September 26, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
This story has a familiar ring (ABC8, 9/24/14). All the facts aren’t yet in, but it looks like the classic case of a child protection agency preferring maternal care to that of a father even when caseworkers know she’s a danger.
That’s much the message delivered by the Urban Institute in its 2006 study of CPS behavior entitled “What About the Dads?” The UI discovered that, in over half the cases in which child welfare personnel took children from their mothers, the fathers were never contacted as a possible placement for the children. That was true despite the fact that the caseworkers knew who the father was and where he was in 88% of cases.
Now, that’s wrong in a number of ways. First, it deprives a child of its father and usually places it in some form of foster care. That would seem to violate both the father’s parental rights and the child’s best interests. After all, the social science on children placed in foster care is far from uplifting. Foster kids are at greater risk of abuse or neglect, poorer educational outcomes, drug and alcohol abuse and the like than children in parental care. And of course, come age 18, the foster system wants little more to do with them. At an age when few kids are ready to be on their own, foster care is done with them. Unsurprisingly, many of them return to the very homes and families deemed unfit for them by CPS caseworkers.
Then there’s the matter of tax dollars. States pay hefty amounts to foster parents to care for kids, but essentially nothing to fathers who do. So simply as a matter of fiscal responsibility, you’d think states would want to bring fathers into their kids’ lives. But the Urban League study shows the opposite to be true.
The practice by child welfare authorities of marginalizing fathers has been ruled to be a violation of their civil rights in at least one federal circuit. Five years ago, the Ninth Circuit that includes California ruled that, when a child is taken from its mother for abuse or neglect, the state CPS agency is required to inform the father and afford him the opportunity to take up the child’s care.
So, from the outside looking in, that’s what the case out of Chesterfield, Virginia looks like.
As Chesterfield Police continue to investigate a mother charged with child abuse, the father of her oldest daughter is speaking out.
Just days after 22-year old Jacklyn Owens was arrested on several counts of child abuse and neglect of two babies, the father of her five year old daughter, Joe Bitner, says it's about time.
He described the room that his daughter had to stay in.
"It was just filthy. They didn't have food in the refrigerator. I had to go over there at least twice before I got custody to bring food," Bitner said.
Bitner complained to CPS officials who took a strange approach to investigating them.
Bitner says he went to Child Protective Services in Chesterfield at least twice but that they never found anything wrong. He claims, along with Owens' roommate Michael Carothers that CPS would warn Owens before they would show up at the house…
Bitner says Owens was finally charged when investigators showed up unannounced. He hopes she is punished fully, as he works to take better care of their daughter.
So CPS had multiple complaints about Owens but elected to alert her before they came to her house. Unsurprisingly, that gave her the opportunity to clean up her act before they got there. And that’s not just Dad’s claim; Owens’ roommate agrees that’s what CPS did. When they finally did it the way their protocols tell them to, they found exactly what Bitner claimed all along.
But, in another all-too-familiar part of the story, even Owens’ obvious abuse and neglect of the child didn’t make transfer of custody to Bitner easy.
Bitner says he was able to get custody of his daughter from this home but only after a long court battle and even then, he still had to send her back to the dark bedroom with Owens on the weekend. His daughter would be in the same room with Owens' two young kids. Bitner is not the same father.
"She didn't want to go. She would cry tell me she didn't want to go," Bitner said.
But he finally succeeded and sure enough, the little girl is thriving.
"I've got her in school. She's doing well. She can tie her shoes, sing her abcs now, count. Stuff she couldn't do with her mother," Bitner said.
Those are all good things. The girl seems to be on the road to normalcy at last. But the history of trying to wrest her from the control of an obviously neglectful and possibly incompetent mother is one that we’ve seen time and again. Did CPS cover for a neglectful mother? Why, given how clearly Owens was neglecting the child, did CPS resist care by her father?
Children need both parents, but, when one of those parents proves to be unfit, they need the other. Leaving a child in the “care” of a parent like Owens instead of placing her with Bitner at the first sign of abuse or neglect, brings to mind the Urban Institute’s study that demonstrates not only an antipathy for fathers, but an ignorance of what children need to thrive.
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