This week, Kelley Richey and Julia Avery revisit the case of Christiana Glenn and discuss where the system went and continues to go wrong for America’s children.
What Went Wrong?
When revisiting the case of Christiana Glenn, it is apparent that Child Services’ lack of intervention was the direct cause of her death and the abuse towards her siblings. Had Child Services taken action in a timely manner, Christiana may still be alive today.
Further research was conducted to determine why the system often fails children. It was discovered that children don’t have any concrete rights to speak of. When reading the laws, most were angled in support of and to clarify the parent’s rights. In addition to not having substantial rights, a child’s word is dismissed while the parent’s word is taken at face value. If the system is not functioning the way it was intended, to protect the most vulnerable, then who will?
New Jersey Laws
Because Christiana’s case was based in New Jersey, the laws specific to child protection in that state was researched. What constitutes abuse in New Jersey law? Abuse is detailed under “Title 9: Children, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts.”
Under the list within “Section: 9:6-1 Abuse, abandonment, cruelty and neglect of child; what constitutes,” Venette is found blatantly guilty of the following.
(g) using excessive physical restraint on the child under circumstances which do not indicate that the child’s behavior is harmful to himself, others or property; or
(h) in an institution as defined in section 1 of P.L.1974, c. 119 (C. 9 :6-8.21), willfully isolating the child from ordinary social contact under circumstances which indicate emotional or social deprivation.
(a) inflicting unnecessarily severe corporal punishment upon a child;
(b) inflicting upon a child unnecessary suffering or pain, either mental or physical;
(c) habitually tormenting, vexing or afflicting a child;
(d) any willful act of omission or commission whereby unnecessary pain and suffering, whether mental or physical, is caused or permitted to be inflicted on a child;
(e) or exposing a child to unnecessary hardship, fatigue or mental or physical strains that may tend to injure the health or physical or moral well-being of such child.
(a) willfully failing to provide proper and sufficient food, clothing, maintenance, regular school education as required by law, medical attendance or surgical treatment, and a clean and proper home, or
(b) failure to do or permit to be done any act necessary for the child’s physical or moral well-being. Neglect also means the continued inappropriate placement of a child in an institution, as defined in section 1 of P.L.1974, c. 119 (C. 9 :6-8.21), with the knowledge that the placement has resulted and may continue to result in harm to the child’s mental or physical well-being.
Venette clearly hit every one of these check marks yet somehow the child services agent determined the findings as “unfounded.” How that happened is baffling and a clear reflection of how the system repeatedly fails children in abusive situations.
Double Edged Sword – Juvenile Confidentiality
Details for these types of cases appear to be confidential and not available for the public. This is largely due to the confidentiality maintained for the “safety” of juveniles. The idea of protecting youth by handling cases confidentially seems nice. However, that confidentiality makes it impossible for the public to view and ensure that the judicial system is managing cases correctly.
Being denied the important details for cases like Christiana’s that go wrong, the public has no clear way of holding anyone truly accountable. They are simply met with non-conclusive statements regarding investigations. As with Christiana’s case response;
“We expect the department will initiate a full investigation with the Department of Education and other state agencies to understand how this family could have slipped under the radar of the child protection system for the last two years.’’https://www.nj.com/news/2011/05/five_reports_of_abuse_and_negl.html
One can only hope that “investigation” is not convoluted with distrustful personnel/leadership, conflicts of interest, and dismissiveness.
Initial findings into children’s protection rights resulted in a majority of support and resources for parents instead. Almost as if child services are meant to be viewed as a threat to fiercely defend regardless of the wellbeing of the child. A parent’s word will typically be taken at face value while a child’s word is not deemed credible.
Justice For Children
Founder of “Justice for Children,” Randy Burton, wrote the article “System is Failing Children.” It details the failure of our legal system which affects children who are unable to fight for themselves.
In his opening statement, he lists some statistics regarding child sexual abuse victims. Based upon a testimony by David Patterson, state senator from New York, “one in every three girls and one in every five boys are victims of child sexual abuse.” In addition, “a high percentage of those most afflicted repeat the cycle.” This statement was made at a field hearing on child sexual abuse in response to a state level investigation. It concluded that the system failed miserably in protection of sexually abused children. Since that field hearing, reports have only risen.
“This increase is the direct result of the failure of our legal system to protect known victims of abuse. This crisis is even more critical as it affects children who are unable to fight for themselves.”https://justiceforchildren.org/about-us/system-is-failing-our-children/
The article by Burton is full of damning information regarding this topic. While every point is extremely relevant to this post, only the highlights will be included. It is HIGHLY recommended that everyone read the original article in its entirety.
- 1. Mental health professionals and attorneys ad litem are often appointed by judges in return for campaign favors and tend to be mere puppets of the court. Further, critical court decisions can be based more on personal relationships with lawyers than on sound legal principals. As a result, the protection of the child and any due process to which the child is entitled is given little or no consideration and the abuser is frequently given unrestricted visitation with the child, if not outright possession. —-Traumatized originally by the perpetrator, the child is victimized again by the legal system designed to protect him/her.
- 2. Allegations of altered transcripts, altered or destroyed government documents, ex parte communications, and hearings held and orders issued without court reporters are not limited to the few highly publicized child abuse cases which make national news but are being heard throughout nation. Statistical data in support of this failure and its impact on our nation is overwhelming.
- 3. Children under the age of 6 are routinely held by criminal court judges to be “incompetent” to testify as to the crime committed against them.
- 4. A 2000 review of statistics prepared by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, indicate an appalling lack of attention to even the most serious child abuse cases. Moreover, the cases that are accepted for criminal charges represent roughly 1/2 of 1% of all the reports made to the State Child Abuse Hotline or to local CPS offices.
- 5. Advocacy for children’s rights must not be left to a social service agency that maintains the repressive and scientifically unproven view that it is more harmful to the child to remove him or her from the family than to leave the child in the abusive home. This policy is a throwback to the notion that child abuse is a “family problem,” not a crime, and should be handled by the family. Likewise, protection of the civil rights of children should not be left to a morally bankrupt and insensitive family court judiciary and their appointees.
- 3 million new reports of child neglect or abuse were made in 1993 (one report every 10 seconds)
- 72% (2,160,000) of all reports of abuse or neglect received by CPS were never investigated.
- 1993 records from Children’s Protective Services (“CPS”) show that almost half of all children who were confirmed as abused or neglected did not receive any follow-up assistance from CPS.
- Of those cases reported, an estimated 1,299 children died from abuse or neglect.
- 90% of those children were age 5 or younger.
- 42% of the children who died had been previously reported to CPS as being in danger.
We have to start demanding that the legal system change these things. We need to be relentless in holding them accountable. Their jobs do not allow any room for passiveness or complacency. Their jobs require vigilance. Not only for those that have the ability to represent themselves, but more importantly, those who do not.
This reform will happen when we:
- Begin demanding changes from our law-makers and representatives.
- Remain up to date on the laws being voted on that impact this issue.
By remaining in the loop through these organizations and their website updates, we can be active participants in the demand for change.