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See Inside Family Court
November 14, 2007 permalink
An investigative report by Kentucky television station WLKY includes rare video of the proceedings inside a family court. They don't look anything the courts that hear evidence from both sides before reaching a decision. On the video you can see a mother lose three children in a 17 minute hearing. There is no evidence, just an opinion by a social worker, without cross examination or opportunity for rebuttal. In other cases there is biased evidence, long-distance visitation and a caseworker with criminal charges. Social workers show routine disdain for fathers. Even without an audit, there is reason to believe that social services removes children for financial rewards. A legally required hearing is not held. A mother loses her kids for spanking, for leaving younger kids with a 16-year-old and for leaving three kids in a pool while searching for a fourth kid who got lost. While transferring a case from one court to another, damaging evidence was preserved but exculpatory evidence was lost. A social worker had a conflict of interest, a friendship with an adverse party. A family saw a neighbor's child they wanted, and successfully asked child protectors to seize it and give it to them for adoption. When a mother sued the child protection agency, her lawyer's children were taken.
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Target 32: Kentucky's Child Protection System Investigated
UPDATED: 10:38 pm EDT July 6, 2006
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A Target 32 investigation took a closer look at the state child protection system one year after NewsChannel 32 first raised serious questions about an agency that saw a dramatic rise in the numbers of children it removed from homes.
WLKY had to go to court just to air its initial reports after an attempt by the state to stop it from showing what's currently going on.
While everyone's story can't be told, Target 32 can provide an in-depth look at one case that exemplifies the things represented in hundreds of complaints it's received: allegations of quick trigger child removal with no proof of parental wrongdoing, and then retaliation against those who fight back.
Vanessa Shanks of Hardin County provided WLKY with video of a confidential hearing held to remove her children from her custody.
"They took them right after court, so I didn't get to say goodbye," said Shanks. "They just went straight to my house and removed the kids for one and a half missed days of school."
While it may take weeks, months or years to take someone's freedom away in a circuit courtroom, on May 16, 2005, it took 17 minutes to take three of Shanks' children away in a family courtroom.
The videotaped hearing consisted of a judge, a state-appointed attorney to represent the children, a cabinet for a Health and Family Services attorney, and a witness: state social worker Carlonda Fields.
"Truancy was the original allegation, but then they came to the house and said the home was unsafe because I just got done doing laundry and there was a bleach bottle with the cap off on the floor," said Shanks. "So they said my home was unsafe for children."
The only proof offered of educational neglect is testimony from the social worker that one of the three children they removed had a kindergarten reading level even though he was 11 years old. As for the number of school days missed, no school records were offered -- just an opinion from the case worker.
"The truancy was because she was unable to get up and get them to school," said Fields.
On the allegation of medical neglect, no evidence of that is offered during the preceedings for two of the three children. Fields testified that the other child, who has spina bifida, had missed some doctor's appointments.
According to the video, the judge said he's heard enough about 17 minutes into the hearing.
"I think all the essential requirements have been established, and I find the requirements of the statute have been satisfied and that order of detention be issued for each of the three children," said the judge.
"I didn't see my children for 11 months. It is the hardest thing you can go through," said Shanks. "It's like someone close to you just dies, like you don't have a part of you anymore."
When she fought back -- appealing the ruling -- Shanks said they took her other three children away and then briefly removed 14 children from her extended family.
Target 32 tried to check out this allegation but CPS would not comment about individual cases.
Attorney Bob Bishop said he couldn't believe what he saw when he took Shanks' case and reviewed the hearing that he said contained no proof of wrongdoing.
"There has to be something, some evidence of wrongdoing that has placed a child in danger or has hurt the child, and a pattern of conduct not due to poverty alone," said Bishop.
"He would come home and say 'You wouldn't believe this. I just can't believe these stories I'm hearing.'" said Bishop's wife, Jennifer Bishop. "Then it happened to us."
According to the Bishops, social workers removed their adopted daughter from their home, too.
"They said if you don't cooperate with us, we're going to take all of your children away, and we're going to charge you with emotional abuse," said Jennifer Bishop.
Fortunately for Shanks, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that the judge made a mistake in allowing her three children to be removed, and she is going to get them back.
The court unanimously ruled the state acted in haste and offered no proof of abuse or neglect.
While endings like this are rare, records show terminations of parental rights have been upheld in the majority of such cases before the court over the past 10 years.
The man in charge of CPS, Social Services Commissioner Tom Emberton Jr., said he would not discuss individual cases like Shanks', but he did comment on the issue of retaliation -- the most common theme of the hundreds of complaints WLKY has received..
"I have not seen any signs of retaliation and will not tolerate retaliation," said Emberton. "We deal with a tremendous number of families. Isolated cases are going to surface, and we will address these issues very quickly and appropriately when they do."
Emberton announced that an independent group has been named to come in and review the way parental rights are terminated in Kentucky.
That adoption task force comes in addition to an investigation of CPS under way by the state inspector general.
To submit a complaint, please call Robert Benvenuti at the Office of the Inspector General, at 502-564-2888.
Source: WLKY TV
Target 32 Investigates: Child Protective Services
UPDATED: 10:50 am EST November 14, 2007
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Chief Supreme Court Justice of Kentucky is surveying judges across the state to see if he should suggest opening up child protection courts.
Kentucky is one of 21 states that still close child protection proceedings. But there is a growing movement to open them after the Inspector General of Kentucky documented widespread abuses within the child protection system.
