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December 21st, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Those who promote ever-greater intrusion by child welfare authorities into family life might want to talk to Lilly Manning.  We’ve recently seen Arizona newspaper columnists enthusiastically calling for more and more children to be taken from parents.  They rightly cite the children who are severely injured or sometimes killed by parents or their paramours.  Those cases of course should be known and, if CPS failed in its duty to the children, heads should roll and damages paid.

But those same columnists never looked at the other side of the coin – the one with Lilly Manning’s face on it.

Manning is a young California woman who’s just filed suit against Sacramento County’s Child Protective Services.  Read about it here (UPI.com, 12/19/11).  She’s doing that because she alleges that CPS pushed her removal from her mother’s care and placement with Lillian Manning.  According to her lawsuit, CPS ignored the risks of adoption by Lillian Manning and, after years of abuse and even torture by Manning and her husband Joseph Horvath, ignored Lilly’s cries for help.

Just what caused CPS to take Lilly and her siblings from their mother’s care hasn’t yet been reported.  And it should come as no surprise that the father has been completely ignored by both the press and CPS.  Was he a possible placement alternative?  No one seems to know.  Did CPS lift a finger to inquire?  No one seems to know that either.  Of course, as the Urban Institute discovered five years ago, that’s the pattern.  When CPS takes children from single mothers, the agencies routinely bypass fathers as placement for the children.  Indeed, even when caseworkers know who they are and where they are, more often than not, they simply ignore the dads.

So I wouldn’t be surprised to find that happened in Lilly Manning’s case as well.  Maybe we’ll find out some day.

Here’s what we do know:

Recently released CPS and Juvenile Court documents show a CPS social worker aggressively promoted the Manning children’s adoption in the 1990s and lavished praise on Lillian Manning-Horvath while dismissing alarms raised by others, the Bee reported.

This article tells us what happened in Manning-Horvath’s “care.” (Sacramento Bee, 7/3/11)

Things seemed to go pretty well shortly after the adoption in 2005, but once Joe Horvath came into Lillian Manning’s life, things went downhill fast.

The abuse apparently was rooted in a family lie.

Lilly recalled that the vicious attacks seemed to start when she was about 9. Her adoptive mom became suspicious that her much younger husband was molesting the girl. If Joe said she was pretty, Lilly said, her mom would savagely beat her until she admitted to having sexual contact with him – which wasn’t true. Then Horvath would get furious and pile on.

The couple savagely attacked Lilly beating her with hammers, sticks, 2″ x 4″s, boiling water.  She was kicked, hit, burned and stabbed.  She was locked in a tiny closet.

At one point, Lilly concluded that her adoptive mother and step-father intended to kill her.  She waited until the two adults were gone, kicked open the door and escaped.  Amazingly, she left a note on the kitchen table for her mother, telling her that she’d left.  She hid in a shed near their house until she was satisfied that Lillian and Joe were gone.  Then she called CPS who told her there was nothing they could do.

But Diogenes Youth Services, a counselling and crisis center for teens, took her to a hospital where detectives with the sheriff’s office shortly appeared.  Lilly’s body was a ”how to” of abuse.  It bore some 100 wounds and scars in various stages of healing.  One elbow had been broken and had calcified at a 45-degree angle.  She had cauliflower ears and burn marks on her face.  Three teeth had been knocked out and her lips were permanently swollen from scarring.

Lillian Manning-Horvath and Joe Horvath were picked up by police.  Joe was convicted of 13 felony counts and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.  Lilly testified on his behalf at the sentencing phase of his trial.  She contends that Joe got swept up in Lillian’s anger, fear and hatred of her and was therefore the less culpable of the two.

Lillian pled guilty to 15 counts and was sentenced to a single life term plust 36 years.  The first six years of her sentence will be served in a mental institution.

We’ll learn more about just what CPS did and didn’t do as Lilly Manning’s civil suit progresses.  But the records reflect an eagerness to take her from her mother in the first place.  They probably reveal no effort to contact Lilly’s father as well.  They also show avid promotion of Lillian Manning as the best placement alternative, including her adoption of the children.

Would the results have been better in their mother’s care?  Would it have been better in their father’s care?  We’ll never know, but it could hardly have been worse.

Whatever the case, I’m sure those columnists in Arizona can tell us.

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