Lawsuit: MI’s Child Abuser Registry a ‘Black List’

October 12th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The state’s continuing attack on families and family life is getting some push-back by four Michigan parents.  They recently filed a lawsuit against that state’s Department of Human Services that maintains the Michigan Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect,  claiming that the registry is little more than a black-list of parents with no due process of law or rigorous standards for who must be registered.  The results of being placed on the registry, according to the suit, can be dire, including job loss and having children taken away.  Here’s an article about the suit (MLive, 10/10/12).

Attorney Elizabeth Warner filed the suit on behalf of three mothers and a father who have all been placed on the registry and branded ‘abusers’ despite none having been found to have committed abuse or neglect.  At least one, Deborah Turner, lost her job of 17 years with Head Start due solely to her name’s presence on the registry.

“The listing procedure is subjective, one-sided and automated,” attorney Elizabeth Warner wrote in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court.

“At the end of a CPS (child-protective services) investigation, the investigator becomes the judge and pronounces the accused to be guilty and unsafe to be around children (called a ‘substantiation’). The CPS worker then clicks a computer key to put an individual on the Central Registry – for life – with no neutral prior hearing to determine if the investigator’s accusation is true.”

In short, the person, whether guilty of abuse or neglect or not, can be placed on the registry by a single bureaucrat, with no known guidelines to follow and no impartial arbiter to decide whether placement was appropriate.  Add to that the fact that there’s no possibility of review, and you have a system that’s ripe for misuse.  Just imagine the power the registry places in the hands of a caseworker.  Michigan parents must be ever so careful not to displease one for the usual reason that their children may be taken from them, but also that their names may be placed on the registry, causing loss of employment.  A double whammy, double power placed in the hands of a single state employee.

Now, it’s true that a parent can apply to have his/her name expunged from the registry, but that too seems to be entirely at the discretion of the DHS.  In one case, a parent asked for expungement and the agency took 14 months to consider the matter and then refused to do so even though, once again, there had been no finding of abuse or neglect.

This article gives a brief summary of the stories behind each of the parents who filed suit against the DHS (MLive, 10/11/12).  For example,

 Helen Miller was “one of the most respected foster parents in Calhoun County until she got put on the registry,” Warner said.

Miller and her husband had been foster parents to 100 children over 25 years. They adopted 11, and had an “extraordinary” record of caring for children, the Foster Care Review Board said.

Miller’s trouble came on July 27, 2011, when she allowed two young foster children to stay overnight at her adult daughter’s home.

She didn’t that her daughter’s ex-husband stayed there on occasion. The children were at the home when police conducted a drug raid, and found drugs hidden by the ex-husband, the lawsuit said.

The state removed all five of Miller’s foster children.

The Foster Care Review Board, in response to an investigator’s threat that Miller would be placed on the registry, wrote in a report: “The board has great difficulty in understanding how a self-admitted, one-time error in judgment by Mrs. Miller is deserving of a ‘life sentence’ on Michigan’s Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry.”

After a hearing in Calhoun County Family Court, the two foster children present at the drug raid were returned to Miller. She was cleared of any neglect. Requests to have her record expunged have been denied, however.

“Despite the registry listing, the Calhoun County judiciary has entrusted children to the plaintiff, but DHS will not place any more foster children with her,” Warner wrote.

The national surveillance state grows larger and more intrusive by the day, and, along with national security, children’s welfare is one of the main reasons/excuses for the expansion.  Child welfare agencies have been given far too much power and far too little oversight.  Both of those need changing.  If there’s a reason why adults who may have abused or neglected children should have their names placed on a public registry so they can’t, for example, get jobs as teachers, day care workers, etc., then the states need to provide the accused due process of law in doing so.  That means adults need to have clear guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.  DHS workers need to know what behavior warrants placement on the registry and what doesn’t.  There needs to be an independent decision-maker who oversees the decision of DHS.  The accused needs the right to an attorney, and there must be the right to appeal.

As is so often the case, Michigan wants to have the power to place parents and other adults on the registry, but doesn’t want the restrictions on that power due process of law affords.  It can’t have it both ways.  If it wants to deprive people of jobs, it can’t do so arbitrarily.  Once again, children are the open door through which the state enters our homes and private lives.

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