Don't Let the Social Worker In!
April 20, 2013 7:56 PM   Subscribe

"One parental right that is coming under attack more and more is the right to administer reasonable corporal punishment." Blogger Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism (who was homeschooled) has written a detailed three-part series (1, 2, 3) describing how the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)'s mission to insure the rights of homeschooling parents has come to include making it harder for CPS or other agencies to receive or act on reports of child abuse.

HSLDA's "Practical Ways to Reform the Child Welfare System" include:

1. Anonymous Tips: Child welfare laws should be amended to require all reporters of child abuse to give their names, addresses and phone numbers. This will curtail false reporting and end harassment stemming from anonymous tips.

2. False Reporting: Child welfare laws should be amended to make false reporting at least a class C misdemeanor.

3. Probable Cause/Warrant: Social workers must be held accountable to the same Fourth Amendment standards as the police. A warrant must be obtained before a social worker can enter the home without consent of the parents.

4. Access to Records: Many times homeschoolers who are investigated by social workers are denied access to the records of their investigation. Child welfare laws should be amended to allow victims of the system to inspect their records in order to seek recourse.

5. Prohibition of the Violation of Parent’s Constitutional Rights: The recognition of parental rights is important to create an even playing field during child welfare investigations.
posted by emjaybee (96 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
So what do blue homeschoolers in red states with nosy neighbours think of this? Since every damn thing is now a political fight I'd like to know where I'd stand if the colours were reversed.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:05 PM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Child welfare laws should be amended to require all reporters of child abuse to give their names, addresses and phone numbers.

Child welfare laws should be amended to allow victims of the system to inspect their records in order to seek recourse.


I am sure nothing can possibly go wrong with this.
posted by NMcCoy at 8:05 PM on April 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


To be fair, a number of homeschoolers have been the victims of false reporting because of relatives upset by the fact that they were homeschooling. Back when I did it, back in the nineties, although gaining in popularity it was still not quite as mainstream as it is now.

Sadly, the kids who DO need to be ripped out of the homes stat don't always get pulled out, even with visits.

(I have witnessed an unfair and racist removal of a child from its parent-long story, lady spoke bad English and they had NO translator, etc etc. and it was pretty traumatizing.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:11 PM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


But that's precisely the blogger's point, St. Alia; the focus should be on improving CPS, not on blocking the act of reporting suspicions. Minimize the number of erroneous reports that result in inappropriate action rather than reducing the number of reports overall.
posted by Scattercat at 8:17 PM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've seen this before. King of the Hill pilot episode.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:21 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I understand where she is coming from but her attitude is too much "if you have nothing to hide, then open your door, civilian" to it. CPS is called CAS in my province and it is a mess, I personally know several families that have been harassed by CAS basically for the crime of being poor or having a (currently in active treatment) mentally ill family member or not being WASP enough. The publicly available court transcripts in my jurisdiction are repleat with examples of "this family isn't parenting the way CAS thinks is normal" and examples of unnecessary over-involvement in divorcing couples that use CAS as a weapon. In my area, CAS actually deliberately kept cases open not "in the best interests of the children" but because more open files meant more funding.

My daughter, at age ten, volunteered to me that she had noted her school's CAS SW did not get involved with families in her class that were wealthy but abusive, and instead only talked to her fellow students from low-income (and no complaints of abuse) households.
posted by saucysault at 8:22 PM on April 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


I am a big fan of homeschooling when it's right for your kids, but that doesn't change my opinion that those HSLDA proposals are largely horseshit. They made entirely from a defensive, reactionary position all about defending parents from false or mistaken accusations; it's a set of recommendations that doesn't even attempt to strike a balance with the rights of children to be protected from abuse. It's hurting, not helping, the homeschooling cause.

And I say this as someone who will never forget a false accusation lodged against a friend in Texas because she was Wiccan and homeschooled her kids. She almost lost them. The memory of the absolute wailing fear my friend went through for weeks and weeks can make my stomach hurt even a decade later. It was horrendous, the process was uttery broken, she should never have been faced with that, and these proposals are not the way to fix that.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:28 PM on April 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm going to state the obvious and horrible:

There is no conceivable human operated social services system that will not utterly fail some children.

Let social workers work without probable cause, and there will be cases of a social worker on a power trip wrecking a family. Require probable cause, and there will be cases of horrendous abuse going undetected.

And if we're speaking about probable cause, it's worth remembering that the 4th Amendment gives the right to be secure in one's "persons, homes, and effects," and children are not in that list. All that's left is figuring out roughly how many complete FAILs will happen with either system, and picking the lesser FAIL.
posted by ocschwar at 8:38 PM on April 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


“Talkin’ out of turn? That’s a paddlin’. Lookin’ out the window? That’s a paddlin’. Starin’ at my sandals? That’s a paddlin’. Paddlin’ the school canoe? Oh, you better believe that’s a paddlin’.”
posted by blue_beetle at 8:39 PM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]



My daughter, at age ten, volunteered to me that she had noted her school's CAS SW did not get involved with families in her class that were wealthy but abusive, and instead only talked to her fellow students from low-income (and no complaints of abuse) households.


If the SW enabled your daughter to make that observation, then his handling of confidentiality was poor, to say the least. (Which would not surprise me, given some social workers I've met.)
posted by ocschwar at 8:48 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Frontline had a really horrifying and depressing look at CPS a few years ago:

If you came with no preconceptions of the purpose of the child welfare system, you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate and punish poor families of color.

After watching this, all I can say is do whatever you have to, to get your children into a different state immediately if the CPS comes around. Its literally a matter of life and death.
posted by 445supermag at 9:22 PM on April 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


Anyway, I'm lucky enough in that the context for why I might resort to homeschooling is recognized in my area. My city's school system is run by partisans of one belligerent in the Math Wars. The enemy, as far as I'm concerned. (Mrs. Ocschwar's feelings are much more strongly stated on this.)

There is a charter school that uses Saxon Math for early grades. If we can enroll our daughter there, then no problem. Otherwise, we might resort to homeschooling. But lots of people around here go that route if they don't get a spot in that charter school (lottery. Not very good odds.)

Not too likely to get CPS called on us, but in some places, this does, in fact, put you at risk of a CPS visit.
posted by ocschwar at 9:31 PM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


emjaybee: ""One parental right that is coming under attack more and more is the right to administer reasonable corporal punishment.""

This is not a right in all countries. In Norway, for instance, corporal punishment is completely prohibited by law. Just putting that out there, it's not like that law makes parenting impossible.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:31 PM on April 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: "emjaybee: ""One parental right...""

To clarify, that is a quote from the article, not from emjaybee. Not to get onto you; I think words should be attributed to the person who wrote them.

posted by fireoyster at 9:39 PM on April 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


After watching this, all I can say is do whatever you have to, to get your children into a different state immediately if the CPS comes around.

Unfortunately, being able to exercise that kind of control over your own destiny is an economic privilege in the US. The poorest families who are most victimised by CPS are the same families who are least capable of defending against CPS, either with legal dedicated representation or relocation. When CPS is looking at your kids because you are feeding them cereal for dinner and hoping the cereal lasts until your next check, you're not moving anywhere at all.

(Ironically, the fact that US states don't have joined up CPS systems is actually a weakness, not a strength. You can beat your kid in 50 different states and the other 49 are never going to know.)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:51 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


(On reflection, I'm not totally sure the above is true - it used to be but I'd be interested to hear if that is no longer the case.)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 PM on April 20, 2013


fireoyster: "Joakim Ziegler: "emjaybee: ""One parental right...""

To clarify, that is a quote from the article, not from emjaybee. Not to get onto you; I think words should be attributed to the person who wrote them.
"

Yeah, my autoquote GreaseMonkey script does that. Note the double double quotes... But I could have been clearer, sorry.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:27 PM on April 20, 2013


Ugh, these articles. They're really hard to read, and actually pretty triggering. Why? Because I grew up in a family heavily influenced by HSLDA and these ideals. Looking back, I can now fully see the ties between my abuse and the Court Report newsletters we got, especially because I spent "hours" reading them, just like Libby Anne.

