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April 5, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’ve complained a good bit about the secrecy in which child protective agencies across the country operate. Secrecy regulations regarding those agencies vary from state to state, but, for the most part, the press and the public have little or no access to case files. In Arizona, for example, a child has to actually die before the state agency is required to make its file public.

The secrecy is invariably justified by the claim that, having his/her abuse or neglect made public would constitute an additional trauma to an already traumatized child. It’s an interesting claim, but to it I say ‘bunk.’

In the first place, there are far too many cases for the press or anyone else to make public. Last year there were 686,000 child abuse or neglect cases deemed ‘founded’ by state authorities. That’s close to 2,000 per day. The simple fact is that no news agency has the personnel or the interest to deal with that many cases, even at the local level. And of course the vast majority of cases aren’t newsworthy, which is to say they’re not sufficiently lurid to grab the attention of readers/viewers.

Perhaps more importantly, a black magic marker would be all it would take to both allow case files to be made available to the public and keep children’s names out of public discourse. So a news item might read “A 9-year-old boy was placed in foster care Tuesday by CPS after it was discovered his parents had left him alone for long periods of time with insufficient food...” That way the public would know what its servants were doing, but the child’s privacy would remain intact.

It’s a simple an effective approach, but instead, state governments have found it convenient to opt for complete secrecy. And, as I’ve said before, that secrecy does a lot more to shield the incompetence of CPS agencies than it does to shield kids from prying eyes.

Time and again, once we do get a glimpse into the inner workings of those agencies, what we see horrifies us. Stories leaking out of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Virginia and elsewhere demonstrate bureaucratic malfeasance of the most shocking kinds. Children left to die at the hands of abusive parents, children taken from loving homes and placed in foster care only to be abused there, caseworkers inundated with caseloads far above industry standards, caseworkers vindictively abusing parents, files on abused kids lost for years, sky-high turnover rates of CPS personnel, lying to investigators by CPS supervisors and cover-ups at all levels of the CPS hierarchies are just some of the horror stories that have come to light only through dumb luck. All that and more goes on behind the veil of secrecy state laws have lowered around their child protective agencies.

Here’s another example this time from Pennsylvania (Times-Tribune, 4/4/15).

The mother of the 7-year-old boy, identified as C.W., filed suit last year against Lackwanna County Children and Youth Services, alleging the agency was negligent for placing the boy in the foster home of a Wilkes-Barre couple where he was sexually abused by the couple’s adoptive son. The suit alleges the Lackawanna County agency knew or should have known the abuser, who was convicted and is serving a state prison sentence, had a history of sexual abuse.

Now, wouldn’t it have been nice if someone other than the agency had had access to the information that the foster couple’s adoptive son had a history as a sex abuser? Might that have gotten someone’s attention? Perhaps C.W.’s mother might have raised the alarm and, if the agency ignored her, perhaps a judge would have seen the light.

But of course none of that happened, because no one knew what the investigation into the foster family revealed, or what it didn’t. Did investigators do what anyone with a computer and internet access can do — check to see if there were any sex abusers living in the home? We don’t know, and that’s the point. When agencies operate in secret, they always seem to end up behaving negligently. They do things like either not performing basic investigations of foster homes or ignoring the results when they do.

And We the People only find out these things after some disaster has happened.

Meanwhile, just to make sure we didn’t think they were anything but arrogant about the matter, Luzerne County Family and Youth Services refused to turn over its report on child abuse in foster homes to the attorney who’s suing on behalf of C.W.’s mother. Of course, the agency claimed it wasn’t required to do so because its actions are secret.

Fortunately, a federal judge didn’t buy it.

Luzerne County Children and Youth Services must provide a confidential report on child abuse to attorneys representing a Scranton boy suing Lackawanna County’s child protective agency for failing to protect him from sexual abuse.

Senior U.S. District Judge James Munley on Wednesday ordered the Luzerne County agency to comply with a subpoena after rejecting claims the document should remain confidential...

Judge Munley acknowledged such reports are confidential, but said the law allows for exceptions for the release to the subject of the report. In this case, C.W., as the victim, was the subject, therefore the report was not confidential as to him.

That’s right, the report was on C.W. and yet still the agency claimed he, his mother and their attorney were barred from seeing it. The word “arrogant” doesn’t do them justice.

The point though, is obvious. Here’s an agency whose incompetence was hidden behind a wall of secrecy, and a child was sexually abused in a foster home that the agency either knew or should have known shouldn’t have been licensed to receive children. Without that wall of secrecy, there’s a good chance that foster home would never have been licensed. With it, a little boy was traumatized.

So tell me. Did secrecy help or hurt this child? The answer is obvious enough. And that’s why we should do away with altogether or, at the very least, sharply curtail the secrecy in which CPS agencies operate. Inevitably, secrecy does children little good and sometimes considerable harm. What it invariably does is shield from public scrutiny the often shocking behavior of the people who supposedly are working for us.

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