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Colorado Quarterly Magazine 

"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"

 

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From Where I Sit by Homer Page

Child Protection or Child Endangerment

Iíve long been convinced that children with disabilities have not received decent from the Child Protection system. I am aware of a number of situations where parents with disabilities have been unfairly harassed because Social Service professionals have questioned their ability to care for their children. Often this is initiated by a mettling neighbor. Whether the person with the disability is a child or an adult, the child protection system appears more often than not, totally unprepared to act in the best interest of those involved. The inhumanity and the incompetence of the social services system has once again been demonstrated at a high cost to the family that unfortunately got caught up in its clutches.

A situation unfolded during August that left a family devastated. Our family includes a mother, father, and a 16 year old son. The father is disabled as a result of an industrial accident. The teenage son has a dual diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and a bi-polar disorder. He takes medication for his disabilities. The mother is employed and the son has a part-time summer job. The child is involved in scouting, and during the summer he attended scout camp. He goes to the movies with his friends and participates in other age appropriate activities. His attendance during the past school year was good. 

Our teenager also has spinal scoliosis. He, his parents, and doctors decided that he would have surgery to insert metal rods in his back to correct his spinal curvature. The surgery was scheduled for August 16, 2001. 

The family owns their home, but over the last several months they have experienced difficulty in maintaining the home. The fatherís disability limits the physical work that he can do and the son has episodes of destructive anger. He has turned his anger upon the house and done a significant amount of damage to the interior walls. The family made a decision to repair the house and sell it. In the week before their sonís surgery, the parents moved into an apartment and took their son to his grandmother who lives a few hours away to wait for his surgery. They used the time while he was out of town to work on the house.

Two nights before the surgery was to be done, the parents picked up their son and brought him back to their home. The following day, they left the boy at the house while they went to do some errands. During the time that they were gone, two policemen came to the home to investigate a neighborís report. The neighbor had told the police that there was a body in the house and that the boy was missing. The body turned out to be a stuffed animal. 

Even though the parents and the boy told the police that they were living in an apartment, the police reported to the County Social Services worker that the child had been abandoned in a house that was dangerous. The Department of Social Services took custody of the boy and placed him in a foster care home. Later the Department of Social Services caseworker told the family that if she had been told by the police that they were not living in the house she would not have placed the child in foster care. 

The child arrived at the foster care home at approximately 9:30 PM. He reported to the hospital for surgery at 7:30 AM the following morning. The foster care parent had not done the medical preparation that he had been asked to do.

The day after surgery an emergency hearing was held. The court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child and instructed the DSS to develop a plan that would be ready in time for the child to go home from the hospital with his parents. Things seemed on the way to being worked out, but this was an illusion. 

The GAL is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of the child, but in this case the GAL simply disappeared. She refused to visit the child or review the DSS plan for returning custody to the parents. The child remained in foster care for several weeks while everyone waited for the GAL to do her court appointed duty. 

Meanwhile, the parents were not allowed to bring the boy clothing so for the first week he only had a hospital gown to wear. At the foster care home he was kept in an upstairs room isolated from the rest of the house. He was given a banana for breakfast and a TV dinner in the evening. He received no lunch. This was a teen-age boy recovering from surgery. He lost weight and developed an infection in the incision in his back. 

Happily, custody has now been restored to the parents. The child is healing and will soon return to school. The family has decided to keep their house and they have moved back in. This story is resolving itself but the price has been high.

While this story is going to have a happy ending, a mistake in the foster care placement almost caused serious damage. The placement was in a home that specialized in behavioral disorders, not in medical rehabilitation. The childís bandages were not changed. The wrong antibiotics were put on his incision, and he was forced to sleep in an inappropriate bed. He fell on his back getting out of bed. 

This child should never have been taken from his parents. The Social Services acknowledges this to be true. It happened in the first place because of the ignorance, insensitivity, and arrogance of a policeman, and in the second place because of the inflexibility and unwillingness of the court, the DSS, and the GAL to listen to the facts. The situation was greatly complicated by the negligence of the GAL who has proven that she is unfit to serve in this extremely important position. 

A family raising a child with a disability was battered for no reason. They were forced to retain an attorney and incurred costs for which they had little money. The health and safety of the child was compromised. Not one positive thing came out of this disaster brought on by the Child Protection system. The best that can be said is that the family is strong enough to survive the injustice that the system rained down upon them. 

I do not believe this is an isolated situation. There is something really wrong with Child Protection. Good innocent parents get chewed up and children who really need protection often donít get it.

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