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Government Child-Snatching

Earlier, Ted Frank wrote about how government social workers have an incentive to overreact to erroneous allegations of child abuse, and take children away from loving parents, because they reasonably fear that they will be fired if a child on their caseload dies, even if the death was unforeseeable. (The problem is even worse in England, fueled by adoption bonuses). Children seized and placed into foster care often experience devastating psychological harm.

Washington, D.C.'s Child and Family Services agency (where 6 case workers were recently fired after a child died) seized the twin baby daughters of Greg and Juliana Caplan after one was taken to the hospital for bleeding behind the eye.

"The doctors said the bleeding was not caused by shaking" or other abuse, but the Caplans had to go to court and wait two weeks to get their daughters back. Their names are still tainted by being listed on the city's child protection register, even though a judge ruled there were "not reasonable grounds" to believe that their daughter was abused.

Even if social workers snatch a child in violation of the Constitution, the child is placed in foster care, and the child is then psychologically destroyed by abuse during foster care, the social workers typically escape liability due to qualified immunity. A disturbing example is Doe v. Lebbos, 348 F.3d 820 (9th Cir. 2003), where a little girl was left so traumatized by her time in foster care that she developed severe behavioral disorders. Dissenting Judge Kleinfeld described the tragedy that befell her after she was taken from her father as a result of false sexual abuse accusations:

"After being bounced around in the agency and foster parent bureaucracy for over a year, Lacey was quite a different little girl. She was 'diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing voices, and suicidal ideation.' She was put on anti-psychotic medication. She had taken to smearing feces and to other abnormal and highly disruptive behavior. Though Lacey had somehow held her personality together through her mother's death, her father's lack of financial success, and the move back to California, what the county did to her to "protect' her apparently destroyed her. Something in this experience, perhaps being ripped away from her father for whom she consistently expressed love during the whole miserable period, perhaps having strangers strip her and search her heretofore private parts, perhaps being put with caretakers instead of her father, amounted to a trauma that was too much for her."

Government child snatching is even worse in England than it is in the United States. There, social workers seize children in order to receive adoption bonuses. English children are taken from their parents based on mere speculation that they may abuse them in the future, even if the government concedes the child has never been abused.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.