But For Video: Parents Doing Stupid Things Edition

An acquaintance posted this video on social media today, asking parents for comment. Go ahead and watch it, then answer the following question:

Do the parents deserve punishment for this video? 

It’s perfectly natural for your first, visceral reaction to condemn the parents and feel horribly for the kids. On first viewing it’s hard to make it past the youngest child openly bawling, professing his innocence.

But what to do about it? Do you call for government intervention? Is your first instinct to call for the Department of Children’s Services? Many people, well intentioned parents included, saw the video and demanded the family’s local DCS hotlines get flooded until something happened.

This reaction leads me two two fundamental assumptions about those who call for DCS intervention over a stupid video:

  1. If you’re calling for DCS intervention, you’re most likely not a parent.
  2. If you’re calling for DCS intervention, you’ve most likely never interacted with DCS.

If you’re serious about the Department, Child Protective Services, or the family’s local equivalent getting involved after viewing that video, this is what you’re asking for that family:

You’re asking for a bunch of social workers, most likely flanked by police, to tell the kids to put their clothes and a few comfort items in a trash bag while the parents loudly protest their removal and tell the kids they love them. You’re asking for the kids to ride in the back of a car to a foster home together, if they’re lucky. Most likely they’ll get split up into several foster homes. Worse yet, there’s a good potential for the children as a unit to head to a group home where they will be assaulted by staff, neglected, or mistreated in some fashion.

These kids will next see their parents after Mom and Dad appear in court, flanked by attorneys that are most likely court-appointed. They will have to relive their “prank” video as evidence presented by the State that probable cause exists for the children to remain outside their home. Mom and Dad will have to submit to and pay for drug testing. Most likely, they’ll both get urine tested and hair follicle tested.

Attorneys will call the children as witnesses. The kids will have to relive the entire experience again, and this time get cross-examined over any inconsistencies in their testimony. If the family is lucky, the juvenile judge or magistrate judge will find by clear and convincing evidence the parents didn’t neglect the children or commit child abuse with their prank video.

If the judge or magistrate finds otherwise, the parents will be placed on a “permanency plan” designed by well meaning social workers to put them back on the “right” path. Steps may include weekly drug testing, maintaining a stable source of legal income, and completion of an anger management course. All of which will be paid for by the parents.

It’s going to be really hard for the parents if either of them works with or around kids, too. There’s a good shot they’ll get “indicated” for potential child abuse and placed on a registry of people who were actually found guilty by a judge of committing child abuse long before they reach trial over this video. That means when either parent goes to work, they might be out of a job. Getting off a registry like that takes substantial time, energy, and luck. And money.
Back to the permanency plan. If the Department’s workers don’t find within a year the parents have “substantially complied” with the permanency plan, there’s a good chance the Department will file to have the parents’ rights terminated. This is critical mass. At this point the State throws everything at the parents to prove them completely unfit to parent, and will pressure them into signing “surrender” documents that allow the kids to find their biological parents once they become adults.

If a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence the parents’ rights should be terminated, the family is severed forever. The kids will then be put up for adoption.

Now that you’ve read the entire hypothetical of what happens when you involve DCS, CPS, or any similar government agency, go back and reevaluate your answer to the original question.

Do the parents deserve punishment for this video? 

Not comfortable answering that? Let me rephrase the question.

Does this family deserve to be forever torn apart for this video?

The parents did something stupid and put it on the Internet. The world is already calling them vile and mean spirited. They will probably suffer social consequences for their actions. They’ve suffered enough. Destroying the entire family by calling in DCS doesn’t help.

 

DCS Rules of Engagement.

I’ve gotten a couple of calls requesting help from residents in the Volunteer State with issues regarding the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) or Child Protective Services (CPS) ever since my article on the “Vulnerable Persons Registry” went live at Fault Lines.  While I appreciate all the requests, I can’t help everybody.  My time and energy is limited, but there are a number of tips I can provide people experiencing issues with either DCS or CPS.

