(Montana, 1/31/2017): The Gallatin County GAL/CASA program is to advocate for abused and neglected children involved in the court system. CASA volunteers work directly with children and also gather information from records, and interview those involved in the child’s life, to make recommendations about what is in the best interest of children. Gallatin County CASA/GAL
Recently, two of Gallatin County GAL/CASA’s co-directors, Nancy Mitchell and Anita Nybo, retired from their work in the program because they felt that the system did allow them to keep children safe; and only by leaving could they find a way to better advocate for and protect children. Mitchell worked for the program for 16 years, and Nybo for 30 years. Women who advocate for abused children leave lasting legacy
Mitchell and Nybo are now advocating in a different capacity – by publicly speaking out about the system’s failures, and it’s devastating impact on children. Montana favors parents’ rights over kids’ safety, advocates charge
Nybo says the system is broken and the state places a higher priority on reuniting children with a dysfunctional family than protecting a child from an abusive or harmful situation. Nybo says,”Reunifying families is a worthy goal but the emphasis should be on the child’s health and safety.”
Mitchell says the safety of child is not being made a priority, and even in cases where there have been multiple reports of abuse, the state rarely intervenes to remove the children from an unsafe home. Instead, abuse allegations are often dismissed as “unsubstantiated”.
At the same time, concerned parents say the State wrongly removes children from fit, loving homes – and places them into situations that are dangerous. In the eyes of these parents, the State should be taking children into its custody less often and working harder to keep families together.
So what is going on?
My opinion – based on my experiences after having been involved with family court and CPS, both who both have failed to protect my children from abuse and worked to give custody to a dangerous abuser. I have also met, and worked alongside, parents (both mothers and fathers) from all over the country, who have experienced similar and are now fighting to reform the system.
What Mitchell and Nybo are reporting and what the protective parents are reporting is the SAME problem. They are just looking at it from different vantage points of being involved in the system.
Complaint: The family court system and CPS is taking children from fit, loving homes and giving custody to abusive or dangerous parents. Children are then re-abused.
CPS is wrongly taking children from fit, loving families and putting them into State care, never to be returned.
Another complaint is that CPS is failing to protect children from truly dangerous parents, and returning them to the abuse.
In each of these complaints, the safety and well-being of children is not being met by those charged with their protection, or not being met by those who have the responsibility to intervene.
In each of these complaints, the system is failing to recognize child abuse or is covering up child abuse. Instead of protecting the children, the state is protecting the abuser.
When the system fails there is no avenue to protect children; and protective parents are stripped of their rights, and ability to defend themselves or to protect their children.
When the system fails, even dedicated and knowledgeable professionals are helpless to protect children and families. There are also instances when professionals are retaliated against for raising complaints, or not going along with the status quo.
And then there are the differences in the experiences and perspectives of CASA workers like Nybo and Mitchell, and those belonging to concerned or “protective” parents.
The point I want to make is that despite the differences, both perspectives have valid concerns, and have valuable insight to offer from being involved with the system, and experiencing it’s failures first hand. And both have a stated mission to put the safety and well-being of children first. Both are whistle blowers.
So what keeps professionals and parents from working together?
One of the failures of the CPS and family court system is that it is adversarial – promoting division, taking sides, tearing apart families and making parents somehow “prove” (like it’s a reality show!) they are more deserving to win custody. As a result, too often professionals are suspicious of parents. Or parents are suspicious of professionals. And a history of negative experiences – dismissing child abuse allegations, giving custody to dangerous parents, punishing those who raise concerns, lack of accountability, lack of public transparency etc – can cause bias, tension and painful emotions that keeps both parents and professionals from bridging the divide, even when they have the same interests at heart.
What I learned from this article is that there are truly dedicated, concerned people working in the system who want to make a positive difference in the lives of families, and children.
I didn’t hear it so much in the article but what to emphasize, from my own experience- that there are parents who have been victimized by the system, and whose children have been unjustly taken from them. When these parents speak out or attempt to get help, they are often looked upon with scorn and suspicion. Parents are able to find support in other parents who have been through similar experiences but finding professionals to offer help or support has been more difficult. It is time to stop judging protective parents and instead, take the time to listen and consider their evidence or documentation, and consider how their lives have been devastated by the loss of their children. Their efforts to regain children should be supported.
Instead of continuing the strife, mistrust, suspicion instigated by family court or CPS into our private lives.. look at what the failures and corruption happening in the system overall. Examine how society is being negatively affected by these failures. How children’s lives are being permanently affected by abuse and trauma, some do not survive to adulthood. Only then will you see how families, children and professionals are all ensnared.
What I learned from this article is that professionals, parents, family members and concerned community members need to work TOGETHER to fight for needed change in family court and CPS. All need to come together to be a voice for the children involved.