Two Maryland Dads Sue DC Child And Family Services

Two fathers are suing the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency for denying them custody of their children after CFS took the children from their mothers.  Read about it here (Washington Post, 10/6/11).

Sam Wilson and Andre Adgerson both of Maryland experienced the same treatment at the hands of CFS, the District’s child welfare agency.  Both men are hands-on fathers with joint custody of their children.  The mothers of the children were each found by CFS to have neglected them to an extent that warranted removing the children from the mothers’ homes. 

But in a move that should look all too familiar to advocates for fathers’ rights, the children were shunted into foster care, not father care.  The excuse offered by CFS was that their interpretation of a federal law requires them to do exactly that.

The law is the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.  It requires that, if a child welfare agency takes a child from a parent and wishes to place it in the care of another person outside the state, the second state must conduct an investigation into the fitness of the proposed placement before the child can be placed there.  

So that’s what the District of Columbia agency did.  And while Maryland conducted its investigations of Wilson and Adgerson, their children sat in foster care.  For Wilson’s child, that meant six months; in Adgerson’s it took a month. 

But there’s a problem with what CFS did.  Federal courts in three states have already ruled that the law doesn’t apply to parents.  That is, if the person with whom the child is to be placed is its parent, there’s no need to conduct an investigation.  But the District’s CFS ignored those rulings and asked Maryland to investigate Wilson and Adgerson.

In short, it separated the children from their fathers for months at a time in order to do what a family court had already done.  The simple fact is that both fathers had joint custody of their children.  That means there was a court order in effect for both dads finding them fit enough to have custody.  So the DC agency forced Maryland to do something unnecessary, to waste time and money and of course deny the children access to their fathers in the process.

If any of that makes sense to anyone, please let me know.

But while the District’s CFS pleads that it’s just complying with federal law (despite the rulings in those other states), some of us see its behavior as part of a larger pattern.  That pattern is a preference by state CPS agencies for foster care over father care.  The out-of-state placement is its own special area of law and public policy, but the pattern extends far beyond just that.

Indeed, the preference for foster care over father care has been found to be endemic among CPS agencies by the Urban Institute.  In this study, entitled “What About the Dads?”, the UI found that, in over half the cases in which a child was taken from a mother and the father was known to the agency, no effort was made to involve him in placement of the child.  That is, he wasn’t even contacted to find out if he was fit to receive his child into his home.

As if that’s not bad enough, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes a 105-page booklet specifically for the purpose of educating CPS workers about the value of involving fathers in the lives of their children and the advisability of placing children with them when mothers prove abusive or neglectful.  Do CPS workers read what HHS makes available to them?  Do they follow its guidance?

For that matter, do they know the facts about foster care?  Do they know that foster care is statistically far more dangerous for children than father care?

How many lawsuits does it take for CPS to get the message that fathers are to be included in their children’s lives where possible?  Wilson and Adgerson have theirs.  So does Woody Iacovetta of Colorado who’s suing Arizona CPS.  In his case, his son’s mother murdered the boy having announced a couple of years before that she was going to do so and how she was going to do it.  But CPS never bothered to pick up the telephone and call Iacovetta to alert him to the danger his son was in and allow him to move for custody.

Then there was the case Glenn Sacks wrote about in which a young woman sued CPS for lying to her throughout her childhood.  CPS told her that her father was dead when in fact he was very much alive and a fit father who was trying his best to find his girl.  CPS wanted her in foster care and that’s where she stayed until she grew up and was finally reunited with her dad.

CPS will tell anyone who’ll listen that it’s all about keeping families together, but their definition of “family” seems not to include fathers.  My guess is that there’s something in caseworkers’ training that leads them to antipathy for fathers.  After all, the evidence in favor of father care over foster care is far too compelling to be ignored unless there’s some form of bias in the education and/or training these people receive.

If it hasn’t already been done, some enterprising sociologist should study the mindset of CPS workers.  If there’s not an anti-dad bias there, I’d be surprised.

Thanks to Paul for the heads-up.

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