Recently in Child Protective Services Category

California Attorney Lauren K Johnson Interviewed On HuffPost Live About Medical Marijuana Law And Kids

June 10, 2013,

California Attorney Lauren K Johnson Interviewed On HuffPost Live About Medical Marijuana Law And Keeping Kids Safe From Accidental Ingestion

Criminal Defense Attorney Lauren K. Johnson Provides Expert Legal Analysis Regarding Medical Marijuana And Child Welfare Law

Irvine, Calif., May 31, 2013 -- Lauren K. Johnson, a criminal defense attorney with law offices in Irvine, California was interviewed on a panel on HuffPost Live the topic of medical marijuana and the accidental ingestion of medical marijuana products by children. Lauren K Johnson discussed the distinction between legal and illegal drugs and parental responsibility to keep kids safe from accidental ingestion.

A recent Colorado study looked at 14 incidences between 2009 and 2011 in which children were brought to a Denver-area hospital for accidental ingestion of medical marijuana. No previous incidences had been reported. These 14 cases followed a federal policy change in which the federal government declined to prosecute medical marijuana patients in states that have made medical marijuana possession legal. The study questions the implications of increased access of medical marijuana and children's safety.

Lauren K Johnson discussed the importance of parents keeping all lawful drugs out of the reach and away from children. Ms. Johnson discussed her favor for increased warnings to parents about children gaining unintended access to medical marijuana and the need for child-safety caps and other measures to prevent access. Ms. Johnson discussed the importance of keeping keeps safe as there is an increase in medical marijuana use by lawful patients in California and other states.

Lauren K Johnson addressed the issues from a child welfare perspective and the specific factors a court might look for in determining whether parents were negligent. For example, a court would likely consider whether the marijuana was obtained and possessed illegally or as legal medicine, what kind of access and opportunity a child has or had to ingest it, the home conditions and the age of a child.

Other panelists discussed the comparisons and differences between medical marijuana ingestion, other legal and illegal drugs, and alcohol. While current case law in California addresses the ingestion by children of illegal drugs, with the increased use of medical marijuana, courts are bound to address accidental ingestion of medical marijuana due to its continued stigma.

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Alarming Rate of Foster Children Given Psychiatric Medication

February 14, 2013,

According to an article in The New York Times, in 2003 researchers analyzed the Medicaid records of 637,924 minors who were either in foster care, receiving disability benefits for a diagnosis of severe autism or bipolar disorder, and some were also in a social services program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The researchers found that 16,969, or about 3 percent of the total, had received at least one prescription for an antipsychotic drug.

The foster children were the ones who most often got more than one such prescription at the same time - 9.2%, versus 6.8% for children on disability and 2.5% for children in the TANF program.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals a concerning new trend for children in foster care and the regular prescription of antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal and Seroquel. These powerful drugs are commonly used in adults to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to a 2009 Times article, the side effects of a medication like Risperdal can be profound and include rapid weight gain, which can lead to other health problems like hypertension and diabetes, also very common in adults taking these same drugs.

There has been an approximate 4,000 percent increase in children being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the use of antipsychotics since 1998, and many were being prescribed drugs, that in some cases had only been tested on adults.

Susan dosReis, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the lead author of the report, said "The kids in foster care may come from bad homes, but they do not have the sort of complex medical issues that those in the disabled population do."

The implication, Dr. dosReis and other experts said: Doctors are treating foster children's behavioral problems with the same powerful drugs given to people with schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. "We simply don't have evidence to support this kind of use, especially in young children," Dr. dosReis said.

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California Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Parent Who Uses Medical Marijuana, Reversing Order For DCFS Intervention

December 9, 2012,

Dec10 Press Release Law Office of Lauren K Johnson CA Pot Case.pdf

California Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Parent Who Uses Medical Marijuana, Reversing Order For DCFS Intervention

Defense Attorney Lauren K. Johnson Prevails in State Appellate Court Case Setting Limits on Laws Separating Children From Their Parents That Use Marijuana for Medical Reasons

Irvine, Calif., December 11, 2012 -- Lauren K. Johnson, an attorney with law offices in Irvine, California today announced a hard-fought appeals court victory regarding parenting and medical marijuana use. In the case of Drake M. (case # B236769), Division Three of the Second Appellate District, California Court of Appeal ruled on December 5, 2012 that while parents who abuse drugs can lose custody of their children, a parent who uses marijuana for medical reasons, with a doctor's approval, isn't necessarily a drug abuser.

