October 21, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
It’s the bureaucratic mindset at work. In this case we see a two-year-old boy taken from his mother’s care for no apparent reason. Her anger about that then becomes cause to terminate her parental rights and whisk the child into either permanent foster care or adoption (Seattle Times, 10/20/13).
Back in the days of the Viet Nam war, there was a saying among those who opposed the U.S.’s involvement – “If you’re not angry, you’re just not paying attention.” Well, from the looks of the case reported in the Seattle Times, the mother, who’s identified only as B.R., was paying attention all too well.
It seems B.R. was cooking in her kitchen one day in 2008. She was working near hot a hot surface and had her hands full, so she handed her son, who was not quite two, to an uncle to care for. The said uncle was soon spied by a neighbor dangling the child by one leg from a balcony. Soon enough, B.R. recovered the child from his uncle and went inside. Nevertheless, the neighbor apparently reported the matter to the local Department of Social and Health Services, i.e. the child welfare agency.
For reasons we can only guess at, the DSHS took the child from B.R. and into foster care. That was five years ago, and he’s been there ever since, because the DSHS has been attempting to terminate B.R.’s parental rights. Why? Well, it’s not because she hasn’t done everything they’ve required of her, and apparently it has nothing to do with her parenting abilities or her bond with her son.
No, DSHS has spent five years trying to wrest a child from a mother’s care because B.R. behaved in an angry fashion toward DSHS personnel. Imagine that! Imagine a loving parent becoming angry with child welfare caseworkers who were only trying to permanently shanghai her son away from her and into foster care! The nerve of that woman!
Amazingly, DSHS succeeded. Its lawyers convinced Judge John Antosz that B.R.’s rights should be terminated. Antosz, a Grant County judge who heard the case in Douglas County court, found the mother unfit despite counselors’ reports that she successfully completed all court-ordered treatment and had “a great bond” with her child.
B.R.’s manner toward caseworkers from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS); insufficient change in her “attitude and behavior”; and a diagnosis of personality disorder were among reasons Antosz cited in declaring her unfit to parent.
Oh, wait. She had a “personality disorder” too. Let’s see what that consisted of.
But DSHS caseworkers described her as “hostile and belligerent,” and argued against restoring custody. Two psychologists diagnosed her with a “personality disorder not otherwise specified,” or PDNOS, saying it “manifested itself in particular with the way that B.R. interacted with DSHS staff.”
The Mayo Clinic defines a personality disorder as “a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving no matter what the situation”; PDNOS is a diagnosis given when a patient’s symptoms do not fit the main categories of personality disorder defined in psychology. Both the psychologists said the mother could respond well to treatment.
Ah, comes the dawn. B.R.’s personality disorder came into being when she talked to DSHS caseworkers who were trying to take her son away from her. That made her angry and she adopted a “rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking” about what was going on. Stated another way, she was angry at the high-handed behavior of DSHS personnel because they were attempting, without justification, to take her child into foster care and terminate her parental rights. What on earth would a mother behave in such an outrageous way? Didn’t she know that they’re “the government and were there to help her?”
If we want to look reasonably at this woman, it’s not hard to see that she, like most other parents, was absolutely terrified of the power of DSHS. And yes, she probably did adopt ways of dealing with her fear and anger that might not be the most conducive to mollifying the bureaucrats who are used to having parents roll over and play dead when DSHS comes calling. B.R. sounds like that rarest of birds, a parent who believes she has parental rights and the state can’t do anything it wants to just because.
So they taught her a lesson. They showed her just how they can make a parent pay, not for being a bad parent (there’s no evidence that B.R. is that), but for asserting her parental rights in an insufficiently subservient manner.
Even so, B.R. did everything DSHS demanded of her.
B.R. underwent 25 counseling sessions over the next year, with her counselor calling the treatment “quite successful.” She also scored very highly on assessments of visitations with her son, with supervisors reporting “a very strong bond there.”
No matter. B.R. had committed the cardinal sin, the one thing one can’t do to state actors with the type of power DSHS has, and get away with it. She belligerently resisted their demands for her child, and with that, the writing was on the wall. DSHS was going to get that child if it was the last thing they did. They spent five years trying to do so, and at first succeeded, but finally failed. It took a state appellate court to see sanity and reverse Judge Antosz’s ruling.
Appeals judges have ruled that a Douglas County mother’s right to parent her 6-year-old son cannot be terminated because of her “belligerent manner” toward state child-care agents.
The state Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed Superior Court Judge John Antosz’s decision to terminate the parental rights of the mother, known in court records only by the initials B.R…
The Court of Appeals, with Judge Kevin Korsmo writing for the three-judge panel, ruled there was not enough evidence to justify parental termination. Mental illness alone does not render a parent unfit, Korsmo wrote, and B.R.’s attitude toward DSHS staff should not have figured into Antosz’s decision.
“While B.R. had a duty to comply with all ordered services, no statute or rule required her to do so with a smile on her face,” Korsmo wrote.
B. R. does not have a mental illness. What she has is a perfectly healthy and normal response to the outrageous abuse of power we see every day by child welfare personnel. Hers is a sane response to an insane situation. Yes, she could make it easier on herself if she were to learn the art of concealing her perfectly legitimate anger behind a façade of gentility. She may want to learn how to bow meekly and say “yes sir” and “no ma’am,” and feign respect for the people who have the power to walk into her house any day and walk out with her child.
If she learns those skills, she’ll probably have an easier life and her son won’t be in such danger. But let’s not miss the important things this case teaches us. DSHS is an arm of the state. It wields power that’s almost as great as that of the police (with whom child protective agencies often act) – the power to take a child from a parent permanently. As such, Americans have constitutional rights regarding the actions of DSHS. We have due process rights such as the requirement that DSHS come bearing a warrant if it wants to enter your house. No one is under any requirement to talk to child protective personnel absent a court order.
What’s also true is that, if you assert those rights, the child welfare agency will likely paint a large target on your back. Yes, you have due process rights, but, if you assert them, the agency may well make your life very difficult from there on. It has the power to do so, and B.R. is a good example of what it can do.
DSHS spent five years and who knows how much money for the sole purpose of grabbing her son from her on the spurious notion that, because she resented the unjustifiably-wielded power of the agency, she must be a bad parent. And not just a bad parent, but such a bad one that she was unfit to care for her son. That that was false, that B.R. has always been a perfectly good parent, makes no difference. Few people have the resources to combat the power of child welfare agencies and those agencies know it. We see it every day.
It’s a cautionary tale, and one that every parent should heed.
Thanks to Tim for the heads-up.
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