Saturday, February 26, 2011

Interviewing Children, the Perils and Pitfalls

In view of my recent discussion on SCOTUS hearing the Camreta case, I have occasion to discuss the prevailing practice by child welfare agencies of excluding parents, even non-offending parents from observing agency interviews with their children.

Many of the briefs in support of the parents in this case advocate the use of child advocacy centers for conducting interviews of children who are the subject of a child abuse or neglect investigation.They state the prevailing wisdom that the persons who conduct these interviews are highly trained experts who are less likely to taint the interview and more likely to elicit accurate information.

I will concede that this is the premise behind these centers, but that is only the theory. In practice, they commit the same errors that caseworkers commit. The same errors described in our subject case.

I have ample occasion to review the interview videos from these child advocacy centers. They ask leading questions, they repeat the questions over and over, they give verbal and non-verbal cues to the children, they use discredited techniques and props such as anatomically correct dolls, toys and drawing (the child does not distinguish between serious work and play when toys are used---sheesh), they discuss the facts with the child before/during the interview with the camera off, they have the "correct" facts written on a board off camera so the child can "remember" what she is supposed to say in front of the camera, and much more.

But let's assume that they didn't get it wrong, or make any mistakes in their technique. There is another very important factor that is totally ignored as significant in these interviews. The child's language and the family language.

I once accompanied a non-custodial mother to visit her children in another state. She had not seen her children for five years. As her visits progressed through the course of a few days, and because I was intimately immersed in their interactions, I noticed the parents and children quickly slipped into their familiar family language.

They used unfamiliar shorthand that they all understood, but which I did not necessarily grasp fully. They had esoteric terms to describe their memories and situations that were unique to their shared relationship, and not entirely consistent with common English usage, but which were meaningful by virtue of the context of their intimately shared experiences as a family.

This language of the family went deeper than funny words to describe body parts, it was a contextual language to which outsiders were not fluent. It was a style of interacting and communicating that formed a bond of understanding that survived years of separation. The family language forms as the relationship forms, and is added to when the children begin to contribute their baby language to the matrix of this highly personal communication. It evolves with the family's stages. But even as teens, these children still communicated with their family according to the language of their childhood family.

This is not the same thing you see when a family is in public. This is private, and increases emotional intimacy between the members of the family by virtue of enhanced understanding of the matters being communicated.

Then along comes an arrogant case worker who is clueless about this family's language, and interviews a young child. The young child is being probed about intimate family matters, and responds in the family's private language. He says something benign and this clod of a caseworker translates it using common usage, and viola', we have a disclosure. This is not speculation. I have seen it happen over and over. The case workers universally turn a deaf ear to the explanations of the parents.

If a family member where present to translate, this tragedy could have been avoided. Many times, the caseworker doesn't have the proper context to interpret what a child is saying. And a child is severely handicapped by virtue of his immaturity and cannot say what he means in the common language. . .remember, he is still learning the common language. His first real intense exposure to the common language is when he goes to school. He cannot understand it completely, nor translate quite yet, but his parents can, perhaps his older siblings can.

I have seen many of these cases turn sour on nothing more than erroneous translations of the child's use of the family language, or on the caseworkers use of the common language which the child misunderstands because he doesn't fully grasp the common language.

Since accurate communication is so critical to the proper administration of these cases, one would think that those who administer these cases would be interested in insuring that the child and the interviewer are actually communicating in the same language. One can only conclude, that if their expertise has not revealed this flaw to them, or if they haven't recognized this particular problem, they aren't interested in accurate communications.

Before you scoff about this family language observation, think about this. Lawyer have their own language, and they use it to trip up witnesses on the stand. The witness answers with his interpretation of the common usage of the word, the lawyer takes his admission as applying to the legal usage of the word. Medicine, science, law, youth, music . . .everything has it's own esoteric language, and we learn multiple usages of our native language depending where we live various portions of our lives. That the family has a personal dialect of the common language isn't so very far-fetched.

It would serve the children better if the professionals recognized this and conducted their investigations with a more sensitive ear.

Quotes From Amici - Camreta v. Greene

In support of neither party:

Children's Advocacy Institute
". . .the system in place includes numerous checks to protect the rights of suspected parental abusers, including required “reasonable efforts” not to remove a child; a detention hearing before a neutral
court with the burden on the State to show child danger; appointment of counsel for all involved parents;
mandated “reasonable efforts” to reunify; jurisdiction hearing; disposition hearing (pendente lite); review
hearings; and permanent placement hearings – all before the judiciary, and including liberal rights of
appellate review."

