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January 26, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I can think of nothing that better illustrates the attitude of child protective service agencies toward parents than what this article reports on (New York Daily Record, 1/19/18).The position taken by the agency is beyond the pale.

Back last March, the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services issued a request for proposals.Stated another way, ILS had money to grant and wanted applications.They received one from the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. It was seeking funds to provide attorneys for indigent parents accused in juvenile court of abuse or neglect of their children.ILS approved a grant of $2.6 million for that purpose, no small sum for a county public defender’s office.

So, that’s a positive development, right?Yes, but Monroe County refused the grant.That’s right, offered $2.6 million of money with no strings attached, county officials turned it down.I wonder how often that happens.How often do state agencies refuse large grants of free money? My guess is that the refusal is more or less unprecedented.

How does the county justify the refusal?

Monroe County officials have turned down a $2.6 million state grant because the funding would have paid for attorneys to represent indigent parents much earlier in Family Court cases, which they claim would interfere with child neglect and abuse investigations.

Monroe County spokesman Jesse Sleezer said in a written statement that the initiatives funded by the grant “could have unintended consequences on the county’s efforts to keep children and families safe.”

“The program itself, although well-intentioned, would have injected lawyers into cases of abuse and neglect much earlier, potentially intimidating child victims and limiting access by CPS workers who would otherwise assess and monitor the child’s safety,” he said in the statement.

“The attorneys involved in this pilot program would serve only one client — the parent accused of abuse — and would not have any professional responsibility to serve the best interests of the abused child,” Sleezer said.

In short, the county refused the money because it would be used to assist the poor.Poor parents would appear in court with attorneys when the child protective agency tried to take their kids from them.Of course parents with greater resources do that as a matter of course.And I’ve pointed out many times that the main targets of CPS agencies nationwide are the poor.That’s in part because the poor tend to be less educated than others and therefore less likely to know and assert their constitutional rights regarding CPS.And of course they’re less able to navigate the sometimes byzantine workings of juvenile courts and usually unable to hire a lawyer.

So Monroe County doesn’t want the poor to have the same rights and opportunities as other people.It wants to make it as easy as possible to take children from parents and the easiest way to do that is by targeting the poor.

Meanwhile, others see more clearly.

Family Court Judge Joan Kohout said county officials “missed the point.”

“This is to help poor families so that they are in the same position as more financially well-off families,” she said.

“What they have neglected to consider is that parents who have financial ability to hire their own attorneys do that. This program would provide the same right and the same access to legal advice to poor parents,” Kohout said.

Kohout is being generous.I don’t think for an instant that the county “neglected to consider” any such thing.I think county decision makers understand all too well the result of allowing lawyers to the poor.They know very well that, when a parent arrives in court with an attorney, the state’s ability to take children from those parents immediately diminishes.They know how easy it is to intimidate poor parents and basically have their way with them.Child protection officials like it that way.Too many lawyers mean too many pesky rights to observe.It cuts down on the agency’s ability to take children whether warranted or not.

And that’s not all.

ILS sought to establish “a model Parental Representation Office” outside of New York City to provide legal representation and other services to parents in Article 10 child neglect proceedings and Article 10 termination of parental rights cases.

In addition to hiring four new attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office, the funding would pay for four new social workers.

The “demonstration project” envisioned would use a “client-centered, holistic, and multidisciplinary model of representation that addresses both the legal and social services issues inherent in state intervention cases,” according to the RFP.

In other words, with the grant money, the Public Defender’s Office would not only have brought lawyers into court to confront the county’s lawyers, it would have brought social workers to confront the county’s caseworkers.Not only would the county have had to respect parents’ legal rights, but it would have no longer had a monopoly on the evidence provided by social workers.Giving poor parents the power to seriously contest the county legally and with evidence plainly didn’t sit well with county officials.

As we’ve seen in the past, child protection workers often exercise their power arbitrarily and with little interest in the rights of parents or children.Indeed, in Texas, we’ve seen family court judges slam CPS workers for blatantly infringing on the rights of parents and children.

“Unfortunately, experience has shown that agencies too often wield their emergency removal power in situations where such drastic state action is unnecessary, and without first attempting to address the issues that brought the family to the agency’s attention,” according to the RFP.

Monroe County’s refusal of a large amount of grant money is unconscionable.It reveals as clearly as anything I know the mindset of child protective agencies nationwide.Those agencies think of their own power and prerogatives long before they consider the welfare of children.The ILS money and the Public Defender’s plan for it threatened that power.That its purpose was to help level the playing field between the poor and those better off while keeping morefamilies together apparently made no difference to the county.

Their behavior is beneath contempt.Monroe County officials need to think again.

 

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