Sunday, March 24, 2013

CPS -- Government vs. Parent?

CAPTA (the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) is a law which certainly has good intentions but which has proven to be very controversial. The problem with the whole situation is that people look at this the wrong way. They see threat and respond emotionally. Both sides need to rationally consider the situation. There are plenty of accusations and plenty of facts which indicate abuse on both sides of the problem. There are abusive parents and children do need protection. On the other hand, there are cases in which workers have been overzealous and the system has shown itself to be terribly flawed .

Every child care professional has experienced both sides of this problem. The answer is not to take an extreme position. Extremism is always a problem, in and of itself. We have a much better range of choices than to eliminate the organization entirely or to give it even more power.

Better training of social workers, more oversight, more workers so that they are not overwhelmed with huge caseloads, an appropriate defender for the parents who will support their rights when they are confused and frightened and uncertain of the correct action: all of these would greatly contribute to a much better system.

The biggest changes that would help would be simply better trained workers in appropriate numbers. Better training insures that workers make more careful, rational decisions. It would help them make more accurate decisions. And having enough workers guarantees a worker can put the time into making those accurate, correct decisions.

When a worker knows a child's life may be in his or her hands, they must make a decision. They don't want to become the abuser by hurting an innocent family, but on the other hand if they make the wrong decision a child may die. To make a good decision requires careful investigation, a large investment of time, a great deal of thought and consideration, but this cannot be when you have a huge caseload.

When I first started working Adelanto, one of the things the old-timers told me was how CPS had once been a serious and respected friend in the community. Not just a friend of educators, but a friend of parents. That was because at that time Adelanto was very small, the number CPS workers was comparatively high. They had time to work with families. They were able to actually go into homes and teach and guide parents. CPS was not necessarily considered to be a danger to parents at that time.

But as the little city grew and as the number of caseworkers did not grow accordingly, things changed. The workers are now stressed. They have to get answers quickly and they no longer have time for in-depth investigations. They do not have time to get to know the families. They do not have time to give help. They have become strangers, outsiders, invaders who simply come in and often make old problems worse and may even generate new problems

Right now in American government it is very hard to convince people that we need to spend additional money. Yet, the simple fact is, if we wish a system like this to work and actually protect children and help families, it requires an expenditure of money. When you need cancer surgery or treatment for some other terrible disease you do not say, "Well I'll just take the cheapest doctor." You get the best doctor that you can afford to buy. And yet as a nation we look at our children and say, "Oh well, we don't want to waste money on THEM."

I can tell stories from both sides of this problem. One of the most cogent things I can say is that is very important to remember is that whenever we made a call to CPS, and we called them often, we were either relieved or upset when we found out the name of the social worker assigned to the case. The entire system is dependent upon the effectiveness and the competence of one single individual, the investigating social worker. A good social worker and we were all relieved as we knew the job would get done, would get done well and it that it would serve the needs of the community and the family. The wrong investigator and we were worried. We knew things would not go well for anyone.

The solution to the problem, then, is an appropriate investment of time, training and functionality. There are other issues I haven't even discussed, since I perceive the key issues being the proper training of workers and having the proper number of workers with the time to apply that training effectively. Those two things alone would vastly reform the system. But both of them would cost money. It costs more money to train workers better, better trained workers expect higher pay, and obviously it costs more to have more workers available. We must ask are our children worth it? If they are then we must spend the money. If they are not worth it, then we should save money and let whatever happens to the children happen.

Other problems which need to be addressed include the following:

One. We've already discussed the fact that too few workers leads to large caseloads leads to poor quality work.

Two. We also discussed in proper training or incomplete training leads to workers of different qualities and capabilities. A good worker does a good job, a not so good worker a very poor job

Three. Parents are not represented unless they are able to afford an attorney. This is entirely inappropriate. There should be a government appointed representative who takes the family side, which includes making sure the parents rights are being respected. Theoretically CPS takes the family side, but this is not always true.

Four. The system is terribly flawed in that regards parents as guilty until proven innocent once a child has been removed. This is unconstitutional. In any other crime, you are innocent until proven guilty. Once a child is been taken away, since the courts interest lays in protecting the child at that point, officials often refuse to return the child until the parents admit they are guilty, even if they are innocent. This is done in an attempt to protect the child from parents were unwilling to face the truth. But if the parents are innocent then it is the CPS worker and the government who are not facing the truth and it is they who are abusing the child and the family. This is wrong and must be addressed.

Five. The laws are too vague and unclear. For example, we once had a staff meeting back in the 1970s. During it a visiting CPS worker stated to the staff that she believed that while spanking was legal using a belt to administer a spanking was clearly abuse and in such a case of child had to be removed from the home. A teacher promptly stood up and said, "Put the handcuffs on me then, because I'm guilty." She was a very good teacher and a very good parent. I am certain she never abused her children. Other staff members backd her up and said much the same thing. The point is that different workers have different opinions about what is or is not abuse. That is not acceptable. We must have clear standards.

Six. In many cases in which I had reported abuse, once the investigation had begun the parents simply moved away to another school district, sometimes out of the state. Of course there were attempts to follow up, but sometimes the results were tragic. If a case has validly been opened, the parent should not be able simply move away and thus keep their children in danger and at risk. Of course, it also follows that all cases which reach such a level must be valid. And that's what the other reforms are intended to accomplish.

Let me finish by making a comment to those who are opposed to the continued existence of CPS. Yes, there have been abuses. In some cases innocent families have been harmed by intervention instead of guilty families being saved from hurting their own children. Nevertheless, the problem is real. Over the years, I have called CPS many times and I have many terrible memories of serious abuse incidents. The problem is not a simple one, and defies simplistic solutions. We must work together, government and parents, to protect our children in an appropriate and effective manner. This is not easy, but it is a necessity.

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