Child Protective Services in North Carolina using Blackmail to Illegally Seize Children from Families
by Terri LaPoint
Health Impact News
Associated Press reporters recently exposed a story of illegal practices by Child Protective Services social workers in one North Carolina county.
Social workers in Cherokee County have been reportedly coercing parents and taking their children illegally, bypassing the court system by threatening to adopt out their children or throw the parents in jail if they refused to sign paperwork known in NC as a CVA – Custody and Visitation Agreement. (Source)
The same paperwork is known in other states as a “safety plan” or other such name.
Richard Wexler of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) has another name for it – blackmail.
Wexler authored an article in response to the AP expose’ entitled, “Child welfare, foster care and civil liberties: When CPS resorts to blackmail.” (Source.)
Where the AP article leaves room to believe that the actions in Cherokee County are a problem of corruption unique to one area, Wexler’s opening salvo leaves no room for that impression:
Reporters in North Carolina exposed the practice of child welfare agencies blackmailing families into giving up all their rights and letting them take away children with no court review at all.
The only thing unusual about this is that, in North Carolina, it’s illegal. Elsewhere it’s standard operating procedure.
In his piece, he describes precisely a practice that many parents have reported to Health Impact News:
Here’s how it works: The child protective services worker says to a parent: Sign this document allowing us to place the child with an extended family member or we’ll take the child on the spot and place the child with total strangers. (If that’s not enough, they might ratchet up the threat, saying they will proceed immediately to termination of parental rights.)
CPS then argues, with a straight face, that the placement was voluntary – the family chose to give up any rights they may have to a lawyer and court review.
In fact, these placements are about as voluntary as a mugger sticking a gun in your face, saying “give me your money” and then telling the judge “I didn’t mug the guy, he gave me the money.”
The signing of some sort of agreement under threat of more drastic measures appears to be commonplace all across the United States.
Here is what happened in Cherokee, North Carolina, according to the AP report:
When Brian Hogan got a call that his wife had suffered a massive heart attack, he knew he had to get to the hospital fast. So Hogan asked his neighbor to take care of his 10-year-old daughter, then headed 60 miles east to the intensive care unit in Asheville, North Carolina….
Hogan said the Cherokee County Department of Social Services threatened to throw him in jail, place his child in foster care or give his daughter to another family for adoption if he didn’t sign a “custody and visitation agreement,” known as a CVA.
“They gave me no choice,” said Hogan, 38, who told AP that child-welfare workers wanted to remove his daughter because they believed he placed the girl in an “unclean” home while he was caring for his hospitalized wife.
AP reporters Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr spoke with Sara DePasquale, assistant professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina. She told them that:
In order to remove a child from a biological parent, social workers must get a court order from a judge.
4th Amendment Routinely Violated Across the U.S. in Seizure of Children by Social Workers
This is consistent with the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
According to the AP article:
Not only did Cherokee County child-welfare workers bypass that critical legal step with Hogan, they did the same thing with dozens, possibly hundreds, of other parents, according to interviews, court documents and copies of the agreements obtained by the AP.
This behavior is certainly not isolated to one rural county in the Smoky Mountains. As our readers are well aware, it is common for social workers to seize children without a court order, warrant, or emergency circumstances.
This policy stands in clear violation of the Bill of Rights.
In 2015, California attorney Shawn McMillan deposed Dr. Charles Sophy, the Medical Director for Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), for a civil rights lawsuit against Los Angeles County, and uploaded a video of the stunning display of disregard the doctor shows for the Constitutional rights of the parents whose children his agency, the largest child social services agency in the country, seizes from families without a court order.
McMillan: “When we’re talking about the Constitutional rights of parents and children, one of those rights… well, maybe you don’t know. Do you know whether or not one of those rights includes the right not to be seized from the child’s home… unless there is a warrant, or some other circumstance that justifies it?”
Sophy: “I don’t know.”
McMillan: “You don’t know? And you never ascertained that knowledge in your 12 years as the medical director of the agency?”
