New Study: Child Protective Services as Ineffective as it is Deadly

“Fresno County child welfare and law enforcement officials are investigating the death of a 1-month-old girl who was in foster care,” reports today’s edition of the Fresno Bee.

From Florida, yesterdays’ edition of the Sun Sentinel reported that: “Margate police are investigating the death of a 3-month-old girl who was in foster care.” The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office is scheduled to conduct an autopsy, the Sentinel reports.

Also yesterday, only this time from Kentucky, the Wayne County Outlook reported that in a ruling issued last week, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to pay $16,211 to The Louisville Courier-Journal and $4,520 to the Lexington Herald-Leader, both of which filed lawsuits after they were denied the records of Kayden Daniels and his 15-year-old mother, who officials said were both under the supervision of the state foster care system.

The judge criticized the Cabinet’s failure to follow the law in a case in which “an innocent ward of the state lost his life because of criminal conduct and neglect.” Shepherd added: “The facts involving these serious issues would never come to light without the efforts of these newspapers to challenge the Cabinet’s willful and undeviating policy of shielding its conduct involving foster care from public scrutiny.”

It was only a few short weeks ago that ABC News-affiliate WZZM Channel 13 reported the headline story: “Grand Rapids-area woman to stand trial for death of foster child.” A Kent County District Court judge ordered Joy Heaven to stand trial in Circuit Court for the death of her foster child. Five-year-old Emily Meno died of head trauma in July at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

There are many others, including Kennedy Compton. This June, I wrote about some other tragic deaths in foster care. These included Eduardo Calzada and Karina Moore. I also reported on the grave injuries inflicted on Jayden Clark and Timothy Dodge Jr. The Denver Post reported that Timothy was the fourth Adams County child in five years “who has died or nearly died in a foster home supervised by a private child-placement agency.”

From Canada, “Port Alberni RCMP are investigating the unexplained death of a six-month-old infant in foster care Wednesday evening,” the Times Colonist reports. “Over the past decade, the ministry has faced intense criticism over deaths of children in foster care and in how deaths are investigated,” the Times Colonist adds.

Also from Canada: “The death of another infant of aboriginal ancestry in a B.C. government-run foster home has angry families and First Nations leaders demanding answers,” the Vancouver Sun reports.

“I’m absolutely shocked and saddened,” said Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “It is troubling to hear of another death while the numbers of First Nations children in government care continue to rise.”

“The family of Caroline Touchie — an aboriginal child who died in a foster home on Sept. 11, 2007, just five days after she was taken from her mother’s care — was outraged to hear of another native child dying in government care.

“Why are so many infants dying in foster care?” demanded Caroline’s aunt, April Sandford.

Why – indeed? A few weeks ago, I posted a new article on my web site entitled “Little Angel Bird: Reflections on a Young Girl’s Death in Alberta.” It detailed the tragic death of a nameless young girl from Alberta who died while in foster care. I also mentioned the death of Evander Daniels in Saskatchewan, and some other Aboriginal children in Canada, arguing that these tragic deaths were part of a continuum characterized by both miserable failure and outright exploitation on the part of child welfare authorities.

There are many other casualties of “the war on child abuse,” and their names deserve to be remembered. Among them are Michelle Walton, Clayton Miracle, Keron Owens, Krystal Scurry, Selena Hill, Mykeeda Hampton, Caprice Reid, Shane Devell Washington, Corese Goldman, China Marie Davis, Vincent Arthur Ortega Jr., Courtney Sims, Jonathan Campbell, Bradley McGee, Akeem Oats, Sara Eyerman, Gladys Campbell, Henry Gallop & Aaron Johnson, and Kellum Hardy. None of these children had asked the authorities to “rescue” them from their homes.

The Dufferin Voices of Children Alliance maintains a tomb “in memory of children who died after separation from their families by force of arms for their care and protection, whether under pretext of child protection, psychiatric care or delinquency.” It is a voluminous listing – yet I have scores of names that are not on their list. As time permits, I may round them all up and send them along to VOCA so as to avoid duplicitive efforts.

All wars, whether righteous or not, have civilian fatalities. We have taken that as a given since the dawn of recorded history. But this is not a righteous war. As I note in my recent rewrite of my article on reunification plans, Judge Arthur G. Christean pointed out that legislation in Utah indicated “clearly that its basic aims are not to preserve family ties, but rather to sever them as quickly as possible in order to protect children from the risk of neglect or abuse, and to redistribute those children over whom the state can exercise authority from less deserving biological parents to more deserving adoptive parents.”

Similar legislation has since been passed in every state in conformance with the dictates of the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act, creating a new category of legal orphans, whose rights to their families have been permanently severed. They are innocent casualties of the war, few of whom have asked to be so “rescued” from their homes.