Being hailed as precedent-setting, the Appellate Court's ruling further clarifies child welfare law as applied in such cases, and represents a very significant victory for both the appellant and his legal counsel.

"The ruling illustrates a growing recognition of the legitimate use of medical marijuana in this state and other states," says Johnson. "We want kids to be safe, but we also want parents to be able to use legally prescribed medications when children appear not to be at demonstrated risk of harm."

In overturning a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling against the plaintiff, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the Appellate Court said the "mere usage of drugs," including marijuana, is not the same as substance abuse that can affect child custody, as alleged in this case by the lower court. The court held that substance must either be diagnosed by a doctor or show up in a person's behavior, such as absences or poor performance at work or at school, driving under the influence, or recurrent social or interpersonal problems. The Appellate Court emphasized that none of that happened in this case.

The father had testified that he uses medical marijuana for arthritis about four times a week, and does not use it in front of his child or care for the child while under the influence. He has been employed for many years and is capable of supporting his child, the court found.


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Los Angeles County DCFS Judge Reprimands Social Workers For Misusing Power And Harassing Family

July 2, 2012,

Today, an LA Times story reported that, during a hearing to consider financial sanctions against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, Superior Court Judge Amy Pellman reprimanded department social workers for their handling of a juvenile dependency case.

The story describes a family consisting of two parents and eight children struggling with homelessness, financial difficulty, and, in the case of the father, alcoholism leading to domestic violence. The Department initially removed the children based upon these issues; however, what happened afterward is what drew Judge Pellman's ire.

In November of last year things began looking up, with the mother reunited with the children after procuring an apartment and the father receiving counseling for his alcoholism. During his therapy, the father was ordered to stay away from the children, but was willing to live in his car to save money to pay the rent. The children were getting straight-A's in school and participated in sports and dance.

However, the two social workers handling the case reported the family to the landlord for the apartment building, alleging the family was violating the lease by having too many people living in a single apartment. Based upon this report, the landlord evicted the family. Following the eviction, the workers contacted one of the children's schools to report that she no longer lived within the school district. The family narrowly avoided the child's expulsion by obtaining a waiver allowing her to remain in the school.

During the hearing, Pellman addressed social worker Eleanor Clements and case supervisor Juliet Macias, stating, "You are there to support this family, not harass them. If a parent is being nasty or obnoxious or disrespectful then you are the professionals, right? You are not to respond in kind, OK?" Pellman continued, concluding that the workers acted out of "bad blood" in an effort to stifle the family's progress. Ultimately, however, Pellman concluded that she did not have the authority to impose sanctions against the department because the workers' actions did not violate a court order.

The sanctions process stems from a judge's inherent power to punish individuals or entities that the judge deems to have violated the Court's authority. The imposition of such sanctions against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services have risen substantially over the last few years, nearly doubling from $25,000 to $48,000 between 2010 and 2011.

As evidenced by this story, the Department of Children and Family Services wields a significant amount of authority and has the ability to impose considerable restrictions upon parents it deems unfit. To make matters worse, Courts often rely too much on reports prepared by social workers to make decisions regarding the children at issue.

Thankfully, stories like this are coming to the public's attention. Finally the public can see what it only had heard anecdotally from parents caught in the nightmare that is dependency court. Social worker sometimes abuse their power and act out of malice when they don't like the parents or don't want them to succeed. A push for open courts is one solution to bring transparency to the system. Lauren K Johnson has written and spoken on this topic to the community. See her article in the CADC journal here and news about L.A.'s open courts here.

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Baby Soap Leads To False-Positive Newborn Marijuana Test Results and False Accusations

June 20, 2012,

Most residents never imagine it could happen to them: they are accused of child abuse. Unfortunately, there is often a misguided assumption that all those accused of abuse are guilty, because no one who provided proper care for their children would ever arose suspicion of mistreatment. Reality is much different. There are countless reasons why one might be wrongly accused of hurting a child. In some cases those children are actually taken out of the home and families are forced to engage in legal battles for reunification.

The false alarms take many forms, with mistakes rooted in the most unlikely places.

