Thursday, June 14, 2007

Better A Serial Killer Than A Parent

Any middle-school civics teacher will tell you that constitutional protections for criminals are actually intended to protect the innocent: humans are fallible, governments consist of humans (I’ve been told), and thus governments themselves are fallible. The best justice system in the world will still ensnare innocents in its net, so anyone accused of a crime must be guaranteed certain rights, such as the right to face and confront your accuser, know the charges against you and see what evidence the state has to support them.

This not only protects the innocent, but society as well: if you are, for example, imprisoned for a murder you never committed, that means the real killer is still at large and free to cause more deaths. There are a depressingly large number of people these days who would gladly subvert individual rights in the name of the Greater Good. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean well, but they don’t understand that strengthening the rights of the individual enhances the Greater Good as well. Society is composed of individuals, and how can you build a healthy society out of sick individuals, or a free society out of slaves?

Unfortunately, Connecticut has carved a for-the-children exception from the notion of individual rights. The Department of Children and Families is charged with the (admittedly important) task of protecting children cursed with abusive parents. But the constitutional rights granted to those accused of crimes ranging from shoplifting to serial murder are withheld from parents investigated by the DCF.

At the newspaper for which I write, I’ve been working on a series of articles highlighting DCF abuses. My first piece, which came out two weeks ago, discussed how the DCF is gunning for homeschooling parents, charging them with “educational neglect.”

My second story, which came out yesterday, focuses on the DCF’s lack of constitutional oversight.

“The [DCF] is not a law enforcement agency and does not charge citizens with crimes,” department spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said in an e-mail. “Therefore, the agency has no involvement in the enforcement of constitutional rights that relate solely to criminal activity (jury trial, confront accuser).”

“It’s a gimmick,” charges Michael Agranoff, an Ellington-based attorney who specializes in defending parents in DCF cases. “Making [these cases] civil instead of criminal is a gimmick to get around the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments to the Constitution.”

While DCF does not have the authority to impose prison sentences, Agranoff says: “The ultimate penalty you can face [with DCF] is TPR, Termination of Parental Rights. … Most people I know would rather spend a year in jail than lose custody of their kids.”
(Editor’s note: I’m writing this post at an insanely early hour, and reserve the right to go back and fix any mistakes I notice once I’m awake.)


Blogger Dave-o-ramA said...


Although, reading that story, I think I see something.

You equate not being able to see the file until the investigation is over with not seeing the evidence against you in a criminal case. But is the evidence against a suspect made available before charges have been brought? If police are investigating someone but have not yet gathered sufficient evidence to indict, they don't show the evidence to the suspect do they? You only start to see your evidence when you're charged.

Am I wrong about that?

So maybe the DCF isn't SO off base relative to constitutional rights. Or they may be, but it's not clear from a case where no charges are brought.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

It IS hard to figure out, Dave-O, especially since DCF and the schools can't legally give their side of the story. But as I understand it, losing your kids to TPR still isn't a criminal case. (If, hypothetically, a DCF investigation led to charges of something like child rape, THAT would be given to the criminal courts.)

For the cases I've written about so far, you could, I suppose, say "No harm done, since they got to keep their kids." But I'd say that having the threat of losing your kids hang over your head during a frightening investigation wherein you have no idea what you're accused of or what the evidence is is harm enough.

I'm trying to get in contact with some unfortunates who HAVE lost their kids, for my next story. But finding such people willing to speak on the record is harder.

7:09 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

I’m writing this post at an insanely early hour...

posted by Jennifer at 5:46 AM on Jun 14, 2007

Hell, I'm four min from the office at that "insanely early hour"?

You only start to see your evidence when you're charged.

True, but you then have the opportunity to refute it (trial) BEFORE the punishment (remove kids) happens. In these type of cases, the reverse is true, remove kids then you have the trial to see if you get them back, and you never really see why.

It's a hard thing, on the one hand you don't want kids in a toxic to potentially deadly environment, on the other hand there are some liberties taken.

I had a similar problem though not with home schooling when my daughter was very young. I'll post it when I have time.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

The whole concept of the government bringing "civil action" against a citizen is extremely suspect. Clearly, it is currently considered valid, both at State and Federal levels. However...

I think that any time the full powers of the government are brought to bear against a private citizen, with the expectation that the government can decide to impose some sort of penalty - for all intents and purposes, that is a criminal case. It should be afforded the full protections of the Constitution.

Maybe we can get some related case up to the Supreme Court for a test of this theory, or start a movement to explicitly enshrine this principal in law (maybe even going so far as to make it a Constitutional Amendment).

