Yesterday, July 12thwas our anniversary <3 I can’t believe it has been 15 years since I said, “I do.” Time flies! As we were leaving for dinner to one of our favorite gastronomical splurges, David looked at me as asked, “Why did you get so pretty?” I couldn’t help but laugh. This stage he is in is so adorable! The things he says are priceless. I went on to explain that his daddy and I were celebrating being married for 15 years! He looked confused. “Why are you getting married again?” He replied. I laughed, and explained it’s sort of like a birthday. We’re not getting married again, just celebrating every year that comes. “Will I get married?” He inquired. “I sure hope so! I pray you will find a wonderful girl, who will love you, and more importantly, love God,” I smiled. He furrowed his eyebrows and said, “I don’t want to get married! I want to marry you mommy! Why can’t I marry you?” And of course my heart just ((((((melted)))))) I gave him a big hug, while thinking to myself, “I’ll take it while I can! One day I’ll be walking you down the aisle!”
At dinner, Ricardo and I reminisced about years past. One particular thing not-so-romantic, but that will forever mark our anniversary, was the fact that three years ago we were on the phone with lawyers, and this year we were on the phone with lawyers, yet again. Except this time, we’re in a much better place—on the “other side” of the fight, if you will. We thanked God for his mercy and grace upon our family, and our marriage, which could have easily been destroyed. In the post where I talked about the initial meeting with my lawyer, he explicitly explained to me “your husband cannot defend you.” We were both perplexed as to why he would say such a thing. Then he went on, “They will say you care more about your wife, and are not prioritizing ‘the best interest’ of your child.” We were still confused. What could be more ‘in the best interest of a child’, if not a mother and father who loved and defended each other, in order to keep the family together? I posed these questions to my lawyer at the time, and if you haven’t figured this out yet, my lawyer did not parse words. He flinched, and proceeded to roar, “THEY ARE GOING TO TAKE THE KIDS AWAY FROM BOTH OF YOU! I’ve seen couples get divorced just so they could get their kids back. They don’t care about you! All they care about is getting those kids out!” I was once again caught completely off guard. I kept thinking, “Shouldn’t they care about the TRUTH?” I didn’t want to get yelled at again, so I kept my mouth shut, and this bible verse popped into my head:
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. -Proverbs 12:15
Now, years later, I’ve had time to do my homework, and look into what my lawyer was saying at the time. Much to my horror, he was right. Legally speaking, what does it mean to be “in the child’s best interest”? Late in the twentieth century, The United States Supreme Court first provided due process protection to minors in In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). The law recognized (minor) children as people, who are entitled to constitutional rights. In turn, children were entitled to the protection of the state and to services designed to help them when parental care, control, and assistance were not available or were beyond parental capacity. Let’s pause right here. One of President Ronald Reagan’s famous quotes comes front and center to my mind:
The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
You have probably never given that quote much thought, neither did I, until the day the government came to meddle in my life. Before the twentieth century, children were considered “assets” to which the parents have absolute right to possession. As a result, children were often used as cheap labor in sweatshops or farms, made to work hours a day for pennies. Ultimately, enactment of child protective services stemmed from an opinion that in many communities and families, what was considered reasonable discipline was, in fact, child abuse. Up to this point, I can understand why some judicial action was required on behalf of the children. But as we’ve seen repeatedly in history, when the government gets involved to “help” it can be a very slippery slope. Starting with the term “the best interest of the child.” It is a rather nebulous and ill-defined standard that opens a plethora of interpretations. There is still no concrete definitive standard to which a judge can look at, and the definition often varies from case to case. No wonder families thrust into this system are so confused! If you don’t have the resources, like we did, of an experienced attorney your family is already on the losing side of the battle.
Another problem with this whole system, I would say, is mandated reporting. Almost all states have laws on the books requiring professionals who come into contact with children—teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and the like—to report suspected cases of abuse. In most states, there are criminal penalties for those who have reason to believe abuse is taking place but say nothing—and those who make abuse claims that turn out to be unfounded generally have immunity. I find that last part to be very disturbing. To think an angry ex, or a grumpy neighbor can make any claim and not be held accountable if their claims are unfounded? Of course people who witness a child being hurt should want to intervene. But is getting the law involved really the way to go? Legally, how do we determine what abuse is, again a subjective, nebulous term. Structurally, all of the incentives in the system (one of the incentive programs known as ASFA) encourage intervention. CPS employees can lose their jobs for failing to act, but rarely for acting too aggressively. Most of the time, when CPS is called, no proof emerges that the parents did anything wrong. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 80 percent of investigations “the children were found to be non-victims of maltreatment.” Yet once CPS enters a family’s life, it can be nearly impossible for the family to free themselves from it. When CPS comes to your house they’re going to check your cupboards, check your refrigerator, look for signs of drug use (even if it’s prescribed), a dirty plate in the sink means you’re a hoarder, a pile of laundry means your house in unkempt, a hole in your child’s sneaker means you’re negligent. And that’s enough to keep the case open.
In our case, a “child abuse expert” came to Lucas’ hospital room after the surgery to speak with us. This doctor never identified him or herself as such. They simply stated they were the “pediatrician on call.” Much like the officer and social worker, this doctor implied he/she just wanted to talk. I’m pouring my heart out to this doctor, asking various questions, giving various scenarios with the nanny and the possibility that she may have dropped Lucas, all to later find out in court that these conversations were held against me. This doctor was less of a medical professional, and more like an agent of the state working as an investigator.
So much reform needs to be done. It’s hard to know where to start. But as it is with most things in life, it starts with education. I didn’t know my rights as a parent when law enforcement came knocking on (the hospital) door. I encourage every parent to study up on the Constitution, particularly the 14thAmendment, when it comes to your rights as a family. I was also made keenly aware of why the 5thAmendment exists, and no, it is not because you have something to hide. When CPS comes to your home, they do not have to read you your rights, but they still apply: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning.”
Knowing what I know today, I definitely would have kept my mouth shut on July 8, 2015.