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The vicious cycle of CPS intervention

July 29, 2017

by Michelle Chan, Parents Against CPS Corruption

The abuse and traumatization of children strikes a chord in our society, resonating with our innate parental sensibilities and perpetuating a vicious cycle that results in poor outcomes in adolescence, adulthood and beyond. Victims often end up in abusive situations again as adults and are more prone to substance abuse, incarceration and mental illness.

Tehlia survived foster care abuse, the foster care to prison pipeline and domestic violence, only to learn that the man who abused her also raped her children. When the children of a Special Victim become special victims themselves, is placing them in foster care – destined to perhaps repeat the cycle of abuse, prison and domestic violence – really the best we can do to help them? – Photo: Kristen Skalin, edge-wise.com, edgewiseblogger.wordpress.com

For many children who have been abused, the trauma unfortunately does not end after Child Protective Services intervenes. Failure to Protect laws serve to remove these children from nonoffending parents, revictimizing the same children the system is supposed to safeguard by tearing them away from loving parents and effectively punishing domestic violence victims.

What’s worse is that these children frequently end up in foster care and group homes that are not properly monitored; and the children, once again, are abused by the very people who are supposed to be saving them. Flash forward a dozen or so years: These children who were abused, then abused again in foster care, are now considered “at-risk” for committing child abuse and their tragic histories can be used as ammunition against them in juvenile dependency proceedings that all too often lack merit.

Tehlia is a domestic violence survivor. She also survived childhood physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her foster mother. And she has been incarcerated several times – for reasons that some may have difficulty fathoming.

The most arduous of her struggles, though, was the removal of her children by CPS. Tehlia attributes the abuse and neglect and oppression that has defined her life since birth to CPS’s constant presence in her life and the repeated indifference they demonstrated in shielding her, and later her children, from harm.

Tehlia was born tox-positive for crack cocaine and promptly removed from her mother’s custody. However, Tehlia reports that her foster mother, Marlene, was also on drugs. The only father Tehlia ever knew was a boyfriend whose addiction grew so severe that he ended up losing his job as a security guard and living in an encampment under the freeway.

Foster care abuse

“I always remember my foster mother as this two-sided woman: cool one minute, damn nasty the next,” says Tehlia. “Your mom don’t want you. Your mom don’t give a fuck about you. They left you. You’re ugly, you’re Black.” These words echoed throughout Tehlia’s childhood, a constant reminder that she was a nobody, that she had nobody, that she would always be a nobody … or so her foster mother had hoped to instill in her.

Tehlia survived childhood physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her foster mother.

A standout example showing that San Francisco CPS never looked out for Tehlia’s best interests occurred when she was 14. It was a brisk and bustling holiday season shopping day at Durant Square Mall in San Leandro. The whole family, including the foster mother, foster children and biological children were there. Marlene went into a changing room and left her 3-year-old biological son under Tehlia’s supervision.

A mixture of excitement, unrest and preexisting family turmoil caused the large group to bicker amongst themselves. When the biological 3-year-old became unmanageable, Marlene lost all control.

The last thing Tehlia remembers before the attack was her foster mother storming out of the dressing room and saying, “You can’t even control a fucking 3-year-old?”

“I tried to explain myself, but the words were caught in my throat because I knew that no matter what I said, it wouldn’t matter. I was going to get my ass beat down.”

Nothing ever really prepares a child for abuse. Tehlia says that even though she knew what was coming, knew all too well the thrashings for any and every trivial infraction, a heavy weight and dread set in just before the fact.

When Marlene grabbed her by the collar and slammed her into the wall, the wind completely left her body. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t breathe physically,” she said. “I also felt like I was being suffocated every day of my life. No matter what I did, I was always in the wrong.”

The dozens of bystanders were in utter shock. Multiple 911 calls were placed as the foster mother proceeded to punch, pound and curse.

“It wasn’t just that I couldn’t breathe physically,” she said. “I also felt like I was being suffocated every day of my life. No matter what I did, I was always in the wrong.”

After the struggle, after Tehlia broke away, as she stumbled from the scene of the crime bruised and bloodied with a knot on her forehead, people stopped her out of genuine concern. In the background, she saw a crowd had formed around her foster mother. “What’s wrong with you?” they asked. “How could you attack a child like that?”

Marlene was arrested but bailed out the same day.

Although the incident occurred in public in broad daylight, in a shopping mall on a busy, holiday shopping day, and there were numerous, infuriated eye witnesses happy to testify, Tehlia reports that she was coerced by Marlene to drop the charges. However, Tehlia should never have been allowed to drop those charges.

At 14, she was below the age of consent. How could she really understand the implications or consequences? How could she know that failure to hold Marlene accountable would put herself and other children in future danger and harm?

CPS returned the child to the same home. Marlene was never seriously reprimanded and continued to foster children whom she allegedly continued to abuse.

The foster-care-to-prison pipeline

Foster care has often been termed the pipeline to prison. According to a study by the University of Chicago’s Chaplin Hall Center for Children, nearly half of the foster youth population is incarcerated within two years of exiting the system. Moreover, 77 percent of young women reported a pregnancy.

