Sunday, May 25, 2014

Falsely accused by CPS

One "goes with the job" aspect of working with the Innocence Project of Texas is that, when you tell people you work on "innocence" issues, there is a certain proportion of the public who will begin to tell you about their CPS case. This story from Andrea Ball at the Austin Statesman ("Overturned child abuse rulings point to problems, advocates say," May 24) puts some data to the phenomenon:
Each year, the state overturns more than 1 out of 3 decisions challenged by people who CPS says have abused or neglected a child. Of the 1,146 cases appealed in 2013, 42 percent were reversed, up from 27 percent in 2009. By the time such rulings are overturned, however, they may already have had profound effects. CPS decisions are used in criminal and civil court cases. They can bar people from becoming foster parents. And, as in Hall’s case, they can play into custody disputes.

The 42 percent rate of reversal surprised and alarmed child advocates.

“I think it’s positive for me to see that CPS is actually admitting to wrongdoing and correcting it,” said Johana Scot, executive director of the Parent Guidance Center. “On the other hand, it’s a very scary statistic. That means there are probably a lot of wrongful substantiations, which is scary to me because it’s very harmful to the children and families.” ...
Child Protective Services investigates 160,000 neglect and abuse cases in Texas each year. Investigators confirm the allegations in about 40,000 of those cases.  ...
Fewer than 3 percent of the 40,000 confirmed abuse cases — the only type eligible for CPS review — are appealed each year.
Extrapolating roughly from these data - between 27 and 42 percent of appeals being overturned, assuming no one was falsely accused who didn't appeal - that conservatively puts the number of people falsely accused by CPS in Texas at between 300 and 500 per year. No data in the story to indicate what proportion may have caught criminal cases as part of that process, but I bet it's not insignificant. This is an agency not known for subtlety in its overreach.

Just a few hundred people per year from every corner of the state falsely accused by the government of harming their children. Nothing could go dodgy in that scenario, could it?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

So 1.3% is unacceptably high. What percentage would be acceptable?

Anonymous said...

When we are presented with data (numbers and percentages), we must depend on the veracity of the presenter(s). Are they advocates for one group who see only one side of the story. Do they invariable ignore or attempt to suppress any data that support a different point of view.

Basically, are they zealots with an ax to grind?

Anonymous said...

I am a family law attorney. Before I moved out of state, a substantial portion of my practice involved defending parents in CPS cases. These cases are much more complex than your analysis would suggest. I'm not saying that parents were never wrongfully accused by CPS, but rarely was the abuse or neglect cut and dried. There were a few cases where only one of two possibilities could be true; either the parent was a child abuser or the parent was completely innocent, such as the parents of the infant who turned up with spiral fractures of his femur. Or the father of the child who had a head injury: had the child accidentally fallen out of the stroller as the father claimed, or had the father intentionally hit the child's head on the floor in a fit of rage? In those case, if you were an investigator for the department, would you give the parents the benefit of the doubt, or give that benefit to the allegations of abuse, in order to protect the safety of the child? They don't have an easy job to do.

In many CPS cases, there is no doubt that the child or children were initially subject to abuse or neglect, but the termination case turns on whether the parents have done enough to rehabilitate themselves and provide a safe living environment for the family. When the infant is born methamphetamine in her system, and the mother delays entry into rehab, the department seeks termination of parental rights based upon mother's failure to work services, a judge or jury agree and terminate but the court of appeals overturns for some reason, does that mean the department wrongfully accused the mother? Of course not, the department acted appropriately and in good faith at the onset of the case.

In other cases, whether there has been abuse or neglect at all is a matter of degree. For instance, the child with a hand-shaped bruise on her buttocks: does the bruise indicate an arguably-appropriate level of parental discipline or does it rise to the level of child abuse? If you remove a bruised child from the parents' home, and then the court of appeals overturns the case, did you wrongfully accuse the parents in the first place?

