Want to read more? Subscribe Now or Sign In
Hide ( X )
  • THE CRIME REPORT - Your Complete Criminal Justice Resource

  • Investigative News Network
  • Welcome to the Crime Report. Today is

Viewpoints

‘It Should Not Hurt to Be a Child’

By Eileen King

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and it is an occasion for being reminded that  “it should not hurt to be a child.”  The soul-destroying, long-term consequences of child physical/sexual abuse and neglect obviously merit a year-round focus, but media attention to such awareness campaigns helps encourage parents, especially mothers, to seek help if they suspect child abuse.

At the same time, however, the long and exhausting journey that parents must take to secure protection for endangered children, often involving legal battles costing many thousands of dollars, is rarely mentioned.

Who wants to hear that no amount of money can assure justice in systems that disbelieve children and distrust protective parents?

It is, however, a grim reality.  Parents who act appropriately and lawfully to protect their children may be punished by family court judges for reporting abuse or for refusing to force their terrified child to visit an abusive parent.  

In the worst cases, custody is reversed and the protective parent may be denied any contact with his or her child.  The message: failure to be a “friendly parent” is worse than child physical or sexual abuse.

The non-profit agency I work for, Justice for Children, often finds itself on the front lines of complex cases of child abuse, arising during separation and divorce,  that may be litigated for years. Although Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates abuse reports, these cases are generally treated with suspicion and ruled out as “custody battles” despite urgent, compelling evidence.  

Rarely prosecuted by the State, intra-familial abuse allegations are relegated to a domestic relations court of equity where a serious crime against a child is reduced to a civil law question of property. Such courts, in  contrast to the traditional adversarial nature of a courtroom, allow judges to apply injunctions or writs instead of monetary damages, according to the principle of “fairness. ”

Family courts in most (if not all) jurisdictions are considered “courts of equity.”  A recent New York case in which the Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether a teacher imprisoned for molesting boys can see his own child illustrates the limits of an approach that considers a child just a piece of property to be divided.

The systemic failures and practices that place abused or at-risk children in the care or custody of a dangerous parent are well known, but it has taken over 15 years for these agonizing and sometimes tragic cases to be officially recognized as serious problems in our judicial and CPS systems.  

The Catch 22 nature of a parent’s duty to report, and penalties for failure to protect, sinks protective parents in the quicksand of family court litigation. Very little help is available from public agencies or non-profits.  Abusers know they have unparalleled opportunities to abuse and control their children and ex-partners with few consequences. 

Non-profit advocates have been working for years to get these issues before federal agencies. 

Last month, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) held a Roundtable at George Washington University Law School, sponsored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence with help from the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project.  Judge Susan Carbon, OVW director, , and participants from other federal agencies listened to a panel of mothers and a courageous 13-year-old share their experiences in family court. 

In the experts’ panel, we shared our extensive knowledge of how CPS and family courts can fail abused children and their protective parents.  A report on the roundtable will be posted soon on the OVW website.

Change must also happen in state CPS agencies and family courts. Court appointees (psychological evaluators, Guardians ad litem, children’s attorneys, mediators and parenting coordinators) should not evade oversight or consequences for negligent practices that harm children.  

Policies forcing children to reunite with their sexual assault perpetrators need immediate re-evaluation.  These are just of few of the many changes recommended by advocates and legal/mental health professionals.

The worst betrayal a child can endure is sexual/physical abuse or neglect by a parent.  Assuring a child that if they tell they will be protected, but then failing to protect heaps betrayal upon betrayal. 

We need to carry through on our promises to children.   This is the next  level of child abuse awareness our society needs!

Here are some further resources for anyone who wants to explore the issue further:

From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From the Family Courts and What to Do About It, by Amy Neustein, Ph.D. and Michael Lesher, J.D., Northeastern University Press, 2005. www.upne.com/1-58465-462-7.html

Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody edited by Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D and Barry Goldstein, J.D., The Civic Research Institute, 2010. http://www.civicresearchinstitute.com/dvac.html

 

Eileen King is Regional Director of Justice for Children-DC.  She welcomes comments from readers.

Read full entry »

User Comments (13 )

A New Criminal Justice Funding Infusion?

Criminal justice advocates are anxiously awaiting passage of the economic stimulus bill now quickly making its way through Congress. The reason? It could include up to $4 billion for justice system improvement projects. This would be a huge turnaround from December 2007, when Congress without warning deeply slashed the popular Byrne JAG program, which provides aid to states and localities, to a mere $170 million annually from $520 million--a sum that had itself been cut from previous years.

Republicans could still force cuts in the new bill, but the likelihood is that police and other justice system agencies could get a quick infusion of funds. At least one version of the bill could require spending plans within 60 days.

Are states ready to spend this money? Yes, they say. Maine, for example, would use funds to prevent the layoff of 7 agents on its statewide antidrug task force. The state also would fill vacant positions to prosecutor drug and domestic-violence cases, among other things. North Carolina would use money to continue drug treatment courts that would otherwise have to close because of a state funding shortage. It could also use aid to expand the number of delinquency prevention programs, including alternative schools for suspended and expelled students.

On the policing side, both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee favor spending $1 billion on hiring police officers, roughly 13,000 nationwide.

The National Criminal Justice Association, which represents states and localities in Washington, says that three-fourths of the stimulus money could be used for personnel, which is one of the bill's main purposes. Now the question is how much will be available and when.

Read full entry »

User Comments (0 )

TCR at a Glance

Examining "Collateral Consequence Laws"

new & notable September 15, 2014

Laws that restrict access to public services for former inmates may relate to lower rates of return to prison, but there's incomplete dat...

CDC: 1 in 5 American Women Experience Rape

new & notable September 9, 2014

An annual survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control finds that sexual violence is more prevalent than many national crime studies...