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Why the Law Enforcement Model of CPS Doesn’t Work

Carolyn Woodruff

The fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution creates the Parental Rights Doctrine. It is fundamental to our society that parents have the right to raise their children and the average American, I believe, has a longstanding commitment to parental rights. Except in extreme circumstances, parents have the fundamental right to parent a child and decide what is in the best interests of their own child (this article doesn’t address custody disputes between two good parents each of whom has a fundamental right to parent). This article does address the fundamental rights of parents over CPS.

In further advancement of the Parental Rights Doctrine, the United States Supreme Court has had moments of brilliance on this issue. For example, in Troxel v. Granville, 530 US 57 (2000), the United States Supreme Court aptly stated: “The liberty interest at issue in this case—the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children—is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.”

So where has the societal shift happened that has placed CPS so squarely in the middle of this fundamental right to parent? I believe the shift happened with the passage of the Adoptions and Safe Families Act of 1997 during the Clinton administration. In my opinion, that Act needs to be abolished and we need to return to the Social Worker Model for CPS, as contrasted to the current Law Enforcement Model. The Social Worker Model is “working with others to accomplish a goal.” Perhaps the CPS worker would suggest a needed service, such as counseling through Family Service of the Piedmont, a great organization.

The Law Enforcement Model is “compliance” with the determination of what is in the child’s best interest decided by CPS. An example of the Law Enforcement Model is the police officer who has a responsibility to cite you for a traffic violation under the law; we must comply with the traffic laws and compliance is not in the discretion of the driver. The Parental Rights Doctrine is trampled on and completely disregarded when CPS uses the law enforcement model, as parental rights have much discretion under the 14th Amendment and under many Supreme Court cases. With CPS, the “law” is made by each individual social worker and perhaps his or her supervisor with no standards or statutes; the CPS worker allegedly knows more about the “best interests” of the child than the parents, under the current model. However, social services did not originate under a law enforcement model.

The traditional Social Work Model begins with charity, which is the historic roots of social work. Thus, the traditional model of social services is rooted in the definition of “work with others to accomplish a goal.” According to the International Federation of Social Workers, social work should have three key action areas:

First, social work should promote positive social change. Second, social work should provide problem solving in human relationships, and finally, social work should empower people to enhance their own well-being. It is not a model of interference with the family.

The problem is that the traditional Social Work Model is not being followed, and was abandoned at least de facto with the 1997 Act mentioned above. In fact, it has become quite the national problem. The Social Work Model has been abandoned, for some unknown reason, for the Law Enforcement Model of “compliance.” As another example of the Law Enforcement Model of compliance, you are required to stop your car for a flashing red light or place your hands in the air upon request of an officer. Failure to “comply” with the officer can result in criminal prosecution. The Law Enforcement Model has well-defined parameters for police and as long as long enforcement stays within the well-defined parameters, the “compliance” model works for the benefit of society, as a whole. While a police officer may step outside of the parameter, Internal Affairs and even the Justice Department have procedures. Where are the parameters for CPS?

Social work cannot utilize a Law Enforcement Model and accomplish the human objectives social work requires.  Social work has to be more collaborative, taking people as a “work in progress” toward greater problem solving skills. CPS should not interfere with families in violation of the Parental Rights Doctrine.

This problem of the law enforcement style CPS department is a growing and alarming trend now being pursued in at least one class action lawsuit in California. According to Shawn McMillan, a civil rights class action lawyer who has sued CPS for kidnapping children, says: “County welfare agencies regularly subvert the constitutional rights of parents when there is no danger to the child, and in fact no need to seize the child at all” (Courthouse News). According to McMillan, his suit is one of many class actions planned against US child protection agencies after the 1997 legislation of increasing funding for adopting foster children. It is my understanding that Guilford County gets money for every child removed from a parent and placed for adoption from the natural parents, although I haven’t been able to find out the fact of how much Guilford County gets for this activity.

Studies show that children in state custody are up to 600 percent more likely to be neglected, abused, and murdered than those left in parental and extended family custody. Families would be safer with the repeal of the Adoptions and Safe Families Act of 1997. There is nothing safe about it.

This blog is adapted from a previous Ask Carolyn published in The Rhino Times.

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