Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I attack CPS

this has been sitting on my desk for 3 months, as the baby in question sits in foster care. I didn't know what to do and didn't have the initiative to do it. Finally I figured it out.

Two days later, the director of Human Resources, which runs CPS, came up to me trying to sell me a story on their volunteer of the year. Take that any way you like.

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Taking baby from mom, CPS plays telephone
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Telephone: a game played by children. A message whispered in a circle starts out as “banana” and ends up as “frying pan.”

Telephone: a game played by authorities with children. A Willows man commits a nonviolent felony. Because of his criminal history, five years later, a judge orders him to stay away from his girlfriend’s infant son. His anger at Child Protective Services workers is played as violent tendencies. Citing the restraining order, CPS workers take the child and place him in a foster home.

Welcome to the lives of Charles Meador and Erin Dieudonne.

Ms. Dieudonne has a son Andrew (not his real name), age 14 months, with ex-husband Marc. After she gained child custody, she began a relationship with Mr. Meador.

Andrew’s relationship with Mr. Meador?

“He calls him Dad,” Ms. Dieudonne says.

The chain of events started when a phone call – the only contact between Mr. Meador and El Dorado County Child Protective Services – became the basis for a restraining order against him, for Andrew.

CPS worker Starr Lloyd phoned Ms. Dieudonne at home on Nov. 27, and ended up talking with Mr. Meador, who volunteered his nonviolent criminal history, jail time, and that he was moving in with Ms. Dieudonne.

A week later, an El Dorado judge issued a restraining order on Mr. Meador, based on a recommendation by Ms Lloyd. “Due to his CPS and criminal history,” Ms. Lloyd wrote, “it is respectfully recommended that Mr. Meador not be allowed around the minor.”

What does a social worker need to issue such a recommendation for a restraining order?

“A report of the person harming the individual,” El Dorado CPS supervisor Christine Amey says. “A substantiated police report, doctor’s report.… We would have to complete a report of suspected child abuse and evidence to support the disposition of the investigation.” (Full text of Ms. Lloyd’s report and Ms. Amey’s interview in sidebar 1.)

What’s there? Not even close.

On January 23, a month and a half later, a visiting Glenn County CPS worker found Mr. Meador in Ms. Dieudonne’s home with Andrew. The next day, they took Andrew.

One reason was explicitly stated: The couple was in violation of the restraining order. The other was implicit in a Glenn County CPS report: Mr. Meador is an angry person prone to making threats and possibly violence.

One question relevant in determining whether a person is capable of taking care of a child, Glenn County CPS program manager Shelley Gates said, is whether they “have a history or demonstrate evidence towards violence.”

If they’re hostile towards a CPS worker, does that count?

“Not really,” Ms. Gates says. “They’re in a terribly vulnerable situation, so they might be (hostile) the first time. You’re looking at a bigger issue than how they’re behaving towards you as a social worker.”

But the day after the first and only face-to-face encounter between a CPS worker and Mr. Meador, CPS took the child. And a report of the encounter – essentially irrelevant evidence according to Ms. Gates – helped build the picture of Mr. Meador as an angry, violent man. (Text in sidebar 2.)

That characterization went along with Mr. Meador’s violation of the protective order, as justification.

The quick action with little observation time is abrupt for CPS procedure. Usually, Ms. Gates said, there’s a 10-day process to go through for investigating cases, and if necessary removing children; the average referral, which generally involves less drastic solutions, usually involves two or three visits, Ms. Gates said.

CPS only would act faster if the case was an emergency, when the agency “finds things were far worse than expected.”

She explained: “Maybe we thought it was just general neglect, and then you find there’s drugs in the home and the kids can reach it, and a two-year-old toddler wouldn’t know what they were ingesting.”

Mr. Meador’s presence didn’t seem to pose the same imminent danger.

But the enforcement of all protective orders is standard procedure, Ms. Gates says.

“We’re bound by the restraining order,” she said. “It’s not for us to make the decision. Someone in a higher place … in the other court … has made that over us.”

But it’s not just legal authority but also the greater knowledge of the courts:

“Even if we’ve met the guy and say, ‘I don’t see what the problem is,’” she said, “there’s a lot more that we don’t know.”

Problem is, the judge didn’t seem to know either.

In the next part: more on Erin Dieudonne and Charles Meador. What does losing your child do to you? And after that: the wheels of justice turn slowly; what’s happened since then?

