What’s Child Neglect? An Adult Showing Up 7 Minutes Late to Get the Child at School

April 2, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


What’s the difference between child neglect and not child neglect?  According to the Chicago public school system, it’s seven minutes (Reason, 3/24/21).  That’s right, seven minutes.

It seems that 10-year-old Braylin Harvey’s mother got confused about his school’s bus schedule on the second day of classes.  When she realized the problem and that she wouldn’t be able to pick him up immediately after school, she called her brother to get Braylin.  He showed up at 4:37 PM, seven minutes after the time designated by the school.  So school officials contacted the police and child protective services to report that Braylin was being neglected by his mother, JaNay Dodson.  Really, I’m not making this up.

Was Dodson in fact neglecting her son?  She was not.  She’s been a teacher for 19 years and she was doing her job.  Did the school neglect its duties toward her and Braylin?  It did.  School policy requires someone to try to call a parent if a child is left at school beyond the specified time, but no one at the school did so.  In fact, Dodson tried to telephone the school to let them know about the problem, but could only get a recorded menu.

But of course no one at the school suffered any repercussions for its failure.  The only ones to suffer any consequences were Dodson and her little boy, neither of whom had done anything wrong.

Two days later, Harvey was pulled out of class and interrogated by a caseworker. The next day, a caseworker showed up at his home to investigate his mom, JaNay Dodson, herself a Chicago public school teacher for 19 years. The investigator asked her to provide contact information for people who might reassure the department that she’s a good mother.

Although the article isn’t clear on the matter, it seems that Dodson has been charged with a crime, but she’s confident she can beat the rap.

Meanwhile, the policy of which Dodson ran afoul isn’t isolated to Chicago schools.  Other districts have the same or similar ones.

Dodson has already heard from a mom in Texas who said her school employs the same over-the-top protocol. And in Washington, D.C., the public school handbook says that if a child is not picked up after school dismissal at 3:15 p.m.:

School staff will call the parent/guardian after dismissal to request immediate pick up from school (at 3:30).  If the student is not picked up within 30 minutes, a second call will be made to the parent/guardian and emergency contacts on the student’s afterschool enrollment form (at 4:00).  If a student is not picked up within an hour of the first call, CFSA will be contacted and asked to take custody of the student (at 4:30).

From normal kid to ward of the state in 75 minutes.

That’s about the size of it.

The zealousness with which states intervene in family life seems to know no bounds.  Keep in mind that there are about 3.3 million reports of alleged child abuse and/or neglect made to state CPS agencies every year.  Of those, about 80% are so obviously unfounded that they’re dispensed with in the initial phone call to the agency or shortly thereafter.  What strikes me about Braylin’s case is that it’s NOT one of those 80%.  An adult’s showing up to collect a child seven minutes past time is, according to Chicago CPS, indicative enough of child neglect to warrant investigation, frightening the child and the mother, using caseworker time, using police time and of course all the money attendant on those activities.  In short, this is a case with enough merit to, at least initially, call child “neglect.”

If that’s an example of founded child neglect, imagine what all those other cases that didn’t constitute child neglect look like.  The point being that the system of mandatory reporters vastly overstates the actual danger to children and vastly runs up the bill to taxpayers for dealing with a welter of reports that never needed to have been made.

As writer Lenore Skenazy points out, “It’s the moral equivalent of calling child services over a hangnail.”

Careful Lenore, you may be giving them ideas.


Elizabeth Woods is Out at Mary Bridge Hospital

April 1, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


Well, this is good news (NBC News, 3/25/21).  Dr. Elizabeth Woods is out as a child abuse physician at Seattle’s Mary Bridge Hospital and out as an expert in child abuse cases.  Among other things, area prosecutors are formally informing criminal defense attorneys that Woods expertise and opinions are highly impeachable.  Here’s a piece I did on Woods 13 months ago.

Who is Dr. Elizabeth Woods?  For years she practiced as a “child abuse physician” at Mary Bridge Hospital.  That means she was relied on by child welfare officials, other doctors, courts, etc. to opine as to whether injuries to a child resulted from abuse or accident.  But, as a superb series of articles by Mike Hixenbaugh revealed, Woods could be far more of an advocate than an impartial expert.  Hixenbaugh uncovered at least four cases in which Woods seemed to have bent over backwards not only to find abuse where there was none, but to direct actual malice toward parents.

