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The Hidden Totalitarianism of the Child Protective System

A Miracle for Justina/Facebook

Stephen M. Krason - published on 04/09/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Actually, the “guilty until proven innocent” standard is deeply ingrained in the CPS. The typical attitude of CPS operatives—most are trained in social work and related fields—is if they receive a report there just has to be maltreatment of some kind (even though the child abuse realities, as mentioned, are quite different). This follows from the belief that permeates the system that most parents are potential abusers.

Some may be stunned that Justina’s parents’ rights have been so easily tossed aside. They should know that few Bill of Rights protections apply to parents when facing the CPS. This is because child protection law is mostly under the category of civil, instead of criminal, law. So, criminal defendants have many more rights than parents in these cases.

The hospital and the agency think they definitely know what’s best for Justina—despite the fact that a mere resident and a psychologist who is not a medical expert made the diagnosis—just like the CPS in general believes that it always knows better than parents.

It is clear that the hospital and the agency have dug in their heels in the Pelletier case, insisting their conclusions are correct. The CPS is renowned for never admitting it’s wrong.

Little leeway seems to have been given to Justina’s parents—even though medical professionals are backing them up. One shouldn’t be surprised: the CPS is known for its attitude that parents can’t be trusted and are always wrong.

The state’s rationale in taking custody of Justina is that her parents were guilty of medical neglect, which comes down to meaning nothing more than they didn’t agree with the hospital’s diagnosis. Such arbitrariness is not surprising, since the child abuse laws are utterly vague and overbroad. There is even disagreement within the CPS as to what constitutes child maltreatment. This was deliberate: the architects of the Mondale Act wanted utmost flexibility to combat abuse. As Professor Philip Jenkins writes, they were driven by “therapeutic values” and could not understand why legal standards or parental rights should hamstring “objective” professionals trying to protect children.

Finally, the Pelletier case shows how, despite its name, the CPS often harms children. In state custody, Justina has received no treatment for her mitochondrial disease, no schooling, and no spiritual sustenance. She appears to be physically declining. This is not unlike the often grueling interrogations the CPS puts children through supposedly to find out if they were abused. In a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief, I argued that this could constitute psychological torture under international human rights norms. Further, the CPS is quick to assign children it has seized to a foster care system where genuine abuse is much more prevalent than in the home. It is striking how the CPS seems impervious to the adverse effects of its actions on children.

The weltanschauung of the CPS is a far, far cry from Pope Leo XIII’s saying that the
state should not “intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family” and should intervene only when there is a “grave disturbance of mutual rights.” Anyone who studies the CPS with objectivity and care can readily see its totalitarian dimensions. These are clearly illustrated by the Pelletier case.

Stephen M. Krasonis Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and Associate Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also Co-Founder and President of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He is the author of several books including The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic(Transaction Publishers, 2012), and most recently published an edited volume entitled Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System (Scarecrow Press, 2013).

This column originally appeared on Crisis.

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