This weekend’s commentary on the secret court system elicited a comment from Supervisor Matt Rexroad: “The child dependency court being hidden from public view has created huge problems. People would be outraged if they knew what was happening right here in Yolo County.”
Mr. Rexroad, of course, has personal experience in the dependency court – and I believe his comment to be spot on. But the reality is that the entire system is questionable and has glaring problems – not just dependency, but, as we have illustrated over the years, the family courts and the child welfare system.
The DA’s office last week announced they had received a child abuse reporting grant – for three years in the amount of $750,000.
In their release they note, “The grant will provide funding to develop an Electronic Child Abuse Reporting System. This system will enable Child Welfare Services, Local Law Enforcement Agencies, Probation and the District Attorney to improve the communication, transparency, and information sharing in Yolo County in cases involving suspected child abuse.”
“This shows the amazing collaboration we have in Yolo County,” said District Attorney Jeff Reisig. “No at-risk child should be lost through the cracks of government bureaucracy. This collaborative and innovative effort is designed to close any system gaps and improve the critical systems we all use to protect kids from abuse.”
While we agree, we are skeptical not only of the system but of Mr. Reisig’s office in general.
It was last fall, when the DA was prosecuting Samantha Green for the death of her 19-day-old son Justice, that problems in the system appeared to the public.
A Yolo County social worker testified about her decision to return the baby back into the home of his parents, even though he was born testing positive for methamphetamine in his system.
At first, according to reports in the Vanguard, Samantha Green denied her drug usage and claimed she only tried drugs once. Then she was more forthcoming when confronted with test results, but still minimized her drug usage.
While the worker placed a protective hold on the baby, she allowed it to remain with the parents. CPS was worried about the baby not being in the home very often, about the housing situation, and about Frank Rees’ unwillingness to use CalWorks and food stamps.
However, following the February 9 meeting, CPS did not meet with the family again until the day that Ms. Green went missing. By that point it was too late.
While we do not yet know the details, it would take two years after the death of Baby Justice for the father, Frank Rees, to be arrested. By that point he had fathered another potentially meth-addicted baby.
Then there is the case of Claire Benoit, where the mother of four has remained in Europe, refusing to return, as the courts decide on custody and visitation rights for the father, about whom the Vanguard has documented numerous accusations and some court dispositions of abuse.
At a hearing back in February, a worker from the Child Abduction Unit shared that they have contacted Ms. Benoit, and have asked her numerous times to return to the United States.
“She just doesn’t trust the court system,” the worker explained.
And why should she? Over the last year, the Yolo County DA’s office, which acknowledges truth in her accusations of abuse by the father of the kids, has repeatedly consorted with and sided with the father in the matter. The DA’s office is entertaining the idea of prosecuting the mother for parental abduction, even as the father’s abusive history is a matter of court record.
It seems that every month the Vanguard has been presented with compelling evidence of the family courts simply ignoring evidence of child abuse. We have seen photographs that have reportedly been presented in court and medical records documenting this abuse – and neither the court, the DA, or the child welfare system has stepped up.
Author Barry Goldstein, author of the book, The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion, was the keynote speaker at the 21st Annual Northern California Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Conference in 2015.
Among other things, he discussed the fact that there are different systems for how to handle claims of child abuse in the system.
If it is a stranger, the reports are aggressively investigated by law enforcement and the findings are forwarded to prosecutors, who then file criminal charges and the case proceeds in criminal court.
However, if it is a family member, it is handled very differently. It is not investigated by law enforcement, and often custody courts operate under the presumption that the allegations are false and are initiated in order to gain advantage during custody hearings.
Goldstein writes, “When the alleged predator is someone the child knows, particularly a family member, the approach is completely different. The investigation is led by a social worker. They are required to provide notice to the parents which provides the opportunity for the molester to destroy evidence and silence the child. There is a delay in interviewing the child and the abuser. The purpose of the investigation is to reunify the parent and child and little effort is made to gather evidence.”
Mr. Goldstein cited evidence that false allegations of child abuse, including sexual abuse, are exceedingly rare (less than two percent of all cases that were eventually investigated), and yet the courts award custody to the offenders 85 percent of the time.
Resources are great, but unless the system is going to change, victims are going to be placed with their abusers because the family courts and custody courts are not set up to investigate criminal acts, and the DAs don’t seem to get involved in complaints that arise in such situations.
—David M. Greenwald reporting