Soap & Marijuana
For example, last week MSNBC shared the details of a new study which found that a range of soaps used to wash babies shortly after birth may unintentionally result in false positive readings on drug screening tests. The soaps themselves do not have any adverse effect on the newborns, and so the safety of the product is not at issue. Instead, the concern is the effect that the false positive has on accusations of marijuana exposure directed at the mother.

The testing itself is done is usually done on newborns whose mothers are deemed "high risk," meaning that there may already be presumptions against these families which the false test results just exacerbate. It is not uncommon for social service departments to get involved following the test results. If allegations of abuse are made, an unsuspecting mother might be forced to engage in legal wrangling in order to prove her innocence and get her child back.

The Research
The findings were made by a group of researchers at a North Carolina hospital and published in this month's issues of the journal Clinical Biochemistry. The study itself was undertaken after nurses at a nearby hospital reported a mysterious increase in newborns testing positive for marijuana. Fortunately, the medical professionals realized that the test results seemed out of place; they guessed that another explanation was likely

The researchers examined urine samples from infants. They looked at samples which contained small, even minute, traces of five leading infant soaps--Johnson & Johnson's Head-to-Toe Baby Wash, J&J Bedtime Bath, CVS Night-Time Baby Bath, Aveeno Soothing Relief Creamy Wash, and Aveeno Wash Shampoo. They discovered that the soap in the urine sample translated into positive readings for the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Correcting the Problem
The researchers noted that the study is confirmation that nurses need to consider alternatives to ensure mothers are not falsely accused of drug use. If a drug test comes back positive at a hospital that is usually end of the analysis. The results are not sent to a laboratory for confirmation. That makes it even more important for hospital tests to be accurate. Researchers are not exactly sure why the soap causes the false reading in the traditional screening test. However, more sensitive tests are available which return accurate results without the soap-use distortion.

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First Look Into L.A.'s Juvenile Court By Press Shows What They've Been Hiding All This Time

March 15, 2012,

The Pasadena Star News took advantage of the new open juvenile court rule in L.A. last week and described what they saw in Rare look at children's court finds tension runs high.

For private attorneys like me who practice in the juvenile courts and have been pushing for an open courts system through legislation or mandate, what the press found was no surprise. One court-appointed attorney was woefully unaware that his client was sitting right next to him. That same attorney was later reprimanded for not having a client's file in court. "You've got to pull it together," the judge told him before taking him in the back.

The same judge later ordered a social worker to attend a sanction meeting after the worker failed to file paperwork on time for a hearing. While the social worker claimed the delay was due to a "family emergency," the judge didn't seem to believe her. The department faces sanctions at a future hearing.

The court heard 24 cases that day. The attorneys in court seemed extremely nervous to have the press reporting. According the the article, the attorneys appointed to these juvenile cases only receive $680 per case. This is not adequate funding to handle the most important type of legal proceedings a family can ever face. But lawyers in this system don't complain about pay. According to LADL supervising attorney Marlene Furth, "The one thing they say, the one thing, is that they don't have time to talk with their clients."

I worked as a Deputy Public Defender for 5 years, 1 1/2 of those years representing parents in juvenile dependency court. If I did not have adequate time to talk to my client, I did not go forward in a court hearing. If I needed more time, I told the court I needed more time. I would not represent a client if I was not prepared, under any circumstance. No attorney should be bullied for any reason to commit malpractice because s/he is not adequately prepared and every client deserves to have an attorney who knows who they are, has spent adequate time with them, and who zealously advocates for them. That is what the profession demands. Anything less is unacceptable.

I am so glad that the courts are open in L.A. and I hope the press will continue to report on these issues. This reporter did not have to go from court room to court room looking for problems to report. All he had to do is go sit in any court room and WATCH. Some court- appointed attorneys do an outstanding job for their clients. But sadly, many court-appointed lawyers don't know who their clients are, are not prepared, or just don't have time to do the job competently.

These types of reports are long overdue and are likely just the tip of the iceberg. The public needs to know what is happening for there to be change. And if you were wondering why the parents' attorneys in L.A. were so adamantly against opening the juvenile courts, now you know for sure.

