But It Made Sense On Paper

Of the many cesspools of the criminal justice system, none is more troubling than what becomes of the children of parents deemed unfit for having engaged in crime, even if the same conduct isn’t a crime elsewhere. But the wounds that come from taking children from parents who cared for them with love because of state paternalism are rarely seen, and so the cesspool continues to fester because it all seems to make sense in theory.

The fear is obvious. A parent arrested for smoking marijuana in a state where pot remains a heinous crime, as opposed to those states where pot is now an acceptable thing to do, can’t be trusted to be a safe parent. After all, if the child was harmed, then all hell would break loose and the state would be excoriated for leaving the child in such a dangerous home run by criminals. They can’t have that, so the theory is that it’s better to remove the child from the evil parents’ home.

Except when the state removes a child from the parents’ home, the child has to go somewhere. So the state created another fiction, that foster homes would be better, safer places. But then there is the question of venal people who take in children for the money paid by the state for their care,  but who really aren’t loving people and who really don’t have a safe home for children the state has ripped away.

But that can be fixed by doing background checks on potential foster parents, thus assuring that while they may be less than loving, at least they will be safe. After all, the state distinguishes good and bad by whether people adhere to the state’s rules, so if the foster parent hasn’t violated the state’s rules like the loving but evil parents did, then they are, by the state’s definition, safe for the child.

Yet someone has to determine that there has been no rule breaking by the potential foster parents, so the state offers to pay businesses to do background checks to make sure they aren’t rule breakers who fail to fit the state’s concept of a safe home for a child. And the businesses that contract to do so are, well, businesses, and they exist to get paid rather than make sure that a child is placed in a loving and safe environment. Businesses have a greater tolerance for failure, because nobody’s perfect, you know. Businesses have no tolerance for not getting paid. But if they fail to fulfill their mandate, they can always issue a refund. That’s how businesses function.

Joshua Hill was a bad parent according the State of Texas. After he put his 2-year-old daughter, Alexandra to sleep, he would smoke some dope. The state was outraged and took Alex away from him.

Hill admits they were smoking pot when their daughter was asleep.

“We never hurt our daughter. She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care.”

Tragedy: Two-year-old Alexandria Hill died on Wednesday 31st July - two days after she was admitted to hospital in Texas suffering a serious brain injury

But the state didn’t care that Hill loved his daughter and took good care of her. The state only cared that he was an evil pot-smoker, and that was against the rules. So the state whisked Alex away from her parents, from her home, and put her into the safe environment of foster care.

For two months, Alex was placed in a home that Hill says was dangerous.

“She would come to visitation with bruises on her, and mold and mildew in her bag. It got to a point where I actually told CPS that they would have to have me arrested because I wouldn’t let her go back.”

But the state is not unfeeling, and moved Alex to a new foster home, one that would be safe. They knew so because the new foster parent, Sherill Small of Rockdale, had been thoroughly checked out by the state’s contractor, and they found no evidence that Small broke the rules.

Hill got the call Monday night that his daughter was in a Temple hospital.

“They wouldn’t tell me what condition she was in or what was wrong or what had happened. The only thing they would tell me is I needed to be there. When I got there, I found out that Alex was in a coma.”

For two days, they held out hope she would regain consciousness but on Wednesday night Alex was taken off life support.

Police explained that Small’s explanation of what happened didn’t match Alex’s injuries, and have charged Small with Alex’s murder. What the injuries matched was a toddler beaten to death.

On paper, the system worked exactly as intended, as mistakes were understood to happen and the state was capable of fixing them to make sure that no child would be harmed. Every precaution was taken, and they had all the cogs aligned.  And yet Alex is dead and Joshua Hill will never again hold the daughter taken away from him by the State of Texas for her own safety.

H/T Jonathan Turley

9 comments on “But It Made Sense On Paper

  1. Jim Majkowski

    What has always bothered me more than any other single thing is the (IMHO and experience) virtually universal attitude among social workers and the judges/referees who rubber stamp their actions is that removal of the child from the parents is not per se harmful. Many regard it as a prophylactic measure without regard for whether the removal itself, regardless of how safe the placement is, causes the child dismay. Then again, newspaper headlines trumpet the rare case where a parent severely injures the child after a court declines removal; they don’t lament the much more common situation where a child is removed and suffers the emotional injury of separation from a parent he loves.

