Here we go again.
This story out of California follows a sadly familiar pattern (Washington Post, 1/15/11). It goes like this: parents take photos of their young children naked in the bathtub; inadvertently someone outside the family sees the photos; that person reports the parents to the police; the police arrest the parents; CPS places the kids in foster care; the parents are immediately embroiled in extended legal fights to free themselves and their children.
In this case, the parents are Serbian nationals working in the U.S. He’s a financial analyst in Modesto, California. He had a habit of downloading all of his family photos onto his computer at work. When he bought an external hard drive and wanted his data transferred to it, he hired someone to do the job. That someone noticed the photos of the kids, aged 8 and 5, and called the cops. They arrested the parents but have declined to prosecute them, but the kids went into foster care. That was seven months ago.
[The parents’ attorney, Robert] Powell said the children have not only been separated from their parents, but from each other and have been denied access to the family’s Serbian Orthodox Christian priest, unless the priest speaks to the children in English.
When the parents are allowed to visit the children, the little ones ask if they’ve abandoned them. Nice.
I’ve been pretty outspoken about withholding judgment of CPS workers. I’ve pointed out that they are overworked and underpaid. I’ve noted that CPS caseworkers often have to make very difficult calls about when to take a child from parents and when not to.
This is not one of those cases. In fact, it’s beginning to look like one in which the agency is trying to cover up one bad decision with another bad decision. Having wrongfully taken the kids in the first place, CPS now claims that the five-year-old has admitted to inappropriate touching by the father. That the questioning was apparently ambiguous suggests that they’re trying to come up with something to justify their original action.
Both parents adamantly deny any form of wrongdoing including child abuse.
But, speaking of child abuse, that looks exactly like what CPS is doing. Taking young children from their parents for seven months (and counting) is bad enough, but separating them from each other must be terribly disturbing to children their ages. It’s hard enough doing that to children whose parents are actually a danger to them, but I’d put money on the fact that this pair is not. So who’s the abuser here?
As it turns out, the Serbian government has some very firm ideas about that.
The affair has triggered outrage in Serbia, with officials there saying they would try to get the children back to the parents as soon as possible – even if it takes intervention through the highest diplomatic channels.
“There are indications of major human rights violations by the Child Protective Service, which is acting on its own,” Serbian justice ministry official Slobodan Homen told the AP.
Serbia is now providing funds for the father’s attorney, and its Consul General in Chicago, Desko Nikitovic, is advocating on behalf of the couple. He said so far it has been an uphill battle with an agency and local judge with power to do what they want with the children.
“You feel totally powerless, like a mouse in front of an elephant,” Nikitovic said.
Human rights violation? I can’t disagree.
More importantly, look at how the Serbian diplomat views the California child welfare system. He says the CPS and the judge have “the power to do what they want with children.” He says he feels like a mouse before an elephant. Those are the thoughts of a representative of a sovereign nation. Imagine how individual people without the backing of their country’s diplomatic corps must feel.
This case looks like the one in Oregon last year in which a Canadian boy was shanghaied into foster care despite there being little to no evidence of abuse or neglect. There too, it became hard to ignore the idea that the child welfare agency and the judge screwed up and, to try to cover their mistake, kept the boy in care for two years. That was outrageous and caused an international incident. This one has all the earmarks of doing exactly the same.