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Protest the CPS - Demand Reform in Child Protection Laws
The FIA Game
By Attorney Janet M. Frederick-Wilson
Many citizens in our great State of Michigan are unaware of Michigan's dirty little
secret that falls under the guise of the Child Abuse and Child Welfare Protection Laws.
The advertisements and literature surrounding this area seem to be doing a magnificent
thing for the children of our state. We have been led to believe that the State of
Michigan is saving thousands of children from severe physical abuse and neglect. This is
far from the truth.
The truth is that this campaign is a giant money machine fueled by abuse of power of
supervisors and case service workers employed by the Michigan Department of Family
Independence Agency and private agencies that have contracted with FIA that we, the tax
payers, are paying dearly for through our hard earned tax dollars. Basically it is
"make work by creating a case and keep your job or contract with the state
The current campaign to save the children is doing just the opposite. Parents and
children are being permanently separated and families are being permanently destroyed
under this new plan as a result of abuse of power in the name of more state and federal
I have been working extensively in this area of law for approximately two years. All of
the cases that I am working on do not involve children suffering from broken bones,
bruises or starvation. In fact most of the cases that I am involved in regard parents that
merely spanked their children by giving the children one or two swats on the clothed
behind, parents who have physically defended themselves from a physically violent
teenager, parents who argued in front of their children, recently divorced single parents,
parents with low incomes, parents who have failed to take their child to a doctor for mere
cold symptoms such as sniffles and mild congestion, or parents who owned pornographic
materials stored in a safe place where the children broke into and viewed the materials.
According to FIA, the present state of law is that:
Parents cannot spank their child. Spanking, even with clothes covering
the bottom, is severe physical abuse. Parents are only to use time out, reasoning and loss
Parents cannot engage in physical self defense to protect themselves
from a physically hostile teenager. An act of self defense by a parent is severe physical
and emotional abuse. Parents are to use reasoning, time out and loss of privileges only
and must sacrifice their physical safety for their violent teenager's safety.
Parents cannot argue or talk about adult subjects, such as family
finances, in front of their children. These are subjects that the child has no control
over and [arguments about them] create extreme emotional distress in the child. FIA has
classified this area as emotional or environmental abuse and/or neglect of the child.
Parents with low income are neglecting their children's basic needs.
Low-income parents cannot provide for the proper medical, physical or emotional needs of
their children due to their limited income. The parents' failure to obtain middle income
jobs means environmental, medical and emotional neglect.
Parents that fail to take their child to the family physician for colds,
flu, sniffles and mild congestion, or parents who fail to obtain a family pediatrician are
neglecting the medical needs of their children. FIA has classified this as medical
Parents who own pornographic materials, such as magazines, books, and
video tapes, and conceal such materials from their children have created environmental and
emotional neglect of their children. Parents who own and hide such material run the risk
that children will find these material and view them causing emotional harm to their
children. FIA has classified this as environmental neglect.
Divorced, single parent families seem to be targeted by FIA as high risk
environments for emotional and environmental neglect. Most single-parent families have low
incomes and of course, according to FIA, cannot provide for the basic needs of the
children as measured against middle income standards.
Single parents work outside of the home, leaving their children
unattended or with "inappropriate care takers" (neighbors, older siblings,
grandparents, relatives) causing environmental and emotional neglect of the child. Single
working parents are unable to clean their homes "appropriately" and leave their
homes cluttered, disorganized, and untidy (i.e. beds unmade, dirty clothes on floors or
hampers, dirty dishes in the sink from breakfast, unswept or unvacuumed floors and
carpets, etc.) which the family must return to in the afternoon or evening are classified
as causing environmental neglect.
Basically, single parents tend more to their needs (i.e. working
outside of the home) than to the needs of their children, which is classified as emotional
and environmental neglect.
Ironically, FIA compiles a list of single parent households from the Friend of the
Court, sends prevention workers to the homes of such families and initially offers the
families free, voluntary services through their prevention program. Such services include
free parenting classes, free nutrition programs, free household budgeting programs, free
employment training programs, and WIC. The social workers in these programs compile
information on the family and home for FIA.
Basically, when you allow these workers to enter your lives and your home, you are
allowing FIA to build a PS (Protective Services) record against you for child neglect,
that leads to further child protective proceedings in the Probate/Family Court, which will
ultimately result in the removal of your children and the children being placed in foster
care. These workers are not hired to help you, they are hired to make a case of child
neglect against you.
