An American Gestapo

Pursuant to existing law, in the middle of the night, government agents can demand entry into your home, break down your door and forcibly remove family members. They can take them away to a secret location. If you try to stop them you can be arrested.

They can take these actions based on rumor, innuendo and hearsay. Some neighbor, acquaintance or even a stranger may have reported bad things about your family. It could be initiated from an anonymous tip, or an adversary. There is no requirement for concrete evidence of any wrongdoing.

You cannot post bail to get the family member returned. Ultimately, you are entitled to a court hearing. At the first hearing the Court will start with the presumption that everything written in the report by government agents is true. At this hearing you have no right to present evidence.

The government agency and/or the Court may prevent you from visiting or talking to those they took away.

You do have a right to a trial. This may occur months after the government took your family member. At this trial, however, hearsay statements used against your family are generally admitted, and the burden of proof is on you to prove them untrue.

There is no right to a jury trial. You are provided with a judge who works in a special court. The judge regularly works with the government agency that started the action. If that agency does not like the judge because the judge has a reputation for ruling against the agency, the agency attorney’s can exercise their right in each case to exclude that judge from hearing the matter. Through this, the agency effectively excludes these judges from hearing any cases, and these judges are then generally transferred to another type of court.

The court may appoint an attorney to represent you, but this attorney is dependent on the judge in this court for such appointments. The attorney may work exclusively for this court.

You can complain to the news media about what is happening to your family. However, the court and the government agency have the protection of secrecy and confidentiality. The press normally does not have access to records, and the government officials involved will normally refuse to communicate concerning an ongoing case. If you are persistent in your complaints, the government agency may pursue a restraining order to silence you or they may retaliate by restricting or eliminating any family visits that may have been previously granted.

Normally there is no remedy for government errors. Immunity laws usually protect the government agents from any civil liability. The government provides no restitution and no compensation for injury and damages.

The government agency I am referring to exists in one fashion or another throughout the United States. In California it is called the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). It often is assisted by local law enforcement. The court created to hear its cases is known as Children’s Court. The family members taken away are children. When an allegation involves only one child, often the DCFS will remove all the children. The justification given for removal of the children is that either the parents or guardians are not protecting a child or they are endangering a child.

When making a decision to remove children, the DCFS does not consider or evaluate the consequential damage done to children and their families. They don’t consider the psychological trauma caused to the children by the removal. They give no consideration to the consequences of the removal to the family structure. If and when the children are returned, parents may have lost their authority to set family rules.

Normally parents hold their family and their children as the most important part of their lives. The very threat of removal of a child from one’s home is stressful and can lead to physical defense of the family. Often the DCFS portrays such a reaction as dangerous and encompasses their interpretation of the reaction in supporting reports for the removal of the children.

In the mid 70’s there were only a couple of courts in Los Angeles that handled Children’s court cases. Today, there are many, including an entire court house dedicated to Children’s Court. The proliferation of Children’s Court is not due to a decline in parenting skills. It is due to ever-expanding government imposed standards, increased scrutiny and the innate nature of bureaucracy to expand.

Laws were created in response to reports of children being tortured, being locked in closets and other horror stories. But knee jerk laws can often come back and hit you where it hurts. Today, most Children’s court cases are based on what is perceived as poor parenting. The way the DCFS and Children’s court interpret state laws allows most families at some point to be subject to DCFS intervention.

There are many good caring people who work for the DCFS and Children’s Court. There are also those who themselves have questionable parenting skills and exercise poor judgment. There are questions about them being properly trained, imposing their personal views on what parents should or should not do, and potential bias caused by something happening in their own lives.

There are thousands of things a parent might do that the DCFS believes are grounds to remove children. It might be a beating causing major trauma, molestation, drug use or an arrest. It might be an unacceptable spanking, yelling, or placing “unacceptable” restrictions on a child. It might be a one time mistake in judgment. It may be that your home is not up to acceptable standards or you are viewed as neglecting your children. Or it may be some tragedy such as an accident harming one of your children.

The rationale used by the DCFS for removal of children can be an allegation that you failed to protect a child from some other family member or friend, even if you do not live with the person and do not believe they committed the alleged offense.

