Even if President Trump's new order keeps immigrant families at the border from being torn asunder, we will still live in a country where the government can seize children from perfectly loving, competent parents. It happens all the time, and not just to immigrant families—American citizens deal with these injustices as well, thanks to the actions of child protective services.
In a single year, 2016, the number of children placed in foster care was 273,539. As the National Coalition for Child Protection put it, "the number of children separated from their parents at the border since April is almost equal to the number taken by U.S. child protective services (CPS) every three days."
In many of those cases, CPS intervention is justified in order to protect children, or provide them care they aren't getting at home. But not always.
Take the case of "Cassie." Cassie was mom to Hannah, a one-year-old, and Maya, an 8-year-old. When Cassie noticed Hannah not putting weight on her left leg, she called her pediatrician, who said to give the girl Tylenol and bring her in the next day.
Too anxious to wait, Cassie took the girl to the emergency room at Central DuPage Hospital in suburban Chicago, where an X-Ray revealed a fractured tibia and fibula. The Family Defense Center, which took the case, reports:
Because Cassie couldn't say for sure how Hannah got the fracture, the hospital staff called the DCFS. Only later did the family learn from two pediatric orthopedics and medical literature that the sort of injury Hannah had is considered to have "low" suspicion for abuse and it is hardly uncommon for parents to witness the incident that caused the fracture(s) to occur.
Unfortunately the x-ray findings, which naturally concerned the parents, marked just the beginning of the family's nightmare. Without even interviewing [Cassie's husband] Nate, or talking to the hospital's own child abuse pediatrician, and without Hannah being seen by a single orthopedist (for whom injuries like Hannah's are fairly routine), DCFS decided to take both children into State protective custody.
They did this by going to the family's home, waking Maya, and taking her and her sister to the home of a relative who would serve as foster parent. It was the first time either child had slept away from their parents:
The next day — still without talking to the hospital's child abuse pediatrician, the family pediatrician, other the family members or friends, or Maya's teachers — DCFS filed a petition to take custody of both children.
After a three-month legal battle, the parents regained custody of their kids, and the state admitted it had had no case. That alone seems to indicate how easily even a simple visit to the doctor can turn into a child removal case—as it did for the Minnesota mom with the coughing child I wrote about last week. When she took the child home before she was officially dismissed by the doctor, it was considered "neglect."
Parents are also being thrown in jail—the ultimate in tearing families apart—on the sketchiest medical charges. Watch The Syndrome, a devastating documentary on Shaken Baby Syndrome, to see how hundreds of moms and dad ended up in prison thanks to the "indisputable" evidence that they shook their babies—a conclusion that relied upon junk science.
And then there are the cases of "neglect" that are utterly baffling.
A Florida couple I interviewed a few years back had their sons taken away after someone called CPS to report that their son, 11, was playing basketball by himself in the backyard. Normally one of the parents would have been home, but both had been delayed that day. Also, normally one doesn't think of playing in the backyard for 90 minutes as something akin to torture.
But the cops swung by, anyway. They found the boy was technically without food, shelter, water, or a bathroom—because he didn't have a key to the house—and child protective services packed him and his younger brother, age 4, off to foster care.
It wasn't until a month later, in court, when the 11-year-old begged the judge to let him and his brother go back to their parents that the court returned the boys home. This story was so hard to fathom that some readers thought I made it up, until I provided Reason editors with the court papers to review.
Worst of all are the cases where a mom who has been beaten by her partner has her child taken away because the kid was exposed to violence. That practice was rampant in New York City until the federal court put a stop to it in the landmark case of Nicholson v. Scoppetta.
But even that didn't stop states like Illinois from taking Rochelle Vermeulen's twins away. Rochelle was beaten and choked by the twins' dad, and so she fled with the kids. But when the dad's relative called the child protection authorities, Rochelle was told her kids must either stay with a relative of the abuser or go to foster care, even though Rochelle offered to go to a domestic violence shelter with them. For seven weeks, Rochelle was not allowed to see her twins except in supervised visits. Dad, on the other hand, was allowed unlimited contact.
Family defenders like Diane Redleaf, whose book, They Took the Kids Last Night: How Child Protective Services Puts Families At Risk, comes out in October, say that children are routinely taken from their parents, even when there's no evidence of abuse. In one of the stories in Redleaf's book, for example, a toddler who fell out of his crib was taken from his parents even though the CPS investigator reported he was healthy and happy at home.
And what about the dad in Michigan whose 7-year-old was taken away when he accidentally bought the boy a Mike's Hard Cider at a Detroit Tigers game?
Research by Professors Vivek Sankaran and Christopher Church has shown that even children quickly returned to parents can suffer long-term harm from the separation. As the border separations continue to grip our attention, we should also reconsider policies that allow child protective services to take children from their parents without compelling evidence of neglect or abuse.
Photo Credit: Heiko Barth / Dreamstime