"They Kidnapped our Child": Why CPS Needs Transparency Now


In April 2013, police officers and a social worker from Sacramento County's Child Protective Services entered the home of Anna and Alex Nikolayev and took their baby, Sammy, away from them. They had no warrant. 

"What they'd done was, basically, kidnapped our child with the help of police," says Alex Nikolayev. The young, first-time parents were not notified of where Sammy was being taken and wouldn't find out for a full 24 hours. According to the Nikolayevs, the dispute stemmed from the parents' desire to obtain a second medical opinion before subjecting Sammy to major heart surgery.  

The Nikolayev's story made national headlines thanks to footage from a camcorder Anna Nikolayev set up on the kitchen table. It also caught the attention of California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who spearheaded an audit of the agency. 

"The secrecy by which CPS operates is a massive problem," says Donnelly. "Because when you have secrecy and unchecked power, you have a recipe for corruption and abuse." 

The secrecy surrounding CPS stems from the nature of California's juvenile dependency courts which only allow limited press access and seal all court records. While media and other interested parties can petition the court to open the records, this can be a lengthy process and by no means guarantees results. ReasonTV petitioned the court to open the records in the Nikolayev's case and, almost two months later, we have still not received a ruling from the judge.

While the closed nature of juvenile dependency courts is intended to protect the privacy of minors, the effect is an opaque system in which social workers present evidence to judges under the cloak of "confidentiality." Only in extreme or unusual cases—such as when parents release clandestine footage of their child being forcefully removed from their home without a warrant—do CPS stories tend to capture the public's attention.

Another example of a case that garnered some media attention is that of Deanna Hardwick, a mother who lost custody of her children for six and a half years. She successfully fought back and sued Orange County CPS after jurors found that social workers "lied, falsified evidence, and suppressed exculpatory evidence" and "did so with malice." Orange County ended up paying out almost $11 million in damages.

"The system is set up in a way that it's encouraged to remove the children from the protective parent," says Hardwick. "Because it generates a lot of funding."

The issue of funding is one that many critics of CPS are quick to raise, most prominently and frequently by the late Georgia state senator Nancy Schaefer. While the funding incentives for any government agency can be complicated and seemingly impossible to divine, Orange County Social Services Agency Director Michael Riley, who oversees Orange County CPS, testified in a deposition related to Hardwick's case that putting more children into the foster system theoretically could boost the agency's budget.

"Let's say you spend ten dollars a year. So, then, for the following year, your base then would be ten dollars," says Riley. The lawyer questioning Riley then points out that failure to use the entire base would result in a lowering of the base for the next year. He then asks Riley if the funding stream is tied to how many children they bring into Orange County's children's home, Orangewood. 

"It's tied to the number of children we have in the foster system," says Riley. 

ReasonTV reached out to both Sacramento County and Orange County Social Services Agencies in the production of this story, and representatives from both organization were happy to talk with us. However, because of the closed dependency courts, neither representative would comment on the details of specific cases. The absurdity of this charade reached such heights that Sherri Heller, who runs Sacramento County's Health and Human Services, told us that she could not even confirm nor deny that Sacramento County CPS was even involved in the Nikolayev case, despite widespread reporting and video evidence that it was.

And it's not just parents and children who suffer from the secrecy. CPS workers and their managers say they are not happy about the situation either and feel that more openness and transparency would help them to communicate their side of the story clearly.

"Most of us in this field are eager for the public to understand what happened and why," says Heller. "It is a source of great dismay to us when we are accused of hiding behind the confidentiality law."

In the immediate wake of the Nikolayev case, parents gathered in Sacramento to support the audit and testify in front of the audit committee. The audit is set to proceed in the next few months, and the auditor will choose three county agencies to examine. But for parents like Deanna Hardwick, who's experienced the power of this agency first-hand, a state-level audit is just the beginning of a broader movement towards transparency and accountability.

"Once the American people are able to be made aware that this is going on, I think that will be a real step forward towards making sure that there's accountability and making sure that the agency is working towards keeping families together rather than separating them," says Hardwick. 

