Improving Child Protection in Kentucky part 3

This one sounds straight-forward but it would be difficult. How exactly does one define “neglect, abuse, and dependency” in such a way as to eliminate overreaching but also allow family court judges to protect children in need. I do think the “reasonable grounds” standard should be bumped up to probable cause though how much this would change actual practice is questionable.

    3. The vagueness of the definitions of neglect, abuse, and a dependent child under KRS 600.020 makes it difficult to apply the statute in a fair and uniform fashion. Likewise, the statute’s broad terms create the opportunity for findings of neglect, abuse, and dependency to be inappropriately applied. For example, as written, the statute can and, in some cases, has been applied to impoverished families as well as accidental injuries and deaths. The Cabinet should work with the Legislature to make any and all appropriate modifications to the statute to clarify the intent of the statute and, to the extent possible, eliminate the potential for misuse or over-application of the statute. Further, while KRS 620.040 requires a ‘probable cause’ standard before a judge may issue a search warrant to enable a law enforcement officer to enter a residence to evaluate the condition of a child, KRS 620.060 requires petitions for emergency custody to only meet a ‘reasonable grounds’ standard that one of three elements exists, in addition to a finding that the parents or other person exercising custodial control or supervision are unable or unwilling to protect the child. The second condition also includes the statement, “This condition shall not include reasonable and ordinary discipline recognized in the community where the child lives, as long as reasonable and ordinary discipline does not result in abuse or neglect as defined in KRS 600.020(1).” There are nine elements in KRS 600.020(1), adding to the confusion as to what substantiates abuse, neglect, or dependency.

When I was a worker and supervisor for the Cabinet, I only once heard of an ex parte order for the emergency custody of a child to be declined by a judge in my county. Most of the time, the worker presenting the ECO and petition went unquestioned by the judge. I heard from other counties, though, that getting an ECO was very difficult. Neither extreme is desirable. I think in my county, the workers always took the most cautious approach and trusted that the judge would say no if it was unreasonable. The judge always trusted the worker. Neither wanted to hear that the child they refused to remove the night before was now dead or seriously injured.

This “better safe than sorry” approach is entirely understandable. As I explained to someone recently, our society has gone from one extreme of underprotecting children through a slow progression to where we are now. We are now on the upswing of that pendulum and heading into the overprotection range. I suspect the pendulum has a bit farther to go in that direction and what we are hearing now are just the beginnings of recognition that we actually can be overprotective and we are heading that way.

How can we “overprotect” our children? They cannot protect themselves! When I refer to overprotection I am referring to the cost we pay for each increment of increased protection. At some point, that cost is too high. Some of those costs include children being removed when they would not have been at imminent risk of serious injury, death or sexual abuse. I have seen children removed for potential risks (non-imminent) and for non-compliance with workers. That is a high cost. It is damaging to children to remove them from their home – even if it is a far less than ideal environment. I have spent hours moving children from home to home to agency because they were unable to attach to care providers. Many of those attachment disorders were exacerbated or even caused by removal from their homes.

So, the most practical thing that could come from recommendation number 3 above is that both workers and judges are encouraged or somehow required to engage in discussion about each ECO and petition brought, before it is signed, about the imminence of the risk and alternatives that might exist instead of relying on the face of the document alone.

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4 Responses to Improving Child Protection in Kentucky part 3

  1. Pingback: Improving Child Protection in Kentucky « Lexington Lawyers

  2. jodi says:

    I don’t understand why the State can’t make an alternative that a family friend or relative stays in the family’s home for a while until the situation is resolved? Or allow the family, together, to go stay with family (i.e. “kids, we’re going to grandpa’s tonight!”) There are sooo many alternatives to taking the kids away, especially considering how difficult that is on a child. Of course, the concern is elevated because it’s so complicated and expensive to hire an attorney to help you get them back when they have been removed in error…Why throw the children in the middle when there are alternatives?

    >>> So, the most practical thing…both workers and judges are encouraged or somehow required to engage in discussion…about the imminence of the risk and alternatives that might exist instead of relying on the face of the document alone. >>>

    I wholeheartedly agree. A good part of that discussion, IMHO, would include some questioning of the social worker to determine if s/he has evidence, or is relying on the allegations themselves. For example, if a parent is accused of medical neglect, has the social worker talked to the child’s doctor? From your experience, how often did social workers do “quick” investigations and proverbally fill in the gaps to get emergency orders?

    On another note…

    I read an interesting article the other day which cited a study of social workers and PTSD. According to this study there is a high percentage of social workers with a type of “vicarious” PTSD. Since PTSD can alter your ability to rationally judge a situation (i.e. reacting to car backfires as if they were gunshots), how do you think this would affect the system (assuming the study is accurate and represenative of the system as a whole)?

  3. amy yahoo says:

    I think social workers SHOULD be held accountable, at least here in Newport KY they are not… the judge just GIVES ECO’s like they are candy without really making the social worker provide any clear evidence such as pictures, sworn testimony or doctors concerns or medical EVIDENCE. So many times I have seen peoples child or children removed because someone CALLS the abuse hotline and gives FALSE allegations against the parent due to family differences, being pissed off at that person, or just being plain malicious towards someone. I give credit to the CHFS for being quick to investigate abuse/neglect allegations in a timely manner but to be so quick about ripping a child away from their family without REAL reason totally disgusts me! from a mothers point of view having their child ripped away and placed in a foster home or even a RELATIVES HOME because the CHFS worker says its for the best interest of the child is total B.S. I wont go into specific details but my child has to reside at a RELATIVES house because of Dependency on me but yet I have told CHFS workers how I visit him and he has raging diaper rash EVERYTIME i see him and this chicks husband does pot 24/7 and she has her MOM watch my son while shes at work and she is PROVEN unfit to watch ANYONES child…. I told the workers that and all they did was give this family member a slap on the wrist but when she still does it after being told No… I tell the workers and provide PROOF and they dont even give a shit… she gets ktap foodstamps and wic for my son but doesnt half to show receipts showing where the ktap foodstamps or wic is being spent on my son… Glad this will be over soon… Judge Woeste is a fucking morning as is CHFS of Newport KY

  4. Pingback: Troutman & Napier, PLLC | Improving Child Protection in Kentucky

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