    1. SHG Post author

      I agree completely. Removing a child from his home, his parents, is a monumentally questionable act that strikes me as inherently troubling without the greatest need. And yet it’s done almost mindlessly, as if it’s no big deal. It is a huge deal.

      1. Nigel Declan

        The problem strikes me as somewhat parallel to that of over-charging and over-sentencing and prison overcrowding and conditions, in that the people charged with deciding to remove children (or to charge/sentence accused) are different from those responsible for placing the children (or imprisoning the convicted), with little-to-no communication or co-ordination between the two groups. As a result, a lack of proper facilities fails to stem or deter the removal/incarceration process, resulting in overstretching of limited resources and insufficient oversight.

        While there does not appear to be any easy solution to the problem, I hope that the incident is thoroughly reviewed and that at least two conclusions are reached:

        1) That more time, money and effort are devoted to vetting, inspecting and supervising potential foster parents and foster homes, to ensure that the needs of children are being properly met in foster homes, especially given their vulnerable status; and

        2) That apprehension and placement of children in foster homes is regarded as a last resort, with children only to be removed from the home when there is clear and extant danger; where, as appears to be the case here, the issue does not involve violence and can be addressed (at least initially) without the need to remove the child from the home, all efforts to do so should be made before foster placement is even considered.

        1. SHG Post author

          Your first conclusion seems to be a fundamental truism; how can you place a child in a foster home that isn’t safe? It’s incomprehensible. Your second, however, strikes me as the core question, when to remove a child. From all appearances, it’s become the same as any bureaucratic decision, one made by a clerk with a checklist operating under the theory of “better safe than sorry.”

          As the title of the post suggests, the argument in favor of the system as it exists makes perfect sense in theory, but the practice fails miserably to show the depth of discretion, thought and actual human concern that must be employed before a child is removed from a loving family and placed in the home of another. Even if they don’t beat the child to death, removal is an awful “fix” and should never be used except, as you say, as a last resort.

  2. Jake DiMare

    A question that often comes to mind for me is why elected/appointed officials are rarely, if ever, held civilly and/or criminally responsible for their part in any action gone wrong.

    1. SHG Post author

      That, too, has been discussed here many times. Had you been reading, the question would not often come to mind. You would know.

  3. Wheeze The People

    The subject of this post is very troubling to me. It’s further proof, as though you needed any, that our nanny state has run more than amok . . .

    Justice Scalia, who I’m really no big fan of in general, made an interesting and, IMO, on point comment in a very recent dissent:

    “While I am at it, I will add one thought. The Court’s opinion, it seems to me, needlessly demeans the rights of parenthood. It has been the constant practice of the common law to respect the entitlement of those who bring a child into the world to raise that child. We do not inquire whether leaving a child with his parents is ‘in the best interest of the child.’ It sometimes is not; he would be better off raised by someone else. But parents have their rights, no less than children do.” (Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 570 U.S. ___ (June 25th, 2013), 2013 U.S. LEXIS 4916, 2013 WL 3184627)

    There are so many fundamental issues raised by Alexandra Hill’s death that I don’t even know where to begin. So I’ll just say, from my vantage point at least, a large chunk of the “child protection” racket is generally an unconstitutional scam, with incentives in all the wrong places. A system that is more about making the huddled masses feel like the children are being protected at any cost while the truth of the matter is often times anything but . . .

  4. James N.

    Though not exactly the same issue, there’s also the question of…

    [Ed. Note: All but first and last line of lengthy yet simplistic comment informing criminal defense lawyers that there were immigration consequences to a criminal conviction (who knew?) deleted.]

    The story you cite is absolutely heartbreaking, but the problem is endemic.

    1. SHG Post author

      You’re new here, so you probably don’t realize that I’m a bit intolerant of commenters who think they’re entitled to use my bandwidth for whatever bit of nonsense pops into their heads. Did you seriously think no one but you was aware of the immigration consequences of a conviction, or that it was your place to explain it?

      If you nonetheless think your incisive explanation was critical, I would urge you to go elsewhere where you genius will be better appreciated. My feelings won’t be hurt.

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