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Committee on Ways and Means

Subcommittee on Human Resources


re: HEARING ON CHILD PROTECTION ISSUES RELATED TO THE TRAINING
NEEDS OF COURT PERSONNEL

TO: Ron Haskins, Staff Director

The proposed hearing by the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on


what Ways and Means on Child Protection Issues has excluded a very important segment of
the population affected by the Adoption and Save Family's Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89). This
excluded segment of the population is the American family; moms and dads and children. If
Congressional legislation relative to the status of the family in this country is going to be made,
it would behove the committee to hear from the people who have been most affected by this
law. I have conducted extensive research pertaining to these issues over the past eight years
from the perspective of the family and I am uniquely qualified to present this perspective on this
issue.
As the director of the American Family Advocacy Center, I am the originator of the
Family Advocacy principal, and the sole provider of Advocate training in this country. The
principal of family advocacy is a direct result of the abuses occurring within the courts of this
nation relative to Child protection issues. There are devastating acts demonstrating abuse of
power in too many cases which cause more harm to children than help.
I have continuing contact with thousands of parents and children whose lives have been
destroyed by overzealous child savers under the ASFA. A significant percentage of these
parents have never abused or neglected their children, and the state has never proven abuse
or neglect in the courts. But the provisions of the ASFA do not required state to prove
abuse or neglect in order to terminate parental rights.
The ultimate fact pertaining to this issue is that parents do not lose their children
because they abused or neglected their children, but because their attorneys do not put on a
proper defense; and because there is an array of state witnesses aligned against them in the
name of Guardians ad Litem, caseworkers, Casa's, and other expert "service providers" those
livelihoods depend on substantiating non-existent abuse or neglect rather than seeking the
truth. The parents are denied the right to preserve evidence during the intervention to
effectively rebut testimony and reports by these state witnesses. One of the major
complaints nationwide is that reports and testimony are falsified, and if they cannot prove the
falsifications, they lose their cases.
The Mondale Act and every subsequent act pertaining to child protection including the
ASFA has helped to build a constellation of service providers around every child who is
removed from his parents home based on nothing more than a speculative "risk" that the child
will be abused or neglected in the future.
Child protection agencies tell us that they do not remove a child until a complete
investigation is done. That is propaganda. The truth is that they snatch the children and ask
questions later. Many times the questions they ask of the children are leading questions, they
are told what answers to give, they are discouraged from telling the truth if the truth does not
reveal abuse or neglect that exists only the caseworkers mind. And I speak from experience.
Foster children running away from their foster homes tell me these stories. They tell me
caseworkers are trying to make them lie and they are refusing. Many of these children suddenly
disappear into some residential treatment facility and are placed on psychotropic drugs in an
effort to brainwash them into submission and their frantic parents never know where they are.
These children have told me that the caseworkers told them their mom and dad didn't want
them, and didn't want them. These children have told me that they begged the guardian ad
Litem "I don't want to live with my mom, she hurts me." And the guardian ad Litem says " Little
girls need to live with their moms. I'm going to tell the judge that you want to live with your
mom." The child who told me this has had to resort to filing her own appeal in the
Supreme Court of the state of New York, because her guardian ad Litem is not representing
her best interests. The guardian ad Litem is recommending the little girl be returned to her
mother who has brandished a gun at her and her father, who has stalked her and her father,
who has sexually abused this child! What is the state of child protection in this country coming
to when children feel compelled to file their own appeal?
I am often asked, how can the court terminate parental rights if a child was not abused
or neglected? Very simply, under the ASFA, failure to successfully complete a treatment
plan is a sole requirement for the termination of parental rights. If a parent admits under
threat duress or coercion that a child was abused or neglected, the scene is set for TPR.
The typical case will follow the same pattern. A report is received by child Protective
Services alleging some act of child abuse or neglect. The child is often questioned in school
without the knowledge of the parents. This interview is rarely if ever videotaped to insure
appropriate interview techniques were employed. On occasions when the interviews have been
videotaped, we have been able to observe that the child is being coached as to what answers
to provide, or that the child did not understand the coaching and has not given answers that
signify any substantial abuse or neglect.
