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California lawmakers have voted unanimously to order an audit of the state's powerful Department of Child Protective Services after testimony from parents who stunned their representatives with testimony of atrocities.
"It's the most helpless feeling in the world when this happens to you. It feels like there is no hope left. I have not seen my daughter since December… she doesn't even look like the same child any more. There is nothing in her eyes. She looks hopeless and there is just nothing I can do…"
That was from Dr. Ruby Dillon, whose daughter, Alexis, was removed from her family 16 months ago.
The audit plan passed the committee unanimously, and now the California state auditor, who has subpoena powers, will investigate CPS.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who sponsored the bill and organized parents to speak about their experiences, said it's a good step forward.
"Now we are going to be able to pull back the veil and see what happened, what went wrong so that we can then gather data on how to fix it."
Donnelly says a lot has gone wrong.
Child Protective Services is supposed to help children and families overcome stressful events in life, and stay together and healthy. But there are families who say that CPS does anything but that.
Family members testified before the legislative hearing that CPS actually has worked to destroy, not restore, their families. And others suggested there was a profit motive in the situation.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is the federal law that prompts most state and local legislation and funding for child protective services.
CAPTA was a federal mandate enacted in 1988. It directed that Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families provide grants to communities for child abuse prevention programs. It mandated that states implement child abuse laws on their own, in order to qualify for massive funding and federal grants that will match and reward those on the state level.
This experimental federal mandate, backed by significant funding, was intended to keep more families together. However, the National Coalition for Child Protection (NCCPR) reports that the results of CAPTA are quite different than the original intention. NCCPR says that CAPTA, in fact, disrupted more families, and has made life for children in this experimental government program much, much worse.
NCCPR says that the failings of today's child welfare system "can be summed up by the very rationalization often used to justify the way it works today, an approach that can be boiled down to 'take the child and run.'"
The parental rights group says that foster care is a bad answer to the suspicion of a problem. Their studies indicate that abuse in foster care is "far higher than generally realized and far higher than in the general population."
They say orphanage abuse rates are even higher, so that is not the answer, either. NCCPR maintains that its research indicates that in most, but not 100 percent of cases, the best scenario is that the family remains intact until "due process" takes place.
That is not the way states are handling many cases today. One recent example is the Nikolayev case that has made national headlines.
On April 24, Alex and Anna Nikolayev took their young child, Sammy, to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., with flu-like symptoms. Baby Sammy was born with a heart condition, and they knew he would need surgery eventually.
While he was there, the Nikolayevs witnessed a nurse giving him antibiotics – something doctors later confirmed should not have happened.
Shortly afterward, they were told Sammy needed immediate open-heart surgery. Already questioning the treatment their son was receiving, they decided to seek a second opinion before putting their child through such a risky procedure.
They were told, "You can leave the hospital, but your baby cannot."
The Nikolayevs decided to take Sammy to another hospital, despite the hospital saying they could not do so. Police and CPS agents showed up at the second hospital under the belief that Sammy was in danger. After seeing that the mother was pursuing medical care for her son, they concluded that the child was not in danger.
But that would not be the last the Nikolayevs heard of CPS.
The next day, Child Protective Services showed up at the Nikolayev home with five armed police officers. The mother, a German immigrant, was skeptical of government and captured the incident on video.
One officer can be heard saying, "I'm going to grab your baby, and don't resist, and don't fight me, okay?"
Donnelly said he felt compelled to act, as a father, and as a legislator.
"The footage is frightening for parents everywhere to think that your children might be confiscated should CPS disagree with your parental instincts. It's chilling to think that a government agency can take your child right back to a hospital that you as a parent have lost faith in, but it happened."
Donnelly began demanding answers. In a letter, he asked Sheri Heller, director of California's Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS, to account for how this was allowed to happen.
Heller responded that she couldn't share that information with an assemblyman, unless a judge ordered her to do so. Donnelly responded, "It has become clear that CPS answers to no one, but this abuse of power cannot be tolerated."
"I'm hearing all kinds of stories about children being horribly abused," said Donnelly, "and CPS does not rescue the child from that imminent danger, which is why they have this immense power in the first place."