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Los Angeles Juvenile Courts Opened as of February 2012

February 15, 2012,

As he had promised, Presiding Judge Michael Nash has ordered the Juvenile Courts opened for Los Angeles, California's juvenile courts, according to the L.A. Times' L.A. judge orders Juvenile Court opened to press. The move has not gone without criticism and now the Children's Law Center has filed a law suit over it according to the L.A. Times' Group sues over L.A. judge's decision to open juvenile courts.

I believe reasonable people can disagree on where the balance should tip in favor of the public's right to know about what happens in juvenile court and foster youth's desire to have their cases heard confidentially. However, the forces behind the movement to keep the juvenile courts closed- - held in secret outside the purview of the press and the public - - are not solely interested in protecting kids' privacy

In the United States, there is no fundamental right of anyone to have their court case heard in secret. Some people may believe that they should advocate for confidentiality for foster youth in these cases because of a desire to protect children. This comes from an altruistic place, however, the juvenile courts have tried this experiment. The result has led to adult actors in the juvenile courts- - social workers, attorneys and judges- - becoming the true beneficiaries of the benefits of secrecy. The belief that confidentiality benefits children starts with the premise that the system and its adult participants are serving children well behind closed doors. This is the first problem.

Parents don't believe the system is working to protect their kids and reunify their families. Parents' attorneys don't believe the system is working. Bench officers like Judge Nash do not believe the system is working as is. Youth die in foster care and fall through the cracks, and parents don't reunify with their kids no matter how many hoops they jump through. Social workers mistake illness and accidents for abuse or lie to courts to obtain outcomes they want. As a result, tax payers in California have paid huge judgments against their counties in civil rights and civil liability law suits (See County loses $4.9 million lawsuit challenge over lying social workers.) The system is broken.

If you start from that point of view that this system is not best serving children and families, you believe something has to change. I practice regularly in the juvenile courts. I put on a suit and go to work and fight for my clients. I know my clients, prepare them for court, prepare my cases, subpoena witnesses, investigate claims, and work with experts in preparing my clients' cases. I file motions, call witnesses, and advocate on my clients' behalf. I have nothing to hide if the court system was open and, even though my clients are sometimes embarrassed and sad that they are part of this system, they would rather have an open court that treats them fairly and in the eye of the public rather than in secret. When you believe that open juvenile courts can lead to change in the way adult professionals conduct themselves in this system - - requiring attorneys to actually met their clients, being prepared, and advocating competently, social workers to do their jobs and tell the truth, judges to act fairly and impartially while exercising independent judgment of the case before them - - the issue is a no-brainer.

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Psychological Effects of Removing Children From Parents

September 30, 2011,

By Guest Blogger, Allison Gamble

Childhood is supposed to be one of the happiest times of life. Unfortunately, this isn't the case for all children. For some, these good times are cut short when children leave their families for whatever reason and lose everything familiar to them. Ideally one would never need to look at a child from the perspective of forensic psychology to understand his mental disposition, but sadly events like these take place every day for one reason or another.

Parental bonding is one of the most important elements in the development of a child. Children are dependent upon their parents for emotional and physical care, from feeding to nurturing to mobility. Naturally, children come to expect this relationship to continue through life, but when they are removed from this atmosphere of reliability and comfort, things can fall apart.

A child taken from its parents will likely experience several psychological consequences of the separation. These can include depression, behavior disorders, separation anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Depression alone includes a wide range of damaging effects, including loss of interest in things children would normally enjoy, anger or irritability, sleep deprivation, and changes in personality.

Behavior disorders are all too common in children separated from their families. It can be difficult for new caregivers to establish a truly authoritative role in children's lives. They may become defiant of authority, challenge or question set rules, and argue with adults around them. Sometimes a simple time-out can resolve such behaviors, but punishment often fails to eliminate many of these problems, and may add further resentment towards new caregivers.

Meanwhile, separation anxiety occurs mildly when an infant is separated from its parents for a brief time, but can be much more severe when children old enough to understand what's happening are taken away from their parents. Children with serious separation anxiety may be unable to attach themselves to new environments or caregivers. They may be prone to cry often, become very nervous, and can carry the disorder over into later development, causing further problems.

According to The United Nations Children's Fund, children taken from home or separated from their parents are more likely to be sexually abused or be victims of physical violence. Such abuse typically causes many psychology problems lasting throughout the victims' lives. These situations also inhibit children's emotional and social development, making children more likely to become introverted and avoid reliance on others for support during childhood and later in life.

