Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System: A Critical Analysis from Law, Ethics, and Catholic Social Teaching

by Stephen M. Krason, ed. (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2013)

N.B.: Ordinarily the following article would be categorized under the INDEX section of "Book Reviews". However, due to the nature of the subject, which questions vis-à-vis the parental rights vs. the mindless bureaucracy of Child Protective Services, it is best placed under the 'Family and Morals' section of the articles INDEX.

Political scientist Dr. Stephen Krason has edited a much-needed volume examining the origin and results of the troubling child abuse industry known as Child Protective Services (CPS) that operates in all of our states as a result of the unfortunate 1979 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), or "Mondale Act." All the papers reproduced in this scholarly volume were originally prepared for a conference co-sponsored by the Society of Catholic Social Scientists (SCSS) and the Catholic Social Workers National Association (SWNA) at the Catholic University of America in 2012. The other contributors to this volume are experts in law, social work, sociology and psychology such as William L. Sanders, Michael E. Rosman, James R. Mason III, Patrick F. Fagan with co-authors Anna Dorminey and Emily Haring, and Ruth A. White. They reinforce from their own particular professional perspectives the judgment of Dr. Krason that the Mondale legislation providing funding for states to establish CPS agencies was "poorly designed public policy." It has resulted in a systemic and rogue bureaucratic system, run by aggressive, abusive, and over-zealous government officials and social workers, which trample on the natural and legal rights of millions of parents and children.

In his lead article, Dr. Krason gives a valuable history of the child-protection movement in the U.S., which would manifest an increasing loss of respect for parental rights by elitist "child savers" and a growing "suspicion of parents in general." He describes in detail the development of a child-abuse establishment made up of professional bureaucrats, family-court judges, police, social workers, and caseworkers ostensibly engaged in preventing child abuse and neglect but whose well-intentioned purposes have proven a disaster. Millions of families across the nation have protested false accusations of child abuse and neglect, and the seizure of hundreds of thousands of children from "supposedly unfit parents." Frequently placed in unsafe foster homes, these children were often moved "from safety to danger." The overall unhappy result of the activity of CPS investigators is the present widespread intrusive and coercive governmental interference into normal family life. A just society is assuredly one that cares for its children and protects parental rights. However, a society that aborts its unborn children on a massive scale and engages in the abuse of both children and parents via a runaway Child Protective Service embodied in state departments of Health and Human Services has clearly become quite another entity.

It is thus not surprising that the New York State Council of Family and Child Care Agencies, a group of professional child-welfare workers, has not scrupled to record the hostility they have to religion: "Parents who display an 'over-involvement in religion' are to be suspected as possible abusers." Homeschooling parents especially have been subject to harassment and even persecution by CPS workers. The view held by all too many in CPS, amounting to a "doctrine of total depravity" that declares all parents to be actual or potential abusers (particularly sexual abusers), clearly has had the effect of justifying any and all state intervention in the life of families. Moreover, the secrecy of the child-protection system and the immunity of CPS workers from criminal prosecution and civil liability have left parents with lesser rights than outright criminals.

Dr. Krason notes that he has "written about the false reporting of child abuse and neglect directed against parents for over a quarter of a century." Parents find themselves confronted by laws mandating highly questionable procedures based on the research of specialists, disclosing the unintended consequences of a bureaucratic system that has failed miserably to protect the rights of children and parents. In short, as Dr. Krason explains, "Its attempt to monitor and control vast numbers of people in the minutest of details about how they conduct their lives and raise their children is more than a touch of totalitarianism. It is difficult to conclude that such a system should be continued" (61).

Some of the abuses become endemic in CPS operations are handily summarized:

"The reporting by certain professionals (such as physicians) of even suspected cases of child abuse and neglect; the setting up of specialized child protective agencies, usually housed within state and corresponding county public social service or child welfare agencies, to deal with abuse and neglect; the granting of complete immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability for the mandated reporters and CPS investigators regardless of their actions and even if the allegations are grossly erroneous; mandates [encompassing] all kinds of known and suspected child maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and psychological and emotional maltreatment. These terms have never been defined, however, and there has not been and is not today any widely accepted definition of them even among professionals working in the field. As we shall also see, the problem of definition has been a major reason for an ongoing explosion of false abuse/neglect reports. For more than three decades the number of unfounded reports [of parental abuse and neglect] was between three-fifths and two-thirds, now it has shot up to well over 80%... We now have a situation where a massive state bureaucracy with sweeping coercive power is having millions of dollars being poured into it each year though perhaps 85% of its actions are completely unnecessary... The bottom line, however, is that the 'epidemic' of child abuse - real child abuse - that the American public heard so much about in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s is just not there, and probably never was." (1-2, 9)

Especially disturbing is the growing recognition of "the absence of any specific constitutional protection for the family in the U.S. - in spite of the fact that the older common law tradition underlying the Constitution did provide such protection." Yet another and even more serious threat to "the primary and inalienable rights of parents" would result if the Senate of the United States would ever ratify a dangerous treaty, namely, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has already been adopted by most nations. If ratified, it would sweep away the laws of every state that still preserved a vestige of parental rights.