In support of the respondents:

Liberty Counsel
"Moving the seizure and interrogation of S.G. from the family's residence to a school office did not shield Petitioners from the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. A mere change in locale did not transform the
criminal investigation of alleged child abuse by a county child protection officer and deputy sheriff into a school discipline investigation by a principal or superintendent. The lessened expectation of privacy accorded to students in the latter circumstances cannot be applied to relieve Petitioners of their obligations under
the Fourth Amendment."

National Association of Criminal Defense Counsel
"History teaches that the Framers in the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century would not have countenanced government’s meddling with America’s families. They would not have allowed government officials to take children because of alleged abuse. Simply put, the Founders did not consider raising and rearing children government’s business. Warrantless rescues based on claimed abuse would therefore not have been tolerated. Nor did such a practice exist at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted."

"One’s right to family cannot depend on location. It follows the family."

". . .the class of potentially “dependent” children is huge. It encompasses all children in America. Infants, toddlers and young school-age children, like S.G., are all potential targets. This vast universe of potential “status” victims, coupled with mandatory reporting requirements, vague understandings of “neglect,” and undertrained investigators produces a significant error rate within the child protection system."

"Petitioners’ demand for a lower standard is premised less on a desire to protect children than to win unbridled discretion. History teaches, however, that license breeds abuse. See, e.g., Kolender v. Lawson,
461 U.S. 352, 358 (1983) (warning that 'virtually complete discretion in the hands of the police' cannot
be tolerated); Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09 (1983). History teaches that 'unbridled discretion, however benevolently motivated, is
frequently a poor substitute for principle and procedure.' Gault, 387 U.S. at 18."

Liberty Counsel
"Rather than according Respondents' Fourth Amendment rights the respect required by Congress, Petitioners side-stepped the issue by conducting the investigation at S.G.'s school instead of the family home. Petitioners should not be permitted to evade their obligations under the Fourth Amendment by simply changing the venue for their investigations. Respondents' Fourth Amendment rights are not limited to the confines of their residence, and Petitioners should not be permitted to flout the will of this Court and Congress by doing at
a child's school what they cannot do in the home. Fourth Amendment rights should not be subjected to such gamesmanship."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Camreta Revisited by SCOTUS

In past posts here and here, I discussed a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (Greene v. Camreta) which determined that removing a child from a classroom and subjecting that child to a two hour interrogation was a violation of the child's and the parent's fourth amendment rights. I mentioned that the states were in an uproar, doomsaying that this would cause more children to be abused. Gasp.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether police and child protective services investigators, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, may conduct a custodial interrogation of a child in a public school as to the details of her home life, without: (1) a warrant supported by probable cause, (2) consent of parent, (3) a court order, or (4) exigent circumstances. Press Supreme Court orders for the questions as framed in the petitions for certiorari.
The caseworker and the police officer sought certiorari because even thought the Ninth Circuit ruled that they had qualified immunity for this event (because the law was not clearly established at the time) they did violate fourth amendment rights of the family. This means that any subsequent incident would find the offending government official liable. 

I have been reading the merits and amicus briefs provided at The Family Defense Center web site. I observe that nine amicus briefs were filed in support of the caseworker/police officer and eighteen in support of the parents. I found the brief of the Attorneys General of forty-one states to be extremely revealing. I will note, for the record, the states listed do include the the worst states for child welfare outcomes and violations, i.e. Colorado, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin.

The states have expressed a compelling interest to continue running roughshod over the rights of parents and children as having, "gained wide acceptance as the best practice because such interviews are the most effective tool available for overcoming the many obstacles to obtaining reliable investigative outcomes. . ."

They view their abusive tactics as justified because, "By their nature, CPS investigations typically involve situations in which the perpetrator is a parent or other family member, and often a member of the child’s household. If, as the Ninth Circuit implies, CPS investigations are therefore to be seen as 'storming the castle,' see Greene, 588 F.3d at 1016, then one must also perceive the strength of the fortress walls behind which abused children await rescue."

Agencies view mothers who deny the father sexually abused the child (this involved a sexual abuse allegation based on third-hand hearsay from outside the home) as part of the problem, and therefore refuse to consider her as a non-offending parent, but as an enabler. I have analyzed many of these cases, and more often than not, the agency discounts the evidence showing daddy couldn't have possibly done it, such as daddy was out of state at the time the incident was alleged, and  insists mom is enabling the abuse. This is their justification for not seeking parental consent, nor obtaining a court order or warrant. 

Interesting that in this case, there was, as there usually is, a non-offending parent whose presumption that she acts in the best interests of her child means nothing because her child is "awaiting rescue" from mommy and daddy who hide behind the fourth amendment? How perverted is this delusion? The little girl that was the protected puked five times after the interrogation when she got home because her <ahem> well-intentioned, highly professional knights-in-shining-armor were just doing their job. They argue they need to do their job and the fourth amendment just gets in the way.

