January 16, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Here’s a bit of information on the power of child protective agencies that’s new to me (Buffalo News, 1/15/17).
New Yorker John M. Mylett is divorced and has a daughter. Needless to say, he’s not the parent with primary custody. Mylett calls himself a protective parent and I’m sure he is, but, from reading the article, I’d also call him a professional pain in the butt. Mylett’s M.O. is to ring up the Child Abuse Hotline every time he suspects his daughter may be in a situation that’s less than ideal. He’s done so 15 times in 36 months. That of course involves the Erie County Child Protective Services department.
Now, some of Mylett’s complaints have been founded, but some have been not only unfounded, but known to be false when made. Needless to say, that’s despicable behavior on Mylett’s part. CPS has enough to do without spending time and resources on false allegations. Is Mylett trying to use the Hotline and CPS to gain an upper hand in a possible future bid for custody? It’s hard to say, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
All that said, his case reveals something interesting about CPS’s power over parents.
[W]ith Mylett creating a steady ruckus, Erie County's department of Child Protective Services decided he had emotionally harmed his 10-year-old.
The agency placed his name on the state's Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register. It's a list of people deemed unfit for jobs caring for children, and the stigma can reverberate in many ways. For Mylett, a Family Court judge restricted his access to his child.
Ah, comes the dawn! It turns out that CPS can, pretty much willy-nilly, place a person on the Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register and thereby impair their ability to get a job or to maintain a real relationship with their child.
So, we might conclude that Mylett abused his use of the Hotline and caused CPS to jump through some unnecessary hoops, all of which is reprehensible, if true. But does that mean his doing so constituted “abuse” or “maltreatment” of his daughter? Apparently she at one point complained to CPS that she wished he’d stop the constant complaining, but that scarcely indicates abuse. So why did CPS put his name on the Register? Mostly, because they could.
Here’s what his case reveals:
- Each year, CPS workers use a low standard of proof to place thousands of names on the register. But roughly half of the adults who challenge the action before an administrative law judge win, according to the State Office of Children and Family Services.
- The reversal rate, unseen in other types of legal proceedings, comes about because the judges seek a higher standard of proof than child-protective agencies may use to place a name on the register.
- Case workers sometimes play the role of psychiatrist or psychologist to assert that a child has suffered “emotional impairment” or “emotional neglect” and a specific adult is to blame. They do so even though their state manual urges them to turn to a mental health professional for proof that a child suffered emotional injury.
- Agencies in New York are to follow up on every report sent their way, leading to tens of thousands of investigations that can traumatize or annoy children when there’s nothing there. Case workers have added adults to the register for calling in suspicions that didn’t pan out. Not all of those callers were as prolific as Mylett.
In short, CPS puts people on the Register as a matter of course. Caseworkers often conclude that a child is experiencing “emotional impairment” or “emotional neglect” with little evidence to back them up. They often do so without consulting a mental health professional in violation of their own manual of conduct.
Placing people on the Register often happens only because the person reported suspected neglect or abuse that turned out to be unfounded. This comes against a backdrop of CPS encouraging all of us to report anything we suspect to reflect abuse or neglect of a child. The linked-to article shows that, once we do so, that same CPS may turn around and report that we’re the abusers. Gotcha!
In Mylett’s case, CPS placed his name on the Register despite the fact that there was no evidence whatsoever that his daughter’s behavior indicated any problems.
[T]he judge questioned whether the girl had suffered at all, because her school principal described her as a pupil with normal attendance and good scores who was moving through the grades as expected, with no behavioral issues.
Into the bargain, the caseworker ignored the agency’s manual on how to deal with suspected emotional harm.
The state’s Child Protective Services Program Manual urges child-protective workers to turn to a psychiatric or psychological professional to determine if there has been emotional harm.
This licensed professional could then conclude — to a “reasonable medical certainty,” the manual says — whether a parent contributed to the child’s impairment and bolster any action taken, such as placing the parent’s name on the register.
[Caseworker] Laubisch, according to records in the case, did none of this before blaming Mylett for the emotional neglect that his daughter supposedly suffered.
And of course Mylett’s relationship with his daughter suffered due to his being placed on the Register.
But a Family Court judge, Mylett said, ordered that his time with his daughter be supervised. He would be less likely to serve as a volunteer at his daughter’s school if the school checked the register. To him, the blot on his name would devastate his wish for custody and drain his confidence as a dad.
And that, I suspect, was the point. CPS knows very well what power it has and the Register is one aspect of that power. Mylett was a gadfly on the agency that’s overworked to begin with, so it retaliated against him. Fortunately, he appealed the decision and prevailed, but how many people have the time or resources to do so? How many people even know they can appeal CPS’s decision or how to do so?
We’ve heard similar stories before in which the mere assertion of rights by a parent paints a target on his/her back for CPS retaliation.
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