There appears to be a new and dangerous trend afoot as “child protection” agencies across the country gain greater and greater levels of authority to interfere in the lives of average American citizens. We know of at least two cases in 2004 in which “child protection” agencies have abducted or attempted to abduct newborn babies from their blind parents for the sole reason that they happen to be blind. These cases are just two more examples of our need to be constantly vigilant to fight for what is right against that which is unequivocally wrong.
In early December 2004, shortly after the birth of their baby boy, Marco and Adelina Zepeda were visited by a hospital social worker and representatives from Child Protective Services. The social workers were concerned about how blindness might negatively impact the ability of the Zepeda’s to care for their child. Threats were made and the parents were forced to sign papers allowing Child Protective Services the right to take the baby away if it felt such action was warranted. The information on these documents was not provided to this blind couple in any accessible format. After strenuous advocacy from the blind community, this situation was ultimately reversed and the Zepeda’s are no longer being threatened with the removal of their child from their rightful custody.
In April of 2004, representatives of a Child Protective Service agency actually removed a baby daughter from the custody of her blind parents Tyrone and Pianne Jordan just two days after her birth! Safety issues concerning their blindness and the condition of their home were cited as the reason for this action. Agency social workers demanded that the Jordan’s retain round-the-clock sighted assistance as a condition of their child’s return to their custody. After six months of negotiation and exceeding to the agency’s unreasonable demands, their daughter was finally returned.
The issue is really twofold. First, the staff of “child protection” agencies represent a cross section of society. They bring their personal attitudes and misconceptions in to their work. Those harboring poor attitudes about blindness will be more likely, especially without strict policy directives to the contrary, to look for reasons to remove a child from the custody of blind parents. Second, “child protection” agencies have been given too much overall authority. Representatives of these agencies are empowered to remove children from their parents and take other actions without even the need to charge anyone with a criminal act! We hear about other cases, having nothing at all to do with disabilities, in which overzealous “child protection” workers take actions that interfere in the lives of otherwise relatively “normal” families.
There are ultimately two courses of action that must be taken to prevent future cases of unnecessary interference in the lives of children and parents on the part of these so called “child protection” agencies. The first, shorter term, action is to improve the attitudes and knowledge about the abilities of the disabled on the part of “child protection” agency staff. The second involves a longer term strategy to control the timing and the severity of the actions such agencies may take against children and their parents.
Organizations such as the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind are already increasing their efforts to educate the staff of “child protection” agencies concerning the ability of blind parents to care for their children. We in the blind community are also proposing legislation to insure that disability, in and of itself, is not a factor when “child protection” workers consider taking action.
The empowerment of these “child protection” agencies goes far beyond their actions with respect to the blind. The solution would seem simple enough. Reduce their authority to interfere. Force these agencies to operate within the good old American standard of “innocent until proven guilty” and within the justice system. Place the following restrictions on the actions these agencies may take:
- CPS agencies should be allowed to take action only when the parents have been charged with a crime by the police department.
- Approval to continue taking action must then be saught from a judge within 48 hours or a similar time frame as dictated for other criminal acts.
- Any permanent action taken by the state against the parents of one or more children should be permitted only after the parents have been convicted of a criminal act in a court of law.
Placing restrictions on CPS agencies should serve to stop some of their Gestapo tactics and to focus their attention on real cases of child abuse or neglect.
Only the following basic education is really necessary concerning blindness:
- We are centient, fully living and breathing human beings deserving of the same rights and responsibilities as sighted human beings.
- Some blind parents do a great job raising their children while others do not. It is the same with us as it is with the sighted.
- All actions being considered must be taken without factoring blindness in to the equation.
I’d like to make a couple of quick clarifications. I place my references to CPS agencies in quotes because I believe they often do not actually protect the best interests of children. Anyone who would rip a baby out of the arms of loving blind parents in favor of placing that child in to the state’s foster care system bares this out quite clearly. My reference to “abduction” in the title of this article is appropriate, since the child is being taken by government agents without cause and without the consent of the parents.
We in the blind community will not continue to stand by while attrocities such as those committed against the Jordan’s and Zepeda’s continue. We must challenge these actions at every possible opportunity!
For more information, read Social Services Agencies May Be A New Danger to Blind Parents as published in Voice of the Nation’s Blind, an online publication of the National Federation of the Blind.