I grew up with the fear and terror that CPS might show up on our doorstop at any time of any day, and come in and split up my family*. Because of the way our household was structured, this meant that any initial contact at the front door would have been my responsibility. Let me tell you, having that duty, that weight, at 15-16? Not a healthy thing for a teen. I had nightmares about what would happen, about how it would all be My Fault for not refusing to let them in, or for saying the wrong thing. This, again, was substantiated by the reports we got from HSLDA. Not necessarily in so many words, but it was absolutely the underpinnings of everything they said and did. Fear was the way they ruled, kept themselves in business.

At this point in my life... there are so many horrifying things connected to HSLDA. Their "none of this is child abuse" teachings plus the "spare the rod/spoil the child" mantra lead to a lot of abuse -- abuse that could have been, should have been caught and reported -- and my parents felt that they were invincible, basically... because of how HSLDA spun the talk about abuse. It happened in a lot of other families, too, but I can only speak with authority about mine. I know that they disagreed with a lot of the mandatory reporting rules, with the definition of abuse, all that nonsense. And because there were so many stories of people getting their children back or having charges dropped, that it just became A Thing. None of what they did was "wrong," to them.

And having been that child that was abused and hurt and wounded, sitting in the chair, reading about how CPS would take us away if we didn't do exactly the right thing when they inevitably came to our door? It kills the spirit. It killed mine, and part of it is still dead, thirteen long years later. Of course, HSLDA doesn't see that, and it never will... because they think they're on a mission from "god himself."

---
*not that this would have been a bad thing in the long run, but as a child, it was terrifying.
posted by gloraelin at 1:28 AM on April 21, 2013 [40 favorites]


There is no conceivable human operated social services system that will not utterly fail some children.

Which is why we can't make these decisions based on anecdotes. Giving social services more power to protect children means they potentially have more power to abuse. But are more children and families harmed with the current regulations than would be harmed if social workers' power were restricted by these or other suggested reforms?
posted by straight at 1:45 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


> are more children and families harmed with the current regulations than would be harmed
> if social workers' power were restricted by these or other suggested reforms?

This very good but extremely hard to answer question will be given faith-based answers by all concerned.
posted by jfuller at 3:00 AM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


>But are more children and families harmed with the current regulations than would be harmed if social workers' power were restricted by these or other suggested reforms?

This very good but extremely hard to answer question will be given faith-based answers by all concerned.


Precisely. Particularly because the definition of "harm" is an inherently faith-based thing. Some people consider any form of corporal punishment to be child abuse. Others, myself included, believe that the absence of any corporal punishment is harmful.

Which is precisely why the Supreme Court has recognized that parents have a fundamental constitutional right to the care, custody, and raising of their own children. (Troxel v. Granville). State involvement predicated solely on the "best interests of the child" unconstitutional. There has to be some basic showing of harm to the child for any state involvement to be permissible. And though it hasn't been tested yet, it's pretty likely that there will be First Amendment issues about who gets to say what "harm" is. Some overzealous officials have attempted to include religious education as constituting "harm," and the courts have rightly struck down such attempts. But this issue is not anywhere near resolved. American society is growing less and less tolerant of the choices that religiously conservative parents habitually make with respect to their children, and it remains to be seen just how far the courts will permit the state to assert its preferences in such cases.

Frankly, I find the whole concept downright terrifying. My wife and I are expecting our first, and the idea that the government has any say in what we can and cannot do with respect to the raising of our children is of significant concern, as we do not share many of the value commitments of the dominant culture.
posted by valkyryn at 4:00 AM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would also like to take a moment to point out that all of the "support" HSLDA has for mandatory reporting and interviews by CPS all center around sexual abuse. Nothing about physical abuse. Period. And that's how it's always been. All they will acknowledge is that child sexual abuse happens, and that it's evil.
posted by gloraelin at 4:24 AM on April 21, 2013


As a lowly social worker, I'd like to point out that social work is a degree requiring advanced schooling that involves a lot of education around human diversity and psychology. Many CPS or DSS workers call themselves social workers (illegally) but do not have this education, do not follow the ecosystems, strengths-based perspective social work is founded on, and do not know about or follow the NASW code of ethics.

That being said, you're going to get some shitty practitioners with masters or PhDs for sure. But the field is trying hard to recover from years and years of burnt-out DSS workers without this degree behaving in reprehensible ways and calling themselves the same name as individuals who have worked hard to educate themselves about best practices for individuals and family systems.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not having an advanced degree and that doesn't mean you shouldn't work in the social justice field. It DOES mean that you can't call yourself a social worker and I'm glad the laws have recently changed to reflect this.

Just wanted to point this out as I'm sensing some social worker hate.
posted by pugh at 4:26 AM on April 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


Just wanted to point this out as I'm sensing some social worker hate.

I've got nothing against people who go and get their social work degrees. The problem is, at least in Ontario (and generally elsewhere, from my understanding), that plenty of front-line workers don't have social work degrees - they've got community college diplomas at best - because, shockingly, governments really don't want to fund proper social work.
posted by mightygodking at 5:04 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to point this out as I'm sensing some social worker hate.

Yeah, the discipline has come under some unfair criticism, but the fact is that for a long time, "social worker" was a job title, not a licensed profession. The critics are using the term in the former sense, not the latter. You had a lot of people with HS degrees running around.

But to be particular about it, whether or not the term "social worker" refers to a licensed profession depends on the state. Most states have such licensing mechanisms, but they do not all use the term "social worker" as such, and many CPS departments and courts continue to use the term "social worker" informally.
posted by valkyryn at 5:25 AM on April 21, 2013


Others, myself included, believe that the absence of any corporal punishment is harmful.

You haven't had this child yet and you have already planned to administer corporal punishment to it? They don't all need it, you know. You want to take this case by case.
posted by Wolof at 5:45 AM on April 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Others, myself included, believe that the absence of any corporal punishment is harmful.


As noted above, there are entire countries where corporal punishment is illegal. Countries which are among the richest and safest in the world. Think about it
posted by mumimor at 5:58 AM on April 21, 2013 [25 favorites]


I started homeschooling rather late (9th grade) and regulations were pretty lax. My parents had to submit a curriculum that was approved by the local school committee, but beyond that there wasn't any follow-up at all, which was rather disappointing because halfway through we gave up (homeschooling is hard!) and without telling anyone I just started taking accredited classes at the local community college.

During this time, my parents gleefully anticipated getting a knock on the door from the local truant officer, but none ever came.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:04 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll just throw this one out there: if it's wrong to hit adults, why is it right to hit children?

Sure, people get frustrated enough with children they end up striking them, but if they can control this impulse with someone their size who might give them a bloody nose in recompense, why can't they control it against one of the most vulnerable and impressionable people they come across?

Schools manage to deal with children without hitting them, and parents should manage as well.

(I live in the UK, and I'm very happy that the state sees fit to accept that just because you have religious belief it doesn't give you carte blanche to do what you like.)
posted by lucullus at 6:07 AM on April 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


We homeschooled two kids, one in college today and the other on her way in a year. And we did this all in VA, the home base of HSLDA. HSLDA hasn't given a shit about homeschoolers since the late 90s. The are an evangelical Christian right wing lobbying organization that uses the homeschooling service organization front to maintain tax exempt status. They did important work organizing the effort to get homeschooling officially legalized in all 50 states, and after that there really wasn't much to do so they went all in with the Republican Party.
posted by COD at 6:10 AM on April 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't think I can possibly hate social workers, never having met one. I have to admit to a lot of ignorance about exactly what it "officially" means to be a social worker.

But I do fear social workers, because as far as I can tell, their job, at its core, is to enforce more less any and every consensus social norm. I feel that their definition of "harm" isn't mine.

Nobody is going to accuse my family of physically or emotionally abusing our daughter, because there's manifestly no sign of any such thing. And we're some of those people who believe that it's never OK to hit a child, period.

But her three polyamorous parents are members of a sexual minority. We have very open sexual attitudes. We have erotic art on the walls. Our 5 year old knows that we have "outside" lovers over, and she knows (and likes) those people. We're even (shudder!) naked around her on a routine basis. We describe sexual mechanics to her if she asks, because we believe she deserves straight answers to all her questions. She's never asked much or for any detail, but she'd get it if she did.

