Monday Morning Thoughts: A Losing Battle against Child Abuse

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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

 

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: A Losing Battle against Child Abuse”

  1. Delia M.,

    Perhaps the D.A. should stop wasting valuable precious resources harassing, needlessly, law abiding citizens in a sick attempt to procure cash for convictions. Sometimes their conviction and incarceration  is even an innocent person. But by that time, they don’t care. And if they do care, they have to pathetically save face.

  2. Delia M.,

    David, pretend for just a minute that a series of misunderstanings placed you in the position of wrongfully being accused of harming one of your children. Would you write this article the same way?

    1. Tia Will

      Delia

      The presumption of innocence should always pertain whether the alleged abuser is family member or stranger. The investigation should be identical since if there is abuse, the crime is the same regardless of the the relationship of perpetrator to victim.

      1. Howard P

        Maybe we’re talking same thing, maybe not… but, if a parent/step-parent/household member is suspected, the child needs to be removed/protected from proximity to the accused… has nothing to do with ‘guilt’/presumption of innocence… has everything to do with protection of the abused…

        If Delia’s postulation was to occur, an innocent accused would voluntarily remove themself from physical presence, until things are “sorted out”… I can’t really imagine being in that situation, but I think that’s what I might/should do, if accused of child abuse, knowing my innocence…

  3. Tia Will

    I have had personal experience with the approach of assuming that claims of abuse are false. Luckily, I received very good legal advice that allowed me to avoid a serious mistake. My children were undergoing emotional abuse ( in the form of denial of appropriate mental health care counseling) during my separation and divorce. I asked my lawyer if I could make a case for exclusive custody of the children. What he advised me is that if I were to proceed, the most likely outcome is that the children would have been taken away from me and full custody granted to their emotionally abusive father.

    They eventually both received appropriate counseling and have recovered.

  4. Delia M.,

    But in Yolo county and other counties, there is no presumption of innocence. If you are low income and/or non white, one is  presumed guilty until one can prove you are innocent. In many cases, not all.

  5. Delia M.,

    Wow, Howard, it is somewhat easy for you to say that the parent should voluntarily remove themselves from the child’s life while the screwed up CPS system sorts it all out.
    I suspect that if a similar scenario happened to you and you were a parent, you would not voluntarily remove yourself from your child’s life and patiently wait.

    1. Howard P

      As I said… cannot imagine being in that situation… yet, if, while it is being sorted out, the abuser wants to get rid of evidence?  I guess it may be related to the accuser is… if the child accuses, what is their age? Apparent veracity?  If a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend accuses, and is in a position to care for/protect the child?  Other?

      Obviously, I punched a “button” of yours… not my intent… but altho’ there should be an assumption of innocence (individual), should there also not be a presumption that something doesn’t need to be followed up on.  And I do believe in the presumption that the ‘victim’ be protected until things resolve.

      Guess you agree that CPS ‘properly’ assumed/presumed ‘innocence’ of the parents/caretakers of ‘baby Justice’… at least until they completed a full investigation, and it was adjudicated in the Courts… I just don’t share that opinion.  Didn’t seem to turn out swimmingly…

       

  6. Tia Will

    Howard

    If Delia’s postulation was to occur, an innocent accused would voluntarily remove themself from physical presence, until things are “sorted out”

    Unfortunately, sometimes it is much more complicated with both parents accusing the other of some form of abuse or neglect. This is ostensibly one of the reasons that California opted for “no fault” with 50/50 custody because it is just too onerous to sort how where the truth lies with young children. Part of our settlement was based on his threat to charge me with “neglect” based on my weekly 12 hour call shifts which I covered with a live in nanny.

    The other aspect is that California law heavily favors “family reunification” and parental rights over what is best for the child since the latter is much harder to determine

    1. Howard P

      You are correct Tia… instead of “would” should have used words like “should”, or “might want to consider”…  but, what can you expect from a ‘troll’… now up to at least four who seem to consider me so… feel free to add to that, as it makes an ‘even’ number (no matter how ‘oddly’). [and/or “offensive”…]

  7. Delia M.,

    Are you willing to adjust the budget in CA to properly fund CPS? (CA Dept. Social Services and county programs). If not, there will be no safety net for abused children and no legal recourse for caretakers who are wrongfully accused.

  8. Claire Benoit

    The other problem with this is unethical/inept officials in this network who have the ability to get very creative with what constitutes “abuse”

    In one of my hearings Visiting Judge Arvid Johnson literally ordered Yolo CPS to “make a case” against me of “emotional abuse” based on my stay in Europe with my kids after the court granted their bio dad (who has an extremely worrisome history of abuse and mental illness) unsupervised access and then custody of my toddlers.

    based on that, my ex and I are now on record in this court as “child abusers” and this is what the DA is able to use as a justification to place my toddlers into foster homes upon arrival to the US. Do you really think toddlers are going to benefit in any measure from a foster home placement when the only “abuse” they’ve been subject to is wholly fabricated by a court and DA who is mad at their mom???

    I’ve heard of kids being taken into foster care in cases where mom is keeping kids from dad out of anger (far more rare than people think. Usually moms have valid reasons). But EVEN in cases where a divorcee is acting out of bitterness, there’s some measure of normalcy to that as a part of divorce. Time heals wounds and it is likely (as long as there’s no abuse) the family will eventually heal. Kids being taken into foster homes as a result only creates deeper harm and dysfunction and trauma with ZERO benefit to the kids. Again, courts immersing themselves in family affairs and making a bad situation exponentially worse.

    So this sort of gives courts the power to abuse vulnerable children. If everyone were above board, it’d be great – but it seems not to be the case at all. Not in this county.

     

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