Toddler Abducted from CPS by Parents-Amid the Manhunt, I Have a Couple Questions

Phoenix, AZ–One of the big stories out of the southwest this week has been the abduction of a toddler from Child Protective Services–apparently abducted by his parents, apparently with the complicity of someone who has worked with CPS. According to Parents suspected of abuse accused of abducting tot (Arizona Republic, 3/15/08):

“A 17-month-old who police say was abducted by his parents and presumably taken to Mexico has been in the care of Child Protective Services since he was about 2 months old, when abuse allegations surfaced. Authorities’ efforts to find little Miguel Echave-Felix continued Friday…

“Police said Miguel was kidnapped Wednesday with the aid of a liaison who, less than two weeks before, left his job with Southwest Human Development, a company that has worked with CPS for more than a decade. Gonzales said the foster family probably didn’t know that Armando Flores, 47, was no longer an official liaison when he asked to take the baby to visit his parents.

“Flores is being held in a Maricopa County jail on suspicion of conspiracy to kidnap and custodial interference. Maricopa County sheriff’s records show Flores was born in Mexico, and immigration officials have placed a hold on him, meaning he cannot be released on bail. Holds are typically placed on someone believed to be in the country illegally.

“Flores told investigators he agreed to help Sobieda Felix and Angel Echave-Felix, both 35, flee to Mexico with the boy after a tearful plea, court records show.

“The Felixes were the subject of a Phoenix police and CPS investigation that began in December 2006. No charges had been filed in the abuse case, and the nature of the allegations was unclear.

“In the meantime, the boy had been living with foster parents and allowed supervised visits with his natural family…”

I try hard to be fair, but this case seems questionable to me. I realize that CPS has a difficult job. Whenever they remove a child from a home, people scream that it was unfair, abusive, indicative of a police state, etc., etc. On the other hand, whenever a horrific child abuse case is discovered, everybody — on the radio, on TV, in newspapers, in private discussions — says (all together now) “Where on earth was Child Protective Services?”

Perhaps when this case is resolved we will find out that the parents abused or neglected the child and that CPS acted appropriately. That is certainly possible. However, given some of the facts of the case, one wonders. Whatever the abuse was, there were never any charges filed. Even now, we apparently don’t know what it was that the parents are actually accused of doing.

The fact that a CPS liaison sympathized with the parents indicates that this might have been an unjust seizure of a child by CPS. The fact that the parents are from Mexico, are so poor that they apparently do not even own a vehicle, and probably do not speak English well, raises the suspicion that whatever their offense, this may all be more about the parents’ socioeconomic status than any real abuse.

I’m not saying CPS is wrong — I’m saying they might be wrong. In any case, if the state is going to seize a family’s child, I’d like to see a hell of a lot more justification for it than “the nature of the allegations was unclear.”

To learn more about issues with Child Protective Services, including my criticisms of the way CPS often marginalizes fathers, see my co-authored column Choosing Foster Parents over Fathers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/11/07) or click here.

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