For example, after having caused a child to be taken from her mother for over a year and having her opinions on the case excoriated by the judge as, among other things as “not plausible,” “speculation at best” and “without factual basis,” the state’s case against the parents was dismissed.  Undeterred, Woods waited six months before levelling new charges of medical abuse at the mother, despite neither Woods nor anyone else at the hospital having seen either the little girl or her parents during all that time.  Unsurprisingly, Woods’ new claims turned out to be factually false.

Helped by Hixenbaugh’s revelations, Woods is now looking for other work.

But this winter, Woods left her position as the director of the child abuse intervention program at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, and last month she was removed from the small roster of doctors who provide expert medical reports to the state’s child welfare agency, hospital and state officials confirmed. Some area prosecutors have also been sending letters to defense lawyers disclosing that Woods’ credibility as an expert witness has been called into question.

In at least one of the cases Hixenbaugh examined, Woods frankly lied under oath in an effort to obtain a court finding of medical child abuse by the child’s mother.

Meanwhile, parents celebrated the departure of Woods.

Her exit was celebrated by several parents — many of whom banded together in a Facebook group titled, “Families Wrongly Accused by ‘Dr.’ Elizabeth Woods” — who say mistaken reports by Woods led the state’s Child Protective Services to needlessly separate them from their children. And it raises questions about the future of any pending child abuse cases that hinge on her expert medical findings, legal experts said, possibly opening the door for parents or their lawyers to challenge the state’s case against them.

At this point, no one knows how many cases may be affected by the realization that Woods’ opinions aren’t reliable.  Doubtless some children she considered to have been abused were.  If those kids end up back with their abusers due to Woods’ conduct in other cases, they may be at risk of further abuse or worse.  Still, it’s good to see Elizabeth Woods discredited.  She richly deserved it.

But of course Elizabeth Woods is but a single person.  The greater ill is the steadily enlarging subspecialty of child abuse medicine.  I strongly suspect that such a subspecialty tends to attract zealots like Woods who too easily see abuse or neglect when there is none and other factors explain an injury to a child.  If I’m right, state child welfare agencies’ reliance on those specialists results in more kids taken from their parents than is necessary or even factually correct.  Indeed, state agencies seem to embrace those specialists for that very reason.  Having an in-house doctor who’s willing to corroborate CPS suspicions and encourage what caseworkers too readily want anyway, i.e. to take the child into care, must look to some like the ideal situation.  It places a gloss of medical expertise on state overreach.

Anything or anyone that encourages or expands the already-existing tendency of state child welfare agencies to overreach should be resisted.  Dr. Elizabeth Woods is just one person, but unquestionably, there are more like her.  Articles like Hixenbaughs raise the necessary red flags.  All child abuse physicians should have their opinions looked at askance and be vigorously cross examined in court.


Britain’s Chief Social Worker Calls for Fewer Kids Taken from Parents

March 22, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


The movement to reduce state intervention into families with children got a boost when Great Britain’s chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler, said publicly that child protective agencies too readily take children from families (Daily Mail, 3/14/21).

Too many children are being taken into care unnecessarily by social workers who should take a ‘kinder’ approach to families, according to the country’s chief social worker.

Isabelle Trowler, 53, said it was ‘an injustice’ that some authorities were removing babies who could be safely supported at home.

What’s her evidence that those authorities are overreaching?

She added that the number of child protection probes ending in no further action – which have tripled in the past decade – showed social workers were ‘intervening when we didn’t need to’…

‘If such a high number of investigations are ending in no further action you have to accept that means we [social workers] are intervening when we didn’t need to.’

Yes, a trebling over 10 years of cases that turn out to need no attention by child protective authorities does strongly suggest that they’re sticking their noses where they don’t belong.  It also parallels what’s going on here in the U.S.  According to the Administration for Children and Families, an astonishing 80% of reports of child abuse or neglect here are dismissed with no action taken by the agency responsible.  I suspect that’s largely due to two factors – mandatory reporting and secrecy.

An astonishing array of people who may interact with a child are required by law to report even the barest suggestion of abuse or neglect.  As I reported here, the training given those mandated reporters leans heavily on the notion that, when in doubt, report the child and let the child protective agencies deal with it.  That training also “defines” abuse and neglect so loosely that virtually anything can qualify.

Then there’s the fact that all allegations of abuse or neglect are strictly confidential.  So anyone with a grudge against a parent can, for any reason or no reason, report him/her to CPS with no fear that the parent will ever know who did so.  No one knows how many outright fabrications of child abuse are made to those agencies, but the secrecy in which reports are made positively begs for them.