Often, these young adults have chronic and complex trauma that has been exacerbated rather than alleviated by the child welfare and foster care systems. As they age out, they are left without families and strong support networks. Many fail to reach their full potential in life. Some of them turn to crime because they weren’t given the proper tools to survive and to cope.

Foster care has often been termed the pipeline to prison. According to a study by the University of Chicago’s Chaplin Hall Center for Children, nearly half of the foster youth population is incarcerated within two years of exiting the system.

“I was emancipated at 17. At first, I was so happy. I felt free for the first time in my life. I was finally out of the system and away from my foster mother,” Tehlia says.

Except, this is real life and not a fairytale. Tehlia was amongst the statistic of young women leaving the foster care system impregnated. After a series of unfortunate events, she found herself struggling to support her child. She began to steal and was arrested numerous times.

But, the stealing wasn’t what really got Tehlia in trouble with the law. It was her weakness with her foster mother, Marlene.

“I kept going back to her, even though she has never been good to me. I just felt like I was all alone. I was caught in her web, brainwashed.” Tehlia speaks of the emptiness she has always felt inside from never having known her own mother and father. “My foster mother was all I had, and so I kept trying to hang onto her. But she never loved me, always just wanted to hurt me.”

On one of the nights that Tehlia was visiting Marlene’s home, she got in a physical altercation with Marlene’s adult daughter. Tehlia reports that she was the victim and that Marlene stood by and watched the entire time. At the end, Tehlia was all beat up and suffering an asthma attack. When the police arrived on scene, Marlene reported that Tehlia was the perpetrator. Tehlia was convicted of a felony and was incarcerated for six and a half months.

The fact that Marlene had a documented history of abusing Tehlia in public, was then allowed to continue fostering her, and later was considered credible enough to report that Tehlia perpetrated violence is evidence of serious systemic dysfunction.

Domestic violence

A few years ago, Tehlia made a poor choice, the consequences of which she has had to live with every day since. She became involved with a man she hardly knew, allowing him into her home where she lived with her three children.

“I mean, I knew him as a kid growing up, and he knew all these other people that I knew, so I figured I did know him. Looking back, I can’t believe I let him into my home.”

Once she allowed him in, it wasn’t long before he was living there. After that, there was no getting him out. He quickly became abusive.

The first time he beat her was after Tehlia demanded that he get out. He grabbed her by the head, slammed her into the floor and began punching her in the face. After that, it happened regularly, multiple times per week.

Tehlia did not call the police. Her experiences with law enforcement had taught her that the police are not there to protect her. For the next six months, she tried desperately to get him to leave – with no success. During those six months, Tehlia had been held at gunpoint, knifepoint, hammerpoint, and she had been raped by him.

Some people may question her judgment in not calling the police and have trouble understanding how a person may be unable to leave an abusive relationship. As a domestic violence survivor myself, I can attest to the obstacles victims face in breaking free and the scant support law enforcement is willing to provide.

He quickly became abusive. Tehlia did not call the police. Her experiences with law enforcement had taught her that the police are not there to protect her.

Calling the police often only serves to incite the abusers, and the victims not only sometimes get blamed and the abuse minimized, but they also put themselves at risk of losing their children by reporting the abuse.

One day, after Tehlia brought her oldest daughter to the hospital for H1N1, she found out for the first time that the boyfriend had been raping the children.

“I fainted right there at the hospital,” said Tehlia. “I had always told the kids to tell someone if anyone ever touched them. But he told them he was going to kill them. I should have known better.”

Tehlia immediately called the police. It would take a total of five attempts for the SFPD to take action.

What happened afterwards was, unfortunately, what she had expected. After the investigation was opened and the boyfriend arrested, Tehlia began getting death threats from his friends. The police and district attorney made no serious efforts to protect her. It got to the point that Tehlia no longer wanted to pursue the criminal charges out of fear.

So, the police arrested her as an accessory and Oakland CPS removed her children and placed them in foster care. She was convicted of another felony and spent three months in prison.

CPS and the district attorney claimed she had to have known. However, medical professionals and many witnesses were present at the hospital when Tehlia fainted. Does this sound like the behavior of someone who knew?

The police arrested her as an accessory and Oakland CPS removed her children and placed them in foster care.

Admittedly, there is a lot that is wrong with this story. These children were seriously abused. Their mother allowed a man into their lives who was obviously dangerous. Their mother had been incarcerated for periods of time, leaving the children in the care of others.

But does criminalizing foster care and domestic violence victims really make any sense? How does this work to improve outcomes for Tehlia, for Tehlia’s children, or for society in general?

Tehlia is also a victim. She had been abused by the foster family that was supposed to protect her, repeatedly let down by the criminal justice system and then the victim of domestic violence. She had not been given the proper tools to deal with this violent man, did not know how to end the cycle of abuse because it is all she has ever known.

Does criminalizing foster care and domestic violence victims really make any sense? How does this work to improve outcomes for Tehlia, for Tehlia’s children, or for society in general?

