Reunification and CPS

I saw this op-ed penned, apparently, by an employee of the North Carolina Division of Social Services, over the weekend. The piece, predictably, seeks to reassure individuals that DSS isn't out to break up families - their mandate is quite the opposite: to reunify families wherever possible.

That's what I would expect from any social worker employed by a CPS agency. And I don't say that in a condescending or insulting way. I do honestly believe that most social workers who work in the child protection field believe in that mandate, at least in principle, and that they're for the most part good people doing an impossibly hard job.

So the article wasn't noteworthy to me for its premise.

It was most striking to me, as an attorney who works frequently in the Child Protective Services area on behalf of frightened parents accused of abuse and neglect, for what it failed to mention.

I've read the article several times now, and what strikes me most about it is that nowhere in its several paragraphs is there any mention of the parent's rights.

The piece describes the judicial and agency process by which investigations are launched and completed in somewhat cursory fashion (although that may be a function of limited space in a newspaper's website). But nowhere does it mention that:

  • Parents have the right not to speak to agency workers and police officers
  • Parents are not required to consent to a search of their homes
  • Or that parents are entitled to attorney representation

Sure, there's a bit of a bias here, which is reflected in the following quote:

“Most people we see are good people. They don’t want to hurt their children. They haven’t learned good parenting skills. They may be under extreme stress and don’t have good coping skills, or they may be impaired by mental illness or addiction.”

I don't blame the author for possessing that bias. But it is a bias. It assumes that "most people" interviewed haven't "learned good parenting skills." That, in essence, most cases are founded.

But as the article's own recitation of statistics proves, that's just not the case:

Records show that DSS received 1,370 calls reporting suspected abuse or neglect during the 2011-12 fiscal year. Of those, 1,138 reports were investigated, and 133 families received in-home social work services from DSS to help them stay together. In only 81 cases were children placed in foster care. The remaining reports were deemed unsubstantiated and not in need of services.

(emphasis added)

I think this piece is a well-meaning attempt at reassurance, but as an objective explanation of the process it falls somewhat short. Parents need the full story -- including a full and practical understanding of their civil rights in child protective services investigations.