I am not familiar with the more recent appellate cases, and so I cannot say on what grounds those cases were overturned. But I don't think you can look at the percentage of cases overturned by the courts of appeal and extrapolate the number of parents who are wrongfully accused.

rodsmith said...

well from what I set a 1 out of 3 ..not 1.3 error rate is a pull it out of your ass error rate.

we could save millions just by replacing every investigator in CPS with a receptionist/phone operator and a bag. Every time names come in. stick them in the bag and pull them out. Every other one will be marked as guilty and the other innocent.

Those random numbers would be about the same as what we are spending millions on now. Plus would be a hell of a lot quicker.

Anonymous said...

rodsmith -

Buy a calculator.

42% reversals x 3% appeals = 1.3% of cases overturned.

Anonymous said...

5/26/2014 12:07:00 AM
Thanks for presenting the much needed other side of this story. My primary concern is for the abused children.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the children's side of this equation. how many times do they have to be left alone while mommy goes to the bar or to score? How many times do they have to get up & get themselves ready for school? How many times does the child have to go to the juvenile system because mommy &/or daddy don't have the know-how to be a parent? IMO, CPS fails to remove kids too may times.

Anonymous said...

we could go a long way to fixing some of our problems with CPS & the juvenile justice system by requiring that parenting classes be taught from 6th grade through 12th grade as a required course.

Margaret Moon said...

I see a lot of people (those who posted) justifying their jobs, which undoubtedly pay very well. Politicians and government employees, at all levels, do this all the time. They create a "solution" and then must find victims to be the problem!
And that outcry, "What about the children?!?" certainly has merit but check out how many very expensive agencies are "protecting the children." That's all that lawmakers, et al. need to say, and they can pass any ridiculous law and/or get more money from the taxpayers to pay the aforementioned big salaries!

Anonymous said...

How could CPS go wrong? Let's see

1. You ask twenty-something social workers to solve the problems of parents who do not want their help and of families whose dysfunction has gone back generations.

2. You overload their workload so that if you do anything more than cursory work, you will get behind and be suspended by management who only cares about speedily moving cases and avoiding the public scrutiny that comes from child deaths.

3. You send them into court where some family attorney jumps down their throat because they did not do everything but wipe some lousy parent's behind.

The best solution would be to disband CPS, leave child abuse cases to law enforcement to investigate, and accept that no social worker is going to keep some lousy/parent from abusing a child.

Not a CPS worker, but married to a (thankfully) former CPS worker.

rodsmith said...

well 6:49 I might need a cal if not for this!

"Each year, the state overturns more than 1 out of 3 decisions challenged by people who CPS says have abused or neglected a child. Of the 1,146 cases appealed in 2013, 42 percent were reversed, up from 27 percent in 2009."

you however seem to need a pair of glasses.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, greater than or equal to 1.3 percent, which would be the most conservative possible estimate; those are the ones who win on appeal. The assumption that everyone appealed who was falsely accused, or that all falsely accused appellants prevailed, suffer from several obvious and some less than obvious, if tangential flaws.

I've said before I think the system-wide false conviction rate for Texas' adult justice system is between 1.5-2.5%, which for Texas' total prison population would be 2,250 to 3,750 people. If the CPS false accusation rate turned out to be that high, I would not be surprised.

RE: What percentage would be acceptable? I suppose that would depend on whether they were taking away your kids or somebody else's, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

When only 3% of actions are appealled, that sounds like a pretty good starting point. That means that 97% percent of parents either accept the CPS judgement, or don't care enough about their children to send in an appeal.

Anonymous said...

"I suppose that would depend on whether they were taking away your kids or somebody else's, wouldn't it?"

No, if you are interested in good public policy, it shouldn't depend in those considerations. Anyone who isn't an idiot recognizes that some family situations are so bad and abusive that children must be removed. The non-idiots also recognize that there isn't a formula for making that determination. It is a judgement call that will not always be correct. Sometimes being incorrect means that parents have to negotiate a somewhat complicated appeals process. Sometimes being incorrect means that children die.

So the question stands - what percentage of incorrect actions should be acceptable? If you don't like 1.5-2.5%, what would be acceptable from a public policy perspective?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If it were your kid taken from you wrongfully, 7:07, you wouldn't care a whit about public policy, would you? You'd want your kid back.

