What Is Child Neglect?

Some things get under your skin and then you open your eyes and see injustice everywhere. For me, the most recent is the Abraham Cherrix case. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Abraham is the young man recently ordered by a court to submit to chemotherapy against his will. I have been quite upset about this case. Whether or not one agrees with this young man’s course of treatment, it must be recognized that the state is overstepping its authority. The state charged his supportive parents with neglect and wriggled into their lives as a joint custodial entity. The Cherrix ordeal was the eye opener for me, and the brick in the head was the NYT Magazine article about Marie (not her real name), her five children and the Stamford, CT Department of Children and Families.

A year ago, Marie’s children were taken from her based on allegations of neglect. The DCF recently petitioned to terminate Marie’s rights as a parent and they have found potential adoptive parents for Marie’s boys. The Cherrix family seems to be a solid family while Marie is a former drug abuser. The Cherrix case is different from Marie’s, but neglect allegations link them in a war over parental rights. They are just two of the many American families fighting the system over subjective definitions of neglect.

On the surface, Marie’s case may seem like a slam dunk. At birth one of her children tested positive for marijuana and another tested positive for marijuana and cocaine. She is a single mother and her five children have three different fathers. She is married to the father of two of her children, but he was deported to the Dominican Republic. She dropped out before she made it to high school, and lives on state assistance. None of this makes for an ideal parenting situation, but Marie has been clean for the last year. Hair and urine tests show no relapses. She has gone through mandated parenting courses. Her home is “spic and span” according to one social worker, and her kids seem to love her, flaws and all. And her flaws seem to be many. She is, in fact, pregnant with her sixth child. The DCF recently petitioned to take that child too.

Daniel Bergner, the author of the NYT Magazine piece, was very thorough in his research. He covered the start of the “social engineering” project that gave birth to agencies like the DCF. It is not my intention to rewrite an excellent article. I merely want to bring to light how much control the state has over our families. I would never advocate irresponsible behavior during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and plan to carry to term, it is unwise to consume drugs. According to UCSB’s sexinfo website, there are many drugs that can harm a fetus in utero. Antibiotics and Accutane make the list, yet we never hear of children taken from their families over them. The public would go nuts over that.

Mr. Bergner’s interview with a law professor netted a very insightful observation:

I believe in the golden rule,” said Martin Guggenheim “” the N.Y.U. law professor, who represented hundreds of kids in juvenile-delinquency, child-protection and T.P.R. cases as a legal-services attorney “” when I described Marie’s situation. “Test this case against what we would want for our own families.” He spoke about race and class and suggested that we substitute someone influential for Marie and painkillers for cocaine. “If we imagine it was substances that important people use, we can’t imagine that we would be taking those children.”

We need to stand up and get the state out of our families. If we opt to take children away from families over what is essentially a morality war on some drugs, we will only have to wait a few years to see children taken from mothers who smoke or drink caffeine during their pregnancies. Marie was not acting in the healthiest manner by consuming drugs during her pregnancy, but how much do the moral busybodies in this country wish for her and her children to endure?

Did I mention that Marie’s 16 year old son ran away from the DCF and has not been found? Or that Marie, realizing that Connecticut is trying to take her unborn child without regard to her efforts, decided to have the baby in New York? I disagree with many of Marie’s actions. She and her children should not have depended on the state for financial benefits. She should not have used drugs during her pregnancy. I agree with her decision to flee. She may never again see her oldest son, but her flight has given her an opportunity to be a mother to her youngest. Perhaps she will forge a bond strong enough to break her cycle of dependence. A bond strong enough to give her courage to fight for the children that Connecticut stole from her.

  1. Chart:
    Perpetrators of Maltreatment

    Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Neglect, Medical Neglect, Fatalities

    CPS – 160, 112, 410, 14, 6.4
    Parents – 59, 13, 241, 12, 1.5
    (number of cases per 100,000 children in the United States)

    These numbers come from The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) in Washington.

    Imagine that, 6.4 children die at the hands of the agencies that are supposed to protect, and only 1.5 at the hands of parents per 100,000 children. CPS perpetrates more abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse and kills more children than parents in the United States. If the citizens of this country hold CPS to the same standards that they hold parents to, no judge should ever put another child in the hands of ANY government agency because CPS nationwide is guilty for more harm and death than any human being combined. CPS nationwide is guilty of more human rights violations and death of children than the homes they took them out of. When are the judges going to wake up to see that they are sending children to their death and a life of abuse when children are removed from their homes at the mere opinion of some social workers?

  2. Not to say that I disagree; I still believe nanny state policies already go to far and will continue to get worse, but I believe there are some logical errors in your treatment of that data Jon.

    I don’t believe I found the exact same study as you, but what I did find is here http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm04/cm04.pdf
    and the relevant table is on page 76 of it.

    From that report, only 0.4% of abusive individuals are foster parents.

    The info you picked out seems to imply that a huge number more children are abused in foster care than not. This ignores the number of children who would have been further abused by their parents had they not been moved.