This might be arguable, IF they were as infallible as they believe they are. But S.G. (the victim) recanted saying that Greene kept telling her she was giving the wrong answer so she just said what he wanted to hear so he would leave her alone. I've seen this happen so often that it brings most disclosures under suspicion, and the biggest crime is that they don't video record these interrogations (they REFUSE to video record because it would expose them) so that you can prove they did it wrong. They get it wrong far more often than they get it right, so infallibility is not a valid consideration.

The doomsaying continues to run amok. Only WE (CPS) can protect the kiddies, parents don't ever protect their own children. Parents are perpetrators. Is it any wonder parents give these government agents the hairy eyeball when the agencies want to invade their castle?

The Attorneys General would have a lot more credibility if the state agencies could get it right, if they could administer a case without traumatizing the kiddies, bankrupting the parents and destroying the child's family, and if the children in foster care were safer than in their own homes.

I hope the Supremes recognize that the emperor has no clothes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Florida Adopted Twins - Bio Dad Appears

In my recent post about the Florida children adopted out of foster care and one was killed by the adoptive father, I wondered why the children were removed from their parents. Now we know. . .perhaps.

According to the article included with this video, Victor Bustillo is the birth father of these children. In what is most certainly the rarest of circumstances, the mother's parental rights were terminated and he retained custody of the children. In twenty years of hands on participation and observation of these cases, I have never seen this happen.The state always terminates the parental rights of both parents so they can control what happens to the children. Even non-abusive or marginal parents are deprived of their children, often without legitimate cause, except to insure the abusive parents is not permitted access to the children.

This is significant because of what happened after mother's parental rights were terminated. Mr. Bustillo's parental rights were terminated for what appear to be suspicious reasons. The article states the petition to terminate his parental rights cited, ". . . Bustillo was an unfit father because of domestic violence, abandonment and medical neglect."  It also cited a criminal history.

But Bustillo's lament is identical to the laments of millions--yes millions--of parents who find they've lost their children forever, ""I never wanted to give up my parental rights, but they took my kids away. . .I did everything they asked me to do, but they took them away anyway." Most parents do do everything they demanded in the case plan, but remember from another of my earlier posts, the child welfare agency can simply say the plan failed to rehabilitate the parents in order to have the court terminate parental rights.

But it appears to my practiced eye, that there was the possiblity the court would not rule in favor of the agency's petition to terminate Bustillo's parental rights. The agency needed more. "In 2004, Bustillo was arrested and accused of pulling a 10-year-old girl into an apartment and touching her crotch in the presence of a 2-year-old child. The petition says that Bustillo admitted to molesting the girl in a taped confession."

Criminal History was Cited in Petition to Terminate Parental Rights - not an accurate representation
His criminal history include marijuana possession in 1998 which was not prosecuted, and in 1996 which was a misdemeanor.

An arrest for ggravated felony assult in 1996 and closed three weeks later, no conviction.

The felony sexual battery on a minor charge 03/27/2004 was appears to have been pled down to misdemeanor battery and his case closed in 2007. Another in April, 2005 that lists two "child abuse/no harm" that resulted in a conviction and probation with special conditions until 2012. I find it significant that he not listed on the Florida sex offender registry.

What a coincidence. At the time Florida DCF wanted to terminate his parental rights, there is an accusation of sexual molestation of a child that, even though he was eventually convicted, didn't concern the courts or law enforcement enough that he should be listed as a sex offender or sexual predator. In fact, this appears to be an isolated incident, no prior or subsequent accusations. Very strange, given that repeat offenses for sexual predators are a given.

I have seen first hand, numerous instances of Florida DCF concocting set-ups like this in order to resolve a child welfare case in their favor. 

I wonder if this father got railroaded by incompetent court-appointed counsel in his child welfare case and his criminal case? You should wonder, too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Insight into Immunity

Did I say there was no recourse when child welfare agencies and caseworkers do wrong? Here is a graphic example of caseworker immunity, where nobody wins but the caseworker. 

Unusual case evolves around welfare, abuse of siblings

By Kevin Vaughan
The Denver Post

Did I say in a prior post that this wrongdoing and abuse was institutionalized?

So many times there was the opportunity to do the right thing, and they never took that opportunity. No wonder they don't like their secrets being exposed.

At least their jobs are safe. Even if the kiddies aren't. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kansas AG reports caseworker acted with ill will.

I happens rarely, but sometimes we will find a government agency or official who actually looks into wrongdoing by child welfare agencies, and even tries to hold wrongdoers accountable. 

I am reminded of a case in Ohio several years ago, where the mother was the victim of a false report of child abuse during a domestic relations custody dispute. Dad turned her in in order to resolve the custody dispute in his favor. Dad evidently turned the caseworker's head, and they developed an intimate relationship. Very intimate. All the better for the caseworker to overlook dad's abuse of the children he took from mom.