Watch the video above to learn more about Hardwick, the Nikolayevs, and the fight to bring transparency to Child Protective Services.  

About 10 minutes. 

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Paul Detrick, Tracy Oppenheimer, and Weissmueller. 

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.

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    1. Or in thist case, a village takes it.

      1. How dare you turn my words against me.

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      1. Next he’ll buy spelling lessons.

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  1. With a gun in the house they might have prevented this crime.

    1. Pointing a gun at the police usually ends well…

  2. “Because when you have secrecy and unchecked power, you have a recipe for corruption and abuse.”

    You don’t say.

  3. Another example of a case that garnered some media attention is that of Deanna Hardwick, a mother who lost custody of her children for six and a half years. She successfully fought back and sued Orange County CPS after jurors found that social workers “lied, falsified evidence, and suppressed exculpatory evidence” and “did so with malice.” Orange County ended up paying out almost $11 million in damages.

    Did anyone who worked for CPS go to jail for kidnapping and perjury?

    1. This. The taxpayers get stuck with the bill. Nothing changes.

      I want them in FPMITAP

    2. Government workers can’t violate the law. They are the law.

  4. They did the same thing to me and my wife around 2002 but even worst. I had a 8 year old son that lived with my mom while I was getting my life together, I was 22. Got an apartment and had a good job, my daughter was just born and then I get a call that CPS has a case open on my son because of his behavior at school. Next thing I know 2 CPS workers and 7 or 8 police officers show up at my house. I opened the door and asked what was going on. That’s when the officer pushed me back and came into my house. They grabbed our baby and said we are taking her to casa which is some CPS building here in Plano. (Forgot to mention the cops also made me throw away a black shirt that said POLICE on it that was given to me) So anyway, me and my wife get to the casa building and they put the baby in 1 room, my wife in another, and me in another. After about 4 hours go by they come in and tell me either I sign over rights to my son or they are going to keep him and my new born daughter. After sitting in a room for about 8 hours and them not letting me leave, see my wife, or my daughter I cracked and signed the paper. They let us go and then investigate us for 6 months. At first they forced my wife and daughter to move out and told my wife she couldn’t stay with her parents because of some case that was 20 years old so she had to stay with some friends we barely knew.

  5. After 6 months they found nothing was going on and closed the case. Even the case worker said she didn’t know why they were investigating us. So now my real fight begins. I get my family together and start banging on CPS every way I can to get my son back, Finally after 6+ years they give my grandmother custoday and she gave it back to me. After getting my son back I found out he was on a ton of medication that pretty much made him zombie like and he couldn’t focus in school. I took him off the meds and he returned to a normal teenage kid but for 6+ years they kept him drugged in foster homes because no one wanted to “deal” with him. Some of the stories he tells me about being in the system are very heartbreaking. I don’t know how this department get’s away with what they do but they should all go to jail.

    1. urge to kill rising!

      1. I guarantee if they knock on my door again I will have my .45 on me and they will not push their way in. Then I can be one of those news stories that everyone gets upset over but does nothing about.

        1. Man, Jason. Tough story. Hope you’re stronger for it.

          Fucking criminals.

        2. That’s terrible, dude. One of my childhood friends from Richardson informed me that CPS nearly took him from his mom while we were in middle school. It had something to do with medication and the school we went to. According to him, he was forced to see a psychiatrist and stay on some antidepressants or they’d take him away from his Mom. The end result was this kid being constantly bullied and putting on tons of weight as a result of medication and stress. It’s a wonder he got out alive.

  6. Just remember its all about child safety

  7. Seriously guys, with all the NSA shit on here today, did you really need to kick us in the nuts again with a CPS story? Couldn’t you have saved it up for a day when ARod’s steriods were the news of the day or something?

  8. I like Reason, but sometimes its a real fucking downer.

  9. It’s actions like this that will lead even more law abiding people to quit doing what the cops and other officials tell them. One of these day they will encounter a perfectly innocent family that won’t tolerate those actions and people will be hurt and then the cops will claim that this is why we had to remove the child.

    1. Rather hard for cops to claim anything when they’re taking a long dirt nap.

      Sic Semper Tyrannis.