Why are families being targeted by FIA? Most people have the misconception that
concerned citizens report child neglect and abuse. That is untrue! Only a small percentage
of my cases involve reports of neglect and abuse from neighbors, family members, friends
and school officials. In fact, the majority of my cases involved the family receiving some
form of voluntary services from FIA, such as the free programs listed above. In the
majority of cases, school officials, such as teachers and counselors, never suspected
child abuse or neglect in the families that were prosecuted. Moreover, in most cases the
family physicians never suspected child abuse or neglect in the families prosecuted.
Families are targeted because FIA must justify its need for State and Federal grants to
keep its workers employed.
Currently, FIA receives, in Federal grants, $2,000 to $4,000 per month per child in
foster care and $10,000 per child adopted out into permanent homes after the parent's
rights have been terminated due to alleged neglect and abuse. The State of Michigan
provides matching funds to FIA. Bill Clinton recently signed new legislation providing for
an additional $2,000 to $4,000 per month per child in foster care and $10,000 for
adoption. FIA is making money hand over fist through our tax dollars. FIA social workers
receive bonuses for removing children from their homes and for adoption. The incentive for
abuse of power is extremely high and has occurred at alarming rates.
During 1996, Clare County removed 50% of the children in the county for neglect and
abuse in the home. It is very hard to comprehend that 50% of the parents in Clare County
are neglecting and abusing their children. Clare County is a "demonstration
county" that is a pilot county for The Binsfield Laws supported by Federal Grants.
These programs involve privatizing the foster care system. The foster care program hires
private industry to service the foster care needs of the county children removed from the
Currently, Eagle Village in Hersey, Michigan holds the foster care contract for Clare
How does the system work? FIA initially offers families free, voluntary services
through prevention services to the families on the FOC (Friend of the Court) files, AFDC
files, Employment Security Commission files, Social Security files, etc., such as free
parenting classes, free nutrition programs, free homemaker services, free budgeting
classes, free employment training programs, etc. The prevention worker works closely with
the family to coordinate these free services by meeting with the family in their home on a
regular basis, once or twice per week. While working with the family, the worker
identifies problems areas that put the children at risk for abuse and neglect so as to
qualify the family for these free services, such as poor parenting skills, homemaker
skills, budgeting skills, and employment-seeking skills.
The flip side of this arrangement is that the worker is building a case of neglect and
abuse against the parents. Most problems identified are lack of bonding with the children
and nurturing due to the parents participation in these free programs. Basically, the
parents are putting their needs before the children's needs by focusing on their problems
as identified in their participation in these programs. Furthermore, workers in these
programs work in tandem with FIA to identify other risk factors such as poor parenting
skills, why else would a parent take a free parenting class if they themselves have
admitted to having poor parenting skills. Voluntarily entering into these programs is an
actual admission to poor parenting-, nutrition-, homemaker-, budgeting- or
employment-seeking skills that put the child at risk for neglect and abuse that thereby
lays the foundation for child protective proceedings in the Probate/Family Court.
The Courts believe that the FIA workers are the professionals and take their word as
gold. The parents cannot defend against FIA. The testimony and statements given by the
parents mean nothing in the Probate/Family Court. In fact the Court can issue an emergency
pick-up order for the children based on only FIA's statements in an ex-parte hearing
conducted by the judge and the FIA worker.
The parents are not present during these hearings. The Court will issue an ex-parte
emergency order allowing the FIA workers to enter the home or child's school to remove the
child from the parents' custody. The parents do get a hearing approximately two weeks
after the removal of the child, but FIA is only required to prove that probable cause
exists that the children are at risk of neglect and abuse if they remain in the home.
Approximately 90 days later the parents may have a trial to determine whether by a
preponderance of the evidence the children are at risk of abuse or neglect if they are
returned to the home. Most parents plead to abuse or neglect upon FIA's promise that if
the parents plead and engage in services, they will get their children back sooner. Most
parents plead to charges that they have a temper, that they have beaten their children by
merely spanking them, that they have failed to provide the child with medical attention
when they had cold symptoms, or that they are unable to provide for the basic needs of the
child because they are temporarily unemployed. The Court then takes jurisdiction over the
children, places them in foster care and orders the parents to follow the Parent/Agency
Agreement to be drafted by FIA. FIA then engages in a lengthy and vague process of
ordering the parents to engage in specific services, such as individual counseling,
parenting classes again, anger management classes and counseling, psychological
evaluations, drug and alcohol testing, -classes and -counseling, etc..
