After the Abduction
For the child, there is only terror, unless he was in such danger that his life was threatened, and that is extremely rare. Case workers take children away from their homes on the flimsiest of excuses. Imagine being a child in a perfectly normal, happy family. You don’t know that a relative or neighbor doesn’t approve of your family educational, medical, or dietary choices, or that your mother swatted your little sister’s bottom when she ran into the road, or that your house isn’t clean enough. Or maybe your home has problems. Maybe your dad hit your mom and someone called the police for help. How does it help you to be taken away from your mom? But that’s what happens. Suddenly an angry lady and a few policemen barge into your home. The lady yells. Your mother is hysterical. They pick you up and take you away, crying. They put you in a strange building where you will spend several days before you will see your parents again. You have no familiar toys, a strange bed, and no one who loves you. Adults ask you lots of questions and try to get you to give answers that make you uncomfortable. They may undress you and examine your body in ways that make you feel even more uncomfortable. Is this not also abuse? Will it not do irreparable harm?
For the parent there is fear and horror. One man in another state said he didn’t know a person could feel so much anger or so much despair. (His family had hung their sweatshirts over a heater to dry, and a child was burned by a hot snap while putting the shirt on. At a routine doctor’s appointment that day the burn was mistaken for a cigarette burn, and the child was taken on the spot.)
You will be contacted to come to a meeting at a DCFS office. It will be just you at the table, and the case workers — unless you are smart enough to take some people with you.
The purpose of this first meeting, if it occurs, is to “arrange visitation.” They have your child, so they have all the power. They will be friendly. You will be tempted to defend yourself, to explain what happened, to share your feelings about your children, etc. You will be giving them a lot of information — from which they will be looking for ways to build a case against you. You must learn not to give out any more information than is absolutely necessary.
After promising you a visit “this afternoon” they may say “if the Guardian ad litem approves.” The visitation they promise may never happen.
Usually children are taken directly to a shelter. There are no signs on the door, so the public is usually unaware of their locations.
Sometimes children can be placed in a kinship home, especially when they are first taken. The relatives must be able to pass a background check, which is a reasonable request. A home-study worker will be sent to the homes to check them for suitability. The written report is given to the case worker. She will allow the parents to express their preferences, but the final decision is hers. And there is no recourse, no check on this system, other than for the parent to complain to the supervisor, knowing full well that the worker and the supervisor are a team.
When a kinship is given custody, the kinship decides on visitation based on DCFS guidelines. Usually this will be one hour a week at first, then two hours twice a week.
If no kinship is available, or the social worker doesn’t agree with the parent’s choice, the child will probably be placed in foster care.
A Shelter Hearing must be held within 48 hours, not counting weekends or holidays. (Children are almost always taken on Thursday or Friday to allow CPS workers more time to question and observe them and build a case against you. A holiday weekend is especially appealing to CPS, and especially horrible for the family.)
The Shelter Hearing is held before a judge. The purpose is to decide if the child goes home or stays in state custody. This meeting is a nightmare. You have no witnesses unless you already have an attorney and he has requested witnesses. There is no guarantee that your witnesses will be heard or their testimony considered. The State has an army of witnesses: the CPS workers who have spent the weekend questioning your children, the DCFS workers who are either planning to work toward termination of your parental rights or are laying out a service plan for you to complete over the next year, lawyers from the Attorney General’s office who are building the State’s case against you, and the Guardian ad Litem who is building the State’s case in behalf of your child (remember Molly McDonald on the evening news, giving away the secret that Parker Jensen was going to see a doctor in Idaho and crying that Parker was going to die).
No one should go through this experience alone. Often the parents feel shame and are afraid to tell anyone — don’t we all assume that anyone who has their children taken away must be guilty. Unless someone has had a personal experience with the system, it is hard to grasp the evil that is possible. The Parker Jensen case has given us all a personal experience and woken us up to the suffering of innocent families. Hopefully we will now see more neighborly concern.