A Charlotte couple
October 10, 2002 1:47 PM   Subscribe

A Charlotte couple who has been fighting for nearly two years to regain custody of their 10 children from the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) could be thrown in jail if a district court judge finds them to be in contempt of court after a hearing tomorrow. When does government have the right to take your children without any explaination? And why will no one from our government discuss this situation?
posted by Macboy (42 comments total)

 
Another interesting link on the story - Our Tax Dollars At Work
posted by Macboy at 1:55 PM on October 10, 2002


IMHO - The government has no right to take children away from their parents - no matter what the rational.
posted by LowDog at 2:03 PM on October 10, 2002


umm The government in this case has accused neglect.

Gotta say when the main link's tagline is "All The Rumors Fit To Print " it makes me a bit suspcious of their objectivity.

The only other stories I found are here and here
posted by bitdamaged at 2:08 PM on October 10, 2002


The explanation is that the parents were accused of neglect. And while the parents "claimed" to have met the requirements set by the court, it's clear the court does not agree. It's just not up to the parents to determine whether or not they have met the court's requirements. The parents can't view the file on their children as I would imagine that this would give the parents access to the children's current address, privileged information shared with caseworkers, etc.
posted by mikrophon at 2:10 PM on October 10, 2002


Bitdamaged:

The local District Attorney's office is getting involved in Jack Stratton's custody case and now so has WBT - AM. After failing to prove Jack Stratton violated a court's gag order at last week's hearing, the court has now turned to WBT to prove it's case. Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser says the D-A's office will present evidence at this Friday's hearing. The D-A's office has served WBT with a subpoena for the audio tapes of the September 27th broadcast of the Spires & Krantz show. The court alleges Jack Stratton called in to the show, and spoke about the case. Stratton and his wife are fighting D-S-S for custody of their nine children who were taken by the system nearly two years ago.
posted by Macboy at 2:12 PM on October 10, 2002


IMHO - The government has no right to take children away from their parents - no matter what the rational.

uhhh...what if the parents are beating the shit out of their kids or having sex with them?

(not that this is happening in the case in the story...)

And I'm not sure if I'm missing something, but it doesn't seem like the govt. is just fucking with these people. It seems like the couple's handling of the case has been as disorganized as the government's. I mean, I can understand not wanting to take a handout, but maybe if you have ten kids you can use some help ( or maybe you shouldn't have had ten kids...).
posted by stifford at 2:13 PM on October 10, 2002


Ummmmm I don't care what the government says! The government - ANY GOVERNMENT - is NOTHING more than a gang of thugs forcing its sense of right and wrong on others!
posted by LowDog at 2:15 PM on October 10, 2002


2 parents; ten children; I'm sure they can handle it - how dare the State intervene!
posted by ac at 2:17 PM on October 10, 2002


Ummmmm I don't care what the government says! The government - ANY GOVERNMENT - is NOTHING more than a gang of thugs forcing its sense of right and wrong on others!

I understand that, but what if the parents are assholes too?
posted by stifford at 2:18 PM on October 10, 2002


uhhh...what if the parents are beating the shit out of their kids or having sex with them?

I don't care what the parents are doing. If it bothers YOUR CONSCIENCE, then YOU go do something about it. Don't hire (by paying taxes) a bunch of thugs to force YOUR SENSE of right and wrong on others.
posted by LowDog at 2:21 PM on October 10, 2002


"2 parents; ten children; I'm sure they can handle it - how dare the State intervene!"

That's exactly what I thought, except without the sarcasm.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:22 PM on October 10, 2002


DSS is being accused more and more of abusing their power since they are now given funds based on the children they adopt out.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 is explicit about the rewards. Under a section called "Adoption Incentive Payment," the act says a state can receive as much as $4,000 for adopting-out a child. There is even a provision offering technical assistance "through grants or contracts ... to assist States and local communities to reach their targets for increased numbers of adoptions and, to the extent that adoption is not possible, alternative permanent placements, for children in foster care."

I personally find this appalling.

Here is the article in full. I'm sure there are other articles that talk about this.

It seems that we have tilted the pendulum too far now. It used to be that children were left with parents who were truly abusing them. Having a mother who worked with social services many years ago, it was nearly impossible to take a child away from an abusive situation. Now, it seems too easy for them to take a child away.
posted by Plunge at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2002


I understand that, but what if the parents are assholes too?