... and we (especially I) are also teaching our daughter to question authority, including our own. I sure hope she doesn't grow up accepting consensus values just because they're consensus values.

I am afraid, and I think legitimately afraid, that somebody, even somebody with a graduate degree, might see something in that list as "harm" or "abuse". I've heard too many stories...
posted by Hizonner at 6:24 AM on April 21, 2013 [14 favorites]



As a lowly social worker, I'd like to point out that social work is a degree requiring advanced schooling that involves a lot of education around human diversity and psychology. Many CPS or DSS workers call themselves social workers (illegally) but do not have this education, do not follow the ecosystems, strengths-based perspective social work is founded on, and do not know about or follow the NASW code of ethics.


Mefites have their own concerns, but the main concern of the HSLDA membership is driven precisely because of that education around human diversity, because they suspect, rightly or wrongly, that said education excludes their right-wing Christian model of the home schooling family.
posted by ocschwar at 6:46 AM on April 21, 2013



To be fair, a number of homeschoolers have been the victims of false reporting because of relatives upset by the fact that they were homeschooling


I hear what you are saying but I am going to take issue with the word 'victims.' I am sure it is very disturbing to get a visit from a CSW. But kids don't get yanked from the home w/o some due process. Maybe there is something here that even *with* due process the parents lose the kids, but that would be way different from say, NYC.

It was not until a social worker intervened that I got out of the hell that was my household, so I pretty biased about this, I guess.
posted by angrycat at 6:49 AM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another anecdata:

I was on the El the other day and at a stop and because I am weird I like to catch the train at the end of the platform. So I go down there and there is this guy who has taken his maybe four-five year old kid aside and was growling at the kid that if the kid didn't stop crying he would "beat the shit out of him." Somehow this didn't soothe the child, so the guy (he saw me watching) took the kid behind a pillar and started striking the kid. How hard, I don't know.

So I am like the only one in the area and I tell him to knock it off. This guy is ASTOUNDED. He is INCREDULOUS that I would say something. He said, "That's my kid, that's my sperm! If I want to bop my kid, I can bop my kid! How else can I teach him respect?" The mom was there too and she said, also incredulously "that's HIS kid."

I have a feeling I made have made things worse for the kid in the aftermath of this incident -- like further beatings to affirm the father's concept that he can beat up his sperm, or something.

So, go social workers (who maybe could make a difference here; I probably didn't handle it well as I kind of shamed the father) and fuck this proposal in the eye.
posted by angrycat at 6:57 AM on April 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


At one point I had a link to a PDF that was a survey of many good studies regarding corporal punishment. The general conclusions were that:

1) It is never necessary, the looked for outcomes can always be reached by alternative means.
2) Children subjected to it are more likely to be violent at school, have lower grades at school, suffer from depression, and so on.

The idea that the absence of violence can be somehow harmful is - I mean, do you have some sort of study that supports that? Or are you doing what basically everyone does: "my parents hit me, and to suggest that they didn't have to is to say that they were bad parents, and that's wrong"?

Because that's usually the reaction. Sometimes it's also "I have hit my kids, and I'm not a bad parent, so you're wrong."

I would agree that a parent that hits their kids isn't necessarily a bad parent, and also that the child won't necessarily suffer any long-term harm. But all of the research I've ever seen is pretty unequivocal about the above two numbered points.

I also think it's strange that there's some magical point around eighteen where it's suddenly no longer ok to hit another person regardless of what they say or how disobedient they are. Your boss is not allowed to hit you. Ever. But parents are allowed to hit their children, who are infinitely less able to defend themselves and their rights and who are also far less culpable for their errors than any adult with fully-formed faculties.

Very, very few people are willing to defend the rights of children as human beings with worth and value of their own, a fact that was reflected in the law of the land until - gosh, into the early 20th century at least. I wish I was better at looking up citations, but the idea that there are any limits whatsoever on parental behavior is a relatively recent one.
I am afraid, and I think legitimately afraid, that somebody, even somebody with a graduate degree, might see something in that list as "harm" or "abuse". I've heard too many stories...
4 children were murdered by their parents in the state of Minnesota in 2011.

My mom was a social worker and social work supervisor for many decades. She's seen every variety of child abuse you can imagine: broken bones, burns, starvation, children chained to beds, infant victims of rape, etc. She's seen people she met as children grow up, sometimes in other homes, dealing with the physical and emotional costs of their abuse. She's seen kids killed because the emphasis is so overwhelmingly placed on returning kids to their home, not least because that's the correct emphasis most of the time. Most of the time it results in the best outcome. No one's born knowing how to parent, sometimes - many times - people just need help and education and some way to take a breath.

If people are so terrified of their local CPS workers, why don't they ask to talk to them?

Sigh.

The whole thing makes me so sad.

And people will read everything I've written above and still be terrified of CPS without ever having talked to someone, and they'll try to pick little holes in things instead of going "hm, I don't have to hit my kid? How does that work?" and just, I duno, googling something to even give it a shot? Like, no parent I've ever met enjoys hitting their kids! They think it's an awful thing that they have to do (even if it's also the easier thing to do in moments of anger) but they literally do not ever try to not do it.

Because their parents did it and their parents were good parents and that's the end of the story.

And despite the fact that child deaths have been on the rise in recent years, everyone is more worried about CPS breaching their parental rights than they are about children having their rights to not be assaulted breached.

angrycat - you can always call the cops when you see stuff like that. It may or may not be the case that a crime has occurred, but in many many jurisdictions police are required by policy to cross-report, so if they get called on someone, CPS may get a report. And all the current research indicates that if it is at all possible, children should stay with their families, so the preference is always going to be to give the parents education and connect them with resources to help alleviate some of the stress connected to poverty and what have youl.

I also think it's noteworthy that their response was "this is my kid," because that's how many, many people think of children.
posted by kavasa at 7:04 AM on April 21, 2013 [44 favorites]


It costs a lot of taxpayer money to remove kids from their parents. And children who grow up in homes and/or fostercare are less likely to get educations and jobs. There is no incentive anywhere for social workers to be overzealous. It's a myth.
posted by mumimor at 7:08 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


And to more explicitly address your fear, Hizzoner, if a social worker is suspicious of you it's because they're worried that someone in that household includes the children in sex. And they're worried about that because they've seen it happen. People that abuse children are almost always members of the family or household, so the fact that you just have a larger family is putting them at risk, and many social workers have seen sexual abuse excused and explained away as education and what have you.

I'm not accusing you or your partners of any of this, I'm trying to impress on you that a social worker is far more likely to be worried about the children's welfare than they are to be judgmental about your relationship structure. Although of course I'm sure that happens too.
posted by kavasa at 7:19 AM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hizzoner - you might speak to a lawyer who does child custody or guardian ad litem work in your locality for guidance. The childrearing you describe is in many jurisdictions one scandalized teacher's or outraged grandparent's phone call away from a serious child protective services action.
posted by MattD at 7:38 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


And to more explicitly address your fear, Hizzoner, if a social worker is suspicious of you it's because they're worried that someone in that household includes the children in sex.
Obviously so, but how does that help me?

First, it's not a very reasonable suspicion. Their "worry about my children's welfare" stems from them being judgemental about my relationship structure. And, perhaps more so, judgemental about my and my partners' values around sex... and maybe about whether we'll pass on those values. That worry doesn't just come from nowhere.

I've heard an awful lot of "Oh, what you do is perfectly OK, as long as your kids don't end up like you". Sometimes you can almost hear the "you perverted freak" at the end, too. Admittedly that's from non-social-workers, but it's absolutely the most prevalent form of bias I personally experience. And people don't even see the contradiction in that sentence.

Second, even if it were a reasonable suspicion, it's nonetheless not true. If from their point of view, my family structure would indicate a higher probability of sexual abuse, well, from my point of view, their mere presence on the scene would indicate a higher probability of somebody doing something to disrupt my family and wreck my child's life. My worry is as justified as theirs. Probably more so, statistically. So why shouldn't I be concerned?
posted by Hizonner at 7:41 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Others, myself included, believe that the absence of any corporal punishment is harmful.

