Nebraska CPS Puts ‘Impossible Obstacles’ Between Mother and Son

Hard on the heels of the case of May Lynn Branson of Nebraska comes this one about Brandi Knutson (North Platte Telegraph, 2/12/11).

Both are about the abuses suffered by the two mothers and their children at the hands of Child Protective Services and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.  To no one’s great surprise, they sound a lot alike.  At bottom, both are stories of unaccountable bureaucracies running roughshod over parents, children and their right to a continuing relationship with each other.

Like Branson, Knutson had problems.  If you’re looking for a character in the drama who’s Simon-pure, she’s not it.  But, also like Branson, she straightened herself out but nevertheless was forced to run an apparently pointless obstacle course to keep contact with her own son.

Knutson describes herself as an addict of methamphetamine a little over three years ago.  That’s when she drew the attention of CPS who took her son and placed him with his grandmother, Knutson’s mother.

That was understandable to all concerned and Knutson demonstrated her understanding of it by entering a 12-step program to get herself off the stuff.

Meanwhile her mother, Kris Snyder, applied to become the boy’s foster mother.  All assumed that the boy would spend between a few months and a couple of years with Snyder, Knutson would complete drug rehab and the child would be returned to her.

But, just as with May Lynn Branson, as Knutson neared the goal posts, they began to move.

And that’s where the two stories diverge.  In the Knutson drama, at the end of Act II, enter The Father.  This unnamed man had been listed by CPS as “not an option” for placement of his son.  Why?  At the time, he was on probation for a DUI and he

has a recorded history of domestic violence with arrests occurring in 2003 and 2007 and has at least two protection orders filed against him from previous girlfriends, according to court records.

Now of course, that could mean a lot or a little depending on the facts of the cases.  Based on that information, the man could have had two baseless allegations leveled at him that resulted in restraining orders and nothing more.  Or it could mean that he’s dangerous and violent and shouldn’t have a child in his care.  Which it is, we don’t know because the article accepts that he has “a history of domestic violence.”  He may or he may not.

But whatever the basis of the charges against the father of Knutson’s son, he apparently morphed from “not an option” to “the only option,” in short order.  With Knutson having completed her drug rehabilitation program and expecting her son back, the goalposts moved.

Without notice to either Knutson or Snyder, the child, who had gone for a two-week stay with his dad (why did the dad have that visitation if he’s so dangerous?), was placed permanently in his care by CPS.  Needless to say, Knutson was flabbergasted by the agency’s action.

CPS limited Knutson to supervised visitation only and that was to be conducted in the dad’s hometown.  So in order to see her son, Knutson had to drive eight hours round-trip and pay $150 for supervision of her visit.

But CPS wasn’t finished with her.  Supervised visits went on for almost two years until, in October of 2010, it announced that even those were to be denied to her.  The article suggests that that decision was made in retaliation for Knutson’s decision to take the agency to court.

Whatever the case, it certainly gave CPS the upper hand.  It offered Knutson a choice: sign away your right to primary custody and you’ll get visitation.  Don’t, and you’ll be kept from your son indefinitely.  So she signed.

About that ploy, Snyder raises the obvious point.

“If there was a reason for the supervised visits and then pulling any visitation, why would they agree to lift all of that once the custody papers were signed?” Snyder asked. “We were bullied and lied to every step of the way and it didn’t matter what Brandi did to meet their goals because they changed them every time she met them.”

Sound familiar?  It’s those moving goalposts again.  Just like in Branson’s case, efforts to satisfy CPS’s demands just result in more demands.  Parenthetically, that’s a fair description of a dysfunctional relationship.

Oh, there’s one final similarity between the two cases.

The Telegraph contacted Health and Human Services Communication and Legislative Services Director Kathie Osterman on Feb. 4 with the details of Knutson’s case, asking for a response by Feb. 9. Osterman said Health and Human Services would look into the case and provide what information they could.

To date, Health and Human Services has not responded.

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