As for the public policy, I don't think it's reasonable or wise to set a goal of x% acceptable false convictions. For starters, we don't have good data - the 1.5-2.5% could be low. Instead, the causes of false convictions should be systematically identified and minimized. Justice is sought in the real world in individual cases, not in aggregate statistical assessments. It's a process, not an outcome.

Anonymous said...

GFB -
I agree that percentage statements of this sort have a great deal of uncertainty associated with them, should be taken with a grain of salt, and are not the measure of good or bad public policy.

But I didn't trot out these "data" as a grapic illustration of policies run amok. You did. If you believe the numbers are a meaningful representation of something bad going on, then in all fairness you need to spit out what the numbers would look like if they were to illustrate something good going on.

If you haven't thought about things enough to offer an opinion, fine. Think about it and get back with us.

But please don't cry wolf out of one side of your mouth and then say numbers aren't important out the other side. That is just insulting.

Anonymous said...

While some argue about numbers the rest can consider this tid-bit.

To Call CPS or Not To Call CPS?

Those witnessing children being neglected (ex: playing in the middle of the street at 10:00PM wearing nothing but Pampers) would think it's their duty to contact CPS and they'd be there lickity split or the cops would be all over it. Some would simply tell the kid to get out of the street and get inside his / her house & the parents would be very thankful.

When we saw it and did our duty, the so called mom came outside and said her kids don't play in the road anymore. WTF? Call the cops & CPS right? A few cars that had to slam on the breaks and honked took time to knock on the door and where also met with denial and rudeness, decided to call the cops. No cops came out (despite being less than 1000 feet away) but around a week later CPS rolled out and by 10:00PM the next night they were back out in the middle of the street riding tricycles. They told them the gringos called in on them. Resulting in an entire neighborhood saying F&$K the Police & CPS & the parents of the soon to be dead or maimed kids.

Sad when you have to resort to nicknaming neglected kids as "The Squirrels" and are forever forced to cringe when you hear sirens coming down the street. When the media knocks on the doors after the fact (when they are eventually crushed) we all have decided to tell them to follow the ignored 911 Calls and promptly shut the doors in their faces.

*No Checks = No Balances

Bill said...

In regards to how many parents challenge CPS, I had a friend who was from Texas tell me that CPS took her child based on an unsubstantiated and unverified complaint, and in violation of the rules adopted the child out within only a couple of days, with no notice to the mother. I do not know how widespread this may be, but it may play a role in how often parents challenge such determinations in court.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has several years experience as a former CPS worker and now a lawyer (in another state) who works within the system, I can tell you, it is easy to Monday morning quarterback decisions made by workers in the field but, go try and do the job for a while and you'll see what an impossible job it really is. The person who talked about 20-something social workers is absolutely correct. The turnover is tremendous. Most caseworkers last about 2 years. The burnout rate is astronomical. To the person who said the jobs pay well... they didn't back in the 90s when I was doing it. Considering the demands of the job it should have paid at least twice what it did. You have to go into situations which are potentially very dangerous. You go in some of the filthiest places you can imagine. Your caseload is impossible so you are constantly afraid something you didn't have time to do will come back and bite you. Of course your bosses will quickly throw a caseworker under the bus to save their own ass even though they know the problems are with the system. Then you have to be on call and go to people's houses in the middle of the night. You have judges and lawyers that demand you do the impossible and, when a parent doesn't do what they should, the judge blames CPS for not performing a miracle. Yes, you have a few bad caseworkers and sometimes mistakes are made. But most are honestly trying hard to do a good job. Of course, most are also right out of college and really lack the life experience to deal with the difficult situations and decisions they are expected to make. Go try and walk in their shoes for a while and you'll be singing a different tune. Its a job many of those commenting on here probably wouldn't last a month in. So, what's the solution. Having observed the system both from inside and out for more than 2 decades, the problem will never be solved without putting more money into the system. Of course, no one is going to ever properly fund this system. To do the kind of job people expects would require hiring more experienced people, more of them, and giving them more resources. That's never going to happen. So, what you've got now is about as good as it will ever get. I haven't seen much change (except caseworkers) since the early 90s. I'm pretty conservative and not a big fan of people always saying that more money is the answer, but in this case, it really is. You need to significantly increase the salaries so you can get and keep more experienced caseworkers, hire more workers to reduce the caseloads, and give them more resources. Heck, they don't even provide cars. Imagine if you asked those DPS guys to use their own vehicles for the job. That is what CPS workers are asked to do. And, the state doesn't even provide insurance so, if they are transporting a client and something happens, its on them and their insurance company. Still think its a great paying job?