A couple of housekeeping notes before we begin.

  1. None of this is legal advice.  That you pay for.  This is free.
  2. Your mileage may vary depending on your state with these tips.  I’m dealing specifically with Tennessee here.
  3. If you’re not in Tennessee, you might have different acronyms (i.e. DCF in some states as opposed to DCS).  I’m using Tennessee’s for clarity and my own ease.

If DCS shows at your door, lock the door, tell them to get a warrant, and start recording the conversation.  

The first type of interaction most people have with a DCS or CPS worker is via a request to look around the residence and talk to your kids “to make sure they’re okay.”  This is a patently false statement on their part, as DCS workers showing at your door means someone called in a report of child abuse or neglect against you and a caseworker at your local office found the claims worthy of at least an in-house review.

Andrews v. Hickman County, Tennessee, a 2012 Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case held DCS workers are subject to the same restrictions when entering private property as police officers.  If they’re asking to come into your residence and “look around,” that’s the equivalent of asking to search your home, and you’re allowed to refuse that search and ask DCS to get a warrant.  If they continue to persist in their efforts to come in and search your home, simply wish them a good day and tell the caseworker they’re not allowed in your residence until they produce a warrant.

The Department and its caseworkers don’t like this holding.  When the decision was originally announced in December of 2012, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services head brass in Nashville announced no caseworker would remove a child from a residence before a three day probable cause hearing occurred. This position wasn’t overturned in Nashville until a number of Juvenile Court judges and magistrates spoke out openly against the policy, opining the Department’s failure to act could put some children in danger.

Record the conversations with any and all interactions you have with DCS or CPS workers.  They’re aware how much you care about your kids, and they will attempt to scare you with any number of outlandish statements.  The tone changes drastically if they’re being recorded.  It changes even further if you show them you’re recording their every statement.  I’ve had great fun sticking a voice recorder on the table at every single DCS meeting I attend and seeing the nature of the conversations change.  Regardless, the material you gather in every recorded interaction may be of use to you and your counsel later.

Get an attorney the moment DCS shows up.  Don’t answer any DCS questions or sign any documents DCS provides without having an attorney look them over first.

If DCS contacts you to “come in” and talk about a “crisis situation” in your household, your next call should be to a family law professional in your area.  Make sure DCS knows you won’t be attending the meeting absent counsel.  They will tell you that you don’t need an attorney, and they may get adversarial and hostile to you if you let them know you want counsel present.  That should give you an understanding of just how badly they want you to incriminate yourself.

Another great aspect of having an attorney present, even if it’s just for the first meeting, is the unspoken signal to DCS that you’re a headache they don’t want.  DCS workers love their jobs when it’s easy and compliant parents just sign the forms, complete all the steps in a permanency plan, and go on to another phase in life.  If you show up with an attorney present who plans on fighting all the issues DCS claims are present in your residence, then you’re potentially more trouble than they care to deal with.  This especially helps before a Juvenile Court Magistrate gets a Department Petition To Adjudicate Dependency and Neglect or Delinquency Petition on their desk.

One important note regarding “Delinquency” petitions.  I’ve seen cases where parents are carted before a Youth Services Officer (YSO) after kids act out at school or in another place and told if they don’t sign a Delinquency petition on their child the kid will be removed.  This is a half-truth, and a dangerous one.  It is true that a Juvenile Magistrate or Judge might find your child’s circumstances worthy of a Delinquency adjudication.  That doesn’t mean you have to sign off on a Delinquency petition on your own child at risk of having that child removed from their home.  Furthermore, if you sign a Delinquency petition on your kids, you run the risk of having a Petition to Adjudicate Dependent and Neglected (D&N) filed against you.

