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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – through their own missteps and unforced errors – has lost the trust of the American public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another agency, Child Protective Services, seems next in line for this inglorious achievement.
In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden nearly declared victory over COVID-19, touting new masking guidelines released in late February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing “most Americans in most of the country” to go about their daily lives without a mask.
The CDC’s dramatic relaxation of its masking guidelines so close to the State of the Union and with the midterm election season heating up has drawn its fair share of raised eyebrows and mockery. A move widely seen as purely political will likely further undermine public trust in the CDC, which currently stands at 44% according to a January poll by NBC News.
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But the CDC isn’t alone in arousing public suspicion. Overall, public trust in government is at historic lows. In many ways, this loss of confidence is deserved. The pandemic has brought to light the tendency of federal, state and local authorities to impose arbitrary and draconian restrictions on citizens.
Yet, as disruptive as the COVID-19 mandates of the CDC and other bureaucrats are to everyday life, there is a bureaucracy with powers that can be even more destructive: child protective services.
Much like the CDC, child protective services aren’t something most Americans think about on a regular basis until they hit the headlines. Often it is because of a tragedy. Increasingly, however, CPS is making headlines for its overreach.
Pandemic-related overbreadth by the CPS included the investigation of an Oregon salon owner who kept her business open in defiance of state lockdown orders and more than 2,400 New York families who been reported to the state child welfare agency for neglect for keeping their children at home. pandemic concerns.
Outside of the pandemic, unwarranted investigations and child removals by the CPS have sparked reform efforts in states like Texas, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, and Michigan, to name a few. some. These reform efforts follow a growing recognition of the harm caused by the separation of children from their families and the need to check the power of the child welfare system to regulate families.
Although the CPS is, in theory, subject to constitutional limitations and judicial oversight, there are many examples of the system operating outside these limitations. An example is what has become known as “hidden foster care”. This term refers to the widespread practice of child protection agencies using agreements between a family and the agency to place a child out of the home or require the family to submit to supervision without meaningful limits or judicial review. .
Opponents of the practice argue that these agreements are inherently coercive and open to state abuse – an argument winning in court. In 2021, a federal jury awarded $4.6 million to a North Carolina family who argued they had been unlawfully separated by the Cherokee County Department of Social Services. The case represents the first of dozens of similar lawsuits currently pending in federal court.
Even for families cleared of wrongdoing, the stain of a CPS investigation can follow them for the rest of their lives. All 50 states operate a database of child abuse and neglect records commonly referred to as the “central registry.” These registries are commonly used for background checks and registration may result in denial of jobs and volunteer opportunities. Entry into the central registry is often an administrative decision made by the CPS and does not require a court to find the person guilty.
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In fact, parents later found innocent of allegations of abuse or neglect can remain on the registry. In December 2021, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Texas challenging the practice on behalf of a former adoptive mother wrongfully accused of abuse. The mother, Jenna Geautreaux, was cleared of the allegations against her in state court, but the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) refused to remove her from the registry. The lawsuit alleges that this refusal violated Ms. Geautreaux’s due process rights and further argues that the DFPS violated her First Amendment rights by listing her membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a source of concern.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly fades from memory, Americans must never forget what we learned about the power of unchecked bureaucracy to micromanage our daily lives. Whether it’s the CDC, Child Protective Services, or any other agency, we must remain vigilant against excesses and insist on reforms that limit the size and scope of government.