Anonymous said...

Continued from above
As far as Grit's story regarding overturned decisions. I assume this is talking only about administrative appeals. These are pretty much a joke. No one puts a lot of effort into them. The decision is made by an Administrative Law Judge and you could probably just toss a coin in many cases and obtain just as reliable a decision. I wouldn't give any weight to the numbers of determinations overturned in an administrative hearing. The process simply isn't reliable. Often these are phone hearings with little evidence presented. These are not cases that have gone to court and been heard by a real judge in a real judicial proceeding. The better numbers to look at would be the number of removals upheld by the courts. That number would probably be in excess of 90 percent. Yes, occasionally a mistake is made, or an overzealous worker removes a child who shouldn't be - but, see the problems listed above. How many of you will advocate for increased funding for CPS to get and keep better caseworkers, reduce caseloads and provide them with more resources? If you don't support the solution, quit bitching about the problem. From what I've seen over the last decade, the system as it is now is just the way it is going to be. Btw, even though I'm a former CPS worker, I'm not a fan. I have plenty of gripes with the agency and the system. But, it is what it is. These stats regarding administrative hearings are completely useless. Go spend some time with some caseworkers and learn what the job is really like. Go try and investigate a sexual abuse case where the allegations have come in the middle of a messy divorce and you don't know what the truth is but you still have to protect the child but you don't want to wrongly accuse someone. You try and make those calls and see how you do. See how long you last in the job. I agree with 1:55 that law enforcement should be more active in this area (and that is one thing that has changed- in the early 90s in some counties, law enforcement didn't bother with child abuse cases) but they don't want the responsibility of deciding when to remove a child from the home. Those CPS caseworkers that are so often criticized are the only ones willing to put themselves on the line and make those tough calls. The system is what it is. The same complaints were made 20 years ago and they'll still be heard 20 years from now. It is what it is.

Anonymous said...

Bill - your friend lied to you. There is no way a child could be removed and adopted out in a couple of days. A court case has to be filed, in most situations services must be provided to the parents. Even "fast-track" cases - cases where the situation is such that the court finds that services will not result in reunification - take months. There must be a hearing to terminate parental rights before a child is adopted and parents are entitled to a certain amount of notice before such a hearing. What your friend said did not happen.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anonymous person who posted at 12:07am on 5/26. I'm going to disagree with Anonymous who posted at 8:01pm and 8:02pm on 5/27. I don't think we need to throw more money at the CPS problem. In my years of experience, there were times when CPS had more resources (in the forms of investigators, caseworkers, etc) and times when they had fewer resources. I found that when CPS had fewer resources, they actually did a better job investigating the "real" cases of abuse. During the fat times, the Department would pursue more questionable cases. When you hire someone and give them the title of child abuse investigator, they have to go out and find child abusers to justify their salary and their position.

Anonymous said...

My family is currently a victim of the wrongfully accused. My mother in law got mad because we would not loan her money and since then has called in three separate complaints. None of what she has called in was ever followed through because it was all lies however because my husband and I had an argument in front of our kids and they tod cps about it when they came out on a false allegation cps took only our youngest daughter from us claiming she was too young to talk to them so she must be n danger. There is absolutely not evidence of abuse neglect or anything else for that matter. There hve never been any domestic abuse calls on my husband and I and we have done and completed every singe task that cps has requested us to do yet they still keep draggin it out on us and will still not let us be unsupervised with any of our children. This has been going on for 3 months now and I am completely lot and do not know wat to do any more. All I want is our kids back because they are the ones suffering from this madness. CPS helps some families and children but in our case they are completely wrong and unjustified. What happened to government not be able to take your children away that you birthed and raised with out criminal proof that something was wrong?