Well, gee, ya didn't say that...
posted by LowDog at 2:23 PM on October 10, 2002


But the parents in this case aren't assholes. Strattons are an interracial couple with little money. They have refused to take any government assistance (Jack Stratton insists that feeding and caring for his kids is his responsibility, not the government's WOW) and they home-school their children. The children were taken and the parents warned not to talk (the gag order). The children were never abused nor negleted. The more I read and hear about this case, the more annoyed I get...
posted by Macboy at 2:24 PM on October 10, 2002


Coming from an area where there are more than a few 10-15 children families, and many 5-8 children families, I have to disagree. Most of them seem to do quite well. There are the exceptions, but over all they get the job done.
posted by Plunge at 2:26 PM on October 10, 2002


I'm not saying "the government should evaluate and rate all parents and remove kids when parents are deemed unworthy". I'm just saying there are some circumstances where kids should be yanked from their parents. Teaching their kids the "wrong" religion: no. Taking money to let strangers have sex with your children: yes (once again, not that the couple in this story did any of this).
posted by stifford at 2:27 PM on October 10, 2002


But the parents in this case aren't assholes.

I didn't mean the couple in this story, I meant theoretically...
posted by stifford at 2:29 PM on October 10, 2002


Stifford - thanks for the clarification and I agree.
posted by Macboy at 2:31 PM on October 10, 2002


Once the child's rights as a human being are violated (abused, etc...) intervention should be considered.
posted by packphour at 2:32 PM on October 10, 2002


My father came from a 14 person family, and there weren't any major problems. The problem is not the amount of children but the time frame. 10 children that are 10 and younger...coud be very problematic. 10 children, with the oldest in their teens and able to help, may be another situation.
posted by stoneegg21 at 2:41 PM on October 10, 2002


There is a tendency for people to blame problems in big families on the size of the family, when they certainly don't take into account that the vast majority of welfare, public housing, juvenile delinquent, etc., households have two or three children at most.

Absent the rare and extreme case, people have big families (five or more kids) these days out of deliberate and considered decision about their religious or social values and their capabilities for love, discipline, and sacrifice of luxuries. The families that tend to perpetrate social pathologies are those that are formed with little or no reflection or deliberation, no commitment (in the form of marriage between the parents, and otherwise), and, of course, the classic teen mom desire to get someone to love and to get the "independence" that public assistance can give her.
posted by MattD at 2:50 PM on October 10, 2002


I know that I am WAY in the minority here, but I see parenthood as a privilege, not a right. Anyone with the correct working parts can make babies (repeatedly, in this case) but that does not, in my very unpopular opinion, afford the parents an inalienable right to raise these children. If the children are being abused (physically, sexually, mentally, emotionally), malnourished, made to suffer unhygienic circumstances, any or all of the above, I think that this should be grounds for at least trial separation of parent and child while the parents are forced to take a parenting class and get their shit together. No human being has the right to make another human being suffer.
posted by mikrophon at 2:55 PM on October 10, 2002


My problem with the whole deal is knowing there are foster parents that can be worse than childrens' actual parents. We had a case here locally where children were taken away for no good reason (they lived with a nonparental relative in what was considered a bad area) and while in the foster parent home one child was dropped head first in a toilet and is severely disabled as a result.

Boy howdy.
posted by konolia at 3:16 PM on October 10, 2002


If these various reports are to be believed:

- The entire case against the Strattons is that they were poor and were willing to find ways to make do with what they had
- They are accused of violating court orders that neither they nor their attorney has ever seen and cannot find in a search of their records
- Their civil rights are being violated via a one-sided gag order which prevents them from seeking any additional aid to fight against a bureaucracy which stands to reap financial benefits if this family is torn apart permanently
- The record against them is fraught with inaccuracies, such as a claim of no electricity (not an inherent mark of neglect last I checked) which was false
- The record also contains allegations of mental abuse against them for simply reassuring their children that they are fighting to bring them home
- The sitting judge refuses to allow any outside observers into court proceedings, keeping the truth of the situation from reaching light of day

If it isn't an overt, intentional conspiracy against these people, it's a bureaucratic cock-up of dynamic proportions, with twelve lives on the line. This is government intrusion, inefficiency and inappropriateness at it's peak. If everything is truly on the up and up, then there's no reason to conduct everything in secret and demand that the Strattons keep mum about their situation. This stinks from every angle. I wonder what it would take to get some heavy-hitting investigative reporting on this case?
posted by Dreama at 3:46 PM on October 10, 2002


Hear, hear Mikrophon!

Konolia: that doesnt undermine the entire edifice of child protection - it means the state hasnt screened well enough for appropriate carers (as we saw earlier this year in Florida).