The psychological effects of separating children from their parents can have a dramatic impact on their childhood, adolescence, and adult life. Children separated from their mothers especially are likely to encounter problems bonding with others, developing long-term relationships, and adjusting socially. In any situation where the question of taking a child away from its parents arises, the gravity of that decision and the weight of its consequences must never be underestimated.

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Lauren K Johnson's "Open The Juvenile Courts" Article Featured In California Appellate Defense Counsel Quarterly Newsletter

September 20, 2011,

0012.jpgLauren K Johnson's article on Open Courts Legislation is featured in California Appellate Defense Counsel's Quarterly Newsletter.

New Evidence Of A Link Between Poverty/Housing Instability And Child Welfare Involvement

August 25, 2011,

Any sociologist worth her weight could tell you that there is a link between poverty and involvement of families in systems like the child welfare system (in addition to other systems like the criminal justice system). New Information from Partners For Our Children, a collaborative effort of the University of Washington School of Social Work, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and private funders, reaffirms what child welfare attorneys and practitioners already know anecdotally about families in our care.

In a new online piece, Poverty and Housing Instability: The Implications for Families Involved in the Child Welfare System, researchers claim strong correlations between housing instability and involvement in child welfare cases. Affordable housing has always been an issue in America but families are increasingly challenged to obtain affordable housing in light of ecomic factors across every state.

The reality is that there is no state in this county in which an individual can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a full-time minimum wage job. Yet stable housing provides the critical foundation that children need. Without stable and safe housing, children are challenged to thrive in other areas including education.

Homelessness is not always as it seems. Homeless families may not stand on street corners-- they may share housing with other families in unstable arrangements or move from shelter to shelter. Yet in a political climate in which it is suddenly acceptable to shift the burden of balancing government's budgets onto the poor and working poor, resources are even more scarce for the families who need the most help. Housing resources have become extremely limited as funding is cut to programs that help keep kids and families off the streets and out of shelters.

Ultimately, homeless families are at greatest risk of being caught in the web of child protective services intervention. The most common reason children enter foster care is "general neglect" or inadequate food, clothing, and shelter. "Research has shown a link between poverty, homelessness or substandard housing and child welfare involvement; in fact, housing instability is often the reason families come to the attention of child welfare in the first place and, in some cases, housing issues hinder family reunification efforts." Approximately 30% of children in foster care are there primarily as a result of a lack of housing. These children are disproportionately children of color.

While some states have barred removal of children due to poverty-related conditions, these factors remain strong predictors of whether a child ends up in this system. Ultimately, the burden falls back onto social workers and other government actors to help connect families to the scarce community resources that are available to help provide stable housing.

Political discourse around these issues fails to address the human realities of drastic cuts to social welfare programs in the United States. Ultimately, if we fail to provide help to children and families who need it most, we fuel cycles of povery and state-custody or intervention. These are real families and children's lives, not talking points for the 2012 election.

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CPS WORKERS REMOVE OBESE CHILDREN FROM PARENTS' HOMES

July 14, 2011,

In an astonishing article by the Associated Press, Should Parents Lose Custody Of Super-Obese Kids?, I read today about incidences of obese children being removed from their parents' home for being obese. According to this article, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children's Hospital Boston, opines that sometimes it's in a child's best interest to remove them from their parents because they are obese. Anecdotal evidence supports the claim that social workers across the country may choose to remove obese children from their parents' homes before submitting children to bypass surgery. These experts opine that removal is the more "ethical" choice.

Because these are the only two choices?!

The idea that it would be in the best interest of a child to be removed from the family home due to obesity, alone, is outrageous. It is extreme, paternalistic, judgmental, cruel, and fails to take into account the realities of the modern society and its effects on today's families. Studies show that hunger, as well as obesity, are strongly correlated to poverty. For more information about hunger, read Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs
and 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics

The idea that obesity is a form of child abuse or neglect is fundamentally mistaken, I think it's fair to say, in the majority of scenarios. This sort of judgment fails to take into account socioeconomic issues affecting families in this country. It is a dangerous child welfare system or worker who confuses poverty for neglect and then, in lieu of offering assistance, removes children and puts them with more financially secure families. It's a type of social engineering that courts must refuse to do and that our system must prohibit. Happy, healthy children come in all shapes and sizes, as do their parents. What is next? Requiring families to buy only organic produce or whole wheat bread? If the state wants to require parents do so, it better dig deep in its pockets to pay for it- before ever considering removing a child.

