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July 23rd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A Houston mother is behind bars because she beat her four year old son to death with a belt.  According to her two daughters, ages eight and six, Vastie Coleman routinely thrashed her children with various implements.  In this case, the little boy wet his pants while in the car with his mother.  She took him up to her apartment, placed him in the bathtub and whipped him for twenty minutes straight until he stopped breathing.  Someone then called paramedics who were unable to revive the child.  They took him to the nearest hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The two girls were placed in foster care and Coleman is in jail without bail.

According to the records of Child Protective Services, Coleman had been reported five previous times since March of 2010 for physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and medical neglect of her children.  CPS declined to intervene on the children’s behalf on any of those occasions.  Police now say that her son’s body bore old bruises indicating a history of battering.  Coleman’s two daughters corroborate that.  Here’s the sad and sordid story (Daily Mail, 7/18/12).

Horrible as the above story is, it is in fact just another instance of a child’s brutal mistreatment by an adult who was supposed to be caring for him.  The awful truth is that children are killed and injured every day by their “care givers.”   The Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that over 900,000 children per year suffer abuse and neglect.  And those are the ones whose cases are “substantiated” by child welfare agencies.  So there are sure to be many more children who are abused and neglected but whose cases slip through the CPS net.

So why do I bring this case up?  For one main reason.  The anti-father crowd is fond of claiming, against the overwhelming weight of evidence, that family courts routinely give custody to fathers who beat their kids.  Now, of course, that’s frankly too silly an assertion to even mention but for the fact that the family court system listens to – and acts on – a lot of nonsense, so why not that?  The fact is that few fathers get custody of their children at all, as decades of data make clear.  The fact also is that family courts are far too willing to credit mothers’ claims that fathers are abusers.  Indeed, far from ignoring those allegations, mothers make them almost as a matter of course to gain an advantage in custody cases.  Attorneys practicing in family courts have been raising the alarm about that for many years now.  So why would mothers make the allegations if they thought courts would ignore them?  To ask the question is to answer it; they make the allegations because they can be fairly certain they’ll work.

Also, it’s the law in every state in the nation, that allegations of abuse be investigated by the court and parents found to be abusers be prohibited from having custody altogether of have their parenting time sharply curtailed.

So how is it that the anti-dad types want us to think that abusive men often get custody of their kids?  Well, unlike the rest of us, those people like to believe every allegation a mother makes against a father to be true regardless of what the objective evidence is.  So, in case after case, they continue to pretend that, even though there’s no evidence of abuse, even though doctors and psychologists say it didn’t happen, and even though the allegations were raised for the first time in connection with the custody case, if a mother said it, it’s true.  Sometimes, as in the Amy Neustein case, the child grows up and contradicts her mother’s claims of abuse by Dad, but even that has proved no impediment to the anti-father crowd’s claim of a brutal father.

However sparse are the fathers who not only beat their children, but get custody of them too, mothers who do so are distressingly plentiful.  And that’s why I bring up the horrifying case of Vastie Coleman and her son who will never see his fifth birthday.  I don’t know if a family court ever gave her custody; the chances are that no family court ever heard of her or her kids.  But CPS certainly knew her well; after all, they had five reports on her in two years.  Had they asked her two daughters, they’d have known all about her relentless beating of her children.  And of course, CPS could have taken the children into foster care any time at the drop of a hat.  If they’d cared to, they could have found his father and learned whether he could care for the children.  So it’s a simple fact that a horribly brutal mother “got custody” of her kids.  She was allowed to keep them despite state officials tasked with protecting children overlooking multiple reports of abuse and neglect.

I don’t know if family courts routinely overlook fathers’ claims that mothers are dangerous to their children.  I do know that a recent study by Douglas Allen and Margaret Brining shows that, in the State of Oregon, family courts hold fathers’ claims to a higher evidentiary standard than they do mothers’.  But what is unquestionably true about child welfare agencies is that, in case after case of child abuse, caseworkers know of the mothers’ history of abuse and yet allow the child to remain in the mother’s care.  Indeed, set a “Google Alert” for “child protective services,” and you’ll see similar cases every day – albeit usually not so heart-rending – to Vastie Coleman’.  Known to be abusive mothers retain custody of their children, sometimes with the most terrible results.

And all of that occurs without so much as a peep from those who cry “abusive fathers get custody!”  If they cared one bit about children’s welfare, they’d be excoriating CPS, but they don’t.  They prefer to make up cases of paternal abuse for one reason only – to create and abet an anti-father atmosphere in family courts and society generally.  They disgrace themselves with every syllable they utter.  Few children will thank them.

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