Now her children are in foster care – destined to repeat the multigenerational cycle of abuse and victimization, destined to perhaps join that 50 percent statistic of foster care to prison and the 77 percent statistic of early pregnancy.

Breaking the cycle

Tehlia looks to a brighter future. – Photo: Kristen Skalin, edge-wise.com, edgewiseblogger.wordpress.com

Steven R. Isham has 42 years’ experience as a child advocate and educator and is the author of “Child and Family Advocacy: The Complete Guide to Child Advocacy and Education for Parents, Teachers, Advocates, and Social Workers.” Mr. Isham shares his perspective:

“The Lifting the Veil organization study estimates ‘that over 28 percent of children in state custody are abused while in the system.’ The ongoing ‘Isham Study’ estimates that it could be as high as 81.5 percent if all types of abuse are included. Using the conservative percentage for Arizona, it would mean that this very minute, 4,760 children out of the 17,000 in state custody are being abused; and no one is doing a single thing to protect these children.”

The child welfare system could have stepped in at many points to make a difference in Tehlia’s life, rather than maintaining the cycle of abuse. San Francisco CPS failed Tehlia as a child by failing to properly monitor her foster home. Now Oakland CPS is failing her again.

Rather than removing her children and placing them in foster care, couldn’t CPS have opened an in-home case, provided trauma therapy for the family, and mandated parenting classes and a domestic violence prevention program?

There are so many ways the system failed Tehlia. And then when she struggled as an adult, rather than help her and her children, the system criminalized and stigmatized her.

Rather than removing her children and placing them in foster care, couldn’t CPS have opened an in-home case, provided trauma therapy for the family, and mandated parenting classes and a domestic violence prevention program?

At what point do we hold CPS accountable for destroying families and then leaving children to rot in foster care? At what point do we step in to break this vicious cycle and strive to improve outcomes for at-risk children?

Call to action

Tehlia is now a member of Parents Against CPS Corruption, or PACC, and is leading the grassroots promotions for the Alameda County class action lawsuit. She has demonstrated tremendous dedication to this cause and hopes that her struggles can now be used as the impetus to help others.

“I always wanted to do something important, something that would make a difference in this world and that can help children and families so that they won’t have to go through what I have,” she says.

Many CPS victims have learned the hard way that there are very few remedies and that oversight and accountability of the child welfare system is practically nonexistent. The civil courts are often the only tool that victim-parents have to fight back. Unfortunately, attorneys who are willing and able to sue CPS are scant. As such, PACC is organizing class action lawsuits on various issues in multiple counties in California.

Social change can be enacted through the civil courts. In addition to the awareness that can be raised through class action suits, there is also the mass transfer of money from child welfare agencies and into the hands of victims and attorneys that are sympathetic to our cause. Hopefully, some of this money can be invested to help reform the system to more adequately protect the best interests of children.

PACC is urging anyone who currently has or previously has had a CPS case, family members that have been denied kinship placement, and former or older foster youth to please get in contact.

PACC is still fighting for greater oversight and accountability, fair hearings and trials, due process, and greater efforts towards timely reunification and kinship placement. For advocacy, court attendance, peer support, or to find out more about our cause and class action lawsuits, visit ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption.com, email Protest@ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption.com, follow us on Twitter @ProtestCPS, like our newly launched Facebook page at Facebook.com/ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption, or call 415-815-9415.

Michelle Chan is co-founder of Parents Against CPS Corruption and can be reached at protest@parentsagainstcpscorruption.com.

6 thoughts on “The vicious cycle of CPS intervention

  1. Wylmina Hettinga

    Many times CPS starts a case against a family only to find that it starts to unravel quickly but CPS continues to pursue it anyways. CPS fails to give extended family members (especially grandparents) any ability to stop CPS. Help us implement a jury option for parents. Give parents the ability to stop the process and hold a family meeting before the case proceeds to court. A fair reason why this isn’t happening now is because there is nothing that stops CPS from evidence gathering against parents. We all know that CPS then extends their investigation into extended family members who step up to care for the children they love. Biggest failure of CPS is failing to investigate their own in the same ruthless manner? We the people can stop this by implementing the right for parents to choose a jury to decide if CPS has sufficient evidence and determine what the facts really are. Take away the CPS stronghold on our most vulnerable children being taken from their communities. We get numerous calls from grandparents and extended families on the eve of a tpr (termination of parental rights) hearing and by that time CPS has had months or years to gather evidence against all of them. I personally don’t think our judges hear the family”s side by that time or refuses to and that a jury would. The threat of a jury trial alone is to stop CPS from investigating families they can’t find enough evidence against to prove to a jury and give these cases resources to help parent better instead

    Reply
  2. Anthony Godinez

    We are victims of CPS in the Ventura County area of California. I believe that this place is as corrupt as every other CPS organizations in this world. We lost five beautiful children that they said were well taking care of the day before they took them from us. Five Godinez children were taken from a loving home and we had no say in it. They lie, cheat and steal (CPS).

    Reply

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