After three years of controversy, problems linger. A Target 32 investigation found that social workers are troubled by what they call suspicious conduct by their colleagues already under fire in the Inspector General’s report.
Linda Roberts, a single mother who had her four children taken away after her ex-husband sexually assaulted one of them, turned over a tape of her child custody proceeding.
“All of a sudden she called in and said ‘remove those kids,’” Roberts said. “It was a very heart-wrenching thing to do after I’d worked so hard to get them back, then for no good reason to take them away again. It was very difficult.”
The next time her children were taken, she didn’t get a hearing to defend herself within 72 hours, as required by law.
“They were just in shock to come home and pick up a few things and go away,” Roberts said.
Now she’s in family court defending herself from an allegation that she spanked her daughter with a belt.
The school system never saw any marks on the children, so the CPS social worker ruled the physical abuse allegation unsubstantiated. Then, Roberts was also accused of neglect due to allegations that she left the children alone.
The Louisville CPS workers also determined the neglect allegation was unsubstantiated, in large part due to a note from a supervisor giving the single working mom permission to leave the children with their 16-year-old sibling for short periods of time, in emergencies, which she did.
The Louisville-based social workers took Roberts’ side, as a success story.
“Ms. Roberts appears to me to go above and beyond with her kids because she puts them in child enrichment programs and takes them to school, she picks them up after school,” a CPS social worker said. “We have letters from supervisors, directors, neighbors, co-workers, all stating that whenever they see Ms. Roberts, they see her kids. Neighbors say they never see kids home alone.”
But judge Shan Embry ruled differently because of a previous court order reading “The children may only be left with their older adult siblings when not in the care of their mother.” Roberts was found in contempt because, according to the court, “younger siblings were left with the 16-year-old on four to five occasions.”
The judge also found that the children “were all physically disciplined by Linda Roberts with a belt and switch on numerous occasions.”
And the final reason cited by the judge for taking Roberts’ children: “Leaving three of her children alone in the Lizard Bay pool at Disney World for at least 30 minutes” while she was looking for another child who got lost.
“They go by what they want to do regardless of the law,” Roberts said.
While that ruling outraged Roberts, something else that happened in the case was disturbing, even to social workers. A supervisor in the Louisville office detailed what she called suspicious conduct in the Meade County CPS office where the case against Roberts originated.
“The case file was not there and we don’t know where the case file went,” the supervisor said. “Once we started requesting the records, the phone calls stopped. We didn’t get any phone calls back.”
The case file that contained records supporting Linda Roberts disappeared, while the information against her was forwarded to Louisville when the case transferred.
Then, Louisville investigators learned the “Meade County investigator who executed the initial affidavit alleging contempt is the best friend of the temporary custodian’s mother-in-law.”
“They can pull strings and do things and files can disappear, reports can be made and children can be snatched out of a home without even a hearing,” Roberts said. “In many ways they make their own decisions, not based on legal grounds, and nobody's doing anything about it."
Source: WLKY TV
Social Workers Allege Child Protection Service Abuses
UPDATED: 3:21 pm EST November 14, 2007
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Social workers are alleging abuses in Kentucky's Child Protective Services.
In a follow-up to a 3-year investigation of CPS, NewsChannel 32 interviewed a group of Kentucky social workers who alleged families are harassed and workers are pressured in efforts to boost adoption numbers.
Pat Moore said she was a state social worker until she was fired for not ignoring half a dozen allegations of abuse in a foster home.
"I did what I felt like I had to do," Moore said. "It was the right thing to do and I stand by the complaint."
When Moore found that two foster parents had criminal records, a son living with them had multiple felonies, and a convicted sex offender visited and, sometimes, cared for the children, she refused to arrange an adoption.
Her supervisors responded to her complaint with a memo suggesting the adoption proceed quickly.
"Our theory is that the basis for this is the tie to the federal money," Moore's attorney, Tom Beiting said. "That every time a child is not placed in the home comma the state of Kentucky through its Cabinet is losing money"
After she was fired, Moore filed suit and last month, the Commonwealth paid $380,000 to settle it.
The high-adoption trend apparently began in 2004, when adoptions in Kentucky ballooned to 724 while the federal bonus money more than doubled from $452,000 the previous year to more than $1 million.
"The Cabinet puts pressure on stats because federal and state money come from statistics," said another social worker who wants her identity concealed for fear of retaliation against her family. "You get praised. The Cabinet praises you for terminating rights and adopting kids out immediately."
She said the concerted effort to take children away and put them up for adoption was so brazen, she actually saw someone successfully place an order for children.
"Someone could not have a child and wanted a child so within the community," the social worker said. "This person saw a family in distress, having a hard time, relayed to workers that they would like those children, and that's exactly what has happened."
And a former CPS supervisor, who also wants anonymity for fear of retaliation, said if an order for a child was delayed or denied, her supervisors would overturn local decisions.
"This one family was promised a child, and when it happened that this child was going to be reunified with the parent, they called our regional office, and our regional office came in our county and they harassed the birth parents and that kind of thing because they didn't agree with our decision," the former supervisor said.
Vanessa Shanks had her kids taken away and, when she fought back, her relatives had their children taken away. Then, after she won in court, her attorney's child was taken away.
The former CPS workers said that kind of retaliatory power is common and, in the secretive, one-sided system, they can take anyone's kids away on a moment's notice - and get away with it.
According to data just released, there's a huge disparity between counties on adoption rates. Some counties reunify 100 percent of children taken with their families. Other counties adopted out as many as 82 percent of children taken from their homes.
Source: WLKY TV