From a family lawyer's point of view, the adherence to standards and protocol when a child is being interviewed during allegations of child sexual abuse can spell the difference between whether a conclusion drawn by the interviewer can be said to be valid or invalid. In order to be certain that the protocol is followed, what could be better (especially since no lawyer and no parent may be present during the interview) than having a videotape that can later be viewed to document the procedure followed?
There are no uniform data at the national level that provide us with a global picture of the prevalence and incidence of abuse and maltreatment of people who are severely disabled. We know these numbers are high. We also know that perpetrators are often the people closest to the disabled person such as guardians, caregivers, neighbors or acquaintances, family members, healthcare providers or other residents.
In a recent article, Daniel Pollack, MSSA (MSW), JD and professor at the School of Social Work of Yeshiva University, examines the reasons why it is so difficult to quantify these abuses at a national level and what can be done to better protect people with profound disability.
Cite as: Pollock, Daniel. "Comprehensive Protection Needed for Individuals with Profound Developmental Disabilities at Risk of Abuse and Neglect." Policy & Practice 72, no. 6 (2014): 36-37.
Family lawyers are seeing a lot of custody cases these days in which allegations of abuse result in an investigation by Child Protection Services (CPS) workers. When a parent reports alleged abuse to CPS, that agency must investigate. If the allegations are found to be untrue, there can be a significant negative impact when the trial court makes decisions about child custody and parenting time. In a recent Michigan case, the father was awarded sole custody and that mother was awarded two hours of supervised parenting time per week until further order of the court.
A study to be published by the Annals of Emergency Medicine shows that accidental exposures to marijuana among children under the age of nine have increased in states that have laws allowing liberalized access to marijuana. The raw data for this study was derived from records of calls to poison centers from 2005 to 2011.
According to the journal article, the absolute risk remains low. The research shows that poison control calls were increased by 30% over earlier years in states that liberalized MJ use / access before 2005. In states where liberalization is more recent, the data showed an increase in calls of approximately 10%. By contrast, other states showed increases of only 2%.
Oregon and Colorado ranked highest--with increases of 6.8 and 6.6 respectively with California and Nevada not far behind. In states with easiest access to legalized marijuana, the data showed that children's caretakers were more likely to report ingestion of MJ by children to poison control centers.
The authors recommended that:
In a journal article recently published in The Michigan Child Welfare Journal, Professor Daniel Pollack and his colleagues explore the sinister side of various programs that are for so-called "troubled teens." Often costing $10,000/month or more, these programs offered stressed out parents a proffered "residential school" or "wilderness camp" environment in which their children are theoretically to receive therapy. I remember having read articles about children who never returned from such programs. Pollack describes what can go wrong in these largely unregulated programs.
I Googled << wilderness camp teen >> for images. The happy campers in the photos that popped up on my screen look nothing like what is described as the typical therapeutic wilderness camp experience despite the fact that some of them appear to be images from websites advertising such programs. Now that is scary! [Note to self: Skip the image]
This journal article cites, among others, a Los Angeles Times newspaper article about one such program. Anyone thinking about sending a teenager away--entrusting the care of a child to strangers--would do well to read this. Netburn, Deborah. "Sending your child away." Los Angeles Times, , sec. Home, November 14, 2009. http://tinyurl.com/lk6dhs3 (accessed January 26, 2014).
In his recent article Respite care for foster parents should not mean inferior care for foster children,
Professor Daniel Pollack discusses the benefits that respite care by another trained foster parent or other professional and provide to both foster parents and foster children. He emphasizes, however, some of the safeguards that should be in place to ensure that respite case is not second-rate care.
Some states (Nebraska, e.g.) require that child care providers used for children who are wards of the state must be licensed or approved by the department, and Central Register and law enforcement checks must be done on all respite providers. Some states (e.g., Wisconsin and Vermont mandate that formal respite care providers be held to a similar standard as foster parents, with safety being the key issue. Professor Pollack also cautions that there should be policy and procedural safeguards regarding issues of information sharing and confidentiality.
