Why Aren’t More Parents Prosecuted as Criminals?

Below you’ll see a story from Omaha.com that details the criminal charges of one couple whose small children all tested positive for meth.

But the fact remains- most parents involved in our abuse and neglect court system and adjudicated as abusive or neglectful are not also charged in the criminal system. Why is this? There are plenty of reasons but a main two come to mind. The first is that the re-victimization of the child is a high likelihood. Perhaps Johnny*, a five year old boy, accused his stepfather of touching him inappropriately. In order to prosecute, Johnny may have to take the stand so that the accused can face his accuser. Johnny, traumatized, may 1) refuse to take the stand out of fear or 2) become inconsolable on the stand or while in interviews preparing for the hearing or even 3) retract his statements when he gets on the stand out of fear of his abuser, who is probably sitting about six feet away. Is this situation therapeutic for Johnny? The second reason is that criminal and abuse and neglect courts have different evidentiary standards. In abuse and neglect court the judge makes decisions based on preponderance of the evidence (it is more likely true than not true). In criminal court the basis for findings is beyond a reasonable doubt (it had to have happened).

So what percentage of our cases have a criminal component as well? The answer is 31%, less than half of the cases served by Boone County CASA. And the criminal charges span a wide array of crimes. The only similarity is that all of the events directly and greatly endangered a child ie the child was either the victim of or witnessed to the crime.


Meth Neglect


A Personal Tale of Identity and Adoption

What really resonated with us here at the CASA office was, “And that was the best response I could have asked for from anyone. Dory’s feelings of inadequacy and abandonment, her burning passion to find her family, her reunion with her parents, and her acceptance of the fact that as much as she loves her parents, Marlin and Nemo are also her family, mirror any adoptee’s story.

So for parent’s looking to take their children to this film: know this is a very touching, very Pixar movie. Your adopted children might not understand why they’re feeling insecure or sad…but the movie offers both hope and closure. This allowed me to identify with Dory and let me think that maybe there’s hope for me, too.

For older adoptees who want to see the sequel to their favorite childhood movie, I hope that you also see a piece of yourself in Dory, and have the courage and strength to “just keep swimming.”

We can imagine that many of the kids we serve feel these emotions and struggle everyday with connecting who they are now to who they used to be. We hope they too will find ways to “just keep swimming.” While they’re learning, we’ll be here every step of the way. 

An adoptee’s thoughts on Finding Dory… When I was in fourth grade, my classroom had Star of the Week, which meant that one chosen student brought in a poster with pictures of their family and had to fill out a sheet filled with their favorite things: color, animal, ice cream flavor, favorite movie. I’ve never […]

via Finding You, Finding Me — Little Lily, Big World

Special Needs…and what that means

One Term, Many Definitions:

“Special Needs” is an umbrella underneath which a staggering array of diagnoses can be wedged. Children with special needs may have mild learning disabilities or profound cognitive impairment; food allergies or terminal illness; developmental delays that catch up quickly or remain entrenched; occasional panic attacks or serious psychiatric problems. The designation is useful for getting needed services, setting appropriate goals, and gaining understanding for a child and stressed family.
Minuses and Pluses:

“Special needs” are commonly defined by what a child can’t do – by milestones unmet, foods banned, activities avoided, experiences denied. These minuses hit families hard, and may make “special needs” seem like a tragic designation. Some parents will always mourn their child’s lost potential, and many conditions become more troubling with time. Other families may find that their child’s challenges make triumphs sweeter, and that weaknesses are often accompanied by amazing strengths.

Different Concerns:

Pick any two families of children with special needs, and they may seem to have little in common. A family dealing with developmental delays will have different concerns than one dealing with chronic illness, which will have different concerns than one dealing with mental illness or learning problems or behavioral challenges.

By Terri Mauro

MemeCASA works with many special needs kids. In fact, after doing a quick run through of the current caseload, we found that 42% of the children we serve have special needs. The criteria was met only by children who would qualify for IEP services for either a medical, mental health/behavioral, or developmental delay diagnoses. It excluded children receiving only counseling to help them deal with the issues that brought their case into care or the numbers would have been quite inflated.

The thing that we really want everyone to know about these kids is simple- they’re still kids. They still play, they still absorb the things they see and hear, and they still need love that is silly and supportive and allows them the most independence for their unique situations. In that vein we loved this meme-

We read an article the other day that humans have been caring for special needs children since prehistoric times, that they too saw the value of people who did not fit into the general norm. Two such proofs were-

  • 4,000 years ago, a young woman from a site on the Arabian peninsula lived to 18. She had a neuromuscular disease, possibly polio, with very thin arms and leg muscles that would have made walking and movement extremely difficult. Debra L. Martin, associate professor of biological anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says that she would have needed “round the clock care.”

Martin also points out that the young woman’s teeth had numerous cavities; she had also lost teeth from abscesses. Noting that her people grew dates, Martin posits that, to keep the young woman happy, she may have been fed “a lot of sticky, gummy dates.


10,000 years ago, Romito 2 lived until he was a teenager; his skeleton shows that he had a form of severe dwarfism that meant his arms were very short. He was therefore unable to live by hunting and gathering among his people, who “would have had to accept” what he could not do.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/ancient-bones-acts-of-kindness-eons-ago.html#ixzz4AFgrtD5L

So know that special needs children not only live but many are able to live wonderful lives and cast light on those around them, despite their challenges.