Or, maybe we'll just grin and bear it - and let Jennifer (and other members of the Fourth Estate) try the matter in the "Court of Public Opinion". Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good first step towards getting legal clarity on the issue.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

These days, I think the legal status of Children is pretty murky. When this country was founded (and the Constitution written), I believe they (as well as wives) were considered "chattels".

Therefor, the Constitutional protections against "Unreasonable Seizure" applied to your children.

Nowadays, parents are still generally held responsible for their children's actions, as well as their wellbeing - but it's not entirely clear to me what rights of control (much less "ownership") parents enjoy.

However, given the responsibilities forced upon parents (in many states, you can't even willingly give up an unwanted baby for adoption, without serious legal repercussions), I think a case could probably be made that children are still effectively chattel, especially when very young. Invoking the Constitutional protections against unreasonable seizure might make an interesting defense against this sort of "civil proceeding".

11:00 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

A question of procedure for Jennifer:

If the parents refuse to "willingly cooperate", forcing the DCS to seek a court order, does it then effectively become a criminal case, since the courts have become involved?

Even if not, do you have a right to appear before the judge and question the claims and misinformation given to get the court order?

If there is no right to question the judge, etc., then this is identical to the case of a judge issuing a warrant - which, as far as I understand things, makes it a criminal case.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous A moose said...

I think a case could probably be made that children are still effectively chattel, especially when very young.

I think not. The reason is, you now introduce a murder of a child as not murder, but property loss. Pets are like this, to some people's horror. I don't know what you can say the compensation for killing a child should be, but I know full well that it will never be "enough". Erego, I don't think the viewpoint would hold long.

I think this is a head on collision between nanny state politics and personal freedoms. I'm not sure why they focused it on home education, unless they have a more stringent indoc program than the rest of us, but for some reason they have.

I'll ask around and see what my surrounding states do, if I have time.

Now, my story alluded to earlier:

When my middle daughter was just born, she was very small (6 1/2 lbs, as opposed to the others in the 8.5 lb range). She was not putting on weight as she should have been per the normal charts, and her mother brought her in to the doc to see what was going on.

Apparantly this doctor, despite mucho research to the contrary, had a beef for breastfeeding which rivals CT's beef for home schooling.

The offshoot was, instead of getting medical help, she (mother) was accused of starving the child, and doing the "hurt your child to get attention" syndrome, whatever that name is.

This put her in a category, without investigation, where everything she did was documented in an "investigative" way, as a case was being prepared. The attitude was one of disdain reserved for criminals. They recommended a formula which was essentially trash, but we used it anyway, and didn't help, and since it didn't help we were accused of not giving her the formula.

The formula caused her to get severe constipation which in turn necessatited another trip to the doctor. So now we have multiple trips based on multiple maladies which are created by the doctor's original advice, all of which are used to develop a case to take the child away.

We had plans, seriously, for an underground railroad run to another country. Seriously, no shit, this is how bad it was.

At the time I was in the military, and we were fortunate enough to have this guy transfer (btw, he was the head of pediatrics at Bethesda, and this was back before the malpractice heart surgeon was prosecuted there) as he wouldn't permit us to go to another (sane) doctor or he would call social services on us.

As a result, I bailed from the military and changed states. It was extremely stressful, as my older child was only 18mos at the time. I would not want to speak for my actions if I was ever in the proverbial dark alley with that asshole. I will say that I can completely relate to the situations that these families are put in, as nothing is recorded so when you follow the advice/direction, you can very well be digging yourself deeper.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Dave-o-ramA said...


Yeah, I'd be really interested to see what happens when they actually bring the suit or whatever to terminate parental rights. If they continue to ignore the rights of the parents at that stage, that's really disgraceful.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...


One of my best friends had a very similar experience to yours, medically, but without the legal-threat hassle. Underweight baby with a failure to thrive.

Specialist puts her on a "high-calorie formula" plan. She can hardly keep anything down, still doesn't thrive. The only thing she seems able to really keep down is the occasional bite of ice-cream, and full-fat yogurt.

A whole slew of doctors and specialists are consulted, all having new theories, and none ever contravening the orders of a prior doctor. This went on for two years or so, and the girl became seriously developmentally disabled.

Eventually, I suggested trying a soy-based product. My friend looked into it, and discovered that the prescribed formula was soy-based...and that some babies can't digest soy products.

Put baby back on regular stuff, digestion problems disappear almost overnight. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and she is probably going to be seriously disabled for the rest of her life. At least she can eat, though.