The entire article may be read here:
Download Respite care for foster parents
Daniel Pollack is Professor at Yeshiva University’s School of in New York City, and a frequent expert witness in child welfare cases. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-960-0836. This article originally appeared in Policy & Practice, 70(6), 31.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered a mother to pay over $25,000 in attorney fees and costs in a contentious post-judgment child custody and parenting time case. Parents who think they can just willy-nilly waltz into court and/or who use and abuse child protective laws in an attempt to restrict access to children should think again. I've seen lots of abusive litigation before, but this one is really quite amazing.
The case involved Sean O’Farrell [“Father”] and Kelly O’Farrell [“Mother”]. They were divorced in December 2008. The judgment of divorce provided that Father and Mother would have joint legal custody of their minor child, who was two years old at the time. The judgment of divorce granted Mother physical custody of the child until further order of the court and ordered an extensive, detailed parenting-time schedule. The fact that the PT schedule was extensive and detailed indicates that Father’s lawyer perceived the need for this—that there was already contention. No doubt! Mother filed a motion in later March 2009—about four (4) months after the ink was dry on the judgment of divorce. She sought to suspend or to restrict Father’s parenting time.
Father responded to the motion and also filed a motion for a change of custody. There were thirteen hearings over a period of nearly two years. At the conclusion of the final hearing, the Court declined to restrict the father’s parenting time and, in fact, increased it.
In addition, the judge indicated that he was very close to finding the proofs sufficient to grant Father’s petition for a change in custody. The trial court ordered that Mother pay Father’s attorney $20,912 in fees and $3,555.86 in costs and reimburse Father’s $738 cost to the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). The Court of Appeals affirmed.
In a recently published law review article, Professor Daniel Pollack explains the need for more clear standards regarding risk assessment and careful screening of prospective adoptive, foster and kinship placements for children to avoid some of the tragedies that have occurred.
Professor Pollack states:
"The lack of a clear legal “standard of care” for the evaluation and screening of prospective adoptive, foster, and kinship applicants directly undermines the child placement process, the physical and emotional development of children placed in adoptive and foster homes, and the adjudication of legal issues arising when children are harmed. Often, it is only when a lawsuit is filed that society is forced to take a hard look at its legal expectations, and it is then compelled to acknowledge that there may be a very real distinction between child welfare’s “best practice” standard and the legal standard of care.
The court of appeals released an opinion on July 17, 2012 affirming the trial court's decision to award sole legal and sole physical custody to the father and to suspend the parenting time of the mother until further order of the court where the mother had made numerous unsubstantiated CPS reports alleging sexual abuse of the children.
Unsubstantiated allegations were made to CPS in 2009. It was recommended that defendant mother’s parenting time be suspended until further order and until after she engaged in counseling to address her suspected Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
In September 2010, the father moved for a change in custody based largely on the continued and unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse. Following four days of hearings on custody, the hearing referee issued a report and recommendation finding that plaintiff should be granted sole legal and sole physical custody of both minor children.
Good grief! What's in the water in Wisconson? [Perhaps Rush Limbaugh is swimming?] A legislator proposes that single parenthood be, as a matter of law, a child abuse factor. The proposal calls statewide educational and public awareness campaigns and materials for the purpose of developing public awareness of the problems of child abuse and neglect. In promoting those campaigns and materials, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.
You may read the proposed legislation and news article here: GOP State Senator Introduces Bill To Brand Single Parenthood As Child Abuse Factor, on mediaite.com.
An independent investigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university last fall has just been released. According to the 267 page report, for more than a decade, the most senior officials at Penn State University failed to take any steps to protect the children victimized by Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno's longtime head assistant football coach.
Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the investigation said: “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” * * * “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
Here's a great idea! After seeing three false reports of child abuse within three weeks in the middle of high-conflict divorce and custody cases . . . I hear that Oregon has finally come up with a solution.
