Ex West Virginia caseworker calls for system reform.
Hello, My name is Elise Stewart I use to be a CPS worker and then Supervisor in West Virginia. Since leaving the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (WVDHHR) several years ago, I have had a couple experiences with them that I am currently suing them over.
My point of this e-mail concerns the circumstances concerning my adult son and his on again, off again, girlfriend and their child who will soon be one-year-old. The baby was born with drugs in her system. The mom and maternal grandmother hid this information from my son. During the initial investigation by CPS, they failed to contact my son even though they knew who he was. The mom continued to do drugs while living with her mother (an active alcoholic) and this was the reason for the unstable relationship with my son, as he does not use drugs nor did he condone her use of drugs.
In November, after the girlfriend was admitted to the hospital for her drug use, her mother involved CPS. When the girlfriend was released from the hospital, her mother would not let her back into the house or near the baby. Against my better judgment and without knowing all the details, I let her and my son stay here.
Over the next two-weeks I babysat the baby while the girlfriend and her sister (also a heroin addict) attended NA/AA meetings. On the weekend in question, I was informed that the maternal grandmother had left town and left the baby with the heroin addict sister and her boyfriend who she met in rehab.
Seeking Temporary Custody
After lengthy discussion, my son and his girlfriend signed a paper granting me temporary custody of the baby. We went to the house to get the baby. The police were called, who in turn called the prosecuting attorney. I spoke on the phone to the prosecutor whom I had worked with for years. He said that I could take the baby.
CPS workers freaked out and told the police they had filed a petition on the Friday, it was awaiting the signature of a judge. They stated that I could not be near the baby as they had at one time opened a case against me. We were ordered to take the baby to the sheriff’s office and wait for the maternal grandmother who was on her way home.
Note on previous case: (The case they referred to took place when I was in England and they opened the case without my knowledge. The person my almost 18-year-old son was living with, kicked him out. Instead of then going to the place I setup for him, he went to stay with his older brother which CPS didn’t like…another issue altogether. Although I might add here that the person who kicked him out on the street was my best friend and the director of our local CASA)
We waited hours for the maternal grandmother to come staggering in completely intoxicated. She was given a breathalyzer and told she could not take the child due to her being drunk. She then became belligerent to the officers and left.
The girlfriend was told she could take the baby to her great grandmother’s house but due to the age of her great grandmother, the girlfriend had to stay with her.
Foster Care Placement
The next evening, CPS appeared with a custody order and took the baby in to custody, placing her with a foster family. My son was not considered for placement because they said there was no proof he was the father. None of us were allowed to see the baby until after the initial hearing — more than two weeks later.
Since that hearing, they first gave physical custody to the maternal, drunken grandmother while the state kept legal custody. The girlfriend was not allowed to be alone with the baby. My son was permitted one-hour of supervised visitation at the local DHHR each week, and I was told I would have to petition for grandparents rights.
Subsequent hearings led to my son becoming very frustrated with his public defender who would not return his calls and thought proper council was seeing him for five minutes prior to the hearing. The DHHR wanted my son to have a DNA test and would not accept a paternity affidavit from him. They also wanted him to submit to drug testing and other such strictures, normally placed on parents alleged of abuse in these situations.
They alleged he “knowingly allowed” the baby to be abused by not stopping the mother’s drug use. The age old catch all CPS likes to use when they have nothing else to charge the absent father with.
My son had to reschedule the first DNA test. He went to the second one which proved him to be the father. He missed a court hearing due to his ride canceling at the last minute. He left voice mails for both his attorney and the social worker. Then he missed the next hearing as he received no notice from the court or his attorney. He has continued to see the baby at the girlfriend’s house rather than at the DHHR (against my advice).
After finally tracking down his lawyer last week, he received in today’s mail a proposed court order from the prosecutor charging him with abandonment. The hearing is scheduled for June.
Would you consider this ‘good practice’?
- Not conducting a thorough investigation with collateral contacts (ie father);
- Removing a child for ‘imminent danger’ that did not exist;
- Being permitted to place a child in foster care when relative placement is available and more than adequate given kinship placement guidelines;
- Being granted continued custody in foster care without testimony or an evidentiary hearing in court.
The court process is not due process. The guidelines and rules of procedure are not followed. CPS policy is not followed. My son has yet to receive notice of any MDT meetings or the reports that those meetings are meant to generate.
After years working inside this system I would highly recommend never speaking to a CPS worker without an attorney present and a tape recorder running. I have worked with the do gooders who see a cute little baby that deserves a ‘nice’ family, and the power trippers who take custody for their own warped sense of ego feeding….the list goes on.
Someone needs to revamp this system. The damage done to the family is not reversible and even the youngest of children experiencing the foster care system can act out on this ‘memory’ in years to come.
I realize this is a rather lengthy and tangential ramble. My apologies. It just send my mind racing with outrage at a system that is supposed to keep children safe and consider the well being of the child first and foremost.