Motherhood on trial

By Jessica Williams

By Salon Staff
July 14, 2000 11:25PM (UTC)
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I was outraged when I read this column -- not because I disagree with it but because I too have been subjected to the extreme injustice perpetuated in the name of child welfare. CPS investigates every complaint, without consideration of the legitimacy or credibility of the person complaining. If you have a disagreement with a relative about the way you raise your child, you are at risk. Once you have been referred, that blight is on public record until your child is 18 years old. CPS does not have anything resembling due process. Once the judgment has been made, it is extremely unlikely that an appeal will successfully overturn the judgment. And if you have one judgment on record, and are unlucky enough to have some other ignorant person report you, then God help you. I was lucky: All that happened to me was I had to take a parenting class (in which I had more to contribute on positive discipline than the couple teaching the class!). I hope that your other readers never have to go through this traumatic experience.

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-- Megan Wiseman

What Jessica Williams needed, far more desperately than a therapist or references from the La Leche League, was a lawyer. I kept waiting for one to appear in her story, and I was appalled when it never happened. She had a conventional family life and another perfectly healthy child, and her son was under the watchful care of not only a local pediatrician but also a presumably distinguished specialist. Case closed.

Perhaps Williams and her husband believe that only the guilty need lawyers, or, more likely, they feared that this is what Child Protective Services caseworkers would think. Where do intelligent people get these ideas, "NYPD Blue"?

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-- Scott A. Moorman

While I am very sorry that Williams' experience was so traumatic -- and I certainly do not deny that it was -- I wish to speak up for the principle that there must be some scrutiny of parents by the state.

My wife was an attorney in the United States for child welfare, a prosecutor if you will, who represented the state services for abused and neglected children. The things that she saw in her practice were unspeakable crimes that parents visited on their own children, so appalling that you would not believe them in fiction (e.g., genital mutilation in fits of rage, homosexual incest rape and the like). And yet every week, some newspaper story would decry her office as overzealous with some banal story about yuppies who were "abusively questioned by the state" because they left their child in the car while dropping off a video. That type of trivialization enraged my wife, and rightfully so.

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Because we cannot imagine what goes on behind the closed doors of some homes, some authority must be able to investigate allegations of abuse. That means it is inevitable that an oppressively heavy hand will fall on some good parents, as was apparently the case here. Unfortunately, I detected no awareness of this in your article.

-- Robert J. Crawford

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The problem Jessica Williams encountered has less to do with CPS than with her nosy aunt, who is an extreme manifestation of the type that think they know everything about how other people should raise their children. If Williams, or someone whose situation appeared similar on the surface, were neglecting her child we would of course want CPS to look into it and follow up and (her understandably anxious reaction aside) it sounds like they did so both thoroughly and as kindly as possible.

I remember being told by my own mother once that someone had mistakenly called CPS about me; I no longer remember why, but I do remember my mother saying that she wasn't offended because she preferred that CPS would investigate and find nothing wrong rather than do nothing and possibly miss something important.

-- Tedra Osell


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