One of the most valuable sections of Dr. Krason's admirable analysis of the moral evils committed by CPS - and whose grievous shortcomings are confirmed in the studies of his fellow contributors - is his suggestions for necessary legal reform:

  1. Anonymous hotlines which give rise to false and malicious reporting should be eliminated;
  2. Laws concerning "child abuse" and "child neglect" must have specific and clear definition;
  3. Child abuse/neglect/lack of supervision accusations should be treated as criminal matters to be dealt with in criminal courts with the accused possessing "due process" and other constitutional rights;
  4. The strictest requirements in accordance with the 4th Amendment must be met before children can be taken from their parents;
  5. Laws should be changed to discourage the filing of false and malicious "hotline" accusations;
  6. Parents and legal guardians should be able to file lawsuits against offending CPS agencies and caseworkers;
  7. There should be required videotaping of all interrogation of children;
  8. Review boards should be established to hear the complaints of accused parents;
  9. There should be changes in state constitutions "to help reinsulate the family from the excessive reach of the state."

Many outrageous examples of CPS subversion of the family are noted in this volume. As a reviewer of this impressive work, which is enhanced by fidelity to Catholic Social Teaching, I believe it instructive to add the following detailed account of the nightmarish experiences that a family in my county in the state of New York underwent for three years at the hands of bungling CPS investigators. Their real names are kept private for obvious reasons. Grandmother Grace taking care of her daughter Cathy's 3-year-old children was declared "indicated" (guilty of "lack of supervision") in a CPS case that can be called the "Banana Peel Case."

Grace was, in fact, subjected to two hotline complaints by anonymous informers to CPS alleging "child abuse and neglect." The first alleged that there was an unlicensed day care being operated out of Grace's home with children seen outside running around without supervision. Upon investigation by the County CPS, it was determined that there was no day care being operated and that the children were probably among many visitors to a popular village park. The allegation of "lack of supervision" was unsubstantiated and the two children were found to be in no danger. Actually, neither Grace nor the grandchildren were even at her home the day the allegation was made. It was the second hotline call that was to cause three years of distress with the constant fear that the two children would be taken away from their mother. Together with repeated denial of the charges, the family hired an attorney who herself had valuable experience with CPS; she too had been falsely accused of child abuse. Further expensive recourse and appeal to a judge's administrative hearing would finally reverse Grace's "indicated" CPS finding, concluding in a status of "unfounded and sealed." Nevertheless, Grace's case remains at the New York Central Registry in Albany to be available to CPS workers should another anonymous hotline allegation ever occur.

It is this second anonymous hotline allegation that led the local CPS to act on a "Call Narrative" which stated:

The children two and three years of age are left outside for hours with no supervision while Grace (grandmother ) is inside the home. This is not the first time. Cathy (mother) is aware that the grandmother is not capable of supervising the children but continue [sic] to leave the children in the care of the grandmother.
Miscellaneous Information: xxxx concern for the children wellbeing; xxxx spoke to the Grandmother and she stated that the children are always outside.
It is unknown if the mother live [sic] in the home.
Locating Information: the family is home.

The text of the above call narrative, which was the basis for being "indicated" by CPS, was obtained by the grandmother only as a result of her attorney's filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In a letter to her attorney, Grace refuted the call narrative's false statements:

The children were never left outside for hours with no supervision. This is an outright untruth. I have never left the children play by themselves. We live next to a Village park which entails a constant flow of visitors with children and cars who park in front of our house. I am very protective of our little grandchildren and take them for walks or rides with their bikes at a school playground which has slides and swings. They are never out of my or my husband's sight. As regards the allegation that "Cathy (mother) is aware that the grandmother is 'not capable' of supervision of the children but continue [sic] to leave the children in the care of the grandmother," this is another untruth. When called on the phone by the Caseworker (CW), Cathy emphasized to him that I was totally capable and that she felt completely secure that she was sending the children into a safe environment. When the same CW called our neighbors on the phone, he was given the same message, namely, that our grandchildren are given excellent care by me and my husband. The allegation that "this is not the first time" of a lack of supervision, that is another untruth for which no evidence is offered. Moreover, I have to question how an anonymous caller to CPS driving by our house at about 1:26 p.m. could possibly have known and given my name, the children's names, their mother's name together with the allegation "this is not the first time." The hotline complainant could not possibly have made such false allegations without having access to information in the first CPS complaint about my running an "unauthorized Family Day Care Center" which had been declared, and rightly so, "unfounded." I believe it is a serious matter that someone in CPS has, in fact, fabricated a malicious "Call Narrative" and that this deserves to be investigated by lawful authorities.

