Houston attorney Julie Ketterman did a revolutionary thing; she asked a court to apply Child Protective Services’ own rules to Child Protective Services. And the judge did just that. Read about it here (KHOU, 9/29/11). The judge issued a temporary restraining order against the local CPS agency, apparently finding that it had engaged in abuse of a child in its care. It’s a ruling that you can bet will be looked at carefully by attorneys all across the country who will follow Ketterman’s lead.
Back in 2009, Jaime Brown had her daughter taken from her by CPS that claimed she’d neglected the girl, who was then 14. Brown said it was all the result of a big misunderstanding, but she tried for a year and a half to get her child back in her care. She never succeeded. Meanwhile, the girl, Christianne, had been dumped in a group home where she really was being abused by the other kids there.
“She was beat up quite a bit. There was the running away. She has braces and the wires were literally falling off of her teeth,” Ketterman said.
That of course is not at all unusual. Foster care generally has a far worse record of abuse and neglect than families of any other kind, and group homes have a worse record still. Richard Wexler, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said
“Tens of thousands of times every year, all across America, children are needlessly taken from everyone they know and love. The emotional trauma is, in itself, devastating. But several studies have found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of foster homes and the record of group homes and institutions is even worse.”
That proved tragically true in a case I reported on last year of a teenage boy who was killed by staff in a group home administered by the same county CPS that oversaw Christianne’s. That home was finally closed by the State of Texas; the boy was the third death at the home in five years.
Eventually, Christianne voted with her feet and ran away from the home to parts unknown. The case worker who had taken her originally displayed a remarkable attitude about that.
‘The case worker called (her) mom and said she ran away, but you find her, you can keep her,” said Julie Ketterman, the Brown”s attorney.
Let’s see. The caseworker takes the child, keeps her away from her family for almost two years and, when the child runs away, says “you find her, you can keep her.” What happened to the original reason for her being removed from her mother in the first place? If those conditions were no longer present, why hadn’t the two been reunited? It looks like a blatant admission that the child’s presence in foster care was unnecessary. My guess is that CPS had known that from the start.
Whatever the case, Brown eventually turned to Ketterman who had one of those “moments of crystal clarity.” It’s not legal to abuse or neglect a child, right? Anyone who does that can have a TRO issued against them. So why not CPS? After all, abuse was exactly what Christianne was experiencing in the group home, the home was overseen by CPS who knew about the abuse, so it seemed reasonable that a court would order CPS to stop allowing the abuse.
And that’s exactly what happened. A court in Brazoria County, just south of Houston ordered CPS to stay away from Jaime Brown’s daughter due to its history of abuse while in foster care that was supposedly supervised by Children’s Protective Services.
There are some things I’d like to know about this case. For example, CPS is charged by law with protecting children and that can’t be undone by a judge’s order. The obvious question arises, “what if the child is truly abused while in her parent’s care?” Are CPS caseworkers supposed to sit idly by while that happens because a judge has told them they can’t do their job?
Of course the order is a temporary one. What happens after it expires? Is it business as usual or is there some sort of continuing limitation on what CSP can and can’t do? Ketterman plans to go to court to extend the order for two years.
In any event, it’s a very interesting development in parent’s fight to rein in the overreaching of CPS. Expect to see more attorneys trying what Julie Ketterman did successfully – apply laws for children’s protection to Children’s Protective Services.
“It could snowball,” said Ketterman.
I can’t wait for winter.