Trowler also cited information that suggests one cause of overreporting of suspected abuse or neglect.

And, as fears of a rise in child neglect cases had not come to pass after the first lockdown, the pandemic would offer an opportunity to ‘reset’ the way social work is done.

On both sides of the Atlantic we were told that the pandemic and lockdowns would cause child abuse to skyrocket as parents spent ever more time with their kids at home.  It didn’t happen.  Incidents of child abuse and neglect dropped significantly over the past year.  What did happen was that children were less exposed to the prying eyes of those mandated reporters lurking at every corner, so there were fewer reports made.  Of course there’s been no indication of children being abused but not being reported, so the question arises whether all those reporters are necessary. 

It’s a question neither Trowler nor anyone else in her country or ours has brought up.  The simple fact is that, with all those people tasked with reporting the slightest hint of abuse or neglect and with zero negative consequences for overreporting, the status quo is bound to continue.  Trowler’s urging of social workers to be kinder is, I’m sure, well meant, but it won’t solve the problem. 

Only a healthy respect for families, their right to be left alone by their governments and parent’s rights to care for their children will stem the rising tide of cases in which governmental agencies believe they know better how to care for your kids than you do.  We need to move away from the demonstrably untrue notion that the best place for the government is in the home.


My Kid Wants to Play Online Games: Tips for Parents to Keep Their Young Gamers Safe

March 18, 2021


A fact of parenting in the 21st century is that, at some point, your child will come to you and ask when they can finally play video games. Take a deep breath: This is normal. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities for you to help your child have the gaming experience they want while simultaneously making sure they’re staying safe online.

The National Parents Organization shares a few key things to remember as you delve into uncharted gaming territory.

Familiarize yourself with parental controls

Video games can help kids develop social skills, make connections, and engage their creative sides. Parental controls offer a way for you to keep tabs on your child while at the same time letting them access these benefits. There is a good chance that your child will want to play online games from a laptop or Chromebook. Both kinds of devices offer opportunities to ensure the parental controls are up to snuff. On a Chromebook, for instance, you can set up Google Family Link, which allows you to supervise screen time and set up controls that only let your child access specific websites.

Nip the speed problems now

Online multiplayer games like Minecraft require access to high-quality internet. If you’ve ever heard your child complaining about a stalled screen or inability to play, this is a pretty good indication your internet isn’t up to the task. When investigating your internet speed, it’s important to get an idea of what your actual speed is and why it’s not working. Websites like provide a snapshot of your internet speed so you know where to go from there. If your internet speed could use a boost, look into 5G connections, which can improve internet speed and make online games smoother to play and download.

Get the right gear

When you’re gaming, the equipment can mean the difference between a frustrating play session and an enlightening one. For instance, a gaming monitor can get rid of some of the aforementioned lag, not to mention that it can provide a clean, crisp image for your child to fully immerse themselves. (After all, having a good graphics card doesn’t mean much if your monitor can’t render the images.)

Buying a gaming monitor takes some careful thought and research, but asking the right questions is a good place to start. What is your preferred refresh rate? What size do you want? Do you want a full experience in 4K display? Be sure to shop around on the internet — you can take advantage of some great manufacturer deals through online discounts.

Another cool piece of equipment to help you and your child create positive gaming memories is a good headset. Gaming headsets can range from the ultra-posh to the ultra-sparse, so it can be difficult to know which direction to go before you make a purchase. When looking around, just keep in mind that a good gaming headset should have three characteristics: a mouthpiece, surround sound, and affordability.

In short: Don’t stress

Your child can achieve an enjoyable experience out of online gaming with these handy tips. Not to mention you get brownie points as a parent for giving them access to the brave (not so) new world of internet games!


Latest COVID Bill Assumes Non-Custodial Parents Spend Nothing on Their Kids

March 17, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


Last time I discussed the latest bill out of Washington that, in addition to many, many other things, would see the federal government sending $300-checks every month to families for every child under the age of five in the household.  Checks for $250 per month would go for children over the age of five.  I pointed out that, along with the various other cash and non-cash benefits for parents with kids, the new law will encourage the marginalization of fathers.  Fathers tend to be the main providers of cash resources for their families, whether they’re married or divorced.  Therefore, cash for kids tends to replace Dad.  

But now, a long-time and intrepid supporter of the National Parents Organization has sent me still more information on the new bill and, as before, it’s all about kicking dads to the curb.

