August 7, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Many times I’ve pointed out that child protective workers often are faced with the hard job of figuring out whether a child has been neglected by a parent or whether the parent is simply poor and unable to, for example, be home at the precise minute the child returns from school. The poor tend to rely on public transportation which can be unreliable. So maybe Mom and Dad had a plan to be home when the child arrived, but Metro nixed it.
Social workers report that, very often all a parent needs is some information about the availability of services that would make caring for their child easier. Since the poor tend to be less well educated than others, they may not be aware of what services are available and how to access them.
On the other hand, the absence of medical care, a filthy home, an absent parent, may be indicators of parents who truly are deficient and won’t improve.
As I’ve said, it can be a fine line and one CPS workers are often asked to tread. This article tells us they don’t always do a good job. Indeed, if nurse and foster parent Mary Callahan’s experiences are at all representative, a lot of social workers with child protective authorities frankly make no effort to tell the difference between child abuse/neglect and poverty.
Here’s what I know about some of the children placed with me when I was a foster parent.
One was removed due to a spanking which turned out to be the first time her father ever hit her. Another was removed after “rough handling” on the way to the car as she was being suspended from school. Another was hit by the aunt she lived with after the child threw a bottle that hit her aunt in the temple.
So yes, the label placed on most of these children was “abused,” rather than “neglected.” For a long time, I assumed these incidents were just the tip of the iceberg, and that I would be more shocked if I knew the whole story. After a while, I realized that was the whole story.
Think about it. Children removed from their parents because of a single spanking. The truth is that a single instance of spanking or even occasional ones don’t harm children. What harms children is repeated corporal punishment. (It’s also not very effective at getting results. Pretty soon, if spanking is routine, its utility dwindles. The kid comes to see it as not something from which to learn a valuable lesson, but just a regular part of life.)
What Callahan describes is, according to her experience, a common response of CPS workers to impoverished parents. None of the incidents she mentions constitutes neglect, and none is serious enough abuse to warrant taking a child from its parents. But taken they were. Why? Because of the low regard in which many CPS workers hold poor parents. When Callahan asked those workers why the children were being removed from their homes, she received surprising replies.
One worker said, “There’s a difference between them and us,” as if that explained anything. Another said, “Don’t worry about it. Those parents are the dregs of humanity.”
That’s what the people who are supposed to be protecting children think of the parents they’re there to serve? They’re the ones we ask to make those tough “is it abuse or is it poverty?” calls?
As I started meeting the parents, I actually liked most of them. I didn’t find them to be the dregs of humanity. The biggest difference I found between them and me was that they were poor. So, it seemed to me, the children were taken because of poverty.
Then Callahan makes the point I’ve often made before, both in CPS and in adoption settings. I’ve pointed out that, when we force adoption on a child who doesn’t need to be adopted, we deny good adoptive parents to some child somewhere who does. The same holds true for foster care. No state has enough foster parents to care for all the children who’ve been taken, either temporarily or permanently from their parents. So when CPS takes a child whose parents are truly neither abusive or neglectful, there’s a good chance another child who needs to get away from his/her home won’t be able to. Or, instead of finding a home with foster parents, the child will end up in a group home of the type that’s notorious for abusing children.
Callahan describes a 20-year-old CPS brought before a state legislative committee to testify. The young man was being presented as one of CPS’s success stories.
He was a young man in his twenties, twitching and staring at his hands as he talked. He said the state saved his life by removing him. When asked about his experience in foster care, he said he had been in 20 different placements, 21 if you counted the month he lived in a cardboard box after running away from his foster home.
He must have come from really awful parents if that life was a step up from what he would have had. And yes, some children are taken from really awful parents and some children need to be in foster care.
But it crossed my mind, if my home wasn’t full of kids who didn’t need to be there, that young man might have come to me and maybe I would have been his last placement.
Just so. States complain about the lack of good foster care, but maybe one of the reasons for that is their tendency to take kids from homes unnecessarily. Part of that may be their willingness to believe that, as a general rule, the poor are “the dregs of humanity,” and therefore deserve to lose their kids irrespective of anything more.
And here’s another possibility. The poor can’t fight back and social workers at child protective agencies know it. We’ve seen bullying behavior on the part of CPS workers all too often and we know that there’s nothing a bully likes better than a victim who’s too weak or afraid to defend himself. That of course describes the poor when CPS comes knock, knock, knocking on their door.
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