Based on this "interview" the child is taken into protective custody. Many times the
parents are never even notified until the child turns up missing after school. The caseworker
then conducts an interview with the parents.
This interview includes a tool called a "risk assessment". Regardless of the fact that
there is not risk assessment out there that is based any kind of scientific studies whatsoever,
parents are painted with a broad brush based on the finding of this risk assessment. Factors
that contribute to an increased risk of child abuse include having more than two children, having
been abused as a child, having financial difficulties, being poor, if your parents were substance
abusers, how many previous reports substantiated or not have been made against you,
disciplinary techniques used by the parents, whether or not the parents are co-operative with
the caseworker during this interview, if there are any mental-health issues, if either the parent
or the child suffers from a disability, if this is a single parent home, if there is a history of
domestic violence (which includes allowed argument), having a step parent in the family. Oddly,
there is no mention of whether or not the children alleged any abuse on these risk
assessments. If the caseworker determine such her family is at risk, the child is removed from
the home.
A temporary custody hearing is then held, at which point then the parent is either
assigned a court-appointed attorney, or is able to hire their own. Regardless of whether the
attorney is court-appointed or not, in most cases the attorney is completely incompetent to
represent the parents. They receive no training in this area of law, which is very specialized
because it is really neither criminal nor completely civil. In many states they how their own rules
of evidence that apply to this court. Hearsay is admissible. Spouses are compelled to testify
against each other. The children are never heard. The case is based on speculation, hearsay,
and procedures that bear no resemblance to the rules of the court, the rules of evidence,
statute, or written policy.
Take for example the Colorado judge who stated "the father has too much knowledge of
the court process, and it is interfering with this court's ordinary practices." The practices being
interfered with included exparte conferences with parties excluding the respondent father,
denying the respondent father the right to cross-examine witnesses against him, retaliating
against the father for seeking administrative remedies against the CPS agency, not requiring
the GAL to submit written reports as required by the state Supreme Court directives, not
allowing the father to cross-examine the GAL’s reports, stating that the Constitution did not
apply in his courtroom, and abandoning many of the rules of evidence and the civil procedure
during the proceedings.
Bearing in mind that there is no legal definition in many cases of the "best interests of
the child", most judges will not require a definition of the best interests of the child as it pertains
to a specific case. They will permit caseworkers to make a mere statement that "reasonable
efforts" or made, without requiring them to describe exactly what reasonable efforts were made
and how they failed. They will allow caseworkers and service providers to make reports to the
court without being under oath, denying the respondent parent the right to cross-examine the
evidence against them. These reports often includes statement such as "the child cannot be
returned because of safety issues." However, the caseworker will decline to explain exactly
what the safety issues are, and the courts will not ask, therefore the parents cannot possibly
know what to do to remedy the situation and have their child returned to them. Children who are
of a legal age in a state to testify, will be denied access to the court. Many children have
resorted to writing letters to the court stating that their parents never abuse them, that they want
to go home, that they've been abused in foster care, and these pleas are ignored by judges
across the country.
Dependency and neglect courts universally act with an appalling disregard for the rights
of the family members, and for the rules that govern court procedures. In Ohio, parents are
actually told to sit out in the hallway while their hearings are held, and parents who have been
using every legal means that their disposal to protect themselves, will find themselves
subjected to humiliating body searches before they are allowed to enter court rooms. The only
reason they're allowed enter is to hear the orders of the judge, not to participate in the hearing.
Respondent parent attorneys allow these acts to continue without protest. Respondent
parents complain across the country that they are told to simply to whatever their told, to "kiss
butt," in order to get their children back. In a large percentage of cases the reasons the children
were removed does not even meet the statutory definition of child abuse or neglect. But the
parents are coerced into signing an admission of guilt, or stipulation, because their attorneys
will not even put on a proper defense. There often threatened that if they do not sign, the
attorney will withdraw leaving them without representation. This is a terrifying prospect for
parent whose child has been taken. Attorneys will not put on any of the parents’ witnesses, they
will not obtain the services of expert witnesses -- even pro bono experts -- they will not rebut