The Oregon Legislature has passed legislation making malicious filing of false reports of child abuse in the midst of divorce, custody fight, or other domestic conflict a Class A violation carrying a $750 fine.
These false allegations can not only make the family law case much more difficult and lead to terrible injustice, they can ruin parent-child relationships and change lives forever. I find myself hoping more states will enact such laws and wondering whether the law will make a difference. Here's the Oregon statute:
Michigan has a new statewide phone number for reporting child abuse and neglect: 1-855-444-3911. The number debuted this week and is part of a system designed to improve response to calls about child welfare. Staffed 24-hours a day, including weekends and holidays, the new service is designed to create uniform standards for response to complaints. It replaces a system where calls went to local county offices.
The new system also keeps Michigan in compliance with a court order to improve child welfare and foster care services following a 2006 lawsuit. Department of Health and Human Services Director Maura Corrigan and her staff are working diligently toward repairing a badly damaged system. That’s good for Michigan’s children.
An LSJ editorial
One question frequently asked by parents is, "How old should a child be before he can be left home alone?" Often, I'm asked this question when holidays are coming up and parents will be at work, but children won't be in school. The question is asked even more frequently as summer vacation approaches. Of course, there is no simple one-size-fits-all answer. This decision is complicated because much depends upon the individual child and also family dynamics. A parent has to consider not only whether his or her particular child is "old enough," but is ready enough to be left home alone. The issue becomes more complicated if there are younger siblings. Is the oldest child ready to stay home alone and to be "in charge of" the younger children?
The Traverse City Record Eagle published an article today about criminal action against a mother who allegedly gave birth to a baby downstate, dismembered her infant, stuffed it in a backpack, and took it to her home in Boyne City to bury the backpack in the backyard. According to law enforcement, the mother is charged with a felony count of disinterment and mutilation of a body, and a misdemeanor count of unlawful disposition of an unclaimed body. An autopsy had produced no evidence that the child was born alive.
Once again, emphasis needs to be placed on getting the word out about how women, mostly young teenagers, can safely and without any risk of criminal charges, turn over their healthy live babies to Safe Haven facilities so that an unwanted baby may be adopted. In light of recent infant deaths in Grand Traverse County, I publish details about the Safe Delivery of Newborns Act hoping that pregnant women and the people who come into contact with them--know they are pregnant--know that they are at risk, either because of emotional or social problems, to abandon their babies, likely ending in death of a healthy infant. You could be the person who not only helps a mother deal with what seems overwhelming to her, but also save the life of an innocent. Here's what you can do to help.
As my readers know, not all of my posts are about substantive family law. Many are about parents' concerns during this age of Internet dangers to children and of other safety or social concerns. Today's post comments on the trend in Europe to separate from the Roman Catholic Church because of the church's posture and approach to the issue of sexual abuse of children over an extended period of decades by priests.
The Global Post online reports from Belgium that "(f)aced with ever-more harrowing revelations of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergymen, Belgians are turning in record numbers to apostasy — formally breaking with their religion through a process of “de-baptism.” [My emphasis]
Greater publicity about options available to young mothers who want to legally surrender their children for adoption is provided in a community-based effort to avoid infant deaths such as occurred in several cases locally where newborns have been found abandoned and dead in the Traverse City area.
Lorrie Jorgenson, pregnancy counselor at Bethany Christian Services in Traverse City said, "This provides a way out for a desperate person. Fear and desperation would lead to the type of tragedies this community has witnessed."
We've all read these stories: Infant left alone in car for hours. Infant dies of hyperthermia. I remember reading one news article about a mother who left 2 children alone in a car on a hot day while she went to get her hair and nails done. Both died. Horrifying. One thinks: Of course! These parents should be convicted . . . of something. Or should they?
The Washington Post yesterday won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for a story about several parents who made a horrible mistake. They drove to work. They parked their cars. They did not remember that they had not dropped their infant off at the day-care. The child died in the car as the temperature rose. What kind of parents do this?
