Philadelphia to Investigate Child Welfare Department for Illegal Child Seizures
It all started when the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia investigated Councilman David Oh for child abuse when his son broke his collar bone in martial arts. Before this incident, Oh said that parents "had been coming to me for months and months prior to when I took my son to the children’s hospital, but at the children’s hospital I experienced exactly what they had been complaining about."
Parents all over the nation have been loudly speaking out to anyone who will listen about child welfare agencies that wrongly and swiftly remove children from good homes based on baseless accusations without evidence. Oh said his caseworker was prejudiced against his parenting style. Of Korean descent, Oh had taught his sons martial arts from a very young age. The DHS investigator could not answer Oh's questions as to why she thought the injury wasn't accidental. "And when I pressed her for a reason, she made a comment: ‘You’re a grown man, you shouldn’t be teaching your son judo. He’s 8.’”
The department found no wrongdoing in its investigation and dropped it, but it should never have been opened in the first place. The experience gave Oh a renewed interest in finding out what Philadelphia's child welfare office was up to. Oh has called for hearings on DHS policy and protesters, whose own children had been taken, started hounding City Hall. Their stories are hard to read.
Due to Councilman Oh's determination to do something about the lack of oversight for Philadelphia's DHS, a resolution was passed "authorizing the establishment of a 'Special Committee on Child Separation In Philadelphia' to investigate the child welfare system and develop recommendations to ensure compliance with state child protective services laws to protect children and the due process rights of families and to prevent the unnecessary breakup of families.
The committee will investigate unfair child removals and recommend policies to prevent them. This is a good first step toward creating oversight over agencies that work in secrecy and are not required to show records to anyone, including media, or even sometimes lawmakers, to justify their decisions that destroy families. The resolution doesn't go far enough, however, to solve the problems, as it does not appear to have any power over cases where children were wrongfully removed. Someone needs to be able to reverse the bad decisions that resulted in the separations.
Oversight boards are a necessary ingredient to keeping child welfare from going off the rails. But this is only one city in a nation where most child welfare agencies operate completely independently. Perhaps Congress should make this a federal issue and require all states receiving federal funds for their child welfare programs to have oversight in place over these agencies. And the oversight can't be by people who are paid by DHS. The best oversight committee would be private citizens unconnected to the state in any way, for when the state investigates itself it inevitably fails to find any wrongdoing.
Every business person in America knows what power regulatory agencies have over their welfare and ability to do business. Why don't state agencies that deal in such important matters as removing children from parents have similar guidelines and restrictions imposed on them by the citizenry?
Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo.” Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter