In Britain, social workers and child-protective services are tearing apart happy families, and seizing children from loving parents “for no good reason,” notes Christopher Booker in Sunday’s London Daily Telegraph. For example, one case
concerns a responsible mother who holds down an expert job in a law firm. A year ago, she was in the kitchen preparing packed lunches for her two children when her 11-year old daughter kept on interrupting. The mother tapped her daughter on the arm with a roll of clingfilm and told her to go upstairs. The following day the girl casually mentioned to a teacher that her mother had “hit” her. This was reported to social workers who took her into care, on the grounds that her mother had hit her with an “implement”. They did so under a voluntary “Section 20” agreement, which the mother was prevailed upon to sign – like many other parents before her – in the belief that such a silly misunderstanding would quickly be sorted out and her child would soon return home. However, the council then paid £14,000 to have the mother “psychiatrically assessed” by an “expert”, who produced a 235-page report which, on astonishingly flimsy and muddled grounds, found she had an undetermined “personality disorder”. On this basis, three days before Christmas, at 11pm, the girl’s nine-year-old brother was also taken into care, provoking such a severe panic attack that an ambulance had to called for him.
A young mother of three children, married to the father of her youngest, a baby less than a year old, took part in a charity walk with her oldest daughter, aged six. She tripped over, pulling her daughter to the ground, and although the child sustained no more than a graze, reported the incident to the first-aid tent. The child continued going happily to school for several days, but when the mother tried to explain the small mark on her arm to a health visitor (who did not ask the child to comment), social workers arrived, escorted by three policemen, to take all three children into care. The council commissioned a psychiatric assessment, which found that she was a competent mother. A second report found the same. The social workers then paid for a third report, which described the mother as suffering from a “borderline personality disorder”. Solely on these grounds, a court has now ruled that the three children must be put out for adoption. In each case, the evidence seems to indicate that the distressed children want only to be reunited with their loving parents.
The social workers who seize children benefit financially from doing so, since their agencies then receive adoption bonuses from the government. There are many previous instances in which British children have been taken from their parents based on mere speculation that they may abuse them in the future, even if the government concedes the child has never actually been abused.
In the U.S., improper seizures of children from loving parents are somewhat less common, but it is a problem in the United States, too, as I previously chronicled. In America, such seizures are encouraged by the bonuses and matching funds that state agencies receive under legislation such as the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
Children seized by Child Protective Services often experience devastating harm. In Doe v. Lebbos, 348 F.3d 820 (9th Cir. 2003), Judge Andrew Kleinfeld’s dissent described the tragedy that befell a little girl who was seized from her father as a result of false abuse accusations:
After being bounced around in the agency and foster parent bureaucracy for over a year, Lacey . . . was ‘diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing voices, and suicidal ideation.’ She was put on anti-psychotic medication. She had taken to smearing feces and to other abnormal and highly disruptive behavior. . . what the county did to her to “protect’ her apparently destroyed her. Something in this experience, perhaps being ripped away from her father for whom she consistently expressed love during the whole miserable period, perhaps having strangers strip her and search her heretofore private parts, perhaps being put with caretakers instead of her father, amounted to a trauma that was too much for her.
Even when meddling in family life by state social service agencies is deeply unpopular, they are usually able to block any reforms aimed at stopping their abuses. Thanks to all the taxpayer money that they have at their disposal, such agencies usually out-organize and out-lobby their critics in the halls of state legislatures and Congress, and out-litigate them in state courts. They also visit the editorial boards of major newspapers — especially liberal newspapers like The Washington Post — to peddle their side of the story. (Big newspaper boards seldom hear the other side of the story, since those who could provide it are usually poorly organized private citizens. By contrast, little newspapers are often more sympathetic to aggrieved parents.) Such agencies are therefore able to block things things they oppose, like expanded legal remedies for people whose children are wrongly seized.
Thanks to taxpayer dollars, state agencies and allied officials are able to push through legislatures measures that enrich them, like increased state child support guidelines. Officials’ state funding sometimes is based on the level of child support ordered — for example, in Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court received a percentage of child support awarded, giving judges an incentive to award excessive child support, and to not award joint custody even when it is in the children’s best interests, because that would result in less need for child support. I earlier discussed moves to make child support obligations more excessive in Virginia and Maryland). Excessive child support obligations can leave a non-custodial parent too broke to provide a place for the children to stay during visitation, interfering with the parent-child relationship. In Herring v. Herring (2000), a Virginia appellate court ordered a substantial increase in a father’s child support obligations to roughly half his income, even though he was so financially burdened that he had already been reduced to living in his sister’s basement.
Here are several other fascinating and disturbing articles in the Telegraph about the seizures of children and related pathologies in English family law:
- A father’s nightmare
- Social workers see sense – it’s just a shame they’re not ours
- The mystery of Haringey’s missing ‘Girl X’ makes a mockery of the Children Act
- How our judges deny human rights to children taken into care
- The real scandal hidden by gags is what goes on in family courts
- Vicky Haigh saves her baby from the clutches of the social workers