In a case for publication, In Re Beck, decided March 4, 2010, the Michigan court of appeals held that the termination of parental rights arising out of a neglect or abuse case does not end a parent's obligation to pay child support.
The father whose parental rights were terminated argued that the trial court violated his due process rights by providing in the termination order that his “[c]hild support and other support for the children shall continue.” He did not appeal the termination order itself.
You may recall that in early September 2009 I wrote about the recovery of a child who had been abducted by his mother after the father was awarded custody by the trial court. Immediately after that court decision, the mother took the child and, with her mother’s help, hid him for nearly two years. The earlier post and details of the case are found here on the post “Parental Kidnapping | Effective response”. http://tinyurl.com/yjth6j7
An Illinois court has now decided that the mother’s hiding of her son for nearly two years in his grandmother's home, often in a crawl space behind a wall (in a space that was roughly 5 feet by 12 feet and about the height of a washing machine), amounted to neglect. The judge’s ruling, according to an AP report, was based partly on her agreement with a counselor's belief that the seclusion left the boy, now 7, with post-traumatic stress disorder. The judge’s ruling clears the way for a possible decision at a Jan. 8 hearing on custody or visitation arrangements for the boy, who now is in the temporary custody of a relative. The father, Michael Chekevdia, 48, is seeking custody.’
You may read the entire AP report here. http://tinyurl.com/yjv28kh
You'll find many other valuable resources on my website http://parental-kidnapping.com. If your child is missing, please contact me to see if I can assist you or your attorney in recovery. I've consulted in many interstate parental kidnappings -- 7 in the past 12 months alone -- and can walk your attorney through the process even if Michigan is not one of the states involved. You can email me email@example.com or call me at 231-223-7864 or 231-649-2140.
My guest blogger today is Daniel Pollack, MSSA (MSW), JD. Pollack is a full professor at Yeshiva University's School of Social Work in New York City and Senior Fellow, Office for Foster Care and Adoption, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA. His topic today is:
When qualified immunity protects social workers from 42 U.S.C § 1983 lawsuits
As social work has developed into an increasingly seasoned, mature, and specialized profession, the role of the social worker has also changed. So too is the expectation that social workers will ensure that they are satisfying all legal responsibilities owed to their clients. Although many public sector social work administrators and practitioners are concerned about liability litigation and qualified immunity, no national studies of appellate cases have been published. This study explores when social workers are and are not successful in asserting qualified immunity when sued in civil court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
My guest blogger today is Daniel Pollack, MSW, JD, professor of social work at the Yeshiva University in New York, New York. He writes:
Lawyers are increasingly calling upon social workers to serve as expert witnesses in cases involving children and families. Roles for social workers are emerging in the courtroom as social work expert witnesses in such areas as guardianship, forensic issues, child abuse and neglect, wrongful death, commitment hearings, education, family custody evaluation, child welfare, adoption, and foster care.
As society gets more specialized and complicated, the courts are using the testimony of expert witnesses (such as social work expert witness, foster care expert witness, social worker malpractice and child welfare worker malpractice) to help resolve cases. Whether defending social workers or agencies, or litigating on behalf of a client, having the right experienced expert witness can make the difference between winning or losing an important case.
Recently, the following issues were raised concerning the custody and parenting time rights of an unmarried father after a breakup with the mother.
Mom objected to his proposal and asked for sole physical and sole legal custody. She claimed that Dad had a history of domestic abuse, of being an absent and uninvolved father. In her opinion, Dad posed a risk to the young child as demonstrated by earlier incidents.
Questions frequently arise during the course of a divorce about about how old one must be in Michigan to be a babysitter, about how old a child must be in Michigan before she can be left alone without a babysitter or daycare, and about whether older siblings can babysit for younger ones. When children may be with the non-custodial parent for a large portion of the summer, specific concerns often arise about whether the child can or should be left home alone.
