inflictions of injuries on the child or the child’s siblings, or a combination of these and other actions by the parent or guardian that indicate the child is at risk of serious physical harm.

It goes on to define “serious physical harm”:

Any single act of abuse that causes physical trauma of sufficient severity that, if left untreated, would cause permanent physical disfigurement, permanent physical disability, or death. OR More than one act of physical abuse, each of which causes bleeding, deep bruising, significant external or internal swelling, bone fracture, or unconsciousness.

Basically, this means that corporal discipline (e.g., spanking and paddling) is within the limits of California state law as long as that discipline does not, and shows no tendency to, inflict an injury that would require medical attention to heal properly (e.g., a broken bone, a wound requiring stitches, etc.). Given the fact that our twin girls were then wards of the state of California, my wife and I were very surprised to find that we had not actually even once broken California state law in reference to our parenting. But the law, it turned out, really didn’t matter. Because we were on the wrong side of CPS’s unwritten guidelines, and that turned out to be much more important ultimately.

According to the CPS workers in California (and even the indoctrinated police), all of the following were “abuse”:

  1. A spanking of more than one swat
  2. With anything other than the hand
  3. On the bare bottom rather than through the diaper or underwear.

For a moment, forget what you think about corporal punishment. In my opinion, there are many things that the California law allows for that I think are wrong for a parent to do. Many, many things in fact. That isn’t the point. The point is not what is or is not right in my eyes, your eyes, or someone else’s eyes. The point is that parents should have a right to raise their own children—within the reasonable guidelines of the written law—however they think is best. It doesn’t really matter whether or not we agree with what they’re doing. And a “law enforcement” agency should especially be impartial in its enforcement of nothing more or less than the law. But this is not how CPS operates at all.

Very deep inside the bounds of the state law, CPS has drawn its own much narrower boundary lines. And, as far as my wife and I could tell, these lines were drawn in such a way that no parent in the history of mankind has ever been always on the right side of them. What CPS is basically saying is, “You don’t have the right or leeway to parent your children in any way other than the way we think is right at this moment. You are not raising your children. You are raising our children. So you must raise them our way, and we reserve the right to take them back whenever we want.” I cannot describe the perverse satisfaction and self-righteousness on the face of the CPS Investigator when, palpably relishing each word, she told me, “Your children are now wards of the state of California.” And, as far as CPS was concerned, they always had been.

Next time, we’ll talk about what CPS is and has been doing (and failing to do) around the country for many years. I think you’ll be horrified.