I just posted a piece by a Fathers and Families supporter about her boyfriend’s three-year battle to get his son back from Mexico to which his mother abducted him. In addition to Mexico’s blatant disregard of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which it signed and ratified in 1990, her article took the U.S. State Department to task for being almost entirely ineffective at obtaining the return of abducted American children. So it’s nice to know that some countries can work abroad to reunite parents with children when they choose to. In this case, that country is Serbia and, although it’s not precisely a child abduction case, it’s similar (B92, 2/15/11). I first reported on the case here. The parents are Serbians living in Stockton, California.
The father had the habit of downloading all his family photographs onto his hard drive at work. When he got a new hard drive, he wanted to transfer the photos onto it, and enlisted the aid of a technician to do so. The tech guy saw a few photos of the two children, aged 5 and 8, naked in the bathtub, in the sprinkler, etc. Of course, in the United States, the most common, least offensive things can be made to seem not merely sexual, but sexually abusive. So the technician, apparently believing that any parent who would take a photo of his/her child unclad would likely commit the most heinous acts against them, alerted authorities. Now, the FBI investigated and declined to be alarmed or to file any sort of charges. But Stockton CPS, with a judge to back it up, took the children from the parents and placed them in foster care. That was last June. Just in case being taken from their parents wasn’t traumatic enough for the little kids, CPS placed them in separate homes so they wouldn’t even have each other’s company. In the meantime, the parents were suitably outraged andwent to court to get their kids out of foster care and back in their home where they belong. And that’s where the Serbian government stepped in on their behalf. The Serbian Consul in Chicago got involved as did the Interior Minister who attended hearings in California. The good news is that it worked; the kids have been returned to their parents. The bad news is that it took eight months to happen. Why it took that long to look at some photos and do a little investigation is beyond my poor powers of comprehension. Oh, but one attorney for CPS explained that he’d actually looked at the photos “only a few days ago,” a remark that the father calls “incredibly cynical.” Still, when it came time to actually prove something in court, CPS folded.
Child Protective Services said at the main hearing this week they decided to drop the case against the parents, while the court at the same time ordered the young children to be reunited with their parents.
They had no case and knew it, so why didn’t they do the obvious thing, the decent thing months earlier? Still, as the cases I’ve written about out of Nebraska make clear, parents without the power of their government behind them can fare far worse than did these. If the Serbian government hadn’t intervened, who knows how long this preposterous case would have dragged on? The other good thing is that, according to the parents, it looks like their children had good care while staying with their foster families. Needless to say, that’s not always the case, but for now at least it seems that they suffered little in the way of psychological trauma from their entirely pointless ordeal. Woudn’t it be nice if the U.S. State Department applied that kind of pressure on behalf of U.S. citizens to foreign governments like that of, say, Mexico? And since the subject of the U.S. State Department has come up, I thought I’d add a fascinating aside. Back in 1973, Goldstein, Solnit and Freud published a book that has had a profound effect on child custody decisions in the United States. That book, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, was based on social science that was dubious at the time and is now known to be flat wrong. For example, the book makes the claim that sole custody in the child’s primary caregiver is as good or better than joint custody. Much social science shows that to be false. What’s at least as interesting is the fact that the book was read as an exhortation to jurists to break up families. That is, the book was seen as an open invitation to state intervention into family life. That impression was so strong that the authors hastened three years later to pen another book, Before the Best Interests of the Child, in a vain attempt to correct what they’d done. The point being that the original book quite clearly plumped for state intervention into family life and for vesting sole custody in the primary caregiver, i.e. the mother. Now, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child was unmistakably a product of Yale University in the early 1970s. Goldstein and Solnit were professors at Yale and Freud lectured there. Of course they had help from undergraduate and graduate students in writing the book and duly credited them in the pages at the front of the book. And who do you think one of those students was whose efforts were so valuable to writing the book that has done more than any other to encourage family breakup? If you guessed Hilary Rodham, now Secretary of State, go to the head of the class.