The mother in the case, Anna Nikolayev, told WND that since that day, Sammy had a doctor's appointment and is doing very well.
"He is gaining, weight," she giggled, "he is even getting a little bit chubby!"
But in her case, a hearing has been delayed for 60 days, and she worries.
"The fear is that they might walk in my house and ask questions again to try to prove their case…(to make them) look good."
She said that the worst thing that could happen is that "in 60 days (if) he hasn't gained weight, they could say, 'oh, she's probably not holding him the right way, not feeding him correctly…'"
She said that she and her husband "always, always worry about that."
Her hope is for quick resolution, but the court has ordered eight more visits, inside and outside of their home, before CPS makes a decision whether or not to continue their investigation of the family.
Orange County CPS spokesperson Ann Broussard said that she had "no comment" on the Baby Sammy Nikolayev case. But she described the scenario whereby CPS says it is entitled to take children without a warrant:
"We regularly bring police. Sometimes police call us. The term is exigent. If there is imminent danger to the child we do have the legal right, if it is deemed. There would be a social worker on site; they would consult with their supervisors, and the authorities. Often we are called by a hospital. They are mandated reporters. So is a school district."
Such cases are not isolated. Another, making headlines in Orange County, contends that CPS testified in defense of the abuser.
There, Ruby Dillon's 7 year-old daughter was removed from her family due to a custody battle, and has been held for 15 months.
Dillon accuses the father of sexual abuse that she says she has on tape. Bryan Claypool, her attorney in the case (who is suing CPS for $1 million per month), contends that CPS does not want the custody battle between the estranged spouses to end because it wants to profit off of the case.
According to a local CBS affiliate, Claypool commented that, "Simply put, the more children that are removed from a household (whether lawfully or not) the more money that flows to CPS through state and federal funding."
Claypool further alleged that CPS is more motivated to protect its $2.2 billion budget than it is focused on child safety and adoption efforts. He calls it a "legal kidnapping."
Claypool told WND the institutionalized corruption goes much deeper, and farther than the cases he represents. "Every word we have said we can back up," he said.
CPS declined to comment on the case.
And yet another case alleged that two young girls were taken away from their mother based on a social worker's fabricated story.
Deanna Fogarty won a $4.9 million judgment against Orange County, which ultimately paid $11 million after losing appeals all the way up to U.S. Supreme Court.
Orange County has never admitted to any wrongdoing although the court found the social worker involved had filed false reports and suppressed evidence that would have cleared Fogarty. That same employee was later promoted to supervisor in charge of training other social workers.
Appeals court justice William Bedsworth wrote in his opinion, "the evidence adduced at trial obviously caused both the jury and the judge to conclude not only that something seriously wrong was done to Fogarty-Hardwick in this case, but also that the wrongful conduct was not an isolated incident."
Fogarty told WND the case destroyed her life, and that no amount of money changes that. She has become a volunteer spokesperson for the cause, because she says that "child abuse has become an industry that actually pays states to legally abduct your children and put them up for adoption."
She continued, "Counties can bring in big dollars for each child in foster care. Lack of accountability allows unbridled access to this revenue creating more incentive to remove children from their families."
She notes that these kinds of profits are hard to resist for these CPS workers, and also the foster parents.
Broussard declined comment on the case.
Fogarty warned other parents that something as minor as a trip to the ER, or a scrape that a school finds suspicious, can mean the family devastation that she endured.
"The minute CPS is involved or the second the EMTs are called, parents are already labeled as child abusers," said Fogarty.
"Can you believed this happened in America?" Donnelly said.
"Instead of protecting kids at risk," Donnelly says that, "CPS has become a rogue agency that is stealing kids away from good parents and returning them to bad ones and needs to be investigated and reformed. We cannot allow a government agency to exercise unlimited power in complete secrecy."
He said the heart of the dispute really is "who is … in control of your child's health care? If you don't like a doctor's decision, and seek a second opinion, could this nightmare happen to you? I'm afraid this is a foreshadowing of things to come as the government becomes more involved in health care."
He said the problem is nationwide, too.
In Connecticut, he said, judges and court workers are accused of setting up businesses, then ordering children before the court to patronize those vendors, and families are ordered to participate in organizations where judges sit on the board of directors.