Thursday, March 15, 2012

County agency reviewing practices on taking children - California


Kern County is reviewing how its Child Protective Services agency removes children from their parents, according to Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations.

Until now, CPS has routinely taken children without warrants if the agency feels there is a credible allegation of "general neglect."

Law enforcement typically handles removal of children when severe physical or sexual abuse is alleged. General neglect is handled by CPS and runs the gamut from drugs being used in the home to no food available for the children.

On Wednesday, sources close to CPS said social workers this week had stopped taking children without warrants and were instead filing petitions asking the court to detain the children.

Nations confirmed that a review was under way but said he had no knowledge that any procedures had been changed thus far.

"Non-custody petitions (to the court) are not something new and whether they will receive increased use in the future remains to be seen," he said in an email.

The review of CPS procedures comes on the heels of a settlement offer in a federal lawsuit that was considered by the Board of Supervisors in closed session on Tuesday.

In that case, Darlene and Lawrence McCue allege CPS and the Kern County Sheriff's Department illegally took their son, then 7, from his school on March 6, 2008 without a warrant and with no evidence that he was being harmed.

The McCues were thought to be endangering their son by having him undergo unnecessary medical procedures for imagined or exaggerated conditions.

Kern County kept the child for four months before a juvenile dependency court found no evidence that supported his removal.

The McCues' attorney, Shawn McMillan, said the law is very clear that authorities must have a warrant to take a child unless they believe the child is in "imminent danger," which means they have reason to believe the child will suffer serious physical harm or death in the few hours it would take to get a warrant.

"There are no nuances," to the law, McMillan has said previously.

McMillan wouldn't say what the McCues' settlement offer involved, but did say there was no demand that CPS alter its procedures. However, he said he assumed that would happen as a result of the lawsuit.

Nations said Supervisors did consider the settlement offer Tuesday evening.

"It was more of an informational thing," he said. "Now, I need to move forward with what they instructed me to do, which I'm not at liberty to disclose."

Another portion of the McCues' lawsuit targets South Fork Union School District. McMillan expects that that part of the case will go to trial.

The McCues allege the school district gave their son a peanut butter cookie even though he's allergic to peanuts. They reported the district to the State Board of Education and believe the district then retaliated against them by filing false accusations with CPS, which resulted in the boy being taken by the county.

An attorney for the South Fork School District has said previously that school employees were simply answering questions from doctors and law enforcement.


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