March 23, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The issue of abuse of power by child protection agencies is once more front and center in this case (The Courier, 3/20/15). Some of the background facts of the case aren’t clear, but the upshot of it is. What no one disputes is that Findlay, Ohio mother Teresa Smith’s child was taken from her by local child protective authorities. The child now lives with his father.
There’s nothing shocking about that, but, in testimony before the Hancock Count Commissioners Court, Smith said the caseworker who took the child now lives with the boy’s father. And, according to Smith, she did so in retaliation for Smith’s pestering the agency to investigate claims of abuse of the child.
A Findlay woman on Thursday told the Hancock County commissioners that the county Children’s Protective Services agency is guilty of “illegal and unethical behavior.”…
Teresa Smith told the commissioners that in 2012, she became the focus of an agency investigation after she made repeated attempts to force the agency to investigate alleged abuse of her child.
In what she described as an act of retaliation, she said the agency temporarily removed the child from her home. Smith said the caseworker assigned to her case then began dating the biological father of her child.
Smith said within 90 days, the caseworker “rewrote the case plan, changing custody from myself to my son’s biological father, whom he had not known since birth.”
Smith said the caseworker no longer works for the county agency and is now living with the boy’s father and raising the boy.
“What happened to me was wrong, immoral and unethical,” Smith said. “I hope that by speaking to you today that you will recognize that changes need to be made at children’s services, because none of our children are safe until you do.”
Interestingly, no one seems to dispute those facts. If all of what Smith claims is true, there should be an immediate investigation. The idea that a CPS caseworker can use her power to take a child from its parent, move in with the other parent and — presto! — form her own family should be cause for alarm and possibly criminal charges. Whatever the case, the former caseworker needs to be investigated.
Meanwhile, others in the community have sided with Smith.
Susan Pneuman, owner and executive director of The Center for Autism & Dyslexia, 7430 Timberstone Drive, said Smith’s story is “not the exception,” and accused the commissioners’ office of ignoring problems with the Children’s Protective Services agency.
“Mr. (Phillip) Riegle, you are very aware that I had contacted you just about a year ago about my concerns about a child repeatedly being cared for by convicted sex offenders,” Pneuman said. “You are also aware I was harassed by a caseworker for contacting you.”
Pneuman said she was “sickened” by Smith’s story.
“The caseworker’s behavior this mother describes is immoral and is embedded in the very culture of the Hancock County CPS (Children’s Protective Services),” she said.
Now, I do have some questions. For example, why had the father had no contact with his son? If Smith claims he had no interest in the boy, why is the child suddenly living with his dad? Who made the allegations of abuse, and about whom? What were the findings of CPS? Did Dad allege Smith was abusing his son? Was that a ploy to get custody? When did the caseworker and the father begin their romance? Doesn’t CPS have a conflict of interest policy that prevents caseworkers from becoming romantically involved with parents? Where is the family court in all this? CPS doesn’t have the power to unilaterally change the custody of a child, so what did the court do and why?
The answer to those questions and others may reveal Smith’s complaints to be nothing more than those of an unfit mother who wants to “blame the messenger” for losing her child. Or they may reveal a child welfare agency whose abuse of power adversely impacts parents and children.
But what’s strongly suggested by Smith’s and Pneuman’s complaints is that CPS exercises one of the greatest of governmental powers — the power to take a child from its parents. The case suggests that the power can be used arbitrarily and for the most trivial of reasons/excuses. And it shows that, because the actions of CPS are clothed in secrecy, neither the press nor ordinary citizens have much ability to demonstrate any patterns of abuse that may exist.
And, whatever the reality of the Teresa Smith case, those are issues we find with child protective agencies all across this country and around the world. The power to take a child from its parents is awesome and should be exercised only in the most serious of cases. Because that power is so great and so frightening to parents, CPS agencies, perhaps more than other governmental entities, must be open to public scrutiny.
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