Reason has a horrifying and harrowing report from Robby Soave detailing the months-long saga of corruption and abuse that a family suffered at the hands of law enforcement and child protective services. It is well worth reading the whole article, which I will only briefly summarize here.
The Lowther family of New Mexico found themselves in the crosshairs after a teacher at their four-year-old daughter’s school claimed that the girl reported that she’d been sexually abused by her father and her seven-year-old brother. The district attorney (DA) would eventually decline to move forward with the case because there was no evidence whatsoever, the child’s story changed wildly in the telling and included a number of obviously fantastical details, the father passed multiples polygraph tests, and it’s likely that the girl was really just describing her father helping her wipe after using the toilet (something all parents have done for their children many times). But in between the initial “report” from the girl and the DA’s decision to drop the whole matter, the Lowther family was ripped apart, the children were placed in foster care, the father was fired from his job and labeled a child rapist by the media, the young girl was subjected to lengthy interrogations and extraordinarily invasive physical exams, the family was forced to shell out $300,000 in legal expenses, and the accused father and his wife were both summarily stripped of all parental rights, not to mention their Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights as well.
The most frightening aspect of the story is the malicious and underhanded manner with which the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) and local police operated throughout the proceedings. They decided from the outset that Adam Lowther must be guilty (because who has ever heard of a four-year-old kid telling fanciful stories?) and treated him like a child-raping felon, accordingly. These agencies were interested in establishing guilt by whatever means necessary, not ascertaining the objective truth. They also had the advantage of a system that automatically turns entire families into wards of the state as soon as someone in government decides that someone in that family may have done something wrong.
After being contacted by the school, the police forced their way into the family’s home, without a warrant, and forbade the mother, Jessica, from speaking to her children. Eventually, the children would end up in foster care. They were briefly returned to Jessica’s custody (Adam was not allowed to see his kids for several months after the initial arrest), but she had to have her parents move in and act as “safety monitors.” The children were removed from their mother’s custody once again when CYFD got word that the safety monitors didn’t believe in Adam’s guilt.
As I said, read the whole report. I recently finished the second volume of The Gulag Archipelago — Solzhenitsyn’s magnum opus about the Soviet labor camp system — and the Lowther family’s experiences seem to bear certain uncomfortable resemblances. And their story is not unique. Many innocent mothers and fathers have similarly discovered that they have no rights and no presumption of innocence once the despots at child services come knocking.
It is the nightmare scenario that every parent dreads. What if your child goes to school with a story he made up in his head, or repeats something he heard from a friend, or for whatever other reason says something that accidentally implicates you as an abuser or worse? My five-year-old daughter likes to erroneously claim that her twin brother “punched her in the head.” I’ve seen both of them smack each other on various occasions, but I’ve never seen my son punch anyone. Kids make up stories. And if they’re young enough, they don’t even know that they’re making it up. Children before the age of reason cannot fully distinguish between a lie and the truth. So, what if my daughter went out in public one day and told a slightly different version of her familiar yarn: "Daddy punched me in the head"?
That would be enough, it seems, to land my kids in foster care and me behind bars. Every parent is in this boat. The only thing keeping our parental rights intact is that our kids haven’t made up the wrong kind of story and told it to the wrong person — which is another way of saying that we don’t really have parental rights. If child services can revoke those rights at any time, without evidence, without investigation, without reasonable cause, without even a consistent or credible accusation, then what does it mean to say we have the "rights" in the first place?
I believe, of course, that actual allegations of abuse must be investigated. Certainly we can’t ignore a child who claims that her parents are abusing her. Some parents really are guilty of these horrible crimes. But due process cannot go out the window. Unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats from social services cannot be empowered to act as prosecutor, judge, and jury. The rights of the parents, and the best interest of the children, must be absolutely preserved and respected at all times. But that is simply not how these cases often play out.