The linchpin of the whole thing is that both existing law and the one that’s about to be signed into law ignore non-custodial parents.  About 80% of non-custodial parents are fathers and they have, on average, between 30% and 35% of the parenting time.  That means they incur between 30% and 35% of the costs of raising the children in addition to the child support they pay, but nowhere is there any dispensation made for that painfully obvious fact.  All the money and all the child tax credits go to the custodial parent while non-custodial Dad is left to shift as best he can.  The same was true of the two previous COVID relief bills and the tax law that preceded COVID.

So, if Mom and Dad are divorced and have one child whose custodial parent is Mom, her total benefit from all three COVID bills plus existing tax law comes to $12,659 and Dad’s comes to $3,738.  From the first COVID bill, she received $1,200 for herself and $500 for the child and he received $1,200 for himself.  From the second bill, she got $600 each for herself and the child and he got $600 for himself.

From this third bill, she’ll receive $1,400 for herself, $1,400 for the child, an additional $300 for the child (if he/she is under five) and an increase in her child tax credit of $1,000.  Dad will receive $1,400. 

From already existing tax policies, Mom receives $675 as head of the household, $3,584 in the Earned Income Tax Credit plus the minimum of $1,400 child tax credit.  From those policies, Dad receives $538 in the EITC.

And of course, Mom’s benefits don’t stop there.  She’ll continue receiving that $300 per month until the child reaches the age of five and then she’ll receive $250 per month until he/she becomes 18.

The point being that the various cash benefits and non-cash impacts on taxes bear no relation to either the time spent with the child or the expenses of raising the child borne by each parent.  Shouldn’t they?  If 20% of non-custodial parents were mothers, would they be treated the way non-custodial fathers are now?  There’s no reason under the sun why the federal government can’t pro-rate these benefits to the parenting time exercised by parents, but that obvious and fair step was neither taken nor apparently considered.  Such is the life of Dad.


ABA Brings ‘Hidden Foster Care’ to Light

March 11, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


I love learning new things, particularly about subjects I already know a lot about.  This article taught me something I didn’t know about foster care and child protective agencies (ABA, 6/1/20).  The journalistic “hook” is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on those agencies and foster care.  But the real story is a practice that’s been dubbed “hidden foster care.”

Hidden foster care apparently has been practiced by CPS agencies for decades, but has only recently come to light.

“Hidden foster care” is the term used by Professor Josh Gupta-Kagan to describe a widespread practice that has existed for decades, under the guise of “safety plans” or diversion programs, under which a child welfare agency tells a parent that unless the parent places his or her child with a friend or relative, the agency will remove that child and place the child into foster care. In addition to this coercion of the parents through the threat of removal, the agency often simultaneously tells the relative that unless the relative takes the child into his or her home and takes action to protect the child, often by seeking guardianship of the child through a family or probate court, the child will end up in foster care with strangers and the relative may have no access to the child as a result.

So hidden foster care is a bit different from the parallel practice of coercing parents into signing an agreed plan under which their kids are taken from them and placed in foster care.  That too is a widespread practice, but the child’s relatives aren’t always involved.  So the two are somewhat different, but the results are much the same.

The child and the parent are separated, without court review or access to counsel and often without a plan for reunification.  

Indeed, that’s pretty much the whole purpose of those “voluntary” agreements – to remove from the process lawyers and judges who might raise pesky issues of due process of law and parental rights that CPS would often prefer didn’t come up.  Plus, without a court hearing, the whole process of shanghaiing children from parents is so much quicker and less expensive than it otherwise would be.  State agencies find it ideal; parents and children, not so much.

As to hidden foster care:

And because the foster care system was bypassed, the relative or friend who took custody of the child is left to care for the child without the supports and services that the child welfare system provides to support children who have experienced abuse and neglect and without assistance in navigating contact and reunification with the parent.  

In short, it’s a money and time-saving device.  No courts, no lawyers and no need to provide services – if you’re a state agency, what’s not to like?  If you’re a caseworker, it’s the easiest and quickest way to get that file off your desk.  The problem of course is that no one knows whether the relative who was browbeaten into taking the child is at all capable or qualified to provide the requisite care.  Naturally, kinship care is generally far superior to stranger care, as the article acknowledges.