It is a cynical and culturally insensitive system that imposes a social worker's, or any other highly educated, middle-class professional's, personal values on families and calls anything else child abuse or neglect. We know more and more about obesity as time goes on to know that parents are not lone contributors. Aside from poverty, we know that genetics explains obesity. So do a number of medical conditions.

But what about other social influences? School-provided meals are shamefully failing to keep kids healthy and provide the least expensive bulk-fillers they get donated. For information about school lunches, read
Underfunded School Lunch Programs Create Unhealthy Kids
.

We know that large-scale food merchants fights to keep their unhealthy products in schools so children can easily access them. It's no coincidence that sugar-coated children's cereals feature cartoon advertising. So its fair, again, to say that parents do not raise children in a vacuum. Children grow up in a culture that is bombarded by products to consume, many of which are not healthy.

Our system fails when it cannot distinguish the sociological reasons for obesity or the medical causes for obesity from abuse or neglect. The last place that children should be is away from their families unless they are in imminent risk of harm. If CPS social workers and juvenile court professionals care at all about kids and families, they must do everything in their power to help keep families healthy BEFORE considering ever removing a child from that home. We fail families as a society when we demand anything less of our government actors.

PBS's Frontline Exposes Wrongful Convictions For Child Abuse and Shaken Baby Syndrome

June 30, 2011,

In an eye-opening new Frontline segment, The Child Cases, PBS and its partners present a critical look into "child cases" and what goes wrong from a scientific and prosecutorial standpoint when innocent people are convicted of abusing and killing children. This segment tells the story of one man on death row for killing a child who appears to have suffered a bleeding disorder, a woman who sat in jail for over a year before she was found not-guilty of killing her child, and a daycare provider who served a prison sentence before being released on appeal. The narrator interviews medical examiners who work on child death cases, attorneys, as well as family members and witnesses to these cases. This segment is one of several stories about faulty science that leads to the conviction of innocent people for child deaths.

The media is paying keen attention to these cases and are highlighting the problems when government forensic medical examiners evaluate child death cases at autopsy. These examiners are often not board certified. They rarely read medical records for the children. And they often feel aligned with the prosecuting agencies that they submit their information to, to the detriment of objectivity. In addition, child autopsies are as emotional as it gets. The results include mistaken observations, bias against the caretakers, the presumption of abuse, and, ultimately, wrongful convictions. NPR also discusses these issues in Child Cases: Guilty Until Proven Innocent.

As a an attorney who represents parents in child abuse cases in the trial court and on appeal, I am happy to see that these mistakes are coming to light outside of the courtroom. Practitioners know that medical examiners are aligned with prosecuting agencies but courts often look away as a result of the system's design. Bias must be exposed because it taints everything: from beliefs, to impressions, to diagnoses and findings. Science without objectivity is far worse than no science at all. In these cases, scientists are arming prosecutors with lies that only they can disprove.

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Former Foster Youth May Sue L.A. County After Social Worker Stole His Life Savings

June 12, 2011,

According to the Los Angeles Times article, Ex-foster youth may sue county, a Los Angeles county social worker pocketed a foster youth's savings prior to his death. Samuel Sago, 21, was a foster youth who worked part-time at Starbucks in order to save money to live independently after he aged out of the foster care system. He and other foster youth handed over their pay to a social worker who literally stole their money. When Sago asked for his money to find an apartment, he was given $713- - not the $4,664.10 he had given the social worker. The department had no explanation. Only after the social worker died did Sago learn that the social worker had stolen his and other foster youth's money, to the tune of $17,000 and 19 kids.

Supervisor Gloria Molina apologized to Sago and acknowledged that there was fraud in the department. She stated that they were trying to correct the problem and attempted to make Sago whole by paying him the entire amount he had trusted to his social worker.

As an attorney practicing dependency law throughout Southern California, this story is as surprising as it is outrageous. Few people can imagine the depths of corruption to which one social worker might plunge. When trusted with completely unchecked power, with no oversight or consequences for potential wrongdoing, people do incredibly immoral and criminal things. The people working in this system are no different. This is a terrible example of an abuse of a child by the very person trusted to take care of him.

