Trial Debrief: DCS, Fear, and the Nanny State.
The trial yesterday was one of the most brutal I've ever encountered. I don't want to go into details, but I will say that in this situation, the collective power of the State of Tennessee, Department of Children's Services and a Guardian ad Litem who had made up her mind and simply didn't give a damn was on full display. As every argument the State had fell apart, the State put more might into their efforts--even going so far as to phone in witnesses who no longer worked with the Department to call my client a horrible person who wasn't deserving of her rights to see her grandchildren.
Fortunately, the Judge was a fair one. Shockingly so. The decision was far more beneficial to the Client than I ever expected, but that's largely due to the fact that I come into appeals situations with DCS involved very pessimistic.
I made a point during closing that I will reiterate here, and I think it's worth repeating.
I'm afraid of what decisions like the one handed down yesterday will do to parents. I'm afraid of what our society has become when a call to DCS and a call to CPS becomes our first reaction for everything. That's what they want, you see. The Department's personal representatives said so. If you're going to be a good grandparent or parent, and you see your child abusing drugs, the first thing you should do is call Child Protective Services and turn your child or grandchild in. If you attempt to handle it "in the family," or refuse to get the Government involved, then you're a Bad Person, and should be treated accordingly.
Lenore Skenazy puts it very well. This is what is referred to as "worst-first" thinking. She wrote it better than I ever could, so I'm going to quote her directly here:
"Worst-first" thinkers don't care about what is likely to happen. All that matters is what a bystander, cop, court, or CPS official imagines could happen.
Accidents can happen in your home, you see. Your child might face the unfortunate grip of addiction, and you may be forced to deal with it by showing your child some tough love and sending him or her for treatment. But heaven forbid you refrain from asking the State of Tennessee to intervene, because if you don't you're automatically one of the Worst. And if the Department should enter your life, either willingly or unwillingly? You're going to be subject to THEIR parenting decisions, not yours. You take away your decision-making ability the moment you let someone with a title like CPS or FSW in the door, and then you get to make sure you're not on pain medication, if you are that everything is in the proper bottles, that you're taking the pain meds or anxiety meds stringently to the label on the pill bottle, that you have working fire extinguishers in every corner, child safety gates, and your smoke alarms all have current full batteries with full battery life.
Yesterday was a means for challenging that notion. We fought because this stringent, ridiculously overprotective level of government intervention isn't necessary or even warranted among functional adults. The Esteemed One of the Machine Gun Blawgosphere, Scott Greenfield, put it nicely here:
The variation between what is possible in the fertile imagination of fearful hand-wringers and what is so ridiculously far-fetched has closed to such a narrow gap that anything shy of bubble-wrapping kids is tantamount to neglect. And if you don’t think so, don’t worry. There will be some other person close by to let you know that you’re not doing it right, as they are the authority of how all parents must behave...
...Rather, this is a challenge to the manufactured state of fear that is rammed down our throats daily, that anything that doesn’t reflect the most stringent safety and protection despite the wildest of long-shot harms, is a disaster waiting to happen. Prevent it! Be the hero! Save a child!
He's got it right, you know. You don't have to live in fear. You can actually be a decent parent without having the world inject their beliefs down your throat about how you SHOULD parent. Kids make mistakes. Accidents happen in your own home and elsewhere. When the world starts to tell you that you're not doing a proper job, the appropriate reaction is to say "It's none of your business."
But make sure you keep the doors shut when DCS comes calling. Don't let them in absent a warrant.
And record everything.
And call a lawyer.