When children are removed from their parents’ custody by a child protection agency due to allegations of abuse or neglect, research has clearly illustrated that placing them in kinship foster homes often leads to better outcomes than care in traditional foster care with non-relatives. Placement with family may be even more important during COVID-19 as kinship families are more likely to take in an entire sibling group preventing additional trauma of being separated from sisters or brothers. In addition, many kinship caregivers want to assist the children in their care in remaining connected to their parents through video or socially distanced visits frequently, while finding adequate visitation time is a particularly acute challenge for many children in non-kinship families. Finally, research has illustrated that placement with kinship caregivers often means more stable placements with fewer placements overall and often results in better mental and physical health.

So why engage in the practice of hidden foster care?  Since kinship care is preferable, on average, to stranger care, why not just go through the process of diverting the children to a relative who’s known to be capable of caring for them?  Again, the sole reasons appear to be time and money.  The agency doesn’t want the bother and using its awesome power to intimidate both parents and relatives is simply too expedient to ignore.

In the end, the ABA piece gets it right.  We need to strengthen parental rights vis-à-vis state child welfare agencies.  As a practical matter, that means they should have the right to legal counsel whenever their parental rights are at issue.  Without that, state agencies will continue to steamroll parents and kids.  Hidden foster care is just on of the many ways in which they do so.


The Lords Should Take Down Helic’s Screed on Parental Alienation

March 9, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


For Baroness Helic, I suppose it wasn’t enough to soil the website for the British House of Lords with her dishonest-to-the-point-of-derangement article on parental alienation.  She had to get in bed with a couple of very dicey allies in the process.  Her piece amounts to little but a series of naked assertions unsupported by even minimal evidence.  Occasionally, she managed to drop in a link here and there to give the impression that her article constituted something other than intellectual confectionary.  Alas for her, that too failed.

Remarkably, that’s because her citations run the gamut from utterly irresponsible to actually not standing for the proposition for which they’re cited. 

An example of the former is this:

In America, more than fifty thousand children each year are forced by courts into unsupervised contact with an abusive parent.

The best we can say about that assertion is that there is in fact a document claiming that 58,000 children per year are placed by courts in the custody of abusive parents in the U.S.  Unfortunately for Helic and anyone else who cites it, the document gets nowhere near to establishing its claim.  In the first place, it’s not a study of any case or cases.  It nowhere attempts to look into a representative sample of cases, ascertain whether the allegations of child abuse were true or not and draw a conclusion about the rightness or wrongness of the judge’s decision. 

Neither does it take into consideration obvious facts.  So, for example, there are about 900,000 divorce cases filed in the U.S. each year.  Of those, about two-thirds involve children; those cases involve on average about 1.3 children per divorce.  So there are about 780,000 kids involved in divorce cases each year. 

About 95% of those cases aren’t decided by a judge but by the parents and another 95% don’t involve even an allegation of child abuse, at least if the 2012 study of Nebraska divorce cases is any guide.  That brings the number of kids whose cases are decided by a judge and are alleged to have been abused down to about 2,000.  How many of those allegations are true?  No one knows, but if we assume half to be, then we’re down to 1,000 abused kids in judge-decided custody cases.  Now, how many of those are placed in the custody of their abuser?  Again, no one knows, but it can’t be many.  Whatever the case, 58,000 is just a made-up number; it statistically cannot be true.  Like everyone else who cites the document, Helic did so because she likes its conclusion, not because that conclusion has the least basis in fact.

That comes as no surprise given that the document she referred to was authored by Joyanna Silberg who’s been found by courts to be so biased in regard to issues of child abuse and parental alienation as to be unfit to guide courts in those cases.  Here, for example is one pithy statement by a judge on Silberg:

I need to say something about Dr. Silberg. I’m going to say not as much as I’d like to say. First, I don’t believe her. I disbelieve her testimony. She clearly came to this case with a view. She clearly, respectfully was wearing a jersey. She did not approach this case, in my judgment, scientifically or clinically. She presented, in my opinion, as a cheerleader. There were tremendous analytical gaps in her testimony. While she is certainly qualified on paper, in this case her opinion in my judgment lacks any credible or adequate factual basis…

She waved off anything that didn’t fit with her hypothesis. She disregarded facts that were clearly contrary to hypothesis. I don’t believe her to be blunt. I don’t believe her. She had no factual basis which I credit. She did not employ methodology which to my mind was sound. This was the case of Walt. She gave me a couple, three I told you so opinions, which as Judge Moylan said, are not worth anything. So I give her opinion zero weight. 

This is one person Helic cites.