One needn't take a "faith based" attitude to this question. It has been studied extensively and there is widespread experimental data. Unless you believe that there is some essential benefit to a child's "soul" that arises from physically hurting the child (i.e., something not capable of being measured by humans, but only capable of being measured by God upon that child's death) then it is pretty easy to demonstrate that there are no psychological or social "harms" that arise from the absence of corporal punishment. Conversely, it is easy to demonstrate that there are a large number of psychological and social harms that corporal punishment either directly causes or greatly increases the risk of.
posted by yoink at 7:44 AM on April 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


Hizzoner - you might speak to a lawyer who does child custody or guardian ad litem work in your locality for guidance. The childrearing you describe is in many jurisdictions one scandalized teacher's or outraged grandparent's phone call away from a serious child protective services action.
If so, it's probably also only one scandalized lawyer's phone call away from a serious child protective services action... and I'm pretty sure there'd be no formal ethics violation in dropping that dime. So what would I gain from such a course of action?
posted by Hizonner at 7:45 AM on April 21, 2013


Hizzoner, as I read your comment, your fear is purely speculative. Nothing has happened so far, and why should anything happen? Lots of kids grew up in same-sex relationships before that was acceptable (like a year ago), and lots of kids grow up in communes and collectives where it is unclear to outsiders who sleeps with who.
Unless, as kavasa writes, there is some damage to the child, everything is ok.
That said, having once been a child of parents with alternative lifestyles, I suggest you think about what your child really needs to know. Having multiple caring adults around is great. Detailed explanations why, not so great. And I'm 100% for sex-ed.
posted by mumimor at 7:55 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


First, it's not a very reasonable suspicion. Their "worry about my children's welfare" stems from them being judgemental about my relationship structure.
No it doesn't.

First, let's remember that nothing has even happened, so you're judging someone you've never met. And the only way you're going to meet someone is if you somehow get reported or otherwise brought to their attention.

If that happens, they'll interview your kids, almost certainly either jointly with a licensed child psychologist or the psychologist will do it themselves. The research on leading questions and the examples of bad interviews are very well known. A social worker would have to go waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off the rails to trump up non-existent abuse.

Ok, so referring to the first part, the worry about the child's welfare does not at all in any way require judgment of you. It is not about you.

Children are overwhelmingly abused by members of the household. You have a larger household (and no one ever wants to believe that their new boyfriend or their brother or whatever would abuse the children). And it is absolutely reasonable for a social worker that was interviewing your child to want to know more if she or he hears that the kids have seen you naked. Because it is not about you.

It's about the patterns of sexual abuse that they've seen again... and again... and again.
posted by kavasa at 7:59 AM on April 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Schrödinger's Abused Child
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 AM on April 21, 2013


First, let's remember that nothing has even happened, so you're judging someone you've never met.
Um, you're giving me an awful lot of ironclad predictions about the behavior of people you have never met, as if social workers were uniformly perfect. You're the one who imputed the suspicion to this hypothetical person in the first place... so what, exactly, would you expect their reason for this suspicion to be?

Whether it's "about me" is 100 percent irrelevant. The point is that if somebody decides my family is potentially dangerous, there is a risk of that person doing harm. If they're doing their job, they're going to act on it. There is a nonzero probability of them screwing up from that point. Even doing the interview itself is fraught with opportunities to screw up and do harm.

Since I know there isn't any harm at the moment, any nonzero chance of that is a chance of creating harm where there had been none. And there are no zero chances.

But that's not even the big worry. The big worry is that I'm not convinced that the mere fact that "the kids have seen [us] naked", all by itself, wouldn't constitute abuse, or at least harm, in enough minds to make it a problem. There's no need to trump that up; it's a real thing.

I'm even more worried about the (frankly scary) attitude that there are things kids should never be told about, and how that interacts with our strongly held beliefs that children are real human beings deserving of honesty. Is it abusive if I answer my daughter's questions about how people have sex, or about how I feel about people in my life and what I do with them? I suspect some people would think so. Maybe people who could make things very difficult for us, even if some final decision went against them.

I know you think that wouldn't ever happen... and it probably won't. But the fact remains that there are a large number of people who have the power to make it happen. At least at the initial stages, there are very few checks on those people; they can cause a lot of trouble even if wiser heads prevail in the end. And there are cases in which wiser heads do not prevail. They may be rare, but they are catastrophic.

So, again, since I know there isn't a problem, how would trying to avoid those people in the first place be an incorrect course of action for me?
posted by Hizonner at 8:22 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing about homeschooling is it can be used as a cover. Within my extended family this has happened. The father used "homeschooling" as an excuse to keep his wife and children away from authority figures who might notice that they were being horribly abused. Fortunately, that particular story has a happy ending, and the kids are now in school (after a bunch of remedial tutoring to get them up to grade level), and their father, who basically used them as slave labor, is not allowed anywhere near them. I realize this is the exception and not the rule, but I can't really support anything that's going to make reporting and investigating child abuse more difficult than it already is.
posted by dortmunder at 8:28 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, maybe I should mention the actual topic...

Although I've heard a lot of bad things about CPS, am afraid of how they might perceive my own family, and am skeptical of institutions generally, the tone of what the HSLDA is asking for really bothers me.

It seems that they are, in kasava's words, making it "about them". They keep talking about "parental rights" and have nothing to say about "children's rights". They seem to want to see children as property, and frame the issue as a fight over property between the parents and the state. That really bothers me, even though I'm worried about the state's (or more likely rogue state agents') imposition of values on people who aren't unhappy.

The kids belong to themselves, and anybody who doesn't recognize that has a big problem in my book.
posted by Hizonner at 8:36 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


American society is growing less and less tolerant of the choices that religiously conservative parents habitually make with respect to their children.
I wish I believed that was true, and perhaps it is outside North Carolina, but from what I've seen of the fundamentalist homeschooling community here, there is little to no oversight at all. I have a background in education and have been working in museums and bookshops - places where homeschooling families routinely bring their children - and I'm way too used to being horrified by homeschoolers, fundamentalist and other. I've seen everything from the parent homeschooling her high school age kids despite the fact that she is incapable of simple math (as in add, subtract, not even multiply) to the daughters who aren't taught as much as the sons (and are kept dressed in a one step off a burqa outfit that makes the Amish look racy) to the wealthy family who just have a succession of teenage au pairs homeschool their kids to the homeschooling parent who was amazed to find out that there were actually books on education - that it was, you know, a thing. I so wish I was kidding. And I'm sorry, but because I have seen this over the course of more than a decade interacting with homeschooling families, I think they should get more scrutiny, not less. If that comes from CPS instead of from the public schools, well then so be it. If your child is attending public school and doesn't show up day after day or shows up tardy routinely (and I've also seen the "homeschoolers" who just can't get it together to get their kids to school on time so they don't bother) or shows up with fresh bruises then you'll get a visit from CPS and so you should. That kind of oversight doesn't exist with homeschoolers and it should.

I've heard the scare stories about CPS but I've never seen them in action. I raised two kids as a single mother in a variety of surroundings, including an artists commune where people slept together on and off and one artist made sexually explicit ceramics. Nobody ever called CPS on me, even the fundamentalist kindergarten teacher who called me in for a conference because she thought my daughter was lying about the number of people who lived in our house. I do have friends who had CPS called on them, though. After one or at the most two interviews, that was that. The kids weren't being abused, you see. This was in Baltimore, where there are actual giant enormous real problems and underfunded city agencies are maybe less likely to create witchhunts when there are plenty of actual kids with broken bones just down the block but still.

Of course, it doesn't matter what I think. Given the way things are trending and have been for twenty years I imagine the country will wholeheartedly adopt every single one of the HSLDA's suggestions and maybe go a little further and make it perfectly legal to do whatever the hell you want to your own kids, particularly if you're Christian. Then they can disband CPS and DSS and save some money while gaining favor in the eyes of their own vicious version of the lord.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sigh. =(

Hizzoner, it's relevant because it's the heart of your fear. You fear CPS workers whose primary interest is in judging you as others (who were not social workers) have judged you. What I'm trying to explain is that the vast majority of CPS workers are interested exclusively in the welfare of the children they interact with. I am further trying to emphasize that current research and generally accepted best practice is that in all but the very worst cases, the children should stay in the home.

