September 4, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Child welfare agencies across the country are cloaked in secrecy. Absent unusual circumstances, like a child’s death or a state investigation of the agency, what CPS officials do is mostly beyond the public’s ability to know. The press can’t obtain information on cases or the inside workings of the agency and we the people remain in ignorance of the doings of those our tax money pays.
That secrecy is invariably defended as necessary to children’s well-being and, in a scant few cases, that might be right. But the fact is that there are simply too many cases for the press to report on any significant percentage of them. The fact also is that there are some cases that warrant publicity. And the fact finally is that, if CPS thinks children would suffer if their cases hit the papers, there’s a simple and much more reasonable approach that keeps children’s information confidential while allowing the public to monitor the actions of caseworkers, supervisors, managers, etc. Journalists can simply keep the names of children and their parents out of the news.
But no, CPS agencies mostly resist even the slightest publicity. I’ve pointed out before that that resistance has a lot more to do with protecting the actions of agency employees from public scrutiny than with protecting children. This case makes the matter all too clear (PostStar, 8/28/15). The lead paragraph says it all.
A child’s chance of getting out of foster care has been delayed by efforts of Warren County Child Protective Services to keep secret a case in which they allowed a heroin addict to care for an unrelated child.
That’s right. The Warren County, NY child welfare agency is intentionally keeping a girl in foster care to prevent the public from learning that she’s only there because the agency put her in the care of a heroin addict.
OK, I admit it; the first graph doesn’t say everything. It doesn’t include the fact that the girl’s paternal grandmother has a court order granting her shared custody of the child, but CPS didn’t manage to learn that fact and put her in foster care instead.
The girl, 13, reported that the addict had sexually abused her July 29. She has been in foster care ever since, even though her paternal grandmother has shared custody rights. CPS admitted in court paperwork on Aug. 5 that caseworkers were “not aware” the grandmother had custody rights, but she has not yet been allowed to take her grand-daughter home.
So the girl’s grandmother came to court with an attorney and the court order giving her shared custody of the girl. But rather than doing the obviously right thing, CPS asked the judge to hold the hearing behind closed doors. The judge refused and, again instead of doing the right thing, CPS filed notice of its intention to appeal the refusal.
As long as that appeal is pending, the trial judge can do nothing. Meanwhile, the girl remains in foster care.
To sum up, the child was living with her maternal grandmother who shared her care with the paternal grandmother. The girl had a falling out with her maternal grandmother, but CPS failed to turn her over to her paternal grandmother. That’s error No. 1.
Instead caseworkers put her in the care of a heroin addict who sexually abused her. That’s error No. 2.
When the child alerted CPS to her abuse, caseworkers put her in foster care instead of with her paternal grandmother. That’s error No. 3.
Now they want to keep her there until the appellate court rules on their claim of secrecy. That’s error No. 4.
With that many mistakes, I suppose it’s no wonder that CPS wants to hide them from the public, but there’s little doubt that remaining in foster care is less beneficial to the girl than would be living with her paternal grandmother. In any case, that’s what her law guardian, Martin Cohen thinks.
What does the attorney for the paternal grandmother think? He thinks his client “has an absolute right today to take the girl home with her.” He’s right about that, given the fact that the woman has a court order of shared custody. But CPS doesn’t care. It’s more interested in using shaky litigation tactics to hide its own malfeasance than it is in protecting a child’s welfare.
Here’s their take on the press:
“The mere presence of the press in this courtroom is intrusive,” [attorney Sarah] Merry said. “It’s intrusive to her (the child’s) right of privacy.”
The judge pointed out the obvious — that “the press had not reported the child’s name, nor the names of any family members.”
But that doesn’t suit CPS. Why? The answer seems obvious. No one reading the papers about the case knows who this child is or who her various relatives are. In short, the press has done exactly what I’ve suggested for years; they’ve kept all identifying information out of their reports. So how can the girl be harmed by the reports? She can’t be.
But for CPS, that’s not the point. The point is not to keep the girl safe. They’ve already made it clear that’s not their main interest; otherwise they’d have removed her from foster care. The point is to keep CPS incompetence and wrongdoing out of the public eye. To me at least, the conclusion couldn’t be clearer.
Secrecy always frees people to behave less well, less competently, less morally than they would if they knew their actions were being scrutinized by others. CPS caseworkers are no exception. This is just the latest proof of the matter.
CPS secrecy doesn’t protect children, it shields caseworker’s wrongdoing from public scrutiny. In so doing, it encourages greater malfeasance. If we want to shield vulnerable children from the glare of publicity, that’s easily done by simply keeping their names, and those of their relatives, out of the press. That would protect children but also allow the rest of us to know what our public servants are doing.
What’s not to like?
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