Seperate Households…Same Family

From Deseret News

Davis and Baton are almost seven years into shared parenting in the wake of divorce, which makes them both trendy and unusual. Shared parenting is growing in popularity — several states already have laws creating a presumption that children will be raised by both parents post-breakup, and 20 state legislatures considered such laws last year, with varying results, although a presumption of shared parenting is very rare. Only 17 percent of custody cases result in shared parenting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

What is shared parenting? Wikipedia defines it as a collaborative arrangement in child custody or divorce determinations in which both parents have the right and responsibility of being actively involved in the raising of the child(ren).” This means each parent gets the opportunity to participate in the daily lives of their children by staying cordial with their ex and, sometimes, even their ex’s family and friend groups. As you can see by the paragraph above, this way of collaboration is slowly becoming law as well. In fact, the state of Ohio has released a guide to help families establish this practice. The index reads as follows…

Shared ParentingYet, in many CASA cases, this can be a sticking point. Why is that? Because when parents are separated but both available to complete services, either one of their homes can be considered’home’. Therefore, at one time, both parents can be working toward a ‘Return Home’ goal. New CASAs often ask, “Does this mean its a race to see who can complete services faster?” Like in nearly every grey area question the answer is “Sometimes.”

Remember, kids who are served by CASAs typically don’t have one appropriate parent. If they did the children would be living with that parent (or placed with the appropriate parent at the intervention of DCFS). The children who end up in the system have two parents who have been deemed unfit to care for them. Let’s consider these examples. Can you tell us which case would require a CASA?

*Family 1- DCFS is called when Ava, a two year old minor, is found wandering outside her home. DCFS receives the call from a driver who, passing by the house on the 45 mph road, is concerned that the child could wander into traffic as he/she did not see a supervising adult outside. When DCFS responds Ava’s mother, who has primary care of her, is found inebriated. She states that Ava is frequently allowed to wander outside but knows to return when it starts to get dark. Ava’s father, who sees her every other weekend and on Wednesdays, is Hector. Hector has petitioned the courts in their Family case previously for full custody of Ava, as he has had some concerns that her mother is not appropriate. Hector stated that he has never seen Ava’s mother be intoxicated around their child firsthand but has had concerns about Ava’s complaints that her mother sleeps all the time and cannot be woken. He pays child support for Ava and is employed. He has never resided full time with Ava and lives with a girlfriend and her one year old son.

*Family 2- DCFS receives a call from a concerned teacher stating that, after being absent for some time, sixteen year old Karl returns to school with a bruise on his face. When asked what happened Karl stated that he ran away from home and, when he returned a few days later, his father physically punished him. With further inquiry it is revealed that Karl has bruises to his back and arms as well. Karl stated that he knows he deserved such punishment, as his father was so worried about him when he ran away. Karl’s mother has just been released from prison for a drug trafficking charge. She has a history of incarceration for drug related offenses, and Karl has only been able to visit her once or twice in the past three years. She is out, stated she has a stable home, but has not engaged in substance abuse services as of yet.

Family 1 would not need court intervention, so long as the father has no previous indications on record and was able to provide an appropriate environment for Ava. In fact, he may take Ava and be referred for intact family services so that the Department could monitor Ava’s transition and provide any counseling/developmental screening as necessary. CASA does not get involved with intact services so long as the parents are compliant with the Department.

In case 2 however, it is likely that the courts would become involved since neither parent would be able to provide an appropriate home for Karl. Karl may wind up in traditional foster care or be placed with a relative/fictive kin. Both Karl’s parents would be given the ‘Return Home’ goal and both be provided services to achieve that goal. Karl would only have to reunite with one of them to consider this goal achieved.

So what happens once the case closes? Do the parents practice shared parenting? Honestly, CASA would not know. Some cases end up in Family Court where a judge can help them decide custody/visit arrangements. Some cases close and visitation with the other parent is left up to the custodial parent. If, say in Karl’s case, he is returned to his mother and his father never participates in services and, at case closure, is still adamant that Karl “was asking for it” perhaps Karl would not be permitted to see his father until he reaches adulthood. While CASA could advocate for continuing visits while the case remained open, anything other than that is outside the scope of the CASA role. Once the case is closed the family is on their own to make time sharing decisions.

*These cases and all examples used for this blog are fictional. Boone County CASA does not and cannot share filed case information with non-party sources.

Does it ever break your heart?

This is a question staff here at Boone County CASA get asked quite often and are sure counselors, caseworkers, and many others hear this all the time. Doesn’t your work ever break your heart? or How do you do that everyday? We’ve also heard many version of Don’t you just want to take them all home?

peaceThe simple answer is yes. Yes, sometimes it breaks our hearts. Sometimes it almost physically hurts to be in a room with a child who can’t count, or read, or has reactive attachment disorder so badly they don’t know how to accept even the smallest kindness due to a short but reliable lifetime of abuse/neglect. Sometimes, when a child is underfed and homeless, bruised and scared, patched up in a cast or living a very hard life with a treatable illness, the job is very, very sad. If it didn’t strike a worker as sad, as wrong, then this probably wouldn’t be the right profession to be in.

However, there is more reason to smile than many people may think. We see victories, big and small, all the time. We get to hear about it and sometimes even see it when a child, born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, learns to walk and talk. Yes, it may be later than their peers. Yes, its still a victory worth celebrating. We get to see when a child who has rarely been hugged is able to climb on the lap of a foster parent for comfort. We get to see when a mother, once drug addicted, is able to look at her children sober and promise them she’s turned the corner. Those are things that make the hard days even a bit less stressful.

Also, importantly, we have to learn to let go. We cannot be accountable for other people’s decisions. We have to be able to go home or to our ‘happy’ place without carrying constant worry and sadness with us. This is a lesson nearly everyone in a field which serves at-risk populations must learn. Sometimes the only accomplishment we’ll be able to claim is I tried my hardest. That, too, is a victory.