Ask about your status on the Indication (Vulnerable Persons) Registry.  Demand to see the indication letter if one exists.  Exhaust all remedies.
Finally, we get to the indication registry.  If you’ve had a D&N petition filed against you in Juvenile Court, you’re probably “indicated” as a person who “potentially” committed child abuse or neglect.  If a DCS Caseworker comes to your door and talks with you, there’s a good chance you’ve been “indicated” as well.  Ask about your status on the Indication registry or Vulnerable Persons Registry.  If the DCS worker acts clueless, demand to speak to someone who knows what they’re talking about.  This is a live registry that as of February 2015 went live and actively reports “indications” for people suspected of child abuse or neglect.  This list is used to deny people homes, jobs, and access to places where kids might be present.  You could potentially find yourself on the list and not know it until someone with a web browser and internet connection decides to snoop on you!

There is a letter that is to be sent to all “indicated” parties.  It informs them of their status on the registry, the allegations that gave rise to an “indication,” and outlines steps to challenge the indication.

It is imperative you challenge the indication letter. If you do not, you will be stuck on a list of people who actually abused children and the elderly and were found guilty of those offenses in a court of law.  There will be no distinction, and if you don’t timely challenge the letter within the dates proscribed you won’t get a second chance.  You will remain on the registry until a court overturns your status on the registry or the bureaucrats in Nashville get a clue.

Keep these tips in mind and leave with one parting thought.  DCS and CPS workers have badges, ranks and official titles.  They also have the state-sanctioned ability to deprive you of your rights and liberties.  These are things we grant police officers, and yet we treat DCS and CPS workers differently because they’re ostensibly not looking  for criminals.  They’re doing a “thankless job” for “the good of the children.”  Don’t fall for that line of bullshit.  Treat every interaction with DCS or CPS, no matter how minor, like it’s an interaction with cops, and you’ll come out better for it.

A short DCS rant on medicine

One of my kids might be sick, and I’m fucking pissed that I can’t talk about it more than where I do here or even discuss the nature of the illness because the most corrupt organization in Tennessee, the Department of Children’s Services, could take my son if they wanted to based on him being sick with a virus that’s only treatable with Motrin and Tylenol.

Mrs. S. and I both put our kids in preschool following my son’s first year birthday.  The biggest rationale was when my daughter went to “daycare” at three months some fuckwad of a parent sent their child to the daycare with RSV.  It’s a common virus, and every kid gets it at some point.  When you get it earlier in life, though, it makes things difficult.  In my daughter’s case, it meant two trips to the ER with an IV stuck in her tiny hand wondering if she’d make it past the day.

We waited a year for my son to get past that point where RSV would affect him in such a manner.  That was easy enough, and when our in home caregiver couldn’t provide services anymore then we were able to get them into preschool, and a good one, which is apparently important these days. Then the bad stuff started happening.  I got notes on the door three kids had been confirmed with “Hand foot and mouth disease,” in my son’s room.  He’d been irritable a couple of days, but seemed fine.

Today after his nap, he woke up irritable and couldn’t be placated with food, beverage, or anything else.  He was grumpy all afternoon, didn’t eat dinner, and went to bed early.  It’s now 10:30 as I write this and I’m on vigil to make sure my daughter doesn’t decide to bang on the door of her room to wake my son up.

Tomorrow we will take my son to the doctor.  We will make sure he has a confirmed diagnosis, because that’s what day cares (and families visiting in town) want.  We will have to reschedule our weeks for the illness if he’s suffering from hand, foot, and mouth disease, and there’s a chance I could get it.  But my wife will keep working, because despite her clinic being broken into by a tweaker scumbag she’s a soldier and will keep on working to make low income families have healthy pets.

I’m lucky to write where I’m able.  I’m lucky to be able to do work when I can.  What infuriates me about this matter is that I’ve seen families separated because the kids had “hand, foot, and mouth disease” on removal by DCS, which is inane. Social workers thought their knowledge better than a doctor’s, and because the kids were in “pain,” the parents lost their kids.

The moral is simple.  Never trust DCS, CPS, or any other agency claiming the good of your children is their goal.  Lock the doors, record the conversations, and make them get a warrant.  Then call a lawyer.  You will be better off in the long run.