Naturally, all the bad that dad did was not reported to the court by this very affectionate caseworker. She saw the dirty deeds, she participated in them. She just didn't report them. She was also in a position to make false reports to the court about mom, and since, as we saw in the last article, the court tend to believe the experts, the court ruled against mom.

Mom's attorney did not regularly practice child welfare law, and consulted with AFAC to assist him with managing this case. He ultimately won, but was so outraged by the blatant violations perpetrated against the children and the mom, decided to run for district attorney. He won that race.

He then proceeded to prosecute the caseworker and the dad and dad's family, for criminal violations. But, since he was also a witness to the crimes, he had a conflict of interest. He resolved that by appointed a special prosecutor, who issued warrants, conducted his investigation and convened a grand jury.

The grand jury indicted the caseworker and the dad on multiple counts of felony violations associated with the administration of the child welfare case. The grand jury were reported as saying that they regretted not being able to indict them on more, because the prosecutor didn't ask for more charges.

Then, suddenly, without any explanation, as so often happens, the special prosecutor exercised his discretion and declined to prosecute. Mom was left in without remedy for the government abuse and conspiracy committed against her and her children.

Mom couldn't sue. Dad had nothing, The caseworker and the agency have immunity from civil liability. These agencies and actors have immunity to insure they can exercise their discretion without worrying about being sued. The courts and the legislatures reason that if a caseworker really does anything criminal, she can still be tried and convicted. Yeah. Right.

Prosecutors virtually never bring criminal charges against caseworkers who commit wrongful acts in the course of their official duties. Not even when presented with a list of victims and violations at a press conference. Not even when the caseworkers abuse the children they adopt, and yes, Virginia, they get the pick of the litter for adoptions.

Courts will virtually never do anything about the perjury caseworkers commit on the stand in the name of the "best interests of the child." In fact, in Laramie County, Colorado, if a judge even considers finding a caseworker in contempt for proven perjury or ordering the DA to prosecute, the caseworker's supervisor is known to jump up in the gallery and call out, "Immunity, Your Honor," which has proven sufficient to get His Honor to back down from holding the caseworker accountable for violating the dignity of the Court with her lies. His Honor won't even rule against the agency, in spite of those lies being proven false in court. Perhaps he is concerned about that caseworker removing his kiddies or grandkiddies? A little quid pro quo goes a long way in these cases.

Are these professionals really that petty and vidictive? A lawsuit in Kansas is proving they are. Stay tuned for the details.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Child investigators were called on more than one occasion to the home."

How many times must we see this, in conjunction with repeated reports to child welfare agencies, and focusing on state-approved, state licensed parents? The creation of legal orphans and artificial families has proven to be much more dangerous than the child welfare agencies would have us believe.

Here is one from this week. This family adopted four children from foster care in Florida. One is dead, another fighting for his life in the hospital. The rest are back in foster care, in yet another home licensed and approved by the same agency the screwed this placement up. Read the article and see what torture these children endured in this state-approved, state licensed foster and adoptive home, even after repeated calls to the agency that the children were being abused. Sadistic father.

How do these repeated reports go unsubstantiated?  Stay tuned to this blog, my next article will shed some insight into that phenomenon. Meanwhile, I can only wonder what was the reason for them being removed from their parents and the parental rights being terminated. Was it anything as bad as what happened to them in their "forever family?"

If you are a parent in Florida whose twins, a boy and a girl, born around 2001, were taken into custody around 2004, and your parental rights were terminated, email me.I'd like to know your side of the story.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Federal Budget and Social Security

UPDATE Feb. 19, 2011
See this article on entitlement programs from Fox News. Social security and medicaid/medicare comprise 57% of the national budget.

Original post a few days ago:

You may be wondering what child welfare has to do with Social Security. I'm glad you asked.

Most people are not aware that the Federal Funding for state-run foster care and child abuse comes from the Social Security fund. This is authorized under 42 U.S.C. sec 670-679.  There are even more appropriations, for various state-administered child welfare services, all coming out of the Social Security fund. Children in foster care get their medical care through medicaid, more social security funding.

All fifty states have signed on to receive this funding. All fifty state legislatures have the option to opt out of this funding and the associated requirements imposed by the Federal Government. But they won't, because they have come to rely on the billions of dollars funneled from this retirement fund to support their state budgets.

The state economies would collapse if they decided to refuse this funding, whole state agencies would lose funding and thousands of state jobs would be eliminated. Thousands of contract service providers whose sole source of income is from child welfare agencies would have compete in the open marketplace to provide their services. Many will fold.

The government is proposing to raise the retirement age to 69 because the Social Security fund will be empty in a matter of years. Yet, present and future retirees aren't protesting this use of Social Security monies, probably because they don't know where all the money is going.

Now you do. Just in case it matters.