She goes on to cite what she calls the “harm panel report” conducted by the British Ministry of Justice and published last year.  It’s a 216-page report on how British courts deal with claims of domestic violence in family matters.  One problem for Helic is that the report barely mentions parental alienation and nowhere even attempts to define the term, study the phenomenon, analyze its role, if any, in divorce cases, figure out if parental alienation occurred in individual cases, etc.  The document simply has almost nothing to do with PA.

In short, Helic stoops to citing a document that has virtually nothing to do with her topic.

Not only that, but one of the authors of the “harm panel report” is Liz Trinder, a researcher who, for many years now, has bent over backwards to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children.  I wrote here and here about a survey Trinder did in 2013.  She apparently conducted same for the sole purpose of drawing the conclusion that family courts do a very good job, thank you, of enforcing their orders of child access, 86% of which involve fathers.  Amusingly, in not one of the 205 cases studied did the judge actually issue an order that enforced the previous order.  That’s right, not one, and, to Trinder, that’s just as it should be.

How could Trinder, et al find that courts enforce their orders effectively when not one of them did?  By the simple expedient of not following up to see the results of what they did.  Seriously, I’m not making that up.

The research design did not include interviews with parents. Thus we have only limited file data on whether and how orders are being implemented.

In short, in order to judge whether family court judges were effectively enforcing their orders of contact on behalf of fathers, Trinder, et al, found no case in which the judge actually enforced the order and didn’t follow up on the orders they did issue. 

More amusingly still, Trinder’s assessment of those cases was sunny and upbeat.  According to her, fathers have no difficulty in seeing their children because courts make sure they can.  But when it comes to claims of domestic violence that are most often asserted by mothers, Trinder’s “harm panel report” finds courts to be utterly incompetent, insufficiently resourced and ignorant of the most basic aspects of DV.

Such is the state of Helic’s opposition to the very concept of parental alienation.  Seriously, the House of Lords should take her piece down from its website.  Have they no standards of intellectual honesty?


British Baroness Embarrasses House of Lords with Parental Alienation Screed

March 5, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


This article – by a member of the British House of Lords, no less – is so bad it needs translation (The House, 2/26/21).  Oh, the English is entirely grammatical, the word usage essentially flawless.  But it simply can’t mean what the words say.  It just can’t.

So, as a public service to all, I offer my own scrupulously accurate translation:

In America, more than fifty thousand children each year are forced by courts into unsupervised contact with an abusive parent.

Translation:  In the United States, no one has any idea of how many abusive parents are given custody of children.  The reason for this is that there has never been a study documenting, even on a small scale, whether allegations of abuse are true or not and whether parents with true findings of abuse receive custody and, if they do, what kind.  The linked-to document doesn’t even pretend to be such a study and it was authored by a person who’s been repeatedly rebuked by judges for being too biased to offer an opinion in court.

More than 70% of domestic abuse perpetrators gain custody of children.

Translation:  There is zero evidence for this proposition.  The link provided literally says nothing on the subject.  No study has definitively shown which allegations of abuse are proven true and how often a demonstrated abuser gets custody or, if they do, what kind.

The courts often overlook and dismiss allegations of domestic and sexual abuse.

Translation:  Family courts in every state are required by law to investigate allegations of domestic violence, child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, etc.  Ironically, those who claim otherwise are also those who argue that courts should in all cases ignore parental alienation which is itself a form of child abuse.

In many cases they [overlook and dismiss allegations of domestic and sexual abuse] because of the aggressive misuse of a concept called parental alienation (PA).

Translation:  Courts generally make serious efforts to ascertain the truth or falsity of those allegations, usually appointing mental health or other professionals to assist them in their search for the truth.  There is no evidence that, in any general way, allegations of parental alienation are used to derail true allegations of child abuse.  Certain people who seem determined to undermine the very concept of PA have tried to establish a link between allegations of PA and the marginalization of true claims of abuse, but have entirely failed to do so.

Despite there being no scientific evidence for it, parental alienation has become a dominant force in American courts as the standard defence against domestic abuse allegations.

Translation: There is a mountain of evidence that parental alienation not only exists, but is well-known to judges, family lawyers and mental health professionals.  No serious commentator would ever say otherwise.  There is zero evidence, however, about how often it’s raised as an issue or as a defense to other allegations.

According to Gardner, all children reporting abuse in custody litigation had been manipulated into fearing or hating one parent – usually the father – by the other. 