This is important because your fear of CPS has made you hostile to them, despite the fact that one of their primary missions is to help parents by connecting them to resources, counseling, etc. So if for some reason you found your family struggling, you're unlikely to ask help of some of the very few people best equipped to offer that help. Because you're scared that they'll judge you.

You say that there's a "non-zero" chance that CPS would yank your kids, which I guess is true? But there's also a non-zero chance that one of your partners will abuse your kids. That, in fact, is far more likely. Social workers are overworked and undersupported and are in no position to wander around looking for unneeded cases to take on.
posted by kavasa at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


> But kids don't get yanked from the home w/o some due process.

This isn't true. CPS workers in my state, and others, can remove kids without any due process on grounds of emergency. The thing is, that doesn't mean there is an emergency. Here's the first relevant link I found w/ Google:

http://www.dc-crp.org/Citizen_Review_Panel_CFSA_Quick_Exits_Study.pdf

where the citizen review panel found there was an actual emergency in less than 1/4 of the cases where DC CPA removed kids without a Family Court Order. In general, DC CPS was operating with disregard for its own internal rules and procedures.

A few years ago I read a lot of CPS horror stories (and have heard a few at third hand). A lack of accountability and taking advantage of trusting and ignorant parents was a common theme.

It's understandable that people want to assume that the people whose job it is to protect children are actually doing the best possible job at it, but I don't think it's true. (Note that there are plenty of stories on the other side too, where CPS is, or at least should be, aware of an abusive environment, and they don't act on it.)

The merits of HSLDA aside, the proposed reforms sound reasonable to me.

I don't see why CPS should be exempt from respecting the 4th amendment. I don't see why making a false report of child abuse should not be at least a misdemeanor. I think it is insane that people accused of child abuse are denied access to the record of their own case--what kind of country are we supposed to be living in here?
posted by mattu at 9:32 AM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


OK, I'm going to try this one more time.
You fear CPS workers whose primary interest is in judging you as others (who were not social workers) have judged you.
No.

I fear CPS workers whose primary interest is in protecting children, but who believe our values or lifestyle are dangerous to children, or even intrinsically damaging to children. This is a common belief, it exists even among educated professionals, and I don't see why I should expect CPS workers to be immune to it.

I do not fear that anybody is going to pretend to be trying to protect our daughter, while secretly using that as a way to somehow punish us. I do not believe that they give a damn what we do, except insofar as they may believe it affects our daughter. I do fear that somebody may see our way of living either as a direct threat to our daughter, or as a sign of a threat to her, and may act on that (incorrect) perception in a way that is damaging to her (and to us).

And "yanking" isn't the only damaging thing that can happen. That's just the worst case. A more probable case would be our daughter getting the impression that her family was somehow suspicious or shameful because of a botched interview or an extended investigation.

Yes, it is possible that one of my partners could abuse our daughter. And from my partners' point of view, it's possible that I could abuse her. But that's a separate risk. And I don't see how a greater receptiveness to CPS on my part would mitigate that risk.

Anyway, this isn't something I really sit around fearing. But I still see reason to be wary.
posted by Hizonner at 9:49 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


the proposed reforms sound reasonable to me.

I don't see why CPS should be exempt from respecting the 4th amendment. I don't see why making a false report of child abuse should not be at least a misdemeanor.


The ability to make an anonymous complaint to the police - whether it's for noise or leash laws or people beating their kids - is really central to the way law enforcement works. Sure, that's creepy, nobody wants to think about their neighbors informing on them and it brings up ugly visions of totalitarian states but unfortunately, it works. Most people are afraid to directly confront their friends, neighbors and relatives even when they know there is something really wrong going on at home. It is only because they know they won't be outed that they do call in tips. Yes, sometimes those tips are wrong but sometimes they're right and a child - or a dog or a beaten spouse - gets saved. The proposed HSLDA changes would eliminate this possibility and I think that would be a terrible, grievous mistake.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:55 AM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


But kids don't get yanked from the home w/o some due process.

This isn't true. CPS workers in my state, and others, can remove kids without any due process on grounds of emergency. The thing is, that doesn't mean there is an emergency. Here's the first relevant link I found w/ Google:

http://www.dc-crp.org/Citizen_Review_Panel_CFSA_Quick_Exits_Study.pdf


I used the wrong phrasing. I should say "termination of parental rights." And I'll leave it up for argument as to whether or not CPS in a given jurisdiction abuses its authority in terms of removing kids from homes on grounds of emergency. Although if this authority is abused, I will grant, that is a bad thing.

But if there's termination of parental rights w/o due process, I remain dubious.

I guess also it's a bit of a balancing act: Weighing the trauma to kids if there is emergency authority based on CPS judgment vs. if there is not.

What I do know is that I know personally many cases of abuse where CPS did not intervene for whatever reason and the child suffered. I don't know of cases of CPS involvement where it wasn't warranted. That's just one person's experience and outlook; doesn't mean that it's a statement of true fact.
posted by angrycat at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2013


The ability to make an anonymous complaint to the police - whether it's for noise or leash laws or people beating their kids - is really central to the way law enforcement works.

I was having a discussion with an acquaintance of mine about people who let their dogs run loose. He related how he had had some white trash neighbors with vicious pit bulls that ran loose in the neighborhood - terrifying kids and fighting with other people's dogs. They refused to do anything, so he went to talk with them. They told him straight out that if he called animal control on them, they would anonymously call CPS and tell them he was molesting his son.
posted by 445supermag at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, lots of hate about CPS. It's a really hard job which is incredibly underfunded and understaffed. If anything, reports are not investigated like they should be because of lack of funding, especially now with smaller budgets.

I have a friend who has worked in CYFD for about 20 years here in NM. In her experience, the most common type of abuse is actually neglect. An example she gave me was that one family did not know you had to wash out the baby bottles. Education and parenting classes are usually what happens. I am not aware of what happens in other states, though.

Anonymous reporting is absolutely vital, and should never go away, imho. Lots of abuse would never get reported otherwise. False reporting is illegal.
posted by annsunny at 10:09 AM on April 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


CPS/foster care does not work the same all across the country. In some areas there are incentives for children to be taken from their homes, and placed in foster care because they are considered "special needs." Special needs in these states can be that the child has an IEP (individualized learning plan) at school, has a handicap, or in South Dakota, be Native American. NPR ran this report about how the federal government gives states more money when these categories of kids are placed in foster care. In the case of the Native American children, very little attempt is made to place them with other Native families or even their own families. http://www.npr.org/2011/10/25/141672992/native-foster-care-lost-children-shattered-families

Wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 10:51 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


There seems to be a simple middle ground:

Require a court order for non-emergency removals of a child from a family, and a 911 call for emergency removals.

With full accountability by the social worker for making the court filing or the 911 call.
posted by ocschwar at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't believe in corporal punishment, at all, but I do think there are some valid points to be made here.

No one should be exempt from the 4th amendment. If police need a warrant, social services should need a warrant - and it should say precisely what they are looking for and expect to find.

So if they think physical abuse is going on, then they have a warrant to check the kids for bruises or what have you. They do not also get to decide that they don't like the art on the walls, or the house is too messy, or whoa, too many parents, or what are those strange WEIRD things? They check what they have a warrant to check.

Why is this really so hard?

Also, whoa, no access to records? Is this real? If so, how does it stand?
posted by corb at 11:00 AM on April 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


A call to CPS means that you have a SUSPICION of child abuse. A CPS worker will visit to the home to check out this suspicion. At least in North Carolina, it takes a whole lot for a child to be removed from the home and nobody is looking for extra people to add onto their caseload just because they don't agree with the parent's lifestyle.

From the NASW code of ethics:

Social workers should obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability.

Social workers should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national
origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.

Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, or mental or physical disability.

In other words, if a social worker took your children away because they didn't agree with your lifestyle, that is a board-reportable offense that could cause them to have their license revoked. You would absolutely have options.
posted by pugh at 11:35 AM on April 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I fear CPS workers whose primary interest is in protecting children, but who believe our values or lifestyle are dangerous to children, or even intrinsically damaging to children. This is a common belief, it exists even among educated professionals, and I don't see why I should expect CPS workers to be immune to it.

