Parental Rights and CPS

In April Texas officials initiated the largest removal of children by CPS (Child Protective Services) in the nation’s history. The removal was instigated by phone calls from a woman who identified herself as a sixteen-year-old girl in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) community near Eldorado, Texas. She said she had been forced to marry an older man (in his fifties) and was being abused. On the basis of her calls, a judge granted a court order to authorities to enter the property of the group, investigate the allegations, and issue an arrest warrant for the man identified as the husband of this woman. The state has now all but admitted that the call was a hoax and has dropped the arrest warrant for the man named. News reports identified the caller as a thirty-three-year-old woman in Colorado, a former member of the sect with a history of making such calls.

The raid by armed officers and tanks resulted in the removal of every child from the property, with mothers initially allowed to accompany their children. According to press reports, almost 500 children were removed from the property, without resistance from the parents or families. The sect practices polygamy and arranged marriages of underage girls; by media accounts the members are very industrious and productive and require modest dress for the women, who do not cut their hair or wear makeup.

Texas law requires a hearing to be held within fourteen days of the removal of children, to review the evidence of abuse/neglect, and a judge must rule on whether or not CPS has evidence of abuse/neglect to justify the continued separation of the children and their parents. The judge in this case held a hearing for all the children at the same time, with over three hundred attorneys representing the children and parents. Most of the attorneys had never even spoken with or had access to the clients they were representing. While a case could and should have been made that underage girls who were pregnant or had children should be removed because of the clear evidence of sexual abuse, the judge ruled that all children should remain wards of the state. CPS then separated the children from their mothers, including children as young as thirteen months and teen boys, about whom no one had alleged abuse or neglect.

Attorneys for the FLDS parents filed an appeal of this decision with Texas Third Court of Appeals, arguing that “… ‘at most’ the Department of Family and Protective Services showed that only one group of children—girls fifteen and over—were at risk because of underage marriage practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Instead, the state removed all children based on future risk and without considering less-traumatic alternatives for the children.”

This action has resulted in a national focus on the FLDS group and the handling of these kinds of cases by CPS. The controversy stems, in my opinion, from differing views of parental rights. Some argue that the government was justified in taking all of the children in spite of what appears to be a lack of evidence of abuse and/or neglect of some of those children. In fact, CPS claims that all the children are at risk because of what the group believes regarding polygamy and marriage at a young age. The problem with this view is that the law clearly requires evidence that the children are in imminent danger of abuse and according to legal experts, taking such actions based on what people believe rather than their actions is illegal. The state should not remove children from their parents without clear evidence of abuse and/or neglect.

Some have expressed the opinion that these people are dangerous. They seem to hold this view because of the appearance of the people, their views on dress and makeup, their withdrawal from society, and their teachings that our society is sinful, in addition to their practice of polygamy and underage marriage. In short, they are different from the culture at large, and thus the allegations against them are more believable; also, government officials have made the allegations, and therefore, they must be true. Many home educators have responded to these arguments with anxiety, recognizing that many of those comments could be made about many who homeschool as well.

While many of us teach our children the biblical view of government—that God established it for the restraint of evildoers—we should also emphasize that our government requires the assumption of innocence until the proof of guilt. This year news stories have reported the release from the Texas prison system of the thirty-third man who has been proven innocent by DNA testing. This man served twenty-seven years for a crime he did not commit. This incident should give us pause. We should be careful about believing that those accused (in this case, by CPS) are guilty based only on allegations and news stories.

I have received comments from home schoolers who champion CPS as “heroes for the family 99% of the time.” While this might be true to some extent, it is little comfort for innocent families who happen to be in the percentage of families who suffer at their hands. The attitude exhibited by CPS workers in dealing with the FLDS families was publicized by a report released by John Kight, chairman of Hill Country Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center in mid-May.

“‘We don’t condone what they say went on out there (at the ranch), but we’re just aghast at the methods they used to go out there and take the kids away from their mothers,’ Kight said. ‘We want him (Texas Gov. Rick Perry) to hear firsthand what went on … how abusive CPS was and how they’ve trampled all over their rights.’

“Eleven employees of the Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center recently provided written reports of their experiences at the request of the regional governing board. Each expressed frustration—and some anger—at how CPS treated the children….

“‘Never in all my life, and I am one of the older ladies, have I been so ashamed of being a Texan and seeing what and how our government agencies treat people,’ wrote one employee of Hill Country Community Mental Health-Mental Retardation Center”. – Deseret News, 5-13-08

One Mental Health-Mental Retardation (MHMR) worker stated, “I witnessed a small boy, maybe three years old, walking along the rows of cots with a little pillow, saying, ‘I need someone to rock me, I just want to be rocked, I want to find a rocking chair.’ Two CPS workers were following him and writing in their notebooks but not speaking to him or comforting him. Sally and I started toward him but his eight-year-old brother came and picked him up, saying, ‘I’ll take care of him.’ …That little boy will always be in my mind. How can a beautiful, healthy child be taken from a healthy, loving home and be forced into a situation like that, right here in America, right here in Texas?”

“Chairman John Kight said he wants state legislators and the governor to hear the employees’ stories. ‘You have damaged these children for their lives,’ he said. ‘This is an agency that looks like it’s gone out of control.’” – Salt Lake Tribune, 5-13-2008

The reports by these MHMR workers seem to support anecdotal evidence that we hear from home school families who have had similar experiences with CPS workers. In fact, the FLDS circumstances are not uncommon. Often an anonymous, malicious, false allegation is made against a family; sometimes children are removed without evidence of abuse/neglect. It is not at all uncommon for a judge to grant CPS continued custody of children—without evidence—for as long as eighteen months, while the family tries to meet the demands of CPS to regain their children. In the FLDS case, children were housed all over the state; and some families were required to travel 1800 miles per week to visit their children, in addition to working to provide for their families and taking the training and testing required by CPS. In fact, some believe that what CPS is requiring of these families is impossible to accomplish.

Texas law requires CPS to investigate any allegation of abuse or neglect, and there are countless examples of anonymous calls resulting in innocent families being put through circumstances similar to what has happened to the FLDS families. Although a statute is in place to prosecute such false claims, they are rarely, if ever, pursued by district or county attorneys. In fact, CPS and the state encourage people with any concern for a child to call CPS. This kind of public exhortation, coupled with aggressive responses by CPS officials, often results in innocent families being harassed and children being emotionally abused.

The THSC office took a call recently from a home school family whose children were standing at the curb of their front yard, calling for their dog who had escaped, when a woman stopped her car and told them they should not be outside. The children ran into their home, and the well-meaning woman called the local police, who forced their way into the home “because the children were in danger.”

Many have asked what they can do. Pray for these families and for others who have to deal with CPS investigations. Follow the news that THSC PAC sends on this and other issues that could impact home schooling. Contact the governor, your state representative and state senator and express your opinion.

Certainly no one with whom I have talked in the home school community supports polygamy or underage marriage, but many hold the view of the MHMR workers, that CPS is out of control and must be held accountable. One MHMR worker stated, “I have worked in the domestic violence/sexual abuse programming for over twenty years and have never seen women and children treated this poorly, not to mention their civil rights being disregarded in this manner. It makes us all wonder how safe anyone is who has children.” Many home schoolers with whom have I have talked have voiced the same concerns, in my opinion, legitimately.