I often hear from parents who have had something happen with their child—be it wandering away briefly, an accidental injury, or medical occurrence that sends them to the ER—and suddenly find themselves caught up in the system, their children taken away, and their family life traumatically disrupted. I recently read an article in the New York Times: Foster care As Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crowe’. As a CPS defense attorney, stories like these are all-too-familiar and tragic. And they are appalling. The Times has done a good job of showing how CPS can over-react and remove children when their actions cause more harm than good.
The CPS system is often so focused on removing children from the home that it fails to consider the impact on the child. Families that are poor, and especially single moms overwhelmed with their responsibilities, often don’t respond well to a CPS investigation. The last thing that many moms can afford is an attorney to guide them through an investigation. There are court appointed attorneys available, but not until the case has already proceeded to court. The CPS system, while necessary, has lots of room for improvement. Here are some of my thoughts about what would help:
- More experience. CPS workers have a high turnover, tend to be young, often have very little time on the job, and move up the ranks very quickly if they are any good. Many times they have no children of their own and have no real life experience that qualifies them to assess parents.
- Less attitude. CPS workers are often oriented to be hostile to parents and, therefore, can often be condescending to parents. This creates barriers that are sometimes difficult to overcome.
- More cultural sensitivities. This is a touchy subject, but acceptable parenting is different in different cultures within our society. CPS workers need to understand that parenting may look a little different with parents of different races, educational status, marital status, etc.
- More Constitutional training. I rarely meet a CPS worker who understands that a parent has Constitutional rights. I don’t know why that is; it seems like a simple thing to me. The Constitution guarantees rights to citizens that are restrictions on government activities. CPS is part of the government.
- Don’t remove children when there are options. Every defense attorney I know can tell horror stories about harm caused to children when they are yanked out of the home. There are, no doubt, times when that is necessary. But removal is employed far too often.
As a society we definitely need to protect children, but all too often there is a knee-jerk reaction, an overzealous CPS worker, and a young child torn from the arms of loving and responsible parents. The primary responsibility to protect children rests with parents and not CPS. At Cronkright Law we are committed to defending parents caught up in the system and helping them get their children back. If we can be of service to you, just call or e-mail. We are here to help.