Children's Rights

Kentucky Judges Pre-Signed Blank Legal Documents So That Child Services Could Take Custody of Kids on Nights and Weekends

"Children are being illegally taken from their home without judges' proper authority."

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Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services—the state agency that provides child protective services—has a practice of obtaining blank emergency custody orders pre-signed by judges. Social workers then fill out the documents with the necessary information after they've been signed by a judge and then use them to take custody of children from parents who have come under investigation. Let me repeat that: no judge actually reviews these orders, or the evidence used to justify separating a family, before signing them.

This practice is a galling abuse of parents' rights and basic civil liberties. It only came to an end after an investigative report by WDRB-41 spotlighted the practice:

Previously, copies of the blank orders with signatures from Jefferson District Court judges were left at the Home of the Innocents on Market Street and filled in by cabinet workers – giving them the power to remove children without a judge reviewing the allegations written on the order or filling out other necessary documentation.

"The system that is currently set up allows for the social workers to call an on-call judge on the phone and then fill out the order themselves, a blank order with a judge's signature on it," attorney Karen Faulkner said in an interview before the March 15 policy change. "Children are being illegally taken from their home without judges' proper authority."

In some cases, attorneys and some judges claim cabinet workers have used blank copies of the pre-signed child removal orders to take kids from their parents, only later filling in the allegations and other items on the order. The judges and attorneys for the parents don't see the orders until a hearing three days after the child has been removed.

Defenders of the practice said it was necessary to address off-hours investigations. While family court judges deal with custody issues during the day, random district judges are assigned to consider these matters on nights and weekends. Social workers were apparently too lazy to visit these judges at their homes and were technologically incapable of using e-signatures, so it became common practice to have the judges pre-sign the documents.

The Blaze notes that Kentucky officials clearly abused this loophole, highlighting a case in which a social worker allegedly used a re-signed form to take custody of three kids. It had been the judge's understanding that only one of the kids would be removed from the home.

Separating children from their parents is one of the most traumatizing forms of coercion the state can exercise against a family. The social workers and judges highlighted by WDRB-41 used that power carelessly and to horrifying effect.

Related: "After a False Accusation, Police and Child Services Forced a Family Apart for 7 Months."