In reply and on preview, what pugh said.
posted by liketitanic at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other words, if a social worker took your children away because they didn't agree with your lifestyle, that is a board-reportable offense that could cause them to have their license revoked. You would absolutely have options.

I suspect those options are little consolation, though. It's also worth noting that the family structure Hizzoner describes is probably not protected by that code of ethics anyway.
posted by hoyland at 1:07 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You would absolutely have options

Funny how those options are completely different for a wealthy white hetrosexual family versus a family struggling, with few resources, or barriers like ESL, or insecure immigration status.

Having the children taken away is an extreme case, CAS can alternatively make things very difficult for parents by demanding they immediately access resources that have long waitlists (those with money can go private and have their filed closed earlier), demand multiple appointments during the parents working hours (which doesn't affect salaried workers as much as hourly ones that have no sick time allowances), and insinuate their suspicions to neighbours and staff at the child's school.

I know several immigrants that have signed "voluntary" agreements with CAS out of fear and intimidation and (deliberate?) mistranslation. Much as the general population have "options" when dealing with rogue police, those options are different for the "in-groups" and "out-groups" and the consequences of complaints have to be weighed before standing up to such an institution.
posted by saucysault at 1:13 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suspect those options are little consolation, though. It's also worth noting that the family structure Hizzoner describes is probably not protected by that code of ethics anyway.

I don't think I can possibly hate social workers, never having met one. I have to admit to a lot of ignorance about exactly what it "officially" means to be a social worker.

But I do fear social workers, because as far as I can tell, their job, at its core, is to enforce more less any and every consensus social norm. I feel that their definition of "harm" isn't mine.


I can't argue with your experience, nor can I generalize the practices of North Carolina to all social workers everywhere. But, at least in North Carolina, you can't take a child away from a parent because the parent doesn't adhere to societal norms. The actual profession of social work is to promote social justice, which includes right for marginalized populations such as racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, and individuals with SPMIs or other mental illnesses, including substance use diroders (my specialty). This is literally what the profession is built on, the principles of community work and advocacy. This is what I have obtained an advanced degree in, because I believe in these principles with all my heart. I know people have had bad experiences with "social workers" from DSS and CPS and I really REALLY can't speak for the social work programs in other countries or even for every social worker in the US. I am graduating from one of the top 5 schools of social work in the country so you know, maybe I'm biased and maybe my beliefs are different, just as no two psychologists will adhere to the same exact treatment modalities or ethical standards. There is variation in every field. But please don't write off an entire profession, MY profession before doing some research. There are good people out there who want to protect people's rights, not take them away. There are people who will want to fight for you.
posted by pugh at 1:32 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I grew up in state custody and later on worked for many years as a child care worker in the group home system in my state. The thing is most parents who abuse their kids don't think of them selves as child abusers, they think what their doing is perfectly justified. People are extraordinarily good at justifying their own bad behavior. If you ever find yourself worrying about CPS coming and taking your kids even though your sure you know what your doing is just, this in of itself should give you cause for consideration and self reflection. Best question to start with is, "Is it about whats best for my child or is this about me."

Of the hundreds of teens I've worked with, careful examination of their case files reveals a lot more than an offhand story about how CPS came and took away kids for no reason. Most parents who have their parental rights terminated aren't going to admit to others the full story of why they lost their kids. Most have a hard enough time admitting it to themselves.
posted by Jernau at 3:20 PM on April 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't think hitting is the best way to discipline a child, but I think it's one of the more extreme tools in the behavioral modification toolbox and in extreme situations, occasionally it will need to be used. For example, people may not want to think about this, but what is a parent expected to do in order to discipline a sociopathic child? Estimates of the percentage of sociopaths in society range from as low as 0.1% to as high as 5%. I think it's important to condition certain behavioral responses in a sociopathic child because that could spell the difference between them growing up to be a functional sociopath (such as an exceptionally successful lawyer or banker) or a dysfunctional sociopath (such as a serial killer). How do you propose teaching a sociopathic kid that hurting other kids is wrong? Time-outs? Guilt-trips? Before we get rid of one of the tools in the child behavioral modification toolbox, I'm curious to know about what tool is proposed to replace it in extreme circumstances such as these.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:23 PM on April 21, 2013


Most sociopaths are made not born. Most are also from abusive backgrounds. Also children are never diagnosed with psychopathy or sociopathy, the closest you will get is conduct disorder.
posted by Jernau at 3:27 PM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm waiting for folks to step up with anecdotal stories about how "CPS came in, and took my kids - because I was beating the everloving crap out of them. Good thing, too - I'm a really terrible parent."

The problem with relying on hearsay is that it has strong inherent bias.
posted by Orb2069 at 3:30 PM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


For example, people may not want to think about this, but what is a parent expected to do in order to discipline a sociopathic child

I would be entirely amazed if you could find a single reputable study that suggests sociopathy can be beaten out of children.
posted by yoink at 3:34 PM on April 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


The best I can provide you with Orb2069 is that CPS came and took me away and I was really glad they did, I love my parents but they had no idea what they where doing.
posted by Jernau at 3:36 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The ability to make an anonymous complaint to the police - whether it's for noise or leash laws or people beating their kids - is really central to the way law enforcement works. Sure, that's creepy, nobody wants to think about their neighbors informing on them and it brings up ugly visions of totalitarian states but unfortunately, it works. Most people are afraid to directly confront their friends, neighbors and relatives even when they know there is something really wrong going on at home. It is only because they know they won't be outed that they do call in tips. Yes, sometimes those tips are wrong but sometimes they're right and a child - or a dog or a beaten spouse - gets saved. The proposed HSLDA changes would eliminate this possibility and I think that would be a terrible, grievous mistake.

Removal of children from their families and homes, tearing families apart, is an extreme and traumatic intrusion on individual and personal rights of both children and parents (equivalent to incarceration) that causes more harm than good except in those very grave circumstances where the child is harmed or threatened in a serious way. Thus, informing to CPS amounts to an accusation of a crime. So I don't see why the confrontation clause of the sixth amendment shouldn't apply to these cases.
posted by knoyers at 4:03 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that removal of the child from the home is always, always the absolute last step that is taken. Sure, the process might have begun with an anonymous tip from a neighbor but after that there's a whole lot more that happens. It's not accusation of a crime. It's a suggestion that a crime may be occurring. The burden of proof is left up to the social services agency - to the social worker, in fact. The only way someone is going to come in like a SWAT team on the basis of one anonymous report is. . is. . actually I can't even think of a way. A tip is received and a social worker shows up to talk to the parents. I suppose if they get there and the kids are actively being severely abused, and I do mean SEVERELY, then they would act but it would have to be extremely serious, like the kid is locked in a cage and starving. Actually, in this era of budget cuts, probably nobody even shows up or calls or does much of anything until there's more than one tip.

I think people overestimate how easy it is to remove a child from the home. It takes a LOT. It doesn't happen easily and even when it does happen, most of the time the kids are back with the parents in a week or two. In Maryland, it wasn't until after literally years of abuse and neglect and repeated interventions with the kids being removed and returned and removed and returned and removed and returned that my friend's kids were finally taken away for good from their crack addicted developmentally delayed mother. Actually, it took her selling her daughter to an undercover cop. Little shit like the cigarette burns and the way she left a 7 year old in charge of two toddlers for three days with no food in the house didn't make a dent. So yeah, they don't take your kids away lightly. Really, no, they don't.
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:15 PM on April 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


>The childrearing you describe is in many jurisdictions one scandalized teacher's or outraged grandparent's phone call away from a serious child protective services action.

Having been harassed by CPS multiple times over the years, I can confidently say that ANY childrearing is just a phone call away from serious CPS action. Minor action, too, because they are required by law to investigate EVERY complaint, no matter how stupid it might seem. And if they've been called on you once, you're automatically guilty if they are called on you again.

I've had them called on me because Elder Monster was very thin (still is, at nearly 6', he weighs about 135 pounds and eats like a fucking elephant) - they even demanded his medical records. It wasn't until they got a look at my husband that they left us alone about that, even after our pediatrician had certified him as perfectly healthy and not at all neglected.

