Far and away the most visited page on my web site is “Ten Things You Must Do if CPS Knocks at Your Door.” It’s so popular that it’s appeared on at least one other attorney’s site. I’m flattered, and it’s good information that people need to have – the more the better. It’s little more than a short list, though, usually read by panicked parents needing quick information.
A more in-depth discussions of CPS Investigations seems in order. What rights and responsibilities does CPS have in conducting an investigation? How are abuse and neglect defined? What rights and responsibilities do parents have? What can CPS do? What can’t it do? We’ll cover this and more in the upcoming series.
The Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect are Vague at Best
Let’s start by looking at two public service announcements that made the rounds a few years ago:
The message is Orwellian: all you need to call CPS on your neighbor is some vague, unformed, uninformed inkling of a speculation that someone might or might not be a child abuser. But beyond that, did you notice anything missing? How about a definition of abuse or neglect? Think about it. Have you EVER heard concrete definitions of abuse or neglect? That’s because there aren’t any.
And that’s by design.
In his book Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System, Stephen Krason writes that
The CPS (child protective system) is a system that in its conception forty years ago had a utopian type of vision: it must be aimed at preventing all possible abuse or neglect. So legislators around the country put in place utterly vague laws, so that no one could tell for sure all that fit into the categories of “abuse” and “neglect,” and the meanings could be infinitely expanded. The CPS would be given sweeping authority and discretion. This arrangement of things became the basis, in theory at least, for a universal monitoring of all American families. All utopias become dystopias, however. Thus, we have the nightmare of so many innocent parents accused and families intruded upon, frightened, separated, and their rights trampled upon. The CPS is a touch of the totalitarian.
Jeanne M. Giovannoni, in her book Defining Child Abuse, writes that
[m]any assume that since child abuse and neglect are against the law, somewhere there are statutes that make clear distinctions between what is and what is not child abuse and neglect, but this is not the case. Nowhere are there clear-cut definitions of what is encompassed by the terms.
She wrote that back in 1979, and her words are true to this day.
I have worked with the Texas Home School Coalition and other groups for a number of years, lobbying the Texas legislature to tighten the definitions. But progress is painfully slow, and there are powerful forces within the child abuse industry who work against us because the vague definitions suit them just fine.