Protecting Your Family from Child Protective Services

Last month, The I.O. began a series with CPS expert Mike Gibson, “Protecting Your Family from Child Protective Services.” Highlighted in that article: how at risk any family truly is, the importance of never allowing a CPS investigator into your home, and how to prepare for the unexpected arrival of an investigator. This month, we continue the series on other strategies parents and caregivers need to protect their children from these marauders in the following interview with Mike Gibson.

I.O.: What other strategies are available to parents to turn the tide in their favor if they are ever under investigation?
MG: There are many strategies, but the best strategy is to be able to record the truth and facts surrounding an investigation in an unbiased manner. With the easy access and affordability of digital recording devices, i.e., digital voice and video recorders, all parents should have at least the ability to record all interactions with a civil authority on a voice recorder.
A video recorder is preferred as it also gives visual and non-verbal cues to the attitude of the authority involved . Sometimes those non-verbal cues are more important than what is actually said by a person. 
I.O.: Where can someone find the law that will cover their right to record?
MG: The legal right to record is covered in various state laws and also has been confirmed through supreme court decisions.  Each person would need to understand the specific laws of their states in regards to recording.  In Florida it is covered in Chapter 39 of the statutes.  Other states have general laws covering the right, and some also do as Florida and reaffirm that right in the statutes specifically dealing with CPS.
I.O.: What kind of response can someone expect from a CPS worker when they begin recording the encounter?
MG: Understand that you will most likely be challenged by an authority as to your legal right to record, but you must be able to adequately articulate to the authorities why you have a legal right to record and that you are going to avail yourself of that right. Most police and CPS are going to challenge you on exercising your rights, but you have to be adamant about exercising them.
If you back down and allow them to violate your rights, then your submission in most jurisdictions is seen as a waiver of your rights. This is why you must have a plan in place prior to their arrival so that other people will be able to witness and possibly record their abuses and violations of your rights.
 I.O.: How can a parent get law enforcement of their side?
MG: One of the best strategies is to have your local sheriff on the side of the people. This comes through real dialog with him about the needs of the community and his duty to uphold the law. Most sheriffs are elected, but most people don’t treat their sheriff like any other elected official. There is an aura of the old west sheriff who is invincible and who comes riding in to take out the bad guys and save the town. This type of mythology is unrelated to the realities of modern law enforcement.  
Most sheriffs are under pressure mostly from other governmental bodies, such as county commissions and other state and federal agencies that use the purse strings of budgets to manipulate him.
People need to first come together to elect a sheriff whom they believe will represent their interests and then when the pressures comes from the feds and the strings are trying to be pulled by them, then the people need to step up and support their sheriff.
Many times this takes the form of actually having to give up money or lose some program in the community. People need to show their sheriffs that even if a program is lost, they still support him.
Remember, as an elected official, the sheriff normally wants to be reelected and is under considerable political pressure. Law enforcement is no longer about just upholding the law, but is more about conflicting political ideologies that get worked out in who gets what portion of the budgetary pies.
If the sheriff isn’t performing the way a county commission feels is in the best political interests of the commission, they many times will punish the sheriff by taking away funds. When the funds aren’t available to adequately do his job, when something bad happens (and it always does), then the sheriff is the obvious sacrificial political scapegoat. Unfortunately, many voters are easily manipulated and go along with the political winds. 
An example of how these conflicting ideologies interfere is the following case in point:
The local sheriff’s deputies were called out to a domestic dispute where the wife stated the husband hit her. The wife had no physical proof of any physical altercation. But, the deputy stated that if they get called out to a domestic violence situation, there is a no-tolerance policy with his agency and someone is going to jail.
The husband was arrested and forced to be out of his home and away from his children for over six months. When the truth finally came out, the wife had been having an affair with another man and had planned with her new boyfriend to have the husband arrested to get him out of the home.
Of course, since the children were home, CPS was called out to investigate. The husband could not have contact with his children for the six months because he was deemed a threat by CPS.