They've been called because Elder Monster refused to wear socks for a period of time one winter. The complaint was that he didn't have proper clothing, and when the social workers showed up, they threatened "more action" if I didn't force the kid to wear socks in the winter, "pick your battles" was not an appropriate parenting philosophy. When Younger Monster stopped taking lunch to school, they showed up on a complaint of "no food in the house" (which makes anyone who knows us laugh themselves sick). Why wasn't he taking lunch? His lunch period was too early, he wasn't hungry that soon after breakfast, and he didn't want to waste food. But apparently, letting a fourth grader decide not to waste food is cause to call CPS, and have them come out and condescend to me about the way we treat food in our household.

But the best ones were the months long investigations over our faith(s) (or lack thereof) and later over my job.

A fundie neighbor asked Younger Monster one afternoon about where we went to church. He cheerily replied "We aren't Christian, we don't go to church!" Outraged fundie neighbor called CPS and claimed "satanic rituals". That sure got CPS all het up, and when they showed up and demanded answers, they were PISSED when we said that we didn't believe in their god, in their "Satan", in Heaven or in Hell. We were pestered for MONTHS, and eventually had to retain counsel and have them ORDERED to leave us the fuck alone.

My favorite was right after I re-entered the paid workforce again, though. I landed a work from home position with a well regarded tech company, and worked full time. A neighbor in my building asked me to babysit, and when I declined, she got snotty with me. "Well, it's not like you do anything all day!" I told her that in fact, I had a job, I worked online, and I wasn't interested in babysitting in any case, my kids were older and they didn't want little kids around all day, either. Two days later, CPS was at my door, on a report that my kids were being neglected due to my "internet addiction". It took four months to get them to go away, they could not grasp the idea of holding a full time, legitimate work at home job that didn't involve porn. That one required assistance from an attorney, too.

The problem really lies somewhere between overzealous, overworked, and poorly trained social workers, and members of the populace who see CPS as their personal Goon Squad to be used to enforce their idea of Good Parenting or to get even with people who don't go along with what they want. False reporting may well be a crime, but it's one that's nearly impossible to prosecute when reporting is anonymous. Somehow, somewhere, people got the idea that ANY way of parenting that didn't match what they would do was "abuse", and they apparently never got it through their heads that every time they call in a complaint of that nature, they're taking vital resources away from kids who are in very real danger.
posted by MissySedai at 4:16 PM on April 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


Thus, informing to CPS amounts to an accusation of a crime. So I don't see why the confrontation clause of the sixth amendment shouldn't apply to these cases.

Again, you are reporting a suspicion of child abuse which CPS is investigating. It's different than an accusation.

Removal of children from their families and homes, tearing families apart, is an extreme and traumatic intrusion on individual and personal rights of both children and parents (equivalent to incarceration)

Physical and sexual abuse, child neglect, parental substance abuse, and witnessing domestic violence are also extremely traumatic and carry significant implications for children. Abuse is typically under, not overreported. Those grave circumstances are horrible, tragically more common than anybody wants to think and I'm sorry this is the case.

Yes, it feels violating to have people enter your home and question your children. A confrontation clause has the strong likelihood of putting the reporter in physical danger.

I've made CPS reports when working in a domestic violence agency and having clients disclose that their children were witnessing DV. I've made those reports WITH moms. I sure as hell would not feel safe doing so if I knew an abuser would have access to my name and information. That mom would also have been unsafe if her abuser found out that the report came from a dv agency. There are a lot of serious considerations to make..
posted by pugh at 4:17 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing that I just realized... I think that HSLDA and company are under the impression that someone making a tip to CPS or whatnot is flat-out saying "there is abuse here, period, go yank their kids." When no, that's generally not the case. When I was going through training for being a Mandatory Reporter [my gods, I do not miss that... I had such a hard time figuring out where that status applied, like The Internets, etc] we were told over and over again that our job was to report suspicions... and that it was not our place to investigate. We were not the ones who had to prove the allegations, we did not have to supply the "proof." Our job was to say "hey, something's weird here, but I don't have the training and expertise to say for sure if it's abuse." That was it.

I wonder at the reactions of Farris/Klicka, etc etc... because having the knee-jerk reaction of "omg they're saying abuse" instead of "hey, someone cared enough to get someone to check on the kids!" is really suspicious. Granted, this could absolutely be because of my [not insignificant...] bias. But it's there, and it's weird.
posted by gloraelin at 4:28 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still feel and understand that the constitution says that if someone "suggests" that a crime is occurring and you are involved in it, resulting in legal proceedings against you, you should have the right to confront your accuser as part of those proceedings. What distinction is there between accusing and informing authorities about one's suspicion of someone committing a crime? There is none. There shouldn't be any parallel legal systems with minimized rights for the accused in cases where children are being taken away. That does seem to be what exists.
posted by knoyers at 4:29 PM on April 21, 2013


For example, people may not want to think about this, but what is a parent expected to do in order to discipline a sociopathic child?

... what, like Dexter? I don't even think his father beat him, for what it's worth. (Sure it's fiction, but so is the notion that beating the sociopathy out of a developing child is a reasonable thing to do, so I feel this is as good a counter as any.)

MissySedai - Wow. I am starting to suspect this is one of those things that is so radically different between states/towns/communities that consensus is not only impossible, but actually a futile approach to the topic. All I can say is that the CPS does not do behave this way where I live (near San Francisco/Bay Area). I grew up more North, where methamphetamine abuse is, how do I put it, culturally prevalent? A thing? Even if the social workers here were inclined to behave this way at the whim of obvious cranks, they simply have enough to do already in these parts, what with egregious neglect and abuse actually happening. I guess a weird flip-side is that things are so apparently idyllic there that Child Protective Services have time to do this sort of thing to kill time.
posted by cj_ at 4:37 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think hitting is the best way to discipline a child, but I think it's one of the more extreme tools in the behavioral modification toolbox and in extreme situations, occasionally it will need to be used. For example, people may not want to think about this, but what is a parent expected to do in order to discipline a sociopathic child?

So if a child has the potential to be sociopathic, the right lesson to teach that child is that it's okay to hurt someone smaller and weaker than you in order to get them to behave the way you want. Let me know how that one works out.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:12 PM on April 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Particularly because the definition of "harm" is an inherently faith-based thing. Some people consider any form of corporal punishment to be child abuse. Others, myself included, believe that the absence of any corporal punishment is harmful.

Really? Bruises are inherently faith-based? Gotcha. Kids learning violence and passing on violence is inherently faith based. Indeed. Kids learning to base their moral framework on a fear of retribution and avoiding it rather than understanding what went wrong is faith based? Yeaaaahhhh. And there has been no research done at all on the subject...
posted by Francis at 5:21 PM on April 21, 2013


you should have the right to confront your accuser as part of those proceedings. And you do. Your accuser is the state, just as it would be if you had broken into a drugstore in the middle of the night and the police figured out it was you - perhaps with help from an anonymous tipster - and then arrested you and tried you and etc. See, there are no legal proceedings against you until the state takes action on the recommendation of the social worker which is based on evidence. The anonymous tipster doesn't enter into it. And, honestly, most of the time there is no legal action. The kids are not taken away. Perhaps there's a conversation or two, maybe the parents have to take parenting classes but seriously the country is not full of crazed social workers zooming around seizing children randomly.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I guess a weird flip-side is that things are so apparently idyllic there that Child Protective Services have time to do this sort of thing to kill time.

Well, that's the thing. They DON'T have time for nonsense. But when they get a call, the law REQUIRES them to investigate. In my county, they have to show up within 48 hours of a complaint, in a couple neighboring counties, it's 24 hours.

Think about how CPS is often portrayed in the media - they're the big baddies who can come in and snatch your kids whenever they want, all they need is someone to allege abuse, and abuse can mean anything from not being Christian to living polyamorously to ACTUALLY abusing the kid(s). People call in revenge complaints all the time. Hell, the attorney I work for has a boilerplate answer for people seeking information in custody disputes, advising them that getting CPS involved because they think a CPS complaint will tip the court's opinion in their favor will backfire enormously, because the court really hates it when people waste CPS's time trying to get them to play Enforcer.

