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Presumed Guilty of Child Abuse

After Washington, D.C.'s Child and Family Services agency snatched the baby daughters of Greg and Juliana Caplan, a judge ordered their return, finding no reason to believe that that they had abused their daughters.

But the D.C. Government is still hounding the Caplans, who have already spent their life savings on legal fees, listing them in its child abuse registry. As Marc Fisher of the Washington Post notes, "Even after the court found for the Caplans, the city offered to end its investigation only if the parents submitted to counseling, anger management classes and unannounced visits from social workers. The Caplans declined the deal."

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles says that there should be a presumption of guilt in child abuse cases: "It may very well be that the weight of the evidence supports the Caplans' position," he said. "But the law is skewed properly toward the protection of the child."

Nickles assumes that seizing a child from her parents will "protect" the child. But as I noted yesterday, a child can experience devastating psychological harm from being taken from her parents. In Doe v. Lebbos (9th Cir. 2003), Judge Andrew Kleinfeld's dissent described the tragedy that befell a little girl who was seized from her father as a result of false abuse accusations:

"After being bounced around in the agency and foster parent bureaucracy for over a year, Lacey . . . 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. . . 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."

In England, the problem is even worse, since social workers who seize children receive adoption bonuses.

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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.