By threatening to take away children, the DCFS can manipulate parents into signing agreements admitting things that are not true or agreeing to do a number of things that may place a great personal and economic burden on the parents. The DCFS can then use the agreement against the parents either as an admission or as evidence of a breached promise.

The DCFS may go so far as to prohibit contact with someone they do not like. Even before going to court they may tell a parent that if they do not break up a relationship or allow a person to visit, they will remove the children.

The problems with Children’s Court and the DCFS are probably not going to be corrected by simple changes in the law. There are some state laws that seem to protect parents. The problem is how the laws are being interpreted. A simple bruise from grabbing a child or a small bruise on the child’s rear end may be deemed a major life threatening incident. Yelling may be termed violent when there was no threat of violence in the yelling. A child may be injured at preschool and suffer a minor injury but unless the parents can prove the injury occurred there, the children may be removed. Asking a child to follow strict behavioral rules may be considered abuse.

It would seem that no matter what the laws, many of those employed by DCFS and Children’s court have their own views as to how a child should be raised.

The law imposes a requirement on the court to help reduce errors. The standard of proof required in Children’s court is clear and convincing evidence. This standard appears not to be applied the same way in Children’s court cases as it would in a normal civil case. It’s a bit hard to get clear and convincing evidence from hearsay. As a matter of practice, it is doubtful that judges in Children’s court really apply this standard of proof.

Most cases in Children’s court do not go to trial. Attorneys look to results. Parents want their children back. If there is any chance for return of the children, fighting the charges may delay the return of the children and motivate the DCFS to restrict contact. With perceived bias, even triable issues are rarely litigated. Often in an effort to preserve what is left of their family, parents will admit to charges of wrongdoing that are not true.

The removal of the children from their parents and guardians is really only half the story. The DCFS spends a lot of effort in obtaining jurisdiction, removing the children and placing them in foster care. Somewhere thereafter they seem to pay less attention to the welfare of the children.

A small percentage of abuses in foster care are reported to the press. The DCFS claims the need for secrecy and confidentiality to protect the children, but this secrecy does more to protect the DCFS and children’s court from bad publicity, public outrage and litigation than it does in protecting any abused child.

When children are taken away from their parents and other family members, they are either placed with foster parents or put in a foster parent facility. Under the guise of confidentiality, foster parents are not always given a complete history of the children they are given. They could therefore have children from more than one family in their care. One child might have a history of violence, drugs or sex abuse. Placing children from different backgrounds together may lead to children abusing other children.

Sometimes, the standards in the operation of the foster care facility are questionable. If scrutinized, some foster parents could have their own children removed.

Foster parents may be motivated by the payments they receive. To some it is a business. They take in as many children as they can and do the least amount of service. Foster parents face numerous limitations on how they manage foster children. It is unlikely that foster kids will be disciplined. More likely, a foster parent’s primary job is maintenance of the children until they are eighteen and on their own.

The foster care system is akin to placing children in storage until they legally become adults. It’s more a baby sitting program than a program designed to help children. In loving families, parents care about and help advance their child’s education. Parents want their children involved with sports and other extra curricular activities. Parents want their children to follow certain rules. Parents want their children to understand that poor behavior has consequences which include discipline. Parents want their children to find employment and succeed in life.

Statistics show that a large percentage of homeless people grew up in the foster care system.

The questions should be asked, is our Children’s court system doing more harm than good? Is the expense of maintaining the thousands of employees by the DCFS and the Children’s Court justified?

With few exceptions, most parents, even the ones who fall below most people’s standards of good parenting, still care more for their children than a stranger. Removing children from their parents and from their homes often breaks up family relationships and family bonds. Breaking these bonds will often leave children with no one to go to for help. Failure to have foster kids engaged in part time jobs or extracurricular activities hurt their development and decrease their ability to make it on their own.

Everyone can be critical of another person’s parenting skills. Perhaps we judge others too much. With the vast majority of parents whose children are taken away by DCFS, there is a bond between parent and child that is rarely matched by the intervention of a stranger. Even in the most serious cases: the parent who hit their child, the parent who abused drugs, was arrested, or neglected their child there is still a bond of caring between parent and child.

The harm done to children by interfering with and breaking that bond may far outweigh the benefit of the relatively few children whose lives are improved as a result of foster care. We would be better served if the DCFS and the Children’s Court had their jurisdiction limited to the most extreme cases of child abuse.