Once parents complete these services, FIA informs the parents, usually during a court
proceeding, that they have not dealt with the proper issues in these programs that
initially led to the removal of the children, or that the parents have not satisfactorily
completed the programs because they will not or are not mentally able to comprehend their
actions and the effect of their actions that have harmed their children. It is a no-win
situation. FIA is in complete control of the interpretation of whether the parents have
successfully completed the Parent/Agency Agreement.
Furthermore, if the parents elect to participate in FIA's services with their hired
agencies, then the parents never successfully complete the Parent/Agency Agreement. These
agencies are FIA's hired hands that build a case against the parents. If the parents elect
to engage in services provided by professionals of their choice or referred by their HMO
or other health care providers, then the parents must pay enormous amount of money for
these services and for these professionals to come to court on their behalf to testify.
More importantly, the Court views expert witnesses hired by the parents as hired hands and
discounts any testimony given by these professionals as being adversarial and
unbelievable. FIA and some of the Courts have gone as far as accusing the parents of
failing to comply with the Parent/Agency Agreement by engaging their own professionals for
service which has been deemed grounds for termination of parental rights. It is a no-win
situation that fails to focus on the best interest of the child.
Also, most children are placed with foster parents who intend to adopt the children.
The purpose of placement is to find the children a permanent, stable and safe environment
which they can live with dignity and respect. The focus in Michigan is no longer keeping
families together by repair or rehabilitating parents to properly care for their children.
The focus in Michigan and across the country now is to quickly place children into
permanent homes. This means the pool of foster parents are usually upper middle class with
financial security. The children are then introduced to the finer things in life like
Reeboks, Nikes, Starter Jackets, designer clothes, and other luxuries that the average
working class or middle class family cannot afford to provide for their children. The
children readily associate with their new parents as being the good parents that can
provide for their needs and the biological parents as being abnormal, dysfunctional, poor,
and unable to meet their new basic needs. Some children do not want to come home because
they cannot live the new life provided by their foster parents to which they have become
accustomed to during foster care.
This system of protective services and foster care is very disturbing. During this
whole process, the Department of FIA is raking in the Federal and State grants to support
its preventive, protective, and foster care programs. These are our tax dollars at work
and are being misappropriated and wasted to create a foster care and adoption industry in
our state. I am not arguing that there are never cases of child abuse or neglect in this
state. There are real cases of that sort for which proper social nets are needed. However,
our current system is froth with abuse of power and waste of precious tax dollars that
created false allegations of child abuse and neglect for the purpose of creating
employment for social workers and private industries providing foster care services,
counseling agencies that provide individual therapy and psychological evaluations, and
community education programs that provide anger management and parenting classes. All of
these agencies are funded by our tax dollars which are being wasted on parents who are
only less than perfect and on children who are not abused or neglected in the legal sense.
Furthermore, all parents are court ordered to pay
child support to the foster parents
through the Friend of Court for the care of their children while in foster care. Parents
pay an average of $25.00 to $30.00 per week per child if FIA is providing the foster care
family through its county agency. Parents pay approximately $150 to $2,000 per month if a
private agency is hired by FIA to provide foster care services. Nobody is sure where that
money goes once it is paid to the Friend of the Court.
The system of FIA needs to be restructured to make its workers accountable for their
actions. Presently, FIA workers have complete immunity from civil actions in the State of
Michigan, unless a parent can prove that a worker was grossly negligent in the performance
of his or her duties. Unfortunately that is impossible to prove. If a parent pleads or the
Probate Court finds that it has jurisdiction over the child for neglect and abuse, FIA
continues to have jurisdiction over the child and ultimately terminates the parents
rights. That will bar any suit against the FIA worker under the immunity doctrine.
Once your child is in the system, FIA and its social workers are not accountable for
the workers' actions. The courts accept the workers' word as gold. The only recourse a
parent has is to appeal the Probate/Family Court's decision, which is very expensive. Most
of the parents who are my clients spent approximately $10,000 to $20,000 in defending
against FIA in child protection cases, even when they pleaded guilty. Most of my parents
end up losing their homes, vehicles, jobs because of court appearances and engagement of
professional services, and savings. Most of my parents are forced into bankruptcy. [*]