Ontario Children’s Aid Society Shows the Error of Greater CPS Power

Those who argue for greater powers for child protection agencies to take children from parents should watch this video.

The last piece I posted quoted Arizona columnist Laurie Roberts urging CPS there to remove more children from parents in the misguided belief that doing so would help children.  It’s true that, in the instances she cited from the past 19 years, it probably would have helped, but she’s not pretending that CPS can always know which child will be injured or killed and which one won’t be.  So of necessity, Roberts’ argument is for more children to be taken from their parents.

We don’t need to imagine what this enormous expansion of CPS’s power to break up families might look like.  We need only watch the linked-to video and see what’s happening in the Province of Ontario and its Children’s Aid Society.

The video is an hour and fifteen minutes long.  It consists almost entirely of bits of interviews with various people.  It’s an impressionistic approach and includes no pro-CAS voices.  So the video isn’t a scientific inquiry into the behavior of Ontario CAS.  It’s a litany of the experiences of the people interviewed.

But the variety of interviewees gives the piece definite heft.  It’s not just a series of horror stories by parents who claim CAS violated their rights, although there are some of those.  The people interviewed are also lawyers who’ve opposed CAS and those who’ve represented CAS in court.  There are doctors and mental health professionals, many of whom used to work for CAS.  There are social workers formerly with CAS and, most tellingly, there are adults who, as children, were taken from their parents and placed in foster care.

Like any good work of Impressionism, each individual part of the whole is insignificant, almost meaningless, but step back and the whole picture comes into focus.  Unlike many works of Impressionism however, there’s nothing beautiful about the picture of CAS drawn by this video.

It’s a picture we’ve seen before.  It’s a picture of an agency with very nearly unbridled power.  Indeed, the title of the piece is “Powerful As God,” which you might think is a little over the top until, late in the film, you realize that it’s a direct quotation from a CAS case worker informing a desperate parent just what she was up against.

It’s all there and then some.  There are the parents blinded by rage at their children being taken from them for no legitimate reason.  There’s the IT Engineer who’s son was taken from him and his wife because  their housecleaner reported an unclean house to CAS.  And there’s the grandmother who tapped a teacher on the shoulder at school, was charged with assault and had her grandkids, of whom she had custody, taken from her.  There’s the mom who says “I did nothing wrong.”  There’s the mother who admits to cocaine use, but, after being clean for five years still couldn’t convince CAS to give her child back.

It’s no accident that CAS overreaches so dramatically.  Money fuels the process.  CAS is paid according to how many children it takes “into care,” i.e. from parents.  Clearly enough, that establishes an incentive to do just that.  After all, faced with leaving a child with its parents and losing money, or taking a child and making it, the choice isn’t difficult.  And caseworkers are acutely aware that jobs depend on budgets, so when budgets depend on taking children from parents, well, you can guess what happens.

The subject of case workers is fraught with conflicting aims and motivations.  To me, one of the most chilling moments comes early in the film when one mother describes CAS coming for her children and they were smiling.  As she points out, what kind of person smiles when they do what should be one of the most heart-rending tasks imaginable?

On the other hand, a nurse who worked with CAS described seeing a social worker with the agency sitting at a table weeping because she didn’t see how she could continue doing a job that was so divorced from actual child well-being.  The combination of the two – the smiling and the weeping case workers – says to me that, at CAS, the humane ones don’t last.  The ones who do, smile when they come for your children.

Any parent who challenges CAS in court confronts a radical imbalance of power.  Attorney Michael Clarke emphasizes that, alone among all agencies of government, CAS has the power of search and seizure, the ability to question children without their parents being present and, above all the power to take a parent’s child.  Just how large a stick that is, he makes clear.  Parents will do virtually anything CAS wants to avoid that outcome.

CAS often targets the poorest parents which means that when they get into court, the parent is usually unrepresented or has a public defender.  Meanwhile, CAS has essentially unlimited resources of attorneys, mental health professionals and the money to pay them.  It also has time on its side since, in most cases, children have been taken into care and it’s the parents who are trying to regain them.

Callie Langfeld is now an adult, but when she was a child, she was taken from her mother by CAS.  She couldn’t tell her story then, but now she can.  She says when CAS first talked to her, caseworkers “railroaded” her into care telling her how dangerous her family was.  Once in foster care, though, Langfeld learned just how dangerous a family could be.  She says she was sexually and physically abused, but when her real mother contacted CAS, she was told “there’s nothing we can do.”

Langfeld reports that her foster mother apparently wanted her for the work she could do around the house.  At age 13, she did essentially all the housework including cooking and caring for the mother’s two younger children. 

Another young man, George Gilbeau, reports physical and sexual abuse in the foster home in which CAS placed him.

Lawyers, children and parents alike report a particularly wicked strategy used by CAS to separate parents from children.  Parents are told that their child doesn’t want to be with them; children are told that their parents don’t want them.  Those messages, combined with the prohibition by CAS against any communication between parents and children can be highly effective at separating children from their parents.

I highly recommend this video.  I’ll post more about it later.

Thanks to Attila for the heads-up.

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