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November 30, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

What’s true in the U.S. is often true in the U.K. as well. The willingness of child protective caseworkers to run roughshod over the rights of parents is true on both sides of the pond. Read the latest here (Liverpool Echo, 11/22/15).

In the United States, child welfare workers are used to dealing with parents who lack money and education. Those parents are frankly scared of the power of the state as represented by the social workers knocking insistently on their doors, demanding entry and the freedom to snoop around the premises. The parents have good reason to be afraid because caseworkers have a way of targeting for special abuse those who have the temerity to assert their legal rights.

And let’s be clear; CPS agents are just like the police when it comes to individual rights. They’re state agents and are bound by the same constitutional and statutory restrictions as any other public official. Put simply, without a warrant issued by a judge, they have no right to be on your property unless they’ve observed some form of child abuse or neglect with their own eyes.

Few parents understand the matter and, even if they did, might well hesitate to confront CPS or resist entrance. Parents tend to hope that, if they cooperate, CPS will go away and leave them alone. Of course sometimes that’s correct. And if they do ask them to go to court for a warrant, when caseworkers return, they often come armed with more than a piece of paper signed by a judge. They often have a hefty chip on their shoulder as well and the parent who dared to ask CPS to comply with the law now has a target on his/her back.

It’s a common story, so common in fact that I tend to believe that caseworkers are so inured to not complying with due process of law that it simply doesn’t occur to them that they might not get away with it. So occasionally, they make the mistake of behaving in the usual way toward a person who does know his/her legal rights.

Such a case was that of Alexander and Danielle Meitiv of Silver Spring, MD. Caseworkers and the police plainly didn’t know with whom they were dealing when they threatened to have the children taken away. (This because he and Danielle had allowed their kids to walk home from a park not far from their house.) I’m sure the Montgomery County CPS is still in shock about being sued by the Meitivs for deprivation of their, and their kids’, civil rights. Face it, CPS is used to getting away with far more egregious abuses than what they visited on the Meitivs.

Remember Maryanne Godboldo in Detroit? She refused to obey child welfare agents’ demand that she keep her daughter on psychotropic medication that Godboldo, in consultation with the girl’s pediatrician, had decided was doing more harm than good. So what did CPS do? They went to court and got an order to enter the premises and take away the child.

If that sounds like due process of law, it wasn’t. First, they told the court this was an emergency that required an ex parte hearing. That was a lie, but even so, there was no hearing. The judge wasn’t in, so CPS simply handed their pre-prepared order to the clerk who, without any evidence, stamped the judge’s signature on it.

Face it, when a litigant does something as blatantly illegal as that, it’s clear they’re not used to playing by the rules.

Now it appears something similar is happening in the U.K. There, child welfare authorities are required to go to court to prove that a child must be taken from its parents. That again is just basic due process of law. In order for the state to do something as extreme as deprive a child of its home and parents, it’s required to demonstrate a need to do so. That means having a hearing before an impartial tribunal and producing evidence to prove the state’s case. It should mean an opportunity to challenge the state’s case by the targeted parents, but that often doesn’t happen, at least not in the early going.

But U.K. law affords everyone involved an opportunity to avoid the necessity of a hearing. After all, it’s not unknown for parents to agree that their child would be better off in foster care, usually while they sort out whatever difficulties (like substance abuse) they may be experiencing. That’s called a Section 20 Consent, under which, parents can sign a form consenting to removal of the child and obviate the need for a hearing.

Doing so, I suspect, constitutes “cooperation” in the eyes of child welfare authorities. Not doing so, I suspect, constitutes something far more sinister.

So, as in the U.S., it comes as no surprise that child protective officials are abusing the Section 20 process.

Children are taken into care because their parents don’t know enough about their legal rights, a leading Merseyside care lawyer has warned.

Andrew Perrigo, a partner at Morecrofts Solicitors in Birkenhead, said that parents are being made to feel like they have “no choice” but to give consent for their children to be taken away.

He said this is because social workers are misusing Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, which outlines their duty to provide a child with somewhere to live because the child does not currently have a home, or a safe home.

Mr Perrigo warned that families are being split up unnecessarily as a result.

He said: “Part of the problem is that parents just aren’t aware of their rights. They are often asked to sign Section 20 agreements but what is often poorly communicated by the social workers is that this agreement requires their consent.

“Parents do not have to agree — yet they are made to feel they have no choice.”

Perrigo isn’t the only one who sees the lengths to which state social workers go to split up families.

Last week Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, said local authorities have been condemned for misusing the act and spoke of a case where a mother and daughter were awarded record damages.

That’s a familiar refrain, particularly here in the U.S., where barely a month goes by without someone suing CPS or another record judgment is reported.

Perrigo added,

“Perhaps if we have more parents questioning the use of a Section 20 and seeking legal advice as soon as the idea is tabled, then its misuse would decrease and parties would have to consider other options.

“As it stands Section 20 consents can be used to bypass the local authorities’ need to go before the court for a care order.

“The fear is that it’s being used as a back-door route to place children in care and a lengthy prelude to care proceedings.

“Used wrongly and it splits families up, sometimes needlessly and for excessively long periods and denies courts full control over proceedings.

“This will inevitably result in delays and compensation claims potentially in the millions.”

That’s good advice.

The U.K. and the U.S. — like father, like son.

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