  10. Well, I’m sure that flunkie at MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry is okay with all this. After all, your children belong to the government – says so on the passport.

    That’s what my liberal friend used to say about money and taxes when he used to ridicule people who complained taxes were too high. “Money belongs to the government; says so on my dollar bill.”

    Frightening. Frightening because this is one smart, hard working, successful dude and he talks like that.

  11. I agree. All the best to this family, and I pray these particular CPS workers and the police who did the home invasion do serious jail time.

    If this is the way CPS operates, CLOSE the agency and put the “workers” out on the damn street. Go to work at WalMart if they’ll have you.

  12. I think we should congradulate the police for not shooting any dogs during the whole ordeal

    1. They did slaughter one fawn though, for its own protection.

  13. like Sandra responded I’m shocked that some one can profit $9048 in one month on the internet. did you look at this link Go to site and open Home for details

  14. Way back when — Dayton Ohio had this system setup that if a child was hurt in CPS custody, not a word was leaked. But then every summer CPS would hold an Adopt-A-Child event in which they showed the children and their faces.

    Always sounded like a double-standard to me.

  15. “While the closed nature of juvenile dependency courts is intended to protect the privacy of minors”

    Whose intent? How do you know? I’m sure that’s the claim of many, but it seems awfully convenient that it also protects the government class from disclosure.

  16. But it’s for the children.

  17. The abuses heaped on the American citizen are becoming utterly intolerable. But the extent of the abuse seems to be escalating with every interaction. The various governments are existing in an ethereal state of denial that rejects reality and objectivity. That reality is: People will only absorb so much stress and fear before their animal instincts control of their motives. Those instincts always involve violence. Taking away a parents child should invoke that violent predilection faster than any other stressor or fear. Try to take the cub from a bear sow and see what her response is. But humans have the ability to exact their measures with temporal preference…revenge. Decisive retribution often teaches lessons to broad swaths of select populations. History has taught us that government officials can learn from these, sometimes, invaluable lessons. If you think about it, all law, all rights, all justice is ultimately secured by force. Sometimes the threat of force is enough to secure compliance and sometimes it is not. Americans need to start thinking about how they are going to reduce their stress levels, secure their liberty and foreclose the possibility of violent revolution, or prepare to act collectively to restore what they have lost. It’s us against them now.

    1. I have said it many times that the American public, as well as, the citizens of the world are like a sleeping giant. The governments around the world keep poking and poking and pretty soon that sleeping giant will wake up in a very bad mood. I have added the citizens of the world to this comment because not only is America being harassed by our government, but people around the world are being effected just as badly as we are with the police state we all live in. I will leave this with you… If there must be blood shed let it be in my time so my children don’t have to experience it.

  18. The problem is its an unofficial quota system of sorts. They have to steal your kids to prove that their job is relevant.

    1. Vincent the real source of the problem is ego. It’s not that they are trying to prove that their job is relevant; they are trying to prove that they (as people) are relevant. Insecurity can be a very dangerous condition when mixed with power.

    2. The real problem is they are not prosecuted for kidnapping when they should be.

  19. my neighbor’s sister makes $72 every hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her income was $21905 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site,,,,


  20. We as a society are trying to take our country back from a government that has us living in fear and tyranny. I wanted to say that people in this similar situation don’t feel like you are the only ones out there. Many of us are fighting to take back our country, and exercise our unalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  21. Just avoid socialism security numbers and government schools. They don’t need to know how many kids you have.

  22. my buddy’s step-sister makes $72 an hour on the computer. She has been laid off for 8 months but last month her payment was $12918 just working on the computer for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more,,,,