The ineffectiveness of Child Protective Services is quite nearly as stunning as is its capacity to ravage impoverished families. Now, along comes a new study from Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, speaking once again to the former of these two critical issues.

The study’s findings “identified no significant difference in social support, family function, poverty, maternal education and child behavior problems associated with CPS investigation. Maternal depressive symptoms were worse in households with a CPS investigation compared with those without an investigation.” Based on these findings, the authors conclude that this study “provides an important perspective on the association between a CPS investigation for suspected child maltreatment and subsequent household, caregiver and child risk. Our finding that CPS investigation is not associated with improvements in common, modifiable risk factors suggests that we may be missing an opportunity for secondary prevention.”

A companion article, entitled “Child Protective Services Has Outlived Its Usefulness,” by Abraham B. Bergman, MD, notes that: “The concept of Child Protective Services (CPS) was idealistic when it first came into being in the early 1970s.”

“Initially the task of identifying non-accidental trauma was relatively straightforward because it was the classic ‘battered child’ that was among most frequent diagnoses,” he notes.

“Much has changed in the child welfare field over the past 40 years, notably the types of child maltreatment seen and the explosive growth of the foster care system,” Dr. Bergman continues. “How has CPS responded to these changed responsibilities? Not well, according to this study by Campbell and colleagues in this issue of the Archives.”

“This gloomy prognosis notwithstanding, the changed picture of child maltreatment in the United States demands, at the very least, that we begin a wide-ranging discussion and testing of alternative responses.”

According to a TIME article entitled “Study: Why Child Abuse Investigations Don’t Help Kids,” Bergman says that what CPS does now “is mostly investigation and not much support and it’s an overwhelming task given to people who don’t have much training and tremendous turnover.” In the editorial, he cites a 2003 GAO investigation that found that only 28% of CPS workers even had undergraduate degrees in social work. Only 15% had a bachelor’s, while only 13% had a Master’s degree. And, most caseworkers had spent two years or less on the job.

“Adjusted measures of social support, poverty, and children’s anxious, depressive, aggressive or destructive behaviors grew worse, though not significantly, in household subjected to any CPS investigation, compared with uninvestigated homes,” explains John Gever, Senior Editor of MedPage Today in his report on the study entitled “Child Protective Services Found Ineffective.”

Is it any wonder that things grew worse by any measure after an investigation? Conservative columnsist Thomas Sowell observes that by the time an investigation has run its course, children have been strip-searched, interrogated by a stream of social workers, police officers, and prosecutors, psychologically tested, and sometimes placed in foster care. Such actions usually occur without search warrants, parental consent, court hearings, or official charges-and often solely on the basis of the anonymous telephone call.

Even in the event that a report is ultimately unfounded, a family has been subjected to enormous stress factors. As Elizabeth Hutchinson explains: “Investigation of a report of child maltreatment is not an innocuous intrusion into family life. By the time an investigation is complete, the family has had to cope with anxieties in both their formal and informal support systems alerted to state suspicion of their parenting. Even if the report is expunged from the central registry due to lack of substantiation, it is seldom expunged from the mind of the family-or from the memories of persons in the support system.”

To put it another way, as the Washington State Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee explained: “An intensive investigation of allegations of child abuse or neglect can be disruptive and cause tension within the family being investigated. The effects of the disruption are exacerbated if the allegation is unfounded. Given the time elapsed on a case, this may represent a serious imposition into the lives of the family and the child being investigated, especially if the child is temporarily removed from the home during the investigation.”

Child development experts Goldstein, Solnit, Goldstein, and Freud note that, “by its intervention, the state may make a bad situation worse: indeed it may even turn a tolerable situation or even a good situation into a bad one”

Yale Professor Edward Zigler saw it coming. In his testimony before Congress during the 1970s, he addressed this very issue, saying that he was “beginning to see some people who we are driving to the brink of psychosis because of these [reporting] laws.” Zigler found these early trends to be both troubling and potentially counterproductive, for even during this early period we were already reaching a phenomenon of the sort in which: “Somebody reports a parent; then the parent abuses the child again for getting her in trouble.” Zigler explained that this was “clinically occurring everywhere” at the time.

If any medicine had proven as ineffective at curing the disease for which it was prescribed – even as it was responsible for as many fatalities and crippling injuries – it would would have been pulled from the shelves by the FDA years ago.

Yet the child protection system continues to thrive and persist because of the sugar-coated myth that “more of the same” will provide the needed cure for that ailing patient that is the larger body of children and families who are the victims of abuse and neglect by modern society. We brand them as among the “working poor,” or as “living on the margins of society,” or as living “in the shadows” in the wealthiest nation in the world.

And, we continue to provide them with more of the same “social service” by removing their children from their homes by virtue only of their poverty. It is the persistent myth that we are so “saving” them from parental “abuse and neglect” that provides the grist for the proverbial mill that is the poverty industry.