This isn't an Ozzie and Harriet world anymore. I can remember when, in 1975, I felt perfectly comfortable to browse in the adult section while my three-year-old ran to the children's book area of Horizon Books in Traverse City to look for the book he'd come back clutching saying "This is the Richard Scarry book I need today!" Would I allow a young child to be unsupervised in a downtown store today? Absolutely not. Similar concerns are raised these days about leaving children unsupervised in their home.
An alarming statistic was revealed on May 15, 2009. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 40% of all babies born alive in the United States are born to unmarried mothers.
The CDC report highlights are these:
The economy is having a profound effect on families - especially single-parent families struggling with survival. Today's news brought me the story of an Albuquerque, New Mexico mother who suffocated her adorable 3-year-old child. She then buried him in the sand on a playground. The mother and child were homeless and had been sleeping in a park after having been thrown out of two homes. The sad story is found here on Albuquerque's's Channel 9 & 10 News
It is so important if you know someone skating on the edge of disaster that you call child protection services. The Michigan contact numbers are here. If you live outside of Michigan and cannot find the number, call your local police agency and ask.
Do you believe or does your client believe that a child has been sexually abused? A most important first step is to seek out capable, qualified and highly trained professional help. Your first call should be to Child Protection Services. [NOTE: The contact information for the agency near you in Michigan can be found here.] You should not attempt to elicit the details from the child yourself. This may seriously compromise prosecution of a child molester. There are many links below to resources that may be found online dealing with the tools used by experts to determine whether the abuse alleged has actually occurred.
Today's economy and growing unemployment put huge strains on families. Some of these families may have been under pressure before the economic slowdown. Increasingly, family practitioners are seeing more cases involving domestic abuse and neglect of children. It's important that services be made available as quickly as possible. As Dr. Robert Sege and Barbara Talkov wrote in an Op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe:
One question frequently asked by parents is “How old should a child be before he can be left home alone?” Often, I’m asked this question when holidays are coming up and parents will be at work, but children won’t be in school. The question is asked even more frequently as summer vacation approaches.
Of course, there is no simple one-size-fits-all answer. This decision is complicated because much depends upon the individual child and also family dynamics. A parent has to consider not only whether his or her particular child is “old enough,” but is ready enough to be left home alone. The issue becomes more complicated if there are younger siblings. Is the oldest child ready to stay home alone and to be “in charge of” the younger children?
In a case for publication, Surman v Surman, __ Mich App ___, __ NW2d ___ (2007) decided December 4, 2007, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that a child may be called as a witness at a child custody trial to testify about the child’s allegations of abuse at the hands of a parent.
Here, after allegations of child abuse were made by a child, his father filed an ex parte motion to suspend the mother’s parenting time. The father claimed that the mother had told the child to lie to his counselor. An ex parte order was entered on August 1, 2005. Jane Surman filed a motion to rescind that order and to transfer custody to her from Joseph Surman. She attached a protective services report to her pleading. The court temporarily placed the child with his mother with an ex parte order issued on August 9, 2005.
Subsequently, a child custody trial was had in November and December 2006. Jane Surman’s attorney advised the court that he intended to call the child, now 12, as a witness. Joseph Surman’s attorney objected. The parties were told to submit briefs on the issue. Ultimately, the trial court held that the child could testify about the alleged abuse.
Family lawyers who practice in the area of child abuse and neglect sometimes find that charges of Munchausen by Proxy have been made against their clients after doctors, nurses, and/or hospital staff have alleged that here are no observable symptoms of illness in a child, yet the child is frequently presented for treatment. The charges allege that the mother continues to bring the child into the office or into the emergency department seeking treatment and describing symptoms that are not seen by medical personnel.
Munchausen by Proxy is a rare mental disorder in which caretakers, usually mothers, either fabricate (make up) or cause illnesses in their children. The theory is that these mothers make their children sick in order to garner approval for their fastidious care and attention to the child. In other words, the mother is seeking positive attention from doctors and other medical personnel.