Translation:  Richard Gardner pointed up the fact that, in somewhat rare instances, reports of abuse, either by children or a parent, stemmed not from actual abuse, but from the aggressive alienation of the child by the parent.  Some extremists who are willing to confect the idea that Gardner said that about “all children,” are simply so desperate to make a point that they’re willing to lie openly about the matter.  Either that or they are profoundly ignorant about the subject on which they speak.

Although Gardner’s theories have been dismissed by the scientific community and by the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, they have been replaced by concepts of ‘parental alienation’, ‘alienation’, ‘implacable hostility’, and ‘children who resist or refuse contact’ – all grounded in the same ideas.

Translation:  Gardner’s idea of Parental Alienation Syndrome and that of Parental Alienation are not the same and never have been.  Parental alienation has been recognized under other names by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – V and the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases – 11.  Numerous organizations of mental health professionals worldwide recognize parental alienation as behavior with the potential to harm children.  Numerous organizations of legal professionals also recognize evidence of PA as admissible in family courts adjudicating custody and/or parenting time issues.  Evidence of PA has been admitted by courts using the Daubert and Frye standards for admissibility of expert opinion.

When fathers claim alienation, American courts are more than twice as likely to disbelieve mothers’ claims of any type of abuse, and almost four times less likely to believe mothers’ claims of child abuse.

Translation:  When alienation is claimed, judges are required to investigate the allegations.  When alienation is found to occur, judges take the matter seriously and often act to limit the alienator’s access to the child.  The reason for doing so is that parental alienation is a form of child abuse, so judges rightly want to limit any ongoing abuse of the child.  Fathers are as likely as mothers to be alienators and, when they’re found by a court to have done so, suffer identical rates of loss of custody as do mothers.  Such, at any rate, was the finding of a study conducted by Joan Meier.

I’ll have more to say on this absurd piece of agitprop tomorrow.  For now, Baroness Helic, you’re welcome.  My translation of your little bit of disinformation improves it considerably.  In its original state, it should be removed from the website for the House of Lords because it disgraces that ancient institution.


Washington Post Wants Lawyers for the Poor in Civil Cases

March 3, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


At a place where liberals and conservatives should agree, this editorial gets a lot right, though incompletely (Washington Post, 2/26/21).  It’s about the right to legal representation for the poor and points out that, throughout a wide range of civil matters, the poor appear in court alone, adrift and unaware of even the basics of how to protect themselves and their interests.  The areas of law mentioned by the editorial include guardianship cases for the legally disabled, eviction cases, DV cases, parental rights cases, child support cases, adoption cases, etc.  Traditional liberals should be concerned about the plight of the poor in those matters; traditional conservatives should be concerned about the power of the state over the rights of individuals and the cohesiveness of the family.

The Post’s position is that the poor should have court appointed lawyers in all or most of those cases.  It rightly points out that extremely important rights and liberties are at stake and that state power must be blunted in court by lawyers representing those who otherwise would be unable to represent themselves.  We’ve done this for decades in criminal matters, as we should.  But the potential loss to an individual in a civil matter can be as great or greater than in criminal court.  Is a year in prison a worse outcome than the lifelong loss of a child?

I fully understand that this is just an editorial and, as a consequence, limited in the number of words it’s allotted.  So it can scarcely give full treatment to each of its subtopics.  Still, it gives far too short shrift to the issues of child support and child protection issues.  For example:

In child-support cases, defendants are routinely incarcerated, for days, weeks or months without recourse to legal assistance…

Nearly 1 in 8 inmates in South Carolina’s jails ended up behind bars over failure to make child-support payments, and very few of them had the assistance of a lawyer in court. 

That’s the extent of the article’s treatment of child support cases and, given the widespread misunderstanding of those matters by the general public, it fails to make its best case.  The editors should have told their readers that child support payments are routinely set at levels the non-custodial parents can’t pay.  Interest and fees increase those amounts often to the extent that even full payment of the ordered amount results only in the obligor falling further behind.  The overwhelming majority of child support obligors live in poverty.  Over 60% of them report earning less than $10,000 per year.  “Hearings” at which they’re supposed to convince a judge of their inability to pay often last five minutes or less.  Child support law often results in the marginalization of fathers in the lives of their children. Facts like that give more power to the argument that those people should be entitled to legal representation.

The editorial performs even worse when it comes to child protection issues.

Those cases include disputes in which the stakes could not be higher: forfeiture of parental rights; eviction or foreclosure; danger from abusive spouses and domestic partners; and, in guardianship cases, the loss of control over property, and even liberty.