I wonder why the judge thinks there is an issue of child protection here: do the talk show hosts know all the facts? Do the journalists? Do we?
posted by dash_slot- at 3:56 PM on October 10, 2002


I'm actually agreee with mikrophon too. As Dreama says "if these reports are to be believed" most of the news articles (and I've followed many of the links) are from the same source, the Raleigh World. Which seems to have taken sides on this case from the word go. (and again I have to question their credibility as a "news organization" as well as the Rhino) So far all I have found on this situation from both sides is a lot of fluff, no facts.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:15 PM on October 10, 2002


Bitdamaged -

That's because only a few local news outlets have covered this story which is another can of worms unopened.

And I site more links you may have missed:

Group accuses Mecklenburg Department of Social Services of fraud

Father speaks despite gag order
posted by Macboy at 4:56 PM on October 10, 2002


I just find the gag order idea repellant, regardless of the case. If I am being tried in a case less than that of national security, why should I be forced to forfeit my First Amendment rights? I understand somewhat the concept of protecting the children, but privacy and freedom of speech should be evaluated equally, especially when the enforced silence MAY cover malfeasance.

As far as the frequency of child confiscation, it seems to me that here in the Midwest, child protective services engage in sins of omission, not commission, more often than not.
posted by Samizdata at 6:22 PM on October 10, 2002


mr_crash_davis - what two people, especially ones with little money, can handle ten kids? I mean, if everything was going fine the kids would not have been taken away. What drew the gov't's attention to this family anyway? Who in their right mind would have ten kids anyway? Unless you're rich and hire a bunch of nurses, etc.
And if that's what you thought except without the sarcasm, why do you say I'm being sarcastic? I am being sarcastic, just wondering though.
Auugh! Mommy doesn't feed me!
posted by ac at 6:37 PM on October 10, 2002


Ac, many (many, many) people have had very large families throughout history, most in conditions of poverty that would make these people look like pampered royalty.

Dreama, I agree completely.
posted by Nothing at 8:05 PM on October 10, 2002


I'm sorry, but on a planet with six billion other souls on it, having ten kids is "perpetuating social pathology" in its own right.

Ten! TEN! I don't care how well taken care of they are, but that's obscene. This is where my libertarian heart slams right into my social-democratic head.

TEN!!
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:54 PM on October 10, 2002


The state probably sent the kids to Florida and can't find them now.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:24 AM on October 11, 2002


My parents did a fine job with ten kids, and we spent several years living in houses with not only no electricity (confirmed) but no running water. In fact, for a while, we didn't even have a house at all, but something more akin to a hut. (To be fair, everyone around us lived in huts. We were in buhtfahck Sudan Africa at the time.) We were technically impoverished, but I often reflect that we lived just as well (though without all of the material stuff) than my (eight) kids do now in much, much better circumstances.

This is why I'm itching to shed light on this case, and I'm appalled by the idea of closed courtrooms and gag orders. Why were the kids taken? Simply being poor is not a reason for losing your children. Were they malnourished? Were they unclothed? Filthy from lack of running water with which to bath and a failure to find other contingencies? Did one of them get sick, which tipped someone off to this family living off the grid and without the government dole?

We simply don't have any information that supports a government agency now trying to put these parents in jail (on technicalities) and adopt their kids out, and they're doing everything they can (with help of a sympathetic judge) to keep their actions as secret as possible. If this kind of action cannot be undertaken in the light of day - even speaking in "specific generalizations" to protect the childrens' privacy regarding any particular incidents or problems - then it ought not be undertaken at all.
posted by Dreama at 1:53 AM on October 11, 2002


The question posed was this:
When does government have the right to take your children without any explaination? And why will no one from our government discuss this situation?
I, for one, was not referring to this specific case but to child welfare in general.
posted by mikrophon at 7:31 AM on October 11, 2002


ac: your position can easily be disproved by counterexample, as others in this thread have mentioned. Well, here I am: I'm the oldest of eleven. My family never had much money, but we always had a good home to live in, clean clothes to wear, and enough food to eat (and since my mother makes everything herself, it was generally *better* food than our peers had...). Yes, my parents had a lot of work to do keeping up with all of us, but they are hard-working, diligent, and good at organization.

I would really like more details about this case. There's something fishy going on, but it's hard to tell whether it's the parents or the state who are acting out of bounds. Given that the parents are talking and the state isn't, though, it seems reasonable to point the finger of suspicion at DSS...
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:53 AM on October 11, 2002


Two years! My heart is breaking for this family. For the siblings who have been split apart and are being raised by strangers. For the mother and father who have to ask permission to hug their children.

