Recent Escalation in Child Abuse Charges Tied to Divorce

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 1995 21:34:04 -0500
Reply-To: Don Lewis [donlewis%TMN.COM@KSUVM.KSU.EDU]

Courts and the State are destroying children. It's routine circumstance that this is a fact, and not a conjecture.

In the past ten years, state government has come to discover that a vast degree of profit can be made protecting America's children, and not Jun in terms of dollars.

During the 1970s (According to the organization CASA), child abuse issues began to get noticed by the psychological community. At that time, the first comprehensive and control longitudinal studies of this were begun. In the late eighties, we began to see the results of these studies emerge, and make their way into the hands of government, and equally to the courts and people.

For a little history: The first case of intervention because of abuse was back in the 1920s. A nurse came across a young girl whose father kept her bound to her bed. She was starved and made to lay in her own filth. The nurse was appalled by this, and approached the court for a solution. She was told that there was no law which covered this, and the state (New York) had no cause to intervene in family matters. The nurse wasn't stopped by this, and after almost two years of trying, succeeded in bringing a suit which allowed her to remove the child from the circumstances. How? There was a statute which allowed the state to remove a horse from the care of its owner if it wasn't properly cared for. The nurse's enterprising lawyer went into court, and showed that human beings were, after all, animals. He proved that humans had a higher degree of thought, and so if the law allowed intervention for a horse, it should also allow it for a person.

The nurse won her case, but only by having the young girl turned over to a state sponsored stable --where abused horses were sent. The stable then allowed the nurse to adopt the girl, using the very same forms used for equine adoptions. The case laid the precedent for what today has become a feeding frenzy on the part of the system against children, yet perpe- trated in their name.

During the late eighties, the states began to react to the pressures of society generated by the emergence of the longitudinal studies. As i usual, the members of government discovered that there are votes where there is societal interest, and so the machine started to grind into action. In essence, the seas were chummed by federal dollars thrown at the problem, and the states began to eat

While it used to be that the state had to take a pretty strange tact in order to break through family bonds, today that breach is so routine that mention of the possibility of abuse will cause the immediate removal of a child to shelter care --the first stop on the paved way to termination or suspension of parental rights, and a plunge of the child into foster care.

Starting in the late eighties, and during a period of three years, the incidence of abuse suddenly rose by nearly 300 percent. (That's not to say that three times as many kids were being abused, but that the state was *acknowledging* the abuses that the studies said were occurring, and moved to respond to this new recognition by intervening.) In the midst of these efforts of good intention, suits began to come in against the states and the federal government --because bureaucracy is prone to error, and parents took a dim view of these errors. And they should. When a state acts on behalf of a child, it has powers which supersede the foundations of protection from the law. Without a conviction (beyond an alleger's own personal bents), a child may summarily and without warning be pulled out of a home. Additionally, the state only has to report their actions within 24 hours. Anyone with children knows that an hour of a child being missing can be excruciating, so imagine the feelings after a child has been gone

for a full day! Even when a parent knows that the state has their child in shelter care, they're still routinely denied the ability to see or even communicate with their child.

That's a lot of trauma in anybody's book.

Two things came of these suits from wronged families: The first was to grant immunity to persons and agencies acting on behalf of children they believed were being abused. The second was to require that a third party investigator be appointed whenever an abuse allegation was made. The most common of titles we find for this appointment is Guardian ad Litem. It was the job of the GAL to ensure that the allegations were, in fact, true --or to at least substantiate the possibility of truth to the allegations.

For each of these two approaches, there were two things wrong.

Without indicting the legal profession, let's just say that attorney's are noted for responding to the attitudes of any family-law court. This takes a great deal away from the objectivity of the appointee. To view the sit- uation from a perspective of what they think a court will or won't go for means their report is going to be slanted against a stereotype instead of a compilation of the actual circumstances. Since we're talking about people, it's a very dangerous thing to try to 'average' a case.

Hoping not to disparage all of those volunteers or paid-position GALs, it is a truth that many involved in these programs joined to advance a per- sonal perspective. I hesitate to say agenda, because my experiences have shown me that these folks don't know or cannot acknowledge they have a prejudice. Sadly, we see organizations and agencies populated by a greater than average representation of persons whose attitudes negatively impact the ombudsman process.

Also, the law makes no mention as to the qualifications that a GAL has to possess --save for an understanding of the system. In response to this, the states took two diverging approaches. On one hand, they were insistent that an attorney act as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. On the other, some felt that members of society were best able to judge what was within the limits of current societal mores. However, remember that a GAL only needs the *possibility* that abuse or neglect has occurred to put it in the case report they turn into the court. Because anything mentioned in a report is grounds for serious consideration, an inability to disprove allegation is commonly considered to be finding evidence of an abuse. The deck i stacked.

Someone once said that the states were guilty of more and worse abuses than the people who were alleged to be perpetrators. That could be right. Studies have demonstrated aptly that children fare much worse both in childhood and adult life after they've been subjected to the system.

In 1991 we started to see a greater correlation between divorce and the allegations of child abuse. As a matter of fact, in that year we saw an increase of almost 1000 percent says the Association for Family Law Judges. In 1992, that soared to twice that level. The figures for this year, 1993, have dropped slightly, and this has been attributed to the fact that society is now becoming a bit dubious about allegations associated with divorce. In fact, some states are contemplating the filing of charges against those who allege falsely. However, since this is a criminal sit- uation, one has to be able to PROVE the charge of false allegation, unlike the allegation of abuse itself. Successful prosecution of a case like this is difficult at best, and so it's unlikely that prosecutors will want to show any real interest. But also remember that false allegation is building a bad reputation.

Don't get the impression that all is well because the figures are getting a little lower. It isn't. The feeding frenzy continues and will likely continue over time -until the abuses by the states causes the degree of hue and cry that the initial reports from the studies-over-time did.

Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen quickly.

People have become used to state intervention. That figures. Society is making - demands that the government be parents in issues ranging from what television shows should be aired, to whether or not pregnancy should con- tinue. So in this climate of demand, it's difficult to see the situation getting better before it gets worse --if it gets better at all. None of this attests to an end to state abuses of children who've been abused. In fact, they're testimony to the continuation of the problem. As the TV ads are apt to say: But Wait! There's More!

Add to this the fact that most states make a profit whenever they take a child as their ward. The federal government coughs up just under 20 thousand dollars per year for each child a state has in foster care. On the whole, a state invests about fifty-five hundred dollars in each child, and pays about seven thousand to those who administer the case. That leaves about seventy- five hundred dollars. That means that the state is in a fairly profitable business. Not only is their public assistance to the child paid for, but they make a small profit besides.

In doing this, families get divided, parents are driven into financial ruin trying to prove their innocence, and all of those involved -the children too- are subjected to such emotional trauma that their lives are permanently and negatively altered. In 1992, the Department of Health and Human Services released information which clearly showed that children raised in single- parent homes, or had been taken into the foster care system fared much worse than any other group of children. These kids had a greater number of problems with and in school, a higher propensity for crime, and a much greater incidence

As we can see, none of this bodes well for the children. It doesn't hold much promise for parents either. In fact, the only ones who profit from the system as it is are the states and the accusers. Each, in their own way, have the ability to achieve desired results. But not for those they seek to protect.

Bob Kirkpatrick -- Dog Ear'd Systems of Spokane, WA

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