May 5, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
I’ve mentioned the fact that, with a few exceptions, courts are requiring parents to abide by the terms of their custody and parenting time orders during the COVID-19 restrictions on travel, business, etc. But what about child protective agencies? Would they seize on the specter of the virus to step up their interventions into families? If so, how might that play out?
Consider this example (Reason, 4/28/20). A couple who, in the article, are called Bill and Kristy had just moved to Kentucky from New York with their seven kids. They went to a bank to open an account, leaving the two oldest kids in the car and taking the five little ones into the bank with them. Bank employees were not amused.
The teller immediately interrogated Bill and Kristy about why they had brought five kids into the bank at one time. She [the teller] told them they could not get within six feet of her and that they needed to take the children out. Kristy explained that the children were too young to be left unsupervised by an adult, and neither she nor Bill could take them elsewhere because the couple were opening a joint account, and both had to be present.
While Bill stayed with the children away from the counter, Kristy opened the account, feeling self-conscious as the staff whispered to each other and watched her family suspiciously.
Eventually, the two finished their banking business and went home, only to be met by a caseworker from child protective services. It seems someone had reported Bill and Kristy for abusing their children. And that someone was from the bank. They know this because the accuser said they had five children, not seven. The accuser also said he/she had witnessed bruises on the children’s arms, but this was March 3, a cold day in Kentucky. The children were all wearing long sleeves.
The point being that someone at the bank took offense at Bill and Kristy’s insufficiently keeping their distance and used their special power to make life even more difficult for them than it already was. That power of course was the power to falsely accuse parents of child abuse. It’s a power we all have and can all use any time we want to. We can do that because we can make anonymous allegations of abuse and fear no consequences if we act maliciously, as the person at the bank apparently did.
So the caseworker investigated the false complaint, as he/she is pretty much obligated to do. But, despite finding no evidence of abuse, the case didn’t end there. No, it’ll remain open for at least 45 days, during which time the stress of the pandemic and having seven kids in their home all day every day will be exacerbated by the alleged abuse case hanging over their heads.
The Reason article goes on to suggest that “off ramp” legislation would be a good idea. “Off ramp” legislation would require CPS agencies to close a case promptly once an allegation has been investigated and no abuse or neglect found. All too often, as with Bill and Kristy, CPS agencies keep cases open indefinitely causing emotional trauma to the targeted families.
That, then is one way in which the COVID-19 conditions policy makers have adopted can result in CPS involvement where none is warranted.
Here’s another. I’ve read a document (that unfortunately I can’t reproduce) from the Oregon Department of Human Services, of which the state’s child protective agency is a part. It was written by Lacey Anderson, Director of Child Welfare “Practice and Program,” and issued on April 22. It reads in pertinent part,
“If, in the course of an assessment, a caseworker or supervisor makes the determination that a child will enter substitute care because their caregiver is infected with COVID-19…”
In that event, there is now a special type of case note that must be used to indicate a caregiver with the virus. Stated another way, all parents in Oregon who’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 are now subject to having their kids removed from their care and handed to a stranger. Never mind that, to date, no child aged 17 or younger has died from the disease. And never mind that anyone, including foster parents and CPS caseworkers can contract the illness and pass it on to children.
Face it, although COVID-19 is fairly easy to transmit, its fatality rate is extremely low – probably between 0.1% and 0.2% of infected people. It’s less lethal than many other communicable diseases, but so far those have not become reasons for taking children from parents. Only COVID-19 has that dubious distinction. Plus of course shielding anyone from the disease means that person’s immune system can’t protect it. It’s Immunology 101 that exposure to disease-causing organisms/molecules is necessary to produce immunity.
Predictably though some CPS agencies have seized on the recent pandemic to expand their power over parents. Will COVID-19 open the door to child protective officials using the same excuse with different diseases? If Mom gets the flu, will she lose her kids?