Sidebar 1: Want to get a restraining order in El Dorado County? This is all the evidence you need.

This is what El Dorado CPS supervisor Christine Amey says you need:

We would “ask specific questions, ask the parents regarding allegations,” she said. “It needs to determined whether child would not be safe.

“After we’ve got evidence that vitiates the risk, we would ask for a restraining order that the adult stay away from the child.”
What would vitiating evidence be?

“A report of the person harming the individual,” she says. “A substantiated police report, doctor’s report.”

So they would need either a report, or in-person investigation?

“Yes,” Ms. Amey says. “We would have to complete a report of suspected child abuse and evidence to support the disposition of the investigation.

“Then a worker would go before the court and ask for restraining order. A judge would not issue a restraining order if there was not substantial evidence of a need.”

This is how much there actually was – no investigation, no in-person visit with Mr. Meador.

The comments below include all remarks about Mr. Meador contained in a report by El Dorado social worker Starr Lloyd. Valley Mirror comments in italics.

“On November 27, 2007, the undersigned contacted Ms. Dieudonne by phone at 10 a.m., in which her boyfriend Charles Daniel Meador was in the background talking. Ms. Dieudonne was questioned about whether or not he was residing in home. Ms. Dieudonne paused and denied his residence there. At which time, the undersigned asked for Mr. Meador’s personal information to submit a CLETS, Mr. Meador’s quickly got on the phone and questioned the undersigned about why the Department wanted to check his history.

“The undersigned asked Mr. Meador if he and Ms. Dieudonne were seriously dating, he responded that they are serious and he plans on moving in to her apartment. Mr. Meador continued by stating that he is a convicted (nonviolent) felon and that he was convicted of burglary in 2003 and was just released from prison in 2006.

“Mr. Meador continued by stating that he was a child that is six months old and that CPS has been involved. The undersigned completed a referral history check on Mr. Meador and his child which documented CPS history of five referrals on father, Charles Meador. There are no open cases or existing referrals on Mr. Meador, but that last referral was as recent as August 22nd, 2007. The referrals indicated concern over the father being domineering to his child’s mother and having ‘anger’ issues. The reporting party (“That’s just whoever called in the referral,” Ms. Amey explains) reported that Mr. Meador Father is very controlling and possessive.

“Mr. Meador reported to the undersigned that he sees a mental health counselor, elating [sic] to the fact that he has mental health issues. Due to the concern (from whom?) of this male being around the child, the undersigned requested a copy of Ms. Dieudonne’s lease agreement to determine whether or not Mr. Meador is residing in the home.

“Ms. Dieudonne is not making appropriate choices for her child by choosing to be involved with Mr. Meador; Ms. Dieudonne does not understand the possible threat this relationship could pose to not only her, but her child.

“It is respectfully recommended that Mr. Meador not be allowed around the minor due to his CPS and criminal history.”

At the December 7 court session in which this report was submitted, Judge Gregory Ward Dwyer issued an order: “Mr. Meador not to have any contact with the minor, mother (Ms. Dieudonne) not to allow contact.”

Sidebar 2: Mere anger at Glenn County CPS worker seen as violent tendencies.

A description of Mr. Meador by social worker Zinnia Petersen follows; it was included in a report a month after Andrew’s removal. Problem is, parents’ and guardians’ reactions to CPS workers are “not really” relevant in evaluating their attitude toward children, CPS program manager Shelley Gates says.

“Mr. Meador was defensive and asked why (CPS investigator David Pratt) was there. (He) informed Mr. Pratt that if he had seen his badge that he would probably not have let him into the home. He further stated that he would not give him his name. Mr. Pratt stated that Mr. Meador went into a litany of impression that he had suffered at the hands of child protective services (CPS). Mr. Pratt stated that Mr. Meador was agitated, standing, in a rocking motion, shifted his body weight from one foot to another and that his jaw muscle flexed when he did not speak. Mr. Pratt noted that the mother (Ms. Dieudonne) had kept silent to this point while Mr. Meador ranted. Mr. Meador confirmed who he was to Mr. Pratt and launched into a rant about being homeless and being persecuted by CPS. Mr. Meador stated he had suffered so much as a youth by his mother. (“Bullshit,” says Mr. Meador. “I said my mother was my saving grace.”). He once again began to escalate.”

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