We charge social workers with the incredibly important responsibility- to keep kids safe - and the system relies upon the assumption that children are better off out of their parents' homes than in them. This young man faced abuse and/or neglect that presumably required his removal from his parents. Then he faced financial exploitation at the hands of the one person trusted to help provide him a brighter future.

I can think of no more blatant a breach of trust. When we as a society choose to allow government actors to raise children, in lieu of their biological parents, we assume different risks for these children. First, those charged with caring about kids are not their parents. They may or may not have their interests truly at heart any more than the presumably flawed biological parents did. Second, we have no system in place to check the abuses that happen in the system.

Where are the checks on institutional abusers? Despite claim after claim, foster youth inexplicably fight measures to open the system to provide transparency, like failed AB 73, that I discussed in an early blog. I suspect these sorts of story merely scratch the surface of what has gone on and is going on in this broken system.

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Nick Cannon Understandably Baffled By CPS Investigation

May 30, 2011,

Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey just welcomed twin babies into their lives. But, according to Nick Cannon - Baffled Nick Cannon Didn't Trust Child Protective Services Official At Hospital, CPS was the first paparrazzi to want to take a look.

Apparently someone reported that Mariah Carey was drinking alcohol and using drugs while pregnant so CPS thought it should investigate. Apparently you only need a CPS badge and an anonymous tip to violate anyone's privacy-- even that of the rich and famous! So in light of the fact that the information was totally bogus, Cannon was suspicious of the CPS worker's intentions.

After scrutinizing the CPS worker's badges and contacting lawyers, Cannon realized this was the real deal. Just like any old family falsely accused of child abuse, Cannon and Carey were investigated at the hospital. Yet, unlike most families wrongfully accused in this system, Cannon and Carey later got an apology.

It would be amazing if Cannon and Carey used their celebrity to highlight the absurdity of CPS's apparant unbridled chutzpah to show up in the delivery room and poke around whenever they see fit. In the case of this celebrity couple, one can only wonder why CPS was really there (or if they took a photo "for their file").

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Botox Mom Now Says It Was a Hoax; Didn't Inject 8 Year-Old Daughter

May 26, 2011,

According to ABC News Health's article Mom Who Said She Injected Her 8-Year-Old Daughter With Botox Fights to Keep Her Daughter, the mother accused of injecting her 8 year-old daughter with Botox states she made the whole story up for money. A week after Child Protective Services (CPS) removed Upton's daughter from her home, this mom now says that the whole story was fabricated.

Many people were astonished when they heard about this mother who proudly declared that she injected her daughter with Botox in an effort to help her compete in child beauty pageants. The eight year-old claimed that her facial lines were a problem and that the cosmetic procedure helped her look prettier. CPS phone lines rang off the hook as people voiced outrage over this news story.

Now it appears the whole thing may have been a hoax. Ms. Upton claims she staged the injection scene and lied for money for the news story. As a result, Ms. Upton's daughter is now out of the home and CPS is still investigating.

When I initially read this story, my first thought was "how stupid." Even if she believed Botox helped her daughter compete in pageants, the extent of her efforts were inappropriate. But I have represented many parents who have made oddball and just plain dumb mistakes that led to CPS investigations that were remediated with some parenting instruction. Maybe this mom just got caught up or was living vicariously through her daughter. While this case was extreme, we all know parents who have unfortunately pushed a kid too hard to do something the parents always wanted to do- be it a sport, an academic pursuit or even a career. Maybe, I thought, this mom just wasn't very bright and was influenced by the madness of pageant people.

Now I'm not sure. If Upton did make up this story for the money, what was she thinking? Of course CPS would end up investigating these claims. Upton took a great, great risk in participating in this hoax and exposed her child to this embarassing ordeal. The financial motivation may offend many but doesn't particularly offend me in light of the graphic and horrific exploitation that takes placed with children around the world. Upton's exploitation of her kid for money is comparatively benign but dumb nonetheless, if this was all a hoax.

But the criminal defense attorney in me really wonders if the "hoax" claim is too made up. Now that Upton knows how offended everybody is over Botoxing an 8 year-old, a hoax claim may be her best defense.

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