by Michelle Chan
Most people who have never been through it have no idea how easily it can happen to them. Everyone has heard of Child Protective Services, or CPS. Many envision them as saviors of horribly abused children, guardians of innocence. But an accidental fall, a medical misdiagnosis, a difference of belief or values, a choice to homeschool, domestic violence, or a vindictive partner, family member or neighbor can trigger CPS to swoop in and shatter your entire world.
The American public, media and legal community have a legitimate interest in the outcome of CPS proceedings. This country was built on the fundamental principles of justice, liberty, equality and freedom of expression.
However, the activist group Parents Against CPS Corruption, or PACC, insists that the confidentiality of juvenile courts and CPS allows the agency to operate under a shroud of secrecy that has created a culture of unaccountability, abuse of power and widespread human rights violations. Already, this is the court system with the lowest burden of proof requirements of any court system in the United States. What is left of justice when rules of confidentiality limit public awareness and shield from scrutiny?
PACC is taking a collective stand against the confidentiality they say protects the system and is hurting children. “According to the current rules, free speech is limited to the point that parents are not allowed to go public with their stories, even when social workers are not admonished for gross and criminal misconduct,” says Michelle Chan, one of the founders of PACC.
“To protect the best interests of children, we are proposing that a qualified form of public access be implemented. There most certainly is a way to do this while also protecting minors’ identities.”
Already, this is the court system with the lowest burden of proof requirements of any court system in the United States. What is left of justice when rules of confidentiality limit public awareness and shield from scrutiny?
The similarities in the cases of SF and WS – a PACC founder and PACC member – demonstrate a disturbing pattern that began when CPS removed the children based solely on allegations. In both cases, the children reported serious abuse – in which the people they were placed with were the perpetrators – numerous times. In both cases, the abuse was later substantiated and the perpetrators were never charged criminally nor have there been any significant consequences or major investigations.
In SF’s case, her children were left in the abuser’s custody for eight long years. In February 2017, the abuse was substantiated at a Team Decision Making meeting of about 10 people – with family members, social workers, attorneys and advocates present.
In WS’s case, his children were removed from custody after he reported that his then-girlfriend was abusing them. The children were subsequently placed with the alleged abuser even though those very children made statements to the police that this person had threatened to kill them.
Eight months later, on March 7, 2017, WS’s baby was found dead. According to the police, it is probable that the infant had “not been checked on” for a full day by the time the authorities were notified. An autopsy has not yet been conducted.
SF says: “It’s time to stand together and speak out. These are OUR stories, our children who have been traumatized, abused, raped and killed after being taken from us. We can’t be scared or ashamed.
“They are the ones scared of us because they know we are going to expose them. If everyone who has ever been wronged by CPS and Family Court stood together, our voices would be heard all the way to Washington, D.C.”
PACC will continue to protest every Tuesday from 12:15-2:15, in front of San Francisco Superior Court at 400 McAllister St. until their demands for greater oversight and accountability, fair hearings and trials, due process, equal protection under the law, and increased efforts towards kinship placement and timely reunification are met.
SF says: “It’s time to stand together and speak out. These are OUR stories, our children who have been traumatized, abused, raped and killed after being taken from us. We can’t be scared or ashamed.”
For more information on their cause, court attendance, for advocacy or peer support, or to find out about additional planned protests and marches, visit their website at ParentsAgainstCPSCorruption.com, follow them on Twitter @ProtestCPS, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 415-815-9415.
Michelle Chan, a founder of Parents Against CPS Corruption, can be reached at email@example.com.