Sophy: “Not to my knowledge.”
See the full video, which Los Angeles County tried to force Health Impact News to remove, here:
Medical Director of LA Child Welfare Testifies Under Oath That He Does Not Know the Law Regarding Seizure of Children
Attorney McMillan won this case against Los Angeles County, as a jury awarded his client $3.1 million for taking her child illegally. (See: CA Jury Awards $3.1 Million in Damages to Mother Whose Baby Was Seized Without a Warrant, Accused of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy)
In another case in Arizona, social worker supervisor Caryn Wagner told Shawn McMillan in a 2016 deposition that their department never obtains warrants. (See video. At around the 1:05:00 point, Wagner admits this.)
Child Protective Service workers and law enforcement in other states have shown similar disdain to the 4th Amendment.
Police in Clark County, Washington, insisted that they did not need a warrant when they seized children from a family in February 2016. See:
When Alabama DHR seized Baby Braelon from his mother’s arms in a Shelby County hospital room, Alabaster Police Officer Edmunson told the mother’s grandfather Rodney Prince:
DHR does not need a court order or a warrant to take a child.
Alabama Child Protective Services Steals New-born Breast-feeding Baby from Rape Victim While Still at the Hospital
Another Alabama baby was recently taken from his parents at a Birmingham hospital:
Alabama Newborn Baby Kidnapped at Hospital with No Warrant, No Court Order, No Emergency Circumstances
According to lawmakers in Alabama, the justification for circumventing the 4th Amendment is that state law mandates that a court hearing be held within 72 hours of the seizure of the child or children. Oftentimes, parents don’t even know why their child was taken until that hearing.
Meanwhile, the children suffer trauma from being separated from their family.
Richard Wexler addresses this in his recent NCCPR article:
I have often written about the lack of due process in proceedings involving child protective services. CPS agencies can and often do take away children entirely on their own authority. Parents then have to go to court days later to try to get their children back.
At that point, while the CPS agency has had days to make its case, an impoverished parent – and it’s almost always an impoverished parent – if she has a lawyer at all probably met her overwhelmed public defender for the first time five minutes before the hearing.
The standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal proceeding, or even the middle standard, “clear and convincing.” Instead, CPS need merely persuade the judge that it is slightly more likely than not that the child needs to remain in foster care – the same standard used to determine which insurance company pays for a fender-bender.
The judge usually is easy to convince. That’s because the judge knows that he can hold hundreds of children in foster care needlessly and while this will do enormous harm to the children, the judge is safe. Return one child to a home and have something go wrong and the judge’s career could be over.
Resorting to blackmail
But in many cases across the country, even this doesn’t stack the deck enough to suit CPS agencies. So they’ve resorted to something else: blackmail, typically using a parent’s own extended family as bait.
They don’t call it that, of course. Usually it goes by a term such as “safety plan” or “parental child safety placement” or “custody and visitation agreements.”
“Blackmail” Placements Happen on a Huge Scale
Wexler says that the illegal seizures of Cherokee County, North Carolina, children are “just the tip of a very large iceberg.” He continues:
In North Carolina, individual counties run child welfare with supervision by the state. To its great credit, the state Department of Health and Human Services says what Cherokee County did was illegal and ordered counties not to do it. A judge also ruled the practice illegal. And, in a follow-up story, AP reports that the state is going to take over the entire Cherokee County child welfare system.
But it’s a different story in much of the rest of the country. One reason we don’t know how many blackmail placements exist is because states often don’t report them to the federal government as entries into foster care – even though federal regulations make clear they should be counted.
But by one estimate, on any given day, there probably are 300,000 children trapped in a foster-care Twilight Zone because of blackmail placements across the country – that’s over and above the more than 400,000 children states admit to holding in foster care.
In Texas nearly two-thirds of entries into foster care probably are blackmail placements.
So to really understand the harm done to children by blackmail placements, take the pain inflicted on Brian Hogan’s daughter and multiply it – hundreds of thousands of times.
Read the full article at the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog here.
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