false reports to the court allowing them to stand is fact under law and to be used against the
parent throughout the entire process. They have actually said that parents have no rights during
these proceedings. Many of the respondent parent's attorney do not even know what all the
laws are that pertain to child protection.
The American family advocacy center has sat down with many of these attorneys on a
one-on-one basis in explain to them what they can do to better defend their client. These
attorneys always express surprise at the legal mechanisms available to them which they had
never been. This clearly demonstrates that there was no basis for the allegation in the first
place, and that the process is trampling on the rights of the family, and not acting in the best
interests of the child.
An analysis of what the courts' practices should be compared to what the practices are,
based on publications issued by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges,
indicate that practices across this country do not even come close to meeting the standards
defined in their publications. Courts are not acting as "finders of fact," but rather acting to
perpetuate a case or to validate an allegation against parent.
Treatment plans, which are not designed to be punitive in nature, are in substance and
in practice punitive. Courts allow caseworkers to submit vague and nebulous treatment plans,
and to perpetually revise them, thereby raising the bar ever higher for the parents success.
Many treatment plans are simply boilerplate plans, which do not address the issues specific to
the case, but contain elements that exist in every single treatment plan caseworker devises.
They will not even require that the caseworker to fulfill the simplest requirement of the treatment
plan, of the parent is allowed to participate in the formation of the treatment plan as required by
law and policy. The courts interpret this to mean that the parent is allowed to contest it after the
treatment plan is formed. If the parent does contest the treatment plan, the act is often futile.
Courts will routinely "err on the side of the child." If they do not have enough evidence to
substantiate the allegation made by the CPS agency, they will use this phrase as an excuse to
continue to deprive the family of the right to be together in violation of the universal requirement
that the state has to bear the burden of proof. If a state cannot meet the burden of proof, many
courts will ignore that fact.
The court has the discretion to accept or reject evidence submitted by the parent and in
the cases were they do not denying the parents request to submit certain evidence, they will
often reject the evidence has lacking credibility. By their own admission, many of the courts
assign a very high degree of credibility to caseworkers, GALs, and CASAs; and assign a very
low degree of credibility to respondent parents. While this is undoubtedly within the judicial
discretion of the court, it exhibits a pattern of biases against respondent parents which affects
the judgments of the court to the detriment of the American family.
Finally, courts are jealous of the control they exercise over child protective issues. If the
parent seeks administrative remedies, they are sometimes told that the court has exclusive
jurisdiction over CPS agencies. This is patently false. But in seeking an administrative remedy,
the parents risk retaliation by caseworkers, GALs, CASAS and judges. There are numerous
reports from around a country of retaliation being employed because a parent did not exhibit
blind obedience to the will of the court and the professionals and sought redress of grievances
from outside sources.
Because the number of violations of families rights are increasing at a phenomenal rate
in this country, there is a grass-roots movement to reform child protection laws. It is comprised
mainly of parents who have been falsely accused of child abuse or neglect, many more of
whom are losing the children to termination of parental rights. As one Colorado magistrate put
it, "termination of parental rights is a death sentence for the child and for the parents." If the
process is being manipulated in order to facilitate the termination of parental rights,
rather than act in the best interests of the children, then the subcommittee on Human
Resources needs to be aware of this. The judges are not going to reveal this. Neither are the
GALs or CASAs or the attorneys. They are using the confidentiality laws as a veil of secrecy,
Only the parents and the children are begging to make this information public.
As the director of the American Family Advocacy Center, I represent thousands of
individual families nationwide, and also hundreds of localized family and parents rights
organizations that are springing up to fight the abuses occurring in the child protection system.
Even in the face of the threat of retaliation when their children are held hostage for their silence
and compliance, parents are saying enough is enough. We need to ensure that the system that
is charged with protecting the children of this country is not in fact exploiting them. Until this
exploitation is exposed, the practices and abuses will continue.

I can put the committee in contact with parents and children who are more than willing to
testify as to their own devastating experiences within the child protection system, including
myself.

Sincerely

Suzanne Shell
Director American Family Advocacy Center
Author Profane Justice

Copyright © 2000 Suzanne Shell. Copyright terms posted at http://www.profanejustice.org