Recently, Diana Owen, a mother in Massachusetts was accused of having Munchausen by Proxy. The effects upon her, her child, and her family were devastating as she fought to regain custody of her only child Bryanna-Rose. Bryanna-Rose, called by her mother Diana her "miracle baby," was conceived after Diana and her husband had been told they would never have a child. At the age of four months, the infant was taken from Diana by protective services and placed in foster care.
There has been a lot of interest in the issue of whether children should be left home alone and of how old children should be before they can be left alone. The interest is shown by the number of parents from all over the country who have come to this Blog seeking information. This a a rather long post, so I want to let all of my readers know that there is a checklist for you to use to assess whether a child is ready to be left home along.
We discussed this topic on the State Bar of Michigan Listserv not long ago. Several family lawyers cited examples of why children should not be waiting alone at a bus stop for even 5 minutes just so Mom (or Dad) could get to work on time.
Our discussion continues on the Listserv of the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Listserv. Section member Mark Crane posted the following on Tuesday October 9, 2007:
Mark E. Crane
Mark E. Crane, PLLC
950 West University Drive, Suite 102
Rochester, MI 48307
Recently, I blogged the issue of leaving children home alone. The interest in these Blog articles has been immense. Parents all over the country came -- mostly via Google -- to Updates in Michigan Law looking for an answer to the question "how old does a child have to be before the parent can leave him/her home alone?" Primarily, it appears that parents are concerned because the other parent fails to provide proper care and supervision. This could, of course, form a basis for modification of an existing custody or parenting time order.
This week, the issue arose again on the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Listserv.
It's summertime. Many non-custodial parents are exercising large blocks of summer parenting time. It's easy to see, however, that there are some disgruntled and/or concerned parents out there who may be unhappy with the way the other parent is handling the children's summer care.
I wrote recently on this blog about the appropriate age when children can be left alone without a caregiver and about the appropriateness of assigning siblings to provide care for younger brothers or sisters.
In checking to see what brings people to my Blog, I note that in the past few days, parents from the following states have Googled to check on this issue, indicating a high level of concern about whether children are being neglected: I note visitors from TN, CA (many), IL, UT, NY, MI (many), NJ, TX, MS, KS, KY, PA, WA, ME, IA, GA, CO, MD, AND SC in the past several days.
It's time to check out the safety resources available to parents for babysitter training. You can read my earlier article here. Home Alone: Child care and babysitter issues
If your child lives in Michigan and you believe that a parent is leaving the child or children unsupervised, you'll want to review the Michigan Child Protection Act. Is the other parent's actions "neglect or abuse?" Does leaving a child alone, or leaving a sibling in charge of younger children, constitute "failure to protect?" For more information, see my website.
Need help with a custody or parenting time modification motion?
Questions frequently arise during the course of a divorce about about how old one must be in Michigan to be a babysitter, about how old a child must be in Michigan before she can be left alone without a babysitter or daycare, and about whether older siblings can babysit for younger ones.
An appallingly large number of children are left without care and supervision by their parents. See, Left Unsupervised: A Look at the Most Vulnerable Children, By Sharon Vandivere, M.P.P., Kathryn Tout, Ph.D., Jeffrey Capizzano, M.A., and Martha Zaslow, Ph.D., April 2003, published by Child Trends, a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C.
The Associated Press reports from Dublin on June 3, 2006 that Ireland has passed an emergency bill on under-age sex, and the Supreme Court ordered a man at the center of the controversy to be reimprisoned for having sex with a 12-year-old girl.
According to the report, these developments were the result of public outrage over a decision last week by the Ireland Supreme Court that declared a 1935 law governing statutory rape of minors unconstitutional on the grounds that the law did not provide men with a defense permitting men accused of having sex with girls aged under 15 to claim they thought the girl was older.
To contact Jeanne Hannah with your questions or to view her Family Law website, click here.