There is a twist to this story though. The wife’s new boyfriend ended up being an unregistered sexual predator from another state who had been convicted of molesting a six year old boy. Since this mom had two sons, one who was five and one seven, she eventually had her children removed by CPS because she allowed the predator to have contact and even bathe the children alone. The children have since disclosed that there was probable molestation by the predator.
The horror these children had to endure is the direct result of a sheriff’s office internal policy that they have a no-tolerance policy toward domestic violence. This seems to be playing out the same way as many of the no-tolerance policies towards drugs and school.
The innocent become entangled in destructive, life-changing processes and the “authorities” walk away without even saying they are sorry. This is a political pressure put on a sheriff’s office by special interest groups and the result is destructive for children and family. 
I.O.: Who makes the bulk of complaints to CPS? Teachers? Neighbors? Law enforcement?
MG: The bulk of complaints come from schools, mental health services (such as counselors, psychologists, etc), law enforcement, other workers involved in CPS, family, associates and neighbors, pretty much in that order.
I.O.: What drives a CPS bureaucrat to insist on removing children from a home when no felony has taken place?
MG: CPS workers live in a climate of fear. The most asked question by CPS management to a CPS worker is what would happen to you if six months or a year from now something happened to this child and you were the last person to see him?
They are constantly in a CYA mode and many have the attitude that it is better to remove the children and let a judge make the decision as to whether or not anything is going on. In this way, CPS can always say that they took the parents before a judge, but the judge denied them, so it is the judge’s fault. 
I.O.: It sounds like the first priority for a CPS investigator is to safeguard their career, not the child.
MG: Parents need to know that CPS is a very politically-motivated agency. Their worst nightmare is for something to happen to a child and for the media to pick up and run with the story. At this point, their careers are in jeopardy. And, nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to CPS workers and management than their own careers.
I have heard statements through the years like, “I’m not taking a chance with these parents; I’m not losing my job because they won’t do what they need to do. I’m taking these children and letting the judge decide.” This is a very common experience within the ranks of CPS workers and management. 
On the other hand, there is the lesser seen person who is a control-freak and power hungry. This type of CPS worker in my experience is less often encountered than most people think. There is the occasional rogue who when given some power and authority will abuse that power and authority because they either have a political/ideological attitude that is socialistic or they think that their authority gives them license to do what they want and answer to no one. These are the ones who will tell you upfront that they are going to become a manager and no one is going to stop them.
They would cut the throat of their own grandmother if they thought it would get them a promotion. Unfortunately, they have a higher percentage of representation in upper management than the honest, hard-working person who feels they are trying to make a difference.
When these rogues come into power is what you now have in CPS. They set the institutional climate within the agency and are always trying to force their will on everyone else, both within the agency and in the community.
 I.O.: Are their any real solutions for improving this rogue agency?
MG: This problem with rogue management is probably the greater threat to children and families at this time. As I see it there is really only one way to adequately deal with this:  the devolution of the agency. The primary function of investigations and making decisions needs to be put with the county sheriff.
In Florida, eight sheriffs have done this and the statistics always show a better community response and lower incidents of removal and abuse/neglect. This is probably due to many factors. The sheriff is responsible for the overall law enforcement in the county.
There is better training of investigative staff and more controls since law enforcement has to prove to both a judge and the community (at election time) that they are making sane, legal and moral decisions about their citizens. An unaccountable agency has to do none of the above. I have talked over the years with investigators from counties who work for the sheriff and most of the political pressure from the agency does not exist and the workers are normally freer to make responsible decisions and work with families.
Nothing short of revolution in the way lawmakers, parents, and law enforcement perceive the function of CPS will stop this rogue, marauding agency from totally destroying the foundational fabric of our country:  the family.

Mike and Linda Gibson are available for one day seminars. Contact them at 352-489-6521.