Who Pays the Price for CPS’ Failures?

Any good parent will worry a reasonable amount about how their children can be removed from their life. With every announcement of a mass shooting, we collectively hold our breath in fear our children will be victims of the next one. The recent tragedy of Athena Strand compels us to be vigilantly watchful over our children. Now to add to those fears, and more, what if the department that is supposed to act for the benefit of your child instead causes harm?

Child Protective Services is supposed to intervene when there is child abuse or neglect. We have previously discussed the failure of select CPS departments that have failed to intervene. However, as a recent segment from CBS Sunday Morning highlights, there are instances in which CPS does unnecessarily intervene, and in doing so, upends families’ lives.

Professor Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania, who has written extensively on the child protection system and was interviewed in this segment, prefers to describe the system as a ‘family policing system’, “because that really describes what the system does: to investigate, to accuse, to tear apart.”

The segment highlights who suffers the most from erroneous CPS decisions: families who are low-income or in poverty. When a case is opened, parents face the possibility of being subject to paying for their own drug tests, parenting classes, and probation out of their own pocket. Additionally, CPS may demand parents to attend parenting classes and counseling sessions. Often, families are not able to meet these demands as this would involve further straining limited finances and taking off much needed hours from work. If parents fail to comply with these demands, they risk losing their child forever to the system, as was the case with one of the mothers interviewed in the segment, Samantha Mungai who lost parental rights over her daughter.

If the system is truly interested in doing what’s best for the child, there needs to be more done for helping families than penalizing poverty. As the segment points out, the greater majority of CPS cases–about 80%–involve neglect, not abuse. As Roberts pointed out, “Neglect is usually confused with poverty. Neglect is defined by most states as parents failing to provide the resources that children need; like clothing or food or secure housing and those are usually caused because parents simply can’t afford them.”

It should not be the burden of families to sacrifice money and time they do not have. CPS is a $30 billion system that could instead of unnecessarily penalizing poverty, be redistributing aid to help provide families with the resources to combat the effects of poverty-induced neglect.

As often we critique CPS, we do believe in the ideas and possibilities it provides to protect a child’s welfare. We believe that children should be protected from unsafe home environments. We believe that families can be healed and reconciled. We believe justice can be delivered against those who cause children harm. However, we do need to recognize shortcomings in the system and advocate for better.

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