  23. In many cases involving emotional family issues, the first reaction is to take a standard knee-jerk reaction that all gov’t and gov’t employees = evil. Remember that if you ever have the unfortunate need to call an agency when you see someone being abused or neglected and wonder who can do something. Like when an elderly person or someone with an intellectual disability is exploited for their money (yes – even a $500 Social Security check and a food stamp card can bring scum out of the woodwork to get it) or hit or raped. All you hear in the media is the sob story provided by the supposedly aggrieved families. Many of them are skillful liars and manipulators. You could walk in the home, see dog crap on the floor, nobody getting enough food or medications and the “aggrieved” will tell you that the old lady with dementia is really able to get her medications herself and that the chips for breakfast was really an omelet. Every agency will not be as professional as the one I’ve worked in, and controls are put into place so that no one or two inspectors have control over someone’s life. The goal with children is to keep them at home, then with family. Always a last resort, only undertaken after a group consultation. A judge decides ultimately. A well-run agency actually does protect people. Agency hearings should be open to the public and press barring extreme circumstances. Which I don’t see any in this case. The more open the better.

  24. Also, we got bad ratings when the foster care numbers went up…goal was always to keep children with parents or reunification if foster care was deemed necessary. I have no idea if funding was greater if more kids in foster care. If the agency budgeted based on that they are idiots. The money supposedly is for stipend for foster parents, clothing allowance, bed if a family member could take them but didn’t have one. It didn’t go to the administration…ridiculous. This is why more conservatives/libertarians who want good government should get into gov’t. Dealing with the union crap and bureaucracy can be maddening but good administrators with common sense and brains are needed. And good agencies drill it into the workers all the time. This isn’t a car repossession, it is someone’s life and it matters.

    1. Trust me, nobody buys one word of your apologia. Your bias is evident to everybody but you.

      Of course you want to tell yourself you’re a good person. The reality is you should have got a productive job before it was too late.

      Now, I shit on you, your apologia, and every person who holds a CPS job. You and they all belong in prison, period.

      1. Because child abuse is a myth and all CPS workers gleefully abuse their power? Trust me, nobody buys your gross generalizations and willful ignorance.

  25. my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $64 an hour on the internet. She has been without a job for five months but last month her income was $16482 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here Go to site and open Home for details

  26. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, http://www.max47.com

  27. my classmate’s sister-in-law makes $81 hourly on the computer. She has been laid off for 9 months but last month her pay check was $16375 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site http://www.max47.com

  28. like Sandra responded I’m shocked that some one can profit $9048 in one month on the internet. did you look at this link Go to site and open Home for details

  29. my buddy’s step-sister makes $72 an hour on the computer. She has been laid off for 8 months but last month her payment was $12918 just working on the computer for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more,,,,


  30. Thank you Reason.com for following this story. My wife and I had our 5 month old son taken by Maui CPS for not feeding him Similac. We saw a doctor (state clinic) who called CPS claiming we were starving our child. We tried to get a second opinion but the goon squad showed up the next day. Our child was taken without a court order by a State Doctor. Literally ripped our son from his mother’s arms.

    Doctors lie. They use the agency as cat’s paw when they don’t get their way. The agency in turn helps to create the false story to corroborate with State Doctors to justify their unlawful actions. They work side by side. We were able to get a pediatrician with Kaiser and she recommended sending our son home. She was later coerced into changing her opinion by the agency. Other exculpatory statements are no where to be found in our case file. The corruption is sickening.

    Believe the Nikolayevs. Parents know best and her instinct to leave Sutter was the right decision. When the government says “we’re here to help”, run!!!

  31. CPS stealing children seem to be a common occurrance. They leave children in abusive homes and snatch them out of their safe homes when someone gets a wild hair up their butt. My grandson was snatched right out of his mothers arms because someone got mad and called maliciously CPS.They did not have a warrant. They did NOT have a licensed investigator there. There were 2 cops and the POS from CPS. When the cop said “we’re taking the baby” (even though the report says the child is in no imminent danger) I fought the cop and got charges, resisting and assault. Well, I’m dealing with that part. The most horrible part is they put the baby in a home with a violent kid, screaming and hollering. The baby has come to the “supervised” visits dirty, with a rash, cradle cap so thick he’s balding. They have lied to the judge telling him the mother is not complying. The foster father had the nerve to “imply” that it was up to HIM if the biological mother gets her baby back. And why would they take a 7 month old and not the 3 yr old? Wonder whats going to happen when we turn over the tapes we have of ALL of the meetings? Too bad her lawyer sucks. This is in New Mexico.

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