I must also comment on the June 3rd event which initially triggered the complaint by an anonymous informant. That day the Village Park was attracting an unusual number of motorcyclists. My three-year-old grandchildren love to see motorcycles, and so I decided to have their lunch on our front porch. After serving them sandwiches and bananas, I went to get their juice drinks. In my minute absence, it is then that they ran down to the sidewalk and curb to throw their banana peels into the street. Coming back with their juice, I called them to get back on the porch. They were not in the street as claimed by the anonymous caller driving by at that precise time. When two hours later the CW came to our home, he interrogated the children without the consent of their parents. The children stated they had thrown the banana peels into the street but had not gone into the street. The CW then accused them of lying (asking them, "Do you lie?"). My husband and I were angered at his thoroughly inappropriate charge of the children lying. The same CW was to later write that "The family's positive reputation in the community and Grace's history of providing good care for the children, does not excuse her poor judgment in this situation." I do not believe there was "poor judgment" involved. There was no personal injury to the grandchildren nor could there have been since they never went into the street after throwing the banana peels there. They were never in any real danger.

In conclusion, I believe that my "indicated" Report is mistaken as there was no "poor judgment" and "lack of supervision" on my part, nor is there any corroboration for the false allegations made by the anonymous informant (if indeed they are those of the complainant/source, and not rather shamefully fabricated by some CPS source).

I asked that my "indicated" Report be expunged.

The grandmother, Grace, could not believe that CPS, knowing full well that the anonymous hotline caller had not made the allegations contained in the call narrative, proceeded to consider any charges credible, rather than immediately declare the case "unfounded." It was the FOIA report which revealed that CPS had acted to "indicate" her on the insistence of the caseworker that Grace had showed a "pattern of behavior on her part" when there was no such pattern of behavior. Nor did she appreciate the general principle under which the county commissioner and CPS operated, namely, that "some credible evidence" sufficed to establish a person guilty of child abuse even if later declared insufficiently credible by an administrative law judge. The county commissioner made clear that he understood Grace's "unfounded report" to mean: "You're guilty but we could not prove it!"

Here was yet another confirmation of the unjust principle followed by many CPS authorities that has been the object of deserved criticism. For CPS the term "indicated" means that though there is no actual proof that maltreatment occurred, there is every reason to suspect that it did. As Dr. Krason further notes, some states do not distinguish between the terms "indicated" and "unfounded," thereby having "the effect of inflating the supposed number of cases of actual abuse."

For the grandmother and mother of the children, there is also the troubling situation of the children remaining in an "unfounded" report until they are 18 years of age in the database of the Albany Central Register, and at the mercy of any other hotline calls that might be made by malicious persons offering "some credible evidence." The most troubling matter in this "Banana Peel Case" was the matter of the call narrative's fabrication, which had led to the "indicated" finding. If the perpetrator of the false accusation was not an employee of the local CPS County office, it must have been someone in the Albany CPS Register who received such complaints. After repeated denials that the call narrative could have been fabricated in Albany, the county commissioner finally admitted that "the Hot-line report was generated in Albany at the Central Register." In view of the fact that a CPS employee had manufactured a false call narrative that had brought mental and physical distress and expense for three years with the constant threat of grandchildren being taken away, Grace requested the local County District Attorney to investigate and identify the person responsible for the injustice committed and to prosecute him or her for violating the New York State Penal Law 240.50 (4).

A sympathetic District Attorney made his investigation, contacting both local and Albany CPS personnel. He concluded that the hotline call narrative had indeed been fabricated and that it had been generated by a Central Register employee. However, a supervisor for CPS Albany stated that he was unable to state who generated the false report. The District Attorney's investigation hit a dead end. He was unable to determine exactly who among Albany Caseworkers was responsible for the hotline report three years earlier: "Without this identification, it cannot be determined whether the person filing it knew it was false, and so it is impossible to prove that a crime was committed. In any event, the applicable statute of limitations has now expired."

Grace has been adamant in seeking justice in a case that had caused so much family grief. She therefore wrote the New York State Inspector General to investigate the procedures followed by the Albany Center Register and those of the local CPS County office and uncover the Albany employee who manufactured the malicious call narrative. A reply was received in November 2012 that a team would investigate the matter. As of this writing (2013), Grace continues patiently to await their report. Her story is replicated by the many parents who have given similar and worse stories and reported them to the website Some of those stories involve the deaths of children committed to foster care.

Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System is enhanced by William L. Sanders's evaluation of CPS policy in the light of Catholic social teaching. The possibility of parents seeking recourse to civil-rights litigation where there is violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment is examined by Home School Legal Defense Association attorney James R. Mason III. CPS's manifestations of an anti-parental animus is the subject of the research of Fagan, Dorminey, and Hering, who show that "the incidence of child abuse strongly correlates with disrupted and disturbed families" and that it is "intact marriage" and normal family life which are protective of children.

Ruth A. White focuses on the poor efficiency of the nation's child welfare system, which is riddled with ethical shortcomings and is in a "constant state of flux" and facing "confusion about its purposes and methods, declining professionalism, and progressive disintegration." Interestingly for readers, the volume includes two eloquent amicus curiae law briefs filed by the Society of Catholic Social Scientists on behalf of parents whose rights were violated by a CPS that from its "inception almost forty years ago, has intervened with abandon into families across the country, often even removing children from the custody and control of their parents without justification."

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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