How states fund child abuse
By Anne Grant
In the 1980s, I was the first woman pastor in a rural corner of Connecticut. Male clergy sometimes sent girls and women to my office when they needed to talk about things they could not tell a man. Until then I had no idea how many children are sexually abused in their own homes. That national nightmare has been reported in three recent films: Searching for Angela Shelton; Small Justice; and Family Court Crisis: Our Children at Risk.
In the 1990s, as executive director of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, I learned how Family Court exacerbates problems of domestic violence and sexual abuse in the family. When I retired in 2003, I continued researching documents in custody cases that reveal the often-troubling role of guardians ad litem, clinicians, and lawyers at Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and child protection agencies in other states.
Countless frontline DCYF staff do excellent, difficult work, but agency attorneys cause grave damage when they hold private (ex parte) meetings with lawyers defending litigants accused of molesting their own children. The other parent, usually the mother, is lulled into thinking DCYF will protect their children, while lawyers delay and derail critical evidence from reaching the judge.
I tried to show my findings to the Chief Judge of Family Court, the Director of DCYF, the Child Advocate, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and members of the General Assembly. I provided documentation from open court files, clinical reports, bills, and other records showing official abuse.
Most officials deflected the matter. Some blamed the children. A legislator told me, “Children lie all the time.”
DCYF usually seizes children who have been marginalized by poverty and racism, who have few adults with power to protect them. But two years ago, the agency removed two sisters from a town where dozens of people knew the girls and their mother. Even their state representative had noted the delightful way the children and their mother played together and interacted with neighbors at a local recreation spot.
When she was three, the younger girl protested her father’s behavior at home while her mother was at work and her sister at school. She drew graphic pictures and reenacted male masturbation that seldom harmed her body but obsessed her mind. A physician’s assistant phoned the state hotline. DCYF investigated and brought a finding of sexual molestation against the father, who left home.
The girls remained with their mother more than two years and then disappeared into DCYF’s archipelago of foster homes, shelters, and “therapeutic” remedies. People who knew the family sent a barrage of letters and met with state officials to no avail. They contacted me and sought an out-of-state attorney to pursue the case.
My search of court documents showed how a biased DCYF hearing officer had flipped the case in 2004 from a finding of molestation against the father to a charge of “parental alienation” against the mother, whom the hearing officer had never met. Rumors had been spread that the mother, a respected university scientist, had “mental problems.”
Meanwhile the hearing officer, an attorney in pursuit of her own divorce clients, published internet articles urging fathers to fight back against the “pedestal of holy motherhood.”
Under a public records request, I learned that DCYF has no requirement that its hearing officers be either professionally qualified or neutral. Nor does DCYF have procedures to track allegations and findings of sexual molestation.
The guardian ad litem, who is supposed to be unbiased, failed to interview neighbors. Her itemized bill shows that the father paid her thousands of dollars and that she conducted an intensive search for a psychologist willing to accuse the mother of “alienating” the children against him. This is a common legal strategy based on a bogus psychological theory, “parental alienation syndrome,” that was decisively denounced by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in 2006.
At a cost to tax payers of $30,000 per year per child in the shelter, the girls learned profanity, venting their rage in new ways. Having rarely seen television before, they complained of being forced to watch TV instead of doing the crafts they enjoyed. They could not share a room or eat together.
The younger girl was delivered for lengthy unsupervised visits with their father. After 509 days in state custody, DCYF gave her, at age 7, to his sole care in another state, claiming she had “recanted” her original accusation against him.
The older girl, 11, called it “torture” and was sent into foster care. Before she left the shelter, she drew a large floor plan of their lifelong home, like a prisoner trying to recall cherished details. She gave it to her mother on one of their two-hour weekly visits, closely supervised at a DCYF office, where they are forbidden to speak about anything that matters.
On August 6, 2007, their 487th day in state custody, three weeks before DCYF separated the sisters entirely, the older one made this list:
THINGS TO DO ON OUR 1st DAY HOME
wash clothes so they smell good
run around in back yard
play piano together
play a game
do arts + crafts
flop on our bed
go for a walk @ the beach
go to Home Depot to get stuff to build clubhouse
plant in garden
After decades of resistance, our country began to litigate against pedophile priests who targeted children and took sanctuary in the Church. Now State legislators in Rhode Island and elsewhere must take a hard look at their own agencies established to protect children.
In an era when government deals aggressively with pedophiles who prey on other people’s children, we need more rigorous standards and effective responses to the age-old problem of sexual abuse within families.
Anne Grant, a retired minister, coordinates the Parenting Project at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church and writes http://custodyscam.blogspot.com
(Parentingproject@cox.net)Technorati Tags: Anne,Grant,words,woman,pastor,Connecticut,Male,office,children,films,Angela,Shelton,Small,Justice,Court,Crisis,Risk,director,Women,Center,Rhode,Island,problems,violence,documents,custody,cases,role,Department,Youth,DCYF,protection,frontline,agency,parent,findings,Chief,Judge,Child,Advocate,Governor,Lieutenant,Attorney,General,documentation,files,reports,records,Most,Some,legislator,racism,recreation,girl,father,behavior,pictures,physician,People,barrage,avail,officer,alienation,pursuit,clients,pedestal,Under,requirement,procedures,guardian,strategy,theory,syndrome,National,Council,Juvenile,Judges,cost,television,room,accusation,prisoner,August,HOME,yard,piano,beach,Depot,garden,resistance,sanctuary,Church,State,government,prey,Project,Mathewson,Street,Methodist,Parentingproject,guardians,lawyers,agencies,members,Rumors,articles,fathers,officers,allegations,responses,girls,three,sexual,litem,sisters,neighbors,younger,molestation,parentalNote: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.