I’m glad I don’t work for Children Services.
The horrendous story of the 17-month-old boy who died in a meth house where his mother was living brought back memories of several other awful tales in the annuals of the Summit County Children Services Board.
In the 1980s, public outrage erupted after the death of Charlie Wright and, later, the near death of Tara Cook, both of whom had been abused for long periods of time.
In 2003, in a case that became known as “the Kenmore Kids,” CSB received 30 phone calls from worried citizens but never even opened a case. The six children were beaten, locked in closets and forced to eat animal waste while CSB twiddled its thumbs. Their plight was only discovered after police found three of them wandering the streets, malnourished, after escaping from a second-floor window.
After each episode, cries for reform filled the air. Blue-ribbon panels were formed, and some changes were made. Unfortunately, no structural or procedural change can pinpoint the right thing to do in cases that reside in a vast area of gray.
Removing a child from a parent’s custody is a life-changing move for everyone involved, and a decision that never should be made cavalierly. More than one angry ex-spouse has falsely accused the other spouse of abuse.
Deciding which kids should stay and which should go is often highly subjective – at exactly what point does lousy parenting turn into criminal parenting? Exactly how much evidence should a social worker need to conclude a child is in danger?
In 2001, CSB took four children from an Akron mother who admitted occasional pot smoking. (The move was overturned in court.) If that disqualifies someone from being a fit mother, millions of otherwise happy and healthy American children would now be in foster care.
So in some cases, CSB’s blunders seem obvious. In the latest controversy, a nurse who took the mother and toddler into her home for an extended period of time notified CSB two weeks before the death that she had seen plenty to convince her that the child was in serious danger. Shouldn’t her concerns have weighed heavily?
But, again, it’s easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback. At the very least, we should acknowledge that CSB has a terribly difficult task.