The Carrot or The Stick: Punishing Parents With Foster Care

Does CPS use temporary foster care as a way of punishing parents who have few available resources?


A recent article in the New York Times addressed the issue of how foster care is being used to punish parents for being poor and having few resources. The story tracks the experience of Maisha Joefield, a Brooklyn mother whose 5-year-old daughter was removed by CPS after the little girl had got out of bed and, unable to find her mother (who was in the bath tub with headphones on) had walked to her grandmother’s house.


The police became involved, and CPS was called. Joefield was determined to be an unfit mother for “endangering” her daughter. It is a story about what NYT calls “a troubling and longstanding phenomenon: the power of Children’s Services to take children from their parents on the grounds that the child’s safety is at risk, even with scant evidence.”


As the article explains, Joefield was terrified when she couldn’t find her child, but when officers showed up at her door, she thought what any rational parent would: “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ll explain what happened and I’ll get my daughter back.” Except it didn’t work that way. CPS placed Joefield’s daughter in foster care and charged her with Endangering the Welfare of a Child.


So what was the outcome of this tragic tale? Well, after Joefield was released from jail, she was able to get her daughter back. But it still meant a year of parenting classes and CPS supervision. And that time spent apart comes at a price. Joefield says that her daughter is more easily frightened, and she second-guesses her own decisions all the time, which makes sense when you think about the fact that one single choice to walk to grandma’s house caused such uproar.


The effect that even temporary foster care has on children is heartbreaking.


Brandy Thompson, a CPS defense attorney at The Kronzek Firm says that this highlights the way in which CPS regularly ignores one of the fundamentals of parenting – making mistakes and learning from them. “As parents, we ALL make mistakes. Those mistakes often make us better parents through the learning process. However, these days, parents aren’t allowed to make mistakes without CPS knocking on your door.”


Scott Hechinger, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services, was interviewed for the story, and this was his assessment. “It takes a lot as a public defender to be shocked, but these are the kinds of cases you hear attorneys screaming about in the hall. There’s this judgment that these mothers don’t have the ability to make decisions about their kids, and in that, society both infantilizes them and holds them to superhuman standards. In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s ‘Oh, my God’” — a story to tell later, he said. “In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.”


The NYT interviewed numerous lawyers in connection with this story, and the common thread throughout was clear: parents with few resources are being punished. And the method being used to “keep them in line” is none other than CPS. So who are these parents that need to be kept in check by the state? Predominantly poor, black or hispanic mothers, many of whom are single parents. It is a practice that many public defenders have come to label “Jane Crow.”


Although this story took place in New York, the issues they face there are no different from the ones we deal with on a daily basis here in Michigan. CPS interfering with parents who are doing the very best they can with very limited resources. Essentially, it’s about the way the state punishes people for being poor, marginalized, or a minority. And it’s heartbreaking.

If you would like to read the entire story, visit the New York Times and check it out. We encourage you to stay informed. If however, your trouble is closer to home and you are engaged in a battle with CPS here in Michigan and need help from experienced CPS defense attorneys, call 866 766 5245 immediately. We have successfully helped hundreds of parents fight for their right to parent in Michigan, and we can help you too!

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