The draconian tactics so often used by state CPS authorities, their power to take children from parents on the thinnest of pretexts, the blatant illegality of many of the tactics used to do so, the profound damage to children, the financial rewards meted out to states for doing so, the secrecy that shrouds CPS actions, the Stasi-like encouragement to inform on friends, relatives and neighbors, etc. are all boiled down to four words – “forfeiture of parental rights.”  Needless to say, that’s not enough.

For the past several years now, the movement toward reform of state CPS agencies and the laws and practices governing the taking of children from parents has gained momentum.  The Post’s editors surely know about much of that.  More importantly, the power of the state to shanghai a child away from its parents, often without cause, is the most awesome and frightening of state powers save only the power to take a person’s life or lengthy incarceration.  Parents rightly fear and loathe CPS.  If anyone deserves a lawyer, it’s poor parents fighting to retain custody of their children against the power of the state.  The Washington Post needed to deal with that in more detail.

Still, it’s a good piece that addresses the vital issue of individuals’ ability to litigate vastly important rights on a level playing field with their adversary, the state.


Nebraska: Increase in Joint Custody Correlated with Decline in Divorce Rate

March 1, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors


(Channeling Garrison Keillor.)  Well, it’s been a quiet week at the Nebraska Court of Appeals.

Oh, the judges are as busy as usual, but none of the cases they decided last week was a family law matter.  In fact, over the last three weeks, they’ve decided 22 cases, just two of them from the family courts and only one of those was a child custody case. 

So what?

A reliable source in the state, who’s followed family court doings for many years, tells me that the appellate docket used to have more family law matters than any other kind, even criminal cases.  But now, week after week, a search for family law cases decided by the Court of Appeals turns up nothing.

That of course raises the obvious question, “Why the change?”  Perhaps there are as many family law cases being litigated as ever, but for some reason far fewer are being appealed.  Nope.  Since 2010, initial family law filings are down an astonishing 27.7% despite the state’s population increasing by 5.6% over that same time.  So again, “Why the change?”

It turns out that the decline in court filings neatly tracks the increase in joint custody rulings.  In 2010, the number of divorce cases in Nebraska hit an all-time high of 3,465 and has declined steadily to its current level of 2,504 in 2019.  Again, that’s in a state whose population is increasing.

Meanwhile, joint custody orders have been rising; they doubled between 2010 and 2019 from 25.6% of all family law matters involving children to 50.6%.

In short, the rate of joint custody went up and the rate of divorce filings went down during exactly the same time. 

Coincidence?  Hardly.  It’s long been understood that sole/primary custody regimes encouraged divorce.  Researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen long ago reported that women are far more likely to file divorce actions than are men because they “know they’ll get the kids.”   In fact, Brinig and Allen said that single factor “swamped all others” in predicting who would file.  Likewise, the State of Kentucky has seen a decline in divorce filings since the implementation of its first-of-its-kind presumption of equal parenting.

Needless to say, a reduction in the number of divorces is sound public policy.  Kids suffer terribly when their parents split up and courts make the matter worse by failing to divide parenting time equally between the parents, or as close to equally as feasible.  And of course single parents, particularly single mothers, are more likely than any other demographic group to live in poverty.  And if the parent lives in poverty, so does the child.  Fewer divorces mean improved children’s welfare.

Now, Nebraska hasn’t changed its family laws on parenting time or custody, so what happened to increase joint custody?  That’s hard to say, but I think there are two possibilities.  The first is that the tireless efforts of shared parenting advocates such as the National Parents Organization and others to educate everyone, including judges and lawyers, about the benefits to children of equal custody may have finally begun to bear fruit.  Maybe judges have finally gotten the message.  Certainly, cases before the Nebraska Court of Appeals and Supreme Court can be read that way.

Or maybe its parents who’ve learned.  After all, over 90% of divorce cases aren’t actively litigated.  Parents decide to divorce, make the necessary filings in court, decide on custody and a parenting plan and present those to the judge who, in all but the rarest of cases, is quite happy to sign his/her name at the bottom of the Agreed Order. 

Judges have been the targets of advocacy by both pro- and anti-shared parenting forces, so it’s hard to know if they’ve changed their views.  But there’s a lot in the MSM and social media to the effect that kids benefit from real relationships with both parents after the adults split up, so perhaps parents have taken the message to heart.       

Whatever the case, fewer divorces is a societal plus.  Shared parenting tends to produce fewer divorces.  Are policymakers listening?  Are lawyers?  Judges?