I used to doubt these situations happened. Then they happened to me, multiple times. So, when people start talking about getting rid of anonymous reporting, I sympathize with them. I know exactly how they feel, because being hounded by CPS for not conforming to someone else's Beaver Cleaver fantasy is a right pain in the ass. I don't think there's enough accountability, and I think that hinders CPS in taking care of ACTUAL abuse cases.
posted by MissySedai at 5:34 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Especially among poor people, revenge reports to CPS are A Thing and have been for years. I had that happen to me twice. They realized I was actually a good mom, they did in fact do a few things that helped, like safe respite care, so I could shop without dealing with little ones who wanted all the Wrong Things at the store and who were really too young to easily manage.
CPS can be a nightmare. It is scary, but in my situation, they did end up leaving me alone because there really wasn't something bad going on.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:35 PM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


My dad's friend didn't like my mother, because of unspecified bullshit between them in high school. So once, after they had a nasty fight, he called in a CPS complaint, no shit. I remember that as a particularly awful time, because it is really hard to prove a negative.

I understand that people need anonymous reporting for real issues, but maybe you should still have to actually tell the police who you are, what your relation to the family is, and what you saw. And if it turns out you're just making up bullshit out of whole cloth, there should be some kind of repercussions.
posted by corb at 6:00 PM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Most sociopaths are made not born.

Glad that's settled then.
posted by spaltavian at 6:04 PM on April 21, 2013


And if it turns out you're just making up bullshit out of whole cloth, there should be some kind of repercussions.

Well, with so many smart phones and recording devices out there, I think the days of only having an "anonymous call" to go on would be numbered. If a neighbor's child is being abused, wouldn't most people whip out their phones and start recording furtively? You know, sousveillance?
posted by FJT at 6:29 PM on April 21, 2013


Especially among poor people, revenge reports to CPS are A Thing and have been for years

...is this a documented fact or are you making a negative assumption about people of low SES.
posted by pugh at 7:51 PM on April 21, 2013


Most sociopaths are made not born. Most are also from abusive backgrounds. Also children are never diagnosed with psychopathy or sociopathy, the closest you will get is conduct disorder.

Really? Because here is a metafilter FPP that seems to suggest the exact opposite.

I would be entirely amazed if you could find a single reputable study that suggests sociopathy can be beaten out of children

I don't think there's any recognized "cure" for sociopathy, so I'm confused about why you're raising a completely unrelated topic. I didn't say anything about curing them: I said you could condition them to be less harmful to society. Are you suggesting that people with mental illnesses are immune to behavioral conditioning, even though every other creature in creation is not? Or are you saying that you've found a cure for sociopathy and this is not it? Please explain.

And none of this even remotely answers my question, which was "If you take away one potential (albeit extreme) parenting tool, what are you using to replace it? Specifically, how do you propose to handle the children described in the FPP I linked to?"
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:57 PM on April 21, 2013


...is this a documented fact or are you making a negative assumption about people of low SES.

She seems to be speaking from first-hand experience, as someone of a lower SES.
posted by MissySedai at 8:11 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the article you're referencing: "To test the idea that C.U. children may be less responsive to reward and punishment than the average child, Waschbusch established a system in which kids were awarded points for behaving well and docked points for acting out, and then he modified it to include weeks where either the reward (points earned) or the punishment (points lost) were augmented. At the end of each week, children chose prizes, based on the number of points they’d earned. Every day, Waschbusch and his counselors tracked each child’s behavior — the number and severity of outbursts, any instances of good behavior — and entered the results into a blinded data set. With just a dozen children in the program, Waschbusch admitted, the observations were more like a series of case studies than like a trial with robust statistics. Still, he hoped that the data would provide a starting point for researchers trying to treat C.U. children."

Behavioral conditioning can occur fairly easily without using physical punishment, but I'm not sure it's a good solution in the case of truly sociopathic individuals.
posted by pugh at 8:16 PM on April 21, 2013


CPS was never called on my abusive parent, but I imagine I would have been in for one hell of a beating if they had ever received a non-anonymous report. I mean, I got beaten for "making" my parent threaten me in front of other people, but a named report by someone with whom they could have drawn a connection to me would have upped the danger to me considerably. Anonymous reporting is not only for the benefit of the person making the report.
posted by camyram at 9:32 PM on April 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Really? Because here is a metafilter FPP that seems to suggest the exact opposite.

I guess you missed the part where the article your citing which states, "The idea that a young child could have psychopathic tendencies remains controversial among psychologists. Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, has argued that psychopathy, like other personality disorders, is almost impossible to diagnose accurately in children, or even in teenagers — both because their brains are still developing and because normal behavior at these ages can be misinterpreted as psychopathic."

One anecdotal story posted on Mefi of a New York times magazine section article is a very weak basis for your supposition. I would go further that its not only controversial, Psychopathy is a diagnosis for children that is specifically avoided by the majority of clinicians. Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conflict Disorder are what is typically used. Neither are the same as psychopathy as ODD and CD have a higher likely hood of being receptive to treatment. Treatment options range from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy all the way to Hypnosis. In either case some degree of Professional intervention is required.

As far as your toolbox, the point that you seem to be missing is that I'm suggesting that hitting children is not actually a tool for crafting good behavior in them as much as it is a tool for generating bad behavior. As far as I'm concerned that kind of tool doesn't need replacing. I can also tell you from personal experience that many times a problem child's biggest problems are actually his parents.

Also as a note: No behavioral psychologist would ever suggest using pain as a method of conditioning a human. Positive and Negative conditioning use the adding of positive elements and the removal of positive elements to condition behavior. Pain just makes a mess.
posted by Jernau at 11:17 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


You can find an interesting take on childhood psychopathy and how it relates to abuse here by Jonathan Glover.
posted by Jernau at 12:11 PM on April 22, 2013


Even if the social workers here were inclined to behave this way at the whim of obvious cranks, they simply have enough to do already in these parts, what with egregious neglect and abuse actually happening. I guess a weird flip-side is that things are so apparently idyllic there that Child Protective Services have time to do this sort of thing to kill time.

Did I miss the poster that mentioned CPS is only as good as the workers? I'm a believer in CPS. I think the people who work for CPS (well, most of them) absolutely have the children's welfare at heart. But there are those that are pushing an agenda of their own. Anecdata: There were several neighbor reports of abuse in one home near me. Every bloody time the highly religious social worker of the same faith as the pater familias 'investigated', the large and lovely picture of the sacred heart of Jebus impressed her so much that nothing was done. It took a teacher taking one of the kids into the ER with a broken arm with obvious bruising to get any action. Even then, the SWs and other church members lobbied for the 'accidental' nature of the injury. Fortunately, the kids were interviewed, and something was finally done. There are idyllic neighborhoods where closed door abuse happens all the time.

White CPS workers have notoriously been harder on the minority groups locally. The hiring of Hispanic social workers was one of the best things that happened in this area.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:30 PM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


CPS was never called on my abusive parent, but I imagine I would have been in for one hell of a beating if they had ever received a non-anonymous report. I mean, I got beaten for "making" my parent threaten me in front of other people, but a named report by someone with whom they could have drawn a connection to me would have upped the danger to me considerably. Anonymous reporting is not only for the benefit of the person making the report.

CPS was called constantly on mine, and it took my parents nearly killing me to finally get me the fuck out of there. Even when I told them that every time they showed up, I got the shit knocked out of me, they still left me there and expected my parents to "take some classes". Feh.

Something I learned from that, though, is that even if you give your name to the authorities when you call in a complaint, they are not permitted to release your name to anyone without a court order. And that pretty much the only way to get that court order is for the complaint to not only be proven false, but proven injurious to the family.

So, yes, I completely understand the concern that a named complaint would up the danger level for an abused kid - or for that matter, any complaint at all - but in my state at least, that's highly privileged information.
posted by MissySedai at 4:46 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to add that Hizonner's fear is completely well founded here, look at cases like this one that have even been mentioned on mefi.

What happened there is pretty much exactly what she's concerned about. This isn't some made up or horribly unlikely scenario.
posted by emptythought at 7:12 PM on April 22, 2013


A silver lining to emptythought's link to the earlier thread is that the woman involved got custody of her son back in 2007, though that update is six years old, so who knows what happened since then.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:20 AM on April 23, 2013


And another update from 2009 (warning, BoingBoing).
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:21 AM on April 23, 2013


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