Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Panic in the Child Welfare Agencies

Business as usual by Oregon child welfare has been nipped by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case  where a family sued a child welfare agency for unconstitutional search and seizure arising out of their interview with a child at school and subsequent removal from home.

Exhibiting their typical knee-jerk overreaction to anything that appears to protect anyone accused of child abuse or neglect, the child protection industry is burning with child-saver horror speculation and doomsday scenarios that more children will be abused because the constitution shockingly protects a child's right to family association. Child abusers win one. . . I have always maintained that the child savers gave too little consideration to the negative effects of their  assistance to families they, in their infinite wisdom, determine need their help. 

The mother, Sarah Greene, and her children sued the state agency for various constitutional claims associated with the agencies handling of a child welfare investigation and case. The U.S. District court dismissed the case. Mother and children appealed. The appeals court overturned the District Court. The findings were as follows:

1) "In short, applying the traditional Fourth Amendment requirements, the decision to seize and interrogate S.G. in the absence of a warrant, a court order, exigent circumstances, or parental consent was unconstitutional."  In this case, the court distinguished searches and seizures of students by school officials from situations where a police officer or social worker, not connected with the school, conducts an interview. School officials who acquiesce to an interview demand by child welfare agencies may now be open to liability. Especially if there is a 4th amendment letter  (on my web site, the password to open the letter is "I agree") in the child's school file as I have recommended for years. The court ruled that, because this precedent was not established prior, the defendants had immunity. However, if anyone does it again, they will not be immune from civil liability as this case clearly establishes the law in that regard.

2)"Because Camreta's alleged misrepresentation in support of his request for a protective custody order . . . violated the Greenes' clearly established rights, he is not entitled to qualified immunity." Exaggerating, misrepresenting, outright lying on affidavits and requests for court orders has been a long-standing tradition in child welfare cases. The problem has been in proving the lies, which is why I recommended as early as 1996 that parents record all interactions with state agencies and their providers. Deceitful case workers have responded by refusing to be recorded and retaliating when parents insist. I am on the record stating they, as public servants, cannot refuse to be recorded. It just keeps things honest. . .and provides evidence for future lawsuits like this. 

3) "Camreta's decision to exclude Sarah not just from the examination but from the entire facility where her daughter was being examined violated the Greenes' clearly established rights." The practice of preventing the parents from attending the child during medical examinations has already been condemned in another 9th Circuit case so the caseworker has no immunity for violating the child's constitutional rights.  Caseworkers routinely isolate the child from the parents, limit contact to infrequent supervised situations and refuse access to the child's medical, school and other records. It's long past time these capricious, heavy-handed control-reak practices by case workers bite the dust.

These are among the issues I have included in my accredited Continuing Legal Education training designed for attorneys representing parents and children in child welfare cases, and I am gratified to see that I, a mere mortal, have been vindicated by being right in my analysis and education of these particular issues. Too bad not enough lawyers "get it."

The court actually discussed family association and family rights in this case. 

  • [P]arents have a right arising from the liberty interest in family association to be with their children while they are receiving medical attention 
  • Finally, we hold that Camreta's decision to exclude Sarah from her daughters' medical examinations at the KIDS Center violated the Greenes' clearly established familial rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • The interest in family association is particularly compelling at such times, in part because of the possibility that a need to make medical decisions will arise, and in part because of the family's right to be together during such difficult and often traumatic events.
  • . . .Wallis establishes two points central here: first, parents and children maintain clearly established familial rights to be with each other during potentially traumatic medical examinations. . .

If the U.S. Constitution can prove to be so powerful to protect the fundamental human right to family association, think of the double whammy a family rights amendment to the state constitution could provide in your state. 

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Leave the emotions, propaganda and rhetoric at the door. This blogger is only interested in intelligent, logical, well-thought out, factually based comments which are on-topic, indicating the writer has an open mind and a mature ability to reason.