Would CPS Label You “Neglectful” if They Showed up at Your House Today? (Pt. 1)

Picture of a filthy house
Having a really messy house might mean you’re a slob, but it doesn’t automatically make you a bad parent!

A couple of weeks ago, a story by writer Virginia Eubanks hit the media. Published by Wired magazine, the story shared some interesting, and truly heartbreaking details about how the use of child abuse prediction models have unfairly labelled poor people. Eubanks shares her experience helping man the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) child neglect and abuse hotline. And while this particular situation takes place in Pennsylvania, it’s an accurate representation of CPS scenarios all over the US, including Michigan.

According to Eubanks, she sat with an intake screener Pat Gordon, who walked her through the system, and explained how it’s used. The system in question? Key Information and Demographics System (KIDS), which is used by the CYF to track children who are suspected of being abused or neglected. But that’s not the issue. The real problem, according to Eubanks, is the predictive risk model, or ‘screening tool’, used to determine if a family is likely to abuse or neglect a child in their care, based on a number of factors.

Predictive risk assessment is a form of profiling.

Wait, what? Predict if someone will abuse a child? How could anyone, let alone a computer, possibly know that? And yet they do…. Or at least, they think they do! Predictive risk models are designed to take into account a number of factors that are “known” to the system to be red flags, and then assess if the child is at risk for further abuse. Which is apparently all the County needs to step in and possibly remove a child from their parent’s care.

What are factors considered red flags for future abusers?

This is where is gets tricky. According to Eubanks, some of them are more obvious, like the age of the child (younger children are at greater risk) and a history of prior abuse. But the risk assessment model used by CYF includes other, less obvious factors as well. Like “parent hostility towards social workers” which seems ludicrous, as any reasonable parent would be hostile in some form or another to a stranger who shows up at their home and threatens to take their children away!

A comparison of two cases….

As Eubanks explains, she and Gordon are comparing two cases, and trying to determine how the system will rank them. In one, a six-year-old boy was found to be standing out on the porch of his daycare, crying, by his mother. She suspected he may have been abused by someone at the daycare. Later, another report was made about that same boy, suggesting that his mother may be struggling with substance abuse issues, and that he appeared to have dirty clothes and poor hygiene.

The second case involved a 14-year-old boy whose home was “unfit” because it was found to be cold and cluttered, and he and his mother were found to be sleeping in the living room. A case worker noted that a window and door at the family house were broken, and the home was poorly heated, necessitating multiple layers of clothes. So how did the two cases compare? Was one more likely to end in child abuse allegations, according to the risk assessment tool used by the state of Pennsylvania? Perhaps…

Michigan CPS uses risk assessment tools as well!

Join us next time, as we continue to discussion about Eubanks’ challenging article, and how this issue affects Michigan child welfare as well! Until then, if you or a loved one have been accused by CPS of abusing or neglecting a child, call the experienced CPS defense attorneys at The Kronzek Firm, at 866 766 5245. We have spent decades helping the families of Michigan fight for their parental rights. We can help you too!