Protecting Abused Children

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July 09, 2013 at 8:22 PM

Hi. Ricky Greenwald here, founder and director of Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute, and this blog’s author. Welcome to our new/revised web sites, not to mention this new blog, first post. A chance to share thoughts and information about some of our own activities, as well as what’s going on in “our” world: trauma, loss, and healing. My intention is to post something new every month or two. Your comments are always welcome.

And in case you’re wondering: The blog’s title, “Once upon a time...” refers to our Fairy Tale phase model of trauma-informed treatment.

I’m opening this blog with a topic that I’m afraid might make you so uncomfortable that you don’t come back. But it has to be faced, and it’s my job to face uncomfortable things if they are important enough. Maybe that’s your job as well.

The first time I was brought in as an expert witness on a contested child custody case involving alleged child abuse, I was horrified. There was overwhelming evidence of child abuse, clearly presented. Yet the entire system – child protective services, court, etc. – seemed dead set on ignoring the evidence, disregarding the child’s interests, supporting the perpetrator’s “property rights” over the child, and even penalizing the other parent for trying to protect the child. I told myself, “This is just too bizarre, it must be a fluke.”

But I have come to learn that this is typical in the USA, not a fluke at all. Parents (usually mothers) attempting to protect their children from further abuse are routinely penalized for their efforts (Plummer & Eastin, 2007). It’s gotten so crazy that when a mother in a divorce proceeding believes that there has been child abuse, the lawyer will often advise her not to raise the abuse, for fear of losing custody. An estimated 58,000 children per year are adjudicated to custody or unsupervised visitation with known abusers (Leadership Council, 2008). Other countries have even granted asylum to American mothers and children because our court system has declined to protect the children from well-documented abuse.

My own profession is integral to the problem. Many psychologists without expertise in trauma, abuse, or domestic violence conduct inadequate evaluations and on that basis provide inappropriate advice to the court (Kleinman, 2012). Worse yet, some psychologists know exactly what they’re doing, and cynically play the system as “hired guns” helping child abusers to retain access to their victims (Greenwald, 2013). However, the problem is far more widespread, involving every aspect of the system that is supposed to be protecting children (e.g., Walker, Cummings, & Cummings, 2012).

My own work is primarily focused on trauma-informed evaluation, treatment, and training. But anyone in this field recognizes the value of an ounce of prevention. Surely we ought to at least be able to stop the child abuse that we know is occurring!

Some of the leading groups working towards solutions are featured in our new Links sub-page focused on Protecting Abuse Victims. Please browse that page, and consider supporting one or more of those organizations as you are able.

References

Greenwald, R. (2013, winter). Re: The “best interest” standard versus changing the standard to assure child safety. [Letter to the editor.] Trauma Psychology News, 8(1), 4.

Kleinman, T. (2012). The “best interest” standard versus changing the standard to assure child safety. Division 56 Trauma Psychology Newsletter, 7(3), 5-7.

Leadership Council. (2008). How many children are court-ordered into unsupervised contact with an abusive parent after divorce? Accessed 6/4/2012 Internet: http://leadershipcouncil.org/1/med/PR3.html

Plummer, C. A., & Eastin, J. (2007). System problems in cases of child sexual abuse: The mothers’ perspectives. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(6), 775-787.

Walker, L. E. A., Cummings, D. M., & Cummings, N. A. (Eds.) (2012). Our broken family court system. Dryden, NY: Ithaca Press.

Hi. Ricky Greenwald here, founder and director of Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute, and this blog’s author. Welcome to our new/revised web sites, not to mention this new blog, first post. A chance to share thoughts and information about some of our own activities, as well as what’s going on in “our” world: trauma, loss, and healing. My intention is to post something new every month or two. Your comments are always welcome.

And in case you’re wondering: The blog’s title, “Once upon a time...” refers to our Fairy Tale phase model of trauma-informed treatment.

I’m opening this blog with a topic that I’m afraid might make you so uncomfortable that you don’t come back. But it has to be faced, and it’s my job to face uncomfortable things if they are important enough. Maybe that’s your job as well.

