August 7, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Once again it looks like a child protective agency is hard about the task, not of protecting children, but of enforcing marijuana laws. That certainly looked to be true in the Idaho case I blogged about here. In that case, two parents were staunch advocates of making pot legal for medical use. They made their views known and the next thing they knew, their kids were in foster care. They’d gone out of town for a weekend, leaving their two children in the care of a babysitter. When they came back, the children were gone. What had they done to abuse or neglect their children? Apparently nothing, but someone didn’t appreciate their advocacy and had the power to get CPS to use its awesome power to take children from their parents. Yes, the parents possessed a small amount of pot and that’s not legal in Idaho. But, as I pointed out in my previous piece, pot usage is not proof of child abuse or neglect, and if it is, there’ll be millions upon millions of children taken from their parents with not nearly enough foster parents to go around.
That case was a good example of using the power to take children from parents as an adjunct to the power of the police. Supposedly, CPS’s function is to protect children who are in dangerous family situations. But those Idaho children were in no danger. So what was the agency doing snatching the couple’s kids?
Well, this case is far worse (Opposing Views, 8/5/13). It seems that Child Protective Services in Temple, Texas got wind of the fact that Joshua Hill and his wife Mary Sweeney sometimes smoke pot after putting their two-year-old daughter Alexandria to bed. In that of course they’re like millions of other parents across the nation. Alexandria had never been harmed, never been abused, never been neglected by her parents. She was as healthy and happy a little girl as you’d ever want to meet.
And no one had ever leveled criminal charges against the Hills for their pot use. As in Idaho, in Texas, marijuana possession is against the law. Possession of two ounces or less of the weed will get you up to a $2,000 fine and as much as 180 days in jail. Of course first offenders usually get off with more lenient sentences. Hill and his wife have never been charged with a pot offense.
But, unlike the police, CPS decided that Alexandria had to be taken from them and into foster care. As in the Idaho case, what was the evidence of abuse or neglect? There was none. Do parents sometimes put little Andy or Jenny to bed and then relax with a glass of wine? You bet they do, but CPS doesn’t swoop down and make off with the children. Do some parents have prescription drugs on the premises? Again, of course they do. They have drugs for pain, drugs for depression, drugs for an astonishing array of illnesses and conditions. And many of those drugs have effects on the mental and physical functioning of the adults taking them that are far greater than that of pot. Should CPS take the children of everyone who takes a drink or pops a pill?
The difference of course is that pot possession is illegal, while wine and hydrocodone are not. But the legality or illegality of a substance is a matter for the police, not CPS. If parents can drink in moderation and still take care of their kids, the chances are they can do the same with pot. The point is that it’s not the job of CPS to enforce criminal law. It’s the job of CPS to protect children in danger. Alexandria Hill was not in danger from her parents, pot or no pot.
Tragically, she was in danger from CPS.
The 2-year-oldchild was then placed in an abusive foster home by a private agency contracted by Child Protective Services.
“She would come to visitation with bruises on her, and mold and mildew in her bag," Hill told KVUE-TV (video below). "It got to a point where I actually told CPS that they would have to have me arrested because I wouldn't let her go back."
Alexandria was placed in a second foster home with Sherill Small in Rockdale, Texas, seven months ago.
It would be her last home.
The toddler was rushed to a hospital last Monday night with severe head injuries. Alexandria was later flown to Scott and White Children’s Emergency Hospital in Temple, Texas.
“They wouldn't tell me what condition she was in or what was wrong or what had happened," Hill said. "The only thing they would tell me is I needed to be there. When I got there, I found out that Alex was in a coma."
Last Wednesday night, Alexandria was taken off life support and died.
Police said the foster mother, Small, could not come up with a story that would explain Alexandria's severe injuries.
Last Thursday, they arrested Small and charged her with murder — her bond is set at $100,000.
Two abusive foster homes for one child in a matter of a few months may be a record. Apparently the State of Texas outsourced the vetting of foster parents to a private company called Texas Mentor. The Austin branch of the company had been cited for deficiencies 15 times in the past two years. Now, needless to say, Joshua Hill and Mary Sweeney are suing the company for its failure to properly vet Sherill Small.
I’ve said it before; even in cases in which parents are somewhat abusive of their children, foster care has proven to be more dangerous. Study after study shows that children are more likely to be abused or neglected in foster care than in parental care. The move to foster care by itself is almost invariably traumatic to children and, even if the home has none of the typical problems, kids “age out” of foster care at age 18. That is, when they turn 18, they’re on their own. The state stops paying and they’re left to their own devices. Yes, states offer some limited services to foster kids to try to usher them into the adult world, but those are seldom sufficient to the children’s needs and, often as not, the kids don’t even know they exist. All of that explains why so many children age out of foster care and head straight back to the parents who were supposedly unfit to care for them in the first place.
Whatever Joshua Hill’s and Mary Sweeney’s problems, they weren’t worse than foster care. That would be true even if Alexandria were still alive. But she isn’t.
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