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Don't Kiss Your Dad

March 9, 2008 permalink

Single father Keith Ferguson of New York State has been harassed by local child protectors. Because the complaints are anonymous he does not know the source, but suggests that his daughter could avoid problems by not showing affection for her father.



Anonymous 'hot line' system used to persecute father

By DAN HIGGINS, First published: Sunday, March 9, 2008

Someone is using the government to harass Keith Ferguson. The government admits as much and then says, "Sorry, Mr. Ferguson. We're powerless to stop."

Ferguson, of Schaghticoke, has been investigated at least a dozen times in the last two years by the county's Department of Social Services. DSS is following up on complaints to the State Central Register that he is sexually abusing his children. The "hot line," as it is sometimes called, allows an anonymous caller to report suspicions of child abuse. Investigators, if they're given enough information, must look into the allegations.

Each time a social worker knocks on his door he lets him or her in. He doesn't have to, but he believes it's in his best interest to cooperate. Each time he is asked a similar battery of humiliating questions: Has he raped his disabled daughter? Has he inappropriately touched his teenage son? No, he says, remaining calm. I would never, ever do that. I protect my children.

His children must answer similar questions about their father's alleged behavior.

Ferguson, a single father of six with all but two grown up and moved out, has never had his children taken from him, according to records he provided to me.

According to the thick stack of records he shared, there's never been an "indication" against him, that is, a mark in his file that shows social workers are suspicious something heinous might be happening in his home, even though they can't prove it.

And the Department of Transportation employee, who is struggling to take care of his 15-year-old daughter and teenage son still at home, is running out of patience and the energy to deal with the accusations. "I understand why the system is there; to protect children," he said. "But this is really wearing me down."

He's talked to the police and social services agencies, a lawyer, even the ACLU. Everyone tells him there's not much that can be done.

A spokesman for Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard McNally said it's illegal to lie to use the "hot line" for personal vendettas. A person can be charged with harassment, filing a false report, or other crimes. The only problem is the caller can remain anonymous and still officials must investigate the claims if they sound somewhat credible.

Ferguson even received a letter from the Rensselaer County DSS, which admitted, "It is most unfortunate for you and your family that there continues to be false reports to the State Central Register against you."

So what's left to do?

"Keep surviving," he said. "Keep taking care of my kids and letting them know they are safe and loved."

A spokesman for the agency that is in charge of the hot line said he can file a complaint with police, but that will only do him some good if the accuser identifies himself or herself. These accusations have been anonymous.

John Beaudoin, the county's social services commissioner, said he can't comment because of privacy laws. But he allowed this: "Sometimes, unfortunately, people abuse the system."

And that abuse leads to collateral damage.

Several months ago, on the advice of social workers, Ferguson took his daughter -- who because of her genetic condition is nonverbal -- to a hospital for a sexual assault exam (it came back negative). He even told her that she shouldn't be so affectionate with him when he takes her to the school bus in the morning, lest anyone grow suspicious and send another investigator knocking on his door.

"What kind of a sick world is this?" Ferguson said.

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Source: Albany Times Union