Doctors are generally a wonderful thing, but sometimes they can't admit (any of them) being wrong, and really bad things happen.

I hope your child is in vastly better shape.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous a moose said...

I hope your child is in vastly better shape.

Fortunately, she's now 14 and having a good high school experience. She's also like in the top 1% intellectually, though she's a small (but fierce) female.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Anne, those are good questions and I'll ask my lawyer-sources on Monday.

It's damnably frustrating, the whole issue. I probably can't talk about it much here, but what it boils down to is: a lot of people with stories that really need to be told are afraid to let their names out.

Moose, your experience, horrible though it was, sounds depressingly familiar, though for you the results were worse than most. I'm glad things ultimately worked out, but it never should have happened in the first place. At the very least, some people should have been held accountable.

4:36 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Ian Hacking has an essay on child abuse, and how the term is very new, and how it's in play for every would-be nanny political organization, in Critical Inquiry...

``The Making and Moulding of Child Abuse'' _Critical Inquiry_ 17:2 Winter 1991

Probably in one of his books by now.

In case you want to follow the intuition that it's all about power, rather than the issue that the power doesn't or does fit.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Well, Ron, I think child abuse does exist and is indeed a problem. Unfortunately, having the problem handled by a government agency with no oversight, transparency or accountability turns out to create problems all its own. I don't want murderers running around free, either, but neither do I want the police to be allowed to say "Murder is SO HORRIBLE that if we suspect you've done it, we don't have to give you the Constitutional rights we give any other accused criminal."

6:28 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Currenty, "...(potentially assisting) terrorism is SO HORRIBLE that if we suspect you've done it, we don't have to give you the Constitutional rights we give any other accused criminal."

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article Jen,
I got here because it was linked from an H&R blog.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article Jen,
I got here from a link from an H&R thread.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Thanks, Anonymii! The more people who read this, the better. And I'm not saying that because I wrote it, but because this is a damned important issue and the word needs to get out.

So far, apparently, I'm STILL the only journalist in Connecticut covering this issue.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

And I'm not saying that because I wrote it

But if you want to read it just because Jennifer wrote it, that's ok too.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Speedwell said...

Jennifer, are you talking to people who lost their kids to DCF malfeasance recently, or can it be a while ago? I had such a thing happen to me about fifteen years ago due to the overzealousness of social workers, and I'm willing to talk to you.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Speedwell, if it happened in Connecticut and you're willing to let me use your real name, I would love to talk to you. My e-mail is in my profile.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Speedwell said...

Oh--it wasn't in Connecticut... sorry. I don't mind in the least telling you, or even letting you use my name, but it isn't going to do you much good for your article. Thanks.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Judy Aron said...

One of the things that really got me is that the recently appointed (and yet to be confirmed) commissioner of DCF - Susan Hamilton - pretty much told us in our meeting with the Governor's office that she would not prosecute schools filing intentional false complaints..
How about that for an agency head "upholding the law"

It is clearly spelled out in the statutes - there are penalties for filing false complaints.
We also have laws regarding coercion and harassment..

That is what our major gripe is with this .. the law is not being upheld on many points here. Parent's rights are being undermined.

I think this has less to do with whether or not a child is being neglected than it has to do with state agencies trampling the law and people's rights in order to get what they want.

We have already heard of one instance of a family losing a child to suicide as a result of the parents' inability to remove the child from the bullying he experienced in school, because the school prevented the parents from withdrawing the child from school.

Thank goodness for Jennifer and her exposing this story.. we know why the Courant will not cover this.. they are close buddies with the education cartel and are also anti educational choice.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

@judy aron: One of the things that really got me is that the recently appointed (and yet to be confirmed) commissioner of DCF - Susan Hamilton - pretty much told us in our meeting with the Governor's office that she would not prosecute schools filing intentional false complaints..

Remember, it only takes three provable cases to establish a "pattern of corruption" - enough for a RICO case.

This is clearly being perpetrated by an Organization. If it is systematically flaunting the law, it is per definition Corrupt. The per-head payments schools get for students can most probably be shown to effectively amount to Racketeering. Thus, Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organization: triple penalties & damages, and Federal (not State) jurisdiction.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Holy shit, Anne! That's seriously brilliant!

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Judy Aron said...

Deborah Stevenson may just be pursuing RICO (we already thought of that one) if things don't get better very soon.
No kidding..
We WILL go to the FEDS!
Especially if they are preventing these kids from leaving in order to collect special ed funding. They have already been caught with spec. ed kids on their enrollments who have been withdrawn.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Can a RICO case also be Class-Action?

3:04 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from