Yet, I'm also a bit hesitant to condemn the agency outright. Numerous social workers, lawyers, a judge, all banding together to take the children away? That is a lot of people all supposedly conspiring together to split up this family. And, yes, the secrecy bothers me as well.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2002


Children deserve privacy: sometimes, like if they are in state care or about to be adopted, in a court case, or in hospital, their privacy rights are, arguably, paramount. Its obvious that, as Dreama points out, We simply don't have any information that supports a government agency now trying to put these parents in jail : but the judge, the social workers and i dare say law enforcement do.

Once a state agency, or rather, it's employees, become aware that a parents care slips into a level where harm is occurring - and here in the UK the standard of proof needs to be quite high - then the agency, or rather, the employees, have a duty to protect.

Would you want it any other way?
posted by dash_slot- at 9:04 PM on October 11, 2002


Deserve privacy, yes, but unless there is sexual abuse involved, there is no reason that general information can't be made public. What chance does a poor family have of fighting something like this without help? Not freaking much. And with a gag order, they can't get help. It looks to me like a ploy by the state to keep things easy, regardless of what's right. Maybe the state is right in this case, but even if they are, the precedent of taking away kids and then having secret trials is not a good one.
posted by Nothing at 9:18 PM on October 11, 2002


Its unlikely to be setting precedent: more like following one.

Don't forget: we don't know what its all about, it could be sex abuse, for all we know.
posted by dash_slot- at 9:40 PM on October 11, 2002


Don't forget: we don't know what its all about, it could be sex abuse, for all we know.

Yes, but in absence of any proof, are you really willing to just trust the government to do the right thing? I'm not. Openness brings accountability.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:33 AM on October 12, 2002


Don't forget: we don't know what its all about, it could be sex abuse, for all we know.

At least two of the articles indicate that the reason given for removing the chidren was neglect (as indicated by the so-called lack of electricity at their house) not any particular abuse. And really, that's the kind of case that "child protective" services make their public face with. They don't clam up when they have any kind of indication of sexual abuse, that's when they get face time for DAs to say "We have medical reports, statements from the kids, these people molested their children and we're putting them away."

Neglect is easier to manage on an iffy case, because even when it doesn't meet criminal standards it can be enough to manipulate a termination of parental rights -- especially in a case like this where the parents openly reject the notion of governmental assistance which would (in bureaucrats' eyes) bring in money which would (in bureaucrats eyes') lessen the neglect, because as we all know, being poor can easily be construed as tantamount to being neglectful in this increasingly materialistic society. That is, however, not something that any politically savvy bureaucrat would ever admit on the record because the outrage would be (deservedly) huge.

I'm struck that the father has now been jailed on contempt charges. This is the bulk of the criminal case against him; he violated the gag order. No charges of criminal neglect or abuse have been brought. The DSS is not trying to bring any punishment to these parents for actually doing anything to the children, instead they're fighting them on petty, sellf-imposed technicalities. Being in contempt of a contemptuous court order is not a reason to lose your children, but that's what the DSS is trying to turn it into. All of this is truly revolting and horrifying.

Openness brings accountability.

Exactly. If we can stand opposed to secret court proceedings for al-Qaeda terrorists, we must stand opposed to secret court proceedings for American families who are being torn apart by governmental actions that are being carried out behind closed doors. If the DSS is in the right, then they have no reason to hide.
posted by Dreama at 3:42 AM on October 12, 2002


Given that the parents are talking and the state isn't, though, it seems reasonable to point the finger of suspicion at DSS...

and

If the DSS is in the right, then they have no reason to hide.

Once a judge imposes a gag order, how is the DSS supposed to talk about the case or avoid the appearance that they're hiding? If they violated the gag order, they'd be on the wrong side of the law, and you'd say their behavior was irresponsible, and it would be.

You're drawing conclusions from one-sided information given by a person who is hardly a disinterested party, and your holding the other side responsible for not disclosing information that it's legally precluded from disclosing.

The rights of the children are generally paramount in a case like this, and it may be that the judge has decided that their right to privacy trumps your right to know. I don't know for sure that's the case, but I'm certainly not willing to draw conclusions based on enforced silence. My guess would be that if you stacked up all the cases where families were hurt by an overly aggressive child welfare bureaucracy, your stack would be dwarfed by the cases where children were hurt by a system that too readily deferred to the parents.
posted by anapestic at 8:19 AM on October 12, 2002


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