    In the situation of mr. Cherrix the court decision is clearly wrong. A 16 year old is more than able to understand the consequences of and make his own treatment decisions.

  3. Part of a quote from Diane Medved printed on a Starbuck’s cup:

    “The two political parties want to own them”.
    “them” referenced back to the phrase “your children” in the previous sentence.

    I’m not at all familiar with Ms. Medved. She could be a extreme Communist for all I know. But I found her choice of words interesting.

  4. Bill A, You’re right about the flaw. I copied and pasted that from elsewhere without fully analyzing. It’s much higher per capita abuse for kids in CPS custody, but definitely not higher total amount of abuse. So, if you randomly selected 100,000 kids living with their parents, abuse is a very small problem; if you randomly select 100,000 in foster care, abuse is significantly more frequent. How can that be when, in theory, certainly social workers should be better than average parents, and foster parents should be carefully selected to be only the best possible? I think the system is fatally flawed, beyond repair, does much more harm than good, and can’t be reformed or repaired. CPS offices are like government bureaucracy in general where the people who get in with the intention of doing good for kids are frustrated by the system and leave, while the most ruthless, overzealous, power-hungry types rise to the top and control the system that’s out of control doing more evil than good.

  5. There’s no perfect solution, but I don’t agree that CPS is a necessary agency in a libertarian small government. We’d be better off simply prosecuting child abuse as a crime as has been the case in the past. Deciding that child abuse is such a unique problem that it warrants tossing out the Constitution, and instead of requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt, we’ll just have social workers in charge of snatching kids away based on anonymous tips, unlawful searches, and their own suspicions is not a good or successful strategy. It’s human nature for the social workers and rubber-stamping-inclined judges they work with to never want to be the one who gets blamed for child abuse, so they cover their asses and the threshold to take kids away gets lower and lower. And when you’re dealing with bad parents repeatedly you just get sick of it, so when in doubt, take the kid into State custody. Especially with the awful federal funding incentives rewarding local CPS for adopting kids out.

  6. My apologies for the double post, didn’t realize a response of “page cannot be displayed” would still post a message.

    I’ll agree the rate of abuse in foster homes is higher. (it’s alot harder to find that measure in the report, had to use a calculator, but yeah you’re numbers are definately right)

    I disagree that the system does more harm than good. In CPS, 4k children get abused, without it 700k who would otherwise be relocated instead remain in abusive households.

    What would an alternative to CPS be, other than reform?

  7. I think you’re right about criminal prosecution of child abuse. I hadn’t been thinking of the investegative role of CPS, but instead the assignment role, since thats what the statistics were about.

    I think in a libertarian government, the placment aspect of CPS would still be nessecary. As an extra benefit, since social workers would no longer be dealing with the bad parents, that would keep them from becoming disenfranchised.

  8. So we should let this child commit sucide by quackery?

    85% of Hodgkins can be cured by chemo

    Indirect study of “Hoxley” quackery reveals a 10% success rate. The studes have to be indirect since Hoxley won’t release any figures as to how many people that they have cured. Hmmmm, why would this “alternative” treatment that has been around for over 50 years not have any data to back it’s claims?

    Yes, taking the hoxley method would probably result in a higer risk to the patient than no treatment at all!

  9. Here’s the problem: when somebody feels responsible for somebody else, they feel guilty if they don’t do something. That’s a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, government employees have the mistaken idea that they are responsible for us.

    The failures of everyone from CPS to FEMA stem from their false impression that they are primarily responsible for our lives and that they must save us all. It doesn’t help that voters consistently pressure legislators to outlaw Death.

    It isn’t our responsibility to stop Abraham’s parents from allowing Abraham to choose his health care. Everybody dies and we can’t outlaw that. It might be a sad loss. It might be avoidable. But in the absence of legal incapacity, it’s not our right to stop it.

    Incidentally, my dad changed his diet and cheated Death by 10 years (and counting) over everybody in his cancer group who went the conventional route.

  10. Eric, it doesn’t matter. Not your decision- shouldn’t be the government’s either. His chances of survival are not the issue. Government intervention is the issue. What will the busybodies in the country pursue next?
    Are we going to stop kids from climbing trees? Mandate exercise programs and pull calipers out to check body fat? Oh wait, they are trying some of that already.

  11. Eric — as has already been said here; absolutely, yes, we should let him.

    Because we have no moral or ethical imperative to control his life.

    If someone wants to commit suicide, that is THEIR CHOICE. Even if they do not fully realize what they are getting into — because it’s their choice to remain ignorant, when the proper information is readily available.

    That latter part is the one piece of the libertarian ideal that always worries me:

    How in the hell are we going to ensure that the populace at large is informed enough to make informed decisions and thus not be relegated to serfhood via disinformation and lack of education? It’s absolutely vital, and the answer of “home schooling” or “it’s the individual’s responsibility” just doesn’t hack it in this case.

    Without a viable, certain answer to that… everything libertarians hope for is nothing more than a pipe-dream. My own ideals included.