Russian Parents Get Son Back from Child Protective Services, With a Catch

man repairing girl bike smallMay 3, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The Alex and Anna Nikolayev case has come to a pretty quick and sensible conclusion. Or has it? Read about it here (Parent Herald, 5/2/13), and here (News10, 5/1/13).

I first wrote about the case here (National Parents Organization, 4/29/13). In a nutshell, the Russian parents living in Sacramento took their five month old son Sammy to Sutter Memorial Hospital because he had symptoms of the flu. They’d taken him there before for his heart murmur, but after two weeks at the hospital, the parents became concerned. For one thing, a doctor had prescribed an antibiotic for the child despite the fact that he had a virus and antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses. Into the bargain, a nurse told Anna that she didn’t know what she was giving the little boy. When doctors at Sutter started talking about doing heart surgery, Anna and Alex decided on a second opinion, at which Sutter doctors balked. When a doctor resists a second opinion, particularly for something as extreme as heart surgery for a five-month-old, you know there’s something wrong.

So the Nikolayevs picked up their son and marched over to Kaiser Permanente where doctors pronounced the little tyke to be in good health. That didn’t sit well with Sutter personnel who called in Child Protective Services who in turn announced that Anna and Alex were guilty of “severe neglect” of Sammy. Police and CPS caseworkers came to the couple’s house, knocked Alex to the ground and snatched Sammy from Anna’s arms, all without a warrant. From there it was into foster care for Sammy at, of course, Sutter Memorial Hospital.

It took a week and the intervention of the Russian consulate, but a judge finally ordered Sammy to be returned to his parents’ care. As anyone with a brain could see, the Niklolayevs are loving parents whose only “crime” was to do the medically prudent thing – seek a second medical opinion. If this be neglect then all parents should be so neglectful.

But if the topic is child abuse, let’s focus on Sutter Hospital, Child Protective Services and the police, all of whom worked hand-in-glove to abuse an infant. Face it, someone at Sutter got mad at the Nikolayevs for questioning their medical advice. The fact that Alex and Anna turned out to be right and Sutter wrong (as evidenced by Kaiser doctors giving the boy a clean bill of health) only made them madder. So, like countless individuals we’ve seen before, they turned to the one governmental agency they knew they could count on to strike back at the Nikolayevs and aim the blow at their most vulnerable spot – their little son. With the help of the police, CPS made sure Alex and Anna learned their lesson; CPS can do anything it wants to for any or no reason and woe betide the parent who asserts his/her parental rights.

Did I say abuse? Here’s a fact: children, within the very first weeks of life have learned to identify their parents and differentiate between Dad and Mom. They’ve bonded with them and of course rely on them for every detail of their care and protection. Sammy can’t talk yet, but he knows his parents well and his whole sense of security is bound up in them, in seeing them, smelling them and hearing their voices, in being cuddled by them, fed by them, cleaned and swaddled by them. And it is that deeply important sense of security that Sutter, CPS and the police struck at when they grabbed Sammy from his loving parents and ran. That they grabbed him for no good reason is a fact, but it’s a fact lost on Sammy. What’s important to him is that, for a very long time – for all he knew, forever – his parents vanished. What damage that did to his psyche, I don’t know, but it had the power to do permanent harm.

Anna and Alex Nikolayev were overjoyed on their son’s return. “He lay down, closed his eyes, but then a couple seconds later, he turned around, looked at me, looked back, turned around, closed his eyes. A couple seconds later, same thing again, looked at me. It is like, ‘Mommy, you’re still here.’ That was exciting,” Anna told News10.

Exactly my point. How long will it be before he regains the security to rely on his parents’ presence? Will he, throughout his life, continually be on the lookout for some unforeseeable cataclysm that falls on him and ruins everything. I can’t say, but that’s the sort of thing CPS risked in their “protection” of this child.

Meanwhile, the case has drawn international attention including the appropriate outrage from at least on state legislator.

“They’ve committed no crime, why are they not just free to determine what is in the best interest of their child?” Assem. Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, asked.

Good question, but it’s one CPS won’t answer.

“No. I’m not getting any answers. I’m getting this run-around that CPS, whatever they do, they’re allowed to operate in secret, and they’re accountable to no one,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly has also called for a state audit of the agency after hearing from several other parents who described similar incidents.

“I think that we clearly have a government agency, CPS, that does do important work, but they are operating in complete secrecy with absolute autonomy, absolute power,” Donnelly said.

I don’t know who Donnelly thinks he is. After all, this is the same agency that’s been stonewalling the state legislature for years, refusing to turn over basic information in cases involving children’s deaths. Hey Assemblyman Donnelly, you want answers? Here they are: CPS operates with all but complete impunity; caseworkers can do essentially anything they want to and the only thing they need fear is discipline by their supervisor. And how likely is that, given the fact that child welfare agencies across the country are experiencing catastrophic shortfalls of manpower? They need every warm body they can get, so my guess is that real inter-agency discipline is more a theory than a fact.

Still, it’s good news that Sammy is back with his parents, right? True, except for one thing – the judge ordered him to be placed in yet another hospital, this time the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Why he’s there is anyone’s guess, but the judge added another little kicker to his order.

The judge also returned the custody to the parents ordering them not to move Sammy against any medical advice.

That’s right, Sammy is now in his parents’ custody, but they can’t take him home if they want to; they can’t take him to another medical facility if they want to. Presumably, they can’t seek a second opinion. If doctors at the children’s hospital want to keep him indefinitely, they can do so – by court order. Who pays the bills? The Nikolayevs do of course.

The truly miraculous part of all this is the fact that Alex and Anna have done nothing wrong. Let’s be clear. Removing Sammy from Sutter Hospital was their right. A hospital is not a prison; patients do not come and go only at the sufferance of hospital personnel. We’re all free to walk out of a hospital any time we want to unless there’s a prior court order prohibiting it. That’s what Alex and Anna did and they were 100% within their rights doing so. Nor did their action harm Sammy or risk harm to him. That’s not what I say, it’s what Kaiser Permanente doctors said.

So what’s happened is that CPS has bootstrapped parental behavior that’s perfectly acceptable and right into significant governmental control over the parenting of fit parents. For CPS, just another day at the office; for the rest of us, wholly unwarranted intervention by the state into the autonomy of fit parents. I’ve said it before. Children are the door through which the state enters our homes and families.

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