The first time I was brought in as an expert witness on a contested child custody case involving alleged child abuse, I was horrified. There was overwhelming evidence of child abuse, clearly presented. Yet the entire system – child protective services, court, etc. – seemed dead set on ignoring the evidence, disregarding the child’s interests, supporting the perpetrator’s “property rights” over the child, and even penalizing the other parent for trying to protect the child. I told myself, “This is just too bizarre, it must be a fluke.”

But I have come to learn that this is typical in the USA, not a fluke at all. Parents (usually mothers) attempting to protect their children from further abuse are routinely penalized for their efforts (Plummer & Eastin, 2007). It’s gotten so crazy that when a mother in a divorce proceeding believes that there has been child abuse, the lawyer will often advise her not to raise the abuse, for fear of losing custody. An estimated 58,000 children per year are adjudicated to custody or unsupervised visitation with known abusers (Leadership Council, 2008). Other countries have even granted asylum to American mothers and children because our court system has declined to protect the children from well-documented abuse.

My own profession is integral to the problem. Many psychologists without expertise in trauma, abuse, or domestic violence conduct inadequate evaluations and on that basis provide inappropriate advice to the court (Kleinman, 2012). Worse yet, some psychologists know exactly what they’re doing, and cynically play the system as “hired guns” helping child abusers to retain access to their victims (Greenwald, 2013). However, the problem is far more widespread, involving every aspect of the system that is supposed to be protecting children (e.g., Walker, Cummings, & Cummings, 2012).

My own work is primarily focused on trauma-informed evaluation, treatment, and training. But anyone in this field recognizes the value of an ounce of prevention. Surely we ought to at least be able to stop the child abuse that we know is occurring!

Some of the leading groups working towards solutions are featured in our new Links sub-page focused on Protecting Abuse Victims. Please browse this page, and consider supporting one or more of those organizations as you are able.

References

Greenwald, R. (2013, winter). Re: The “best interest” standard versus changing
the standard to assure child safety. [Letter to the editor.] Trauma Psychology News, 8(1), 4.

Kleinman, T. (2012). The “best interest” standard versus changing the standard to assure
child safety. Division 56 Trauma Psychology Newsletter, 7(3), 5-7.

Leadership Council. (2008). How many children are court-ordered into unsupervised contact with an abusive parent after divorce? Accessed 6/4/2012 Internet: http://leadershipcouncil.org/1/med/PR3.html

Plummer, C. A., & Eastin, J. (2007). System problems in cases of child sexual abuse: The mothers’ perspectives. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(6), 775-787.

Walker, L. E. A., Cummings, D. M., & Cummings, N. A. (Eds.) (2012). Our broken family court system. NY: Ithaca Press. - See more at: /http://trauma.info&ctask=check-out&ccm_token=1373244694:074b8d4dbe19b22ea299c8aaa3bad556#.dpuf
Hi. Ricky Greenwald here, founder and director of Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute, and this blog’s author. Welcome to our new/revised web sites, not to mention this new blog, first post. A chance to share thoughts and information about some of our own activities, as well as what’s going on in “our” world: trauma, loss, and healing. My intention is to post something new every month or two. Your comments are always welcome.

And in case you’re wondering: The blog’s title, “Once upon a time...” refers to our Fairy Tale phase model of trauma-informed treatment.

I’m opening this blog with a topic that I’m afraid might make you so uncomfortable that you don’t come back. But it has to be faced, and it’s my job to face uncomfortable things if they are important enough. Maybe that’s your job as well.

The first time I was brought in as an expert witness on a contested child custody case involving alleged child abuse, I was horrified. There was overwhelming evidence of child abuse, clearly presented. Yet the entire system – child protective services, court, etc. – seemed dead set on ignoring the evidence, disregarding the child’s interests, supporting the perpetrator’s “property rights” over the child, and even penalizing the other parent for trying to protect the child. I told myself, “This is just too bizarre, it must be a fluke.”

But I have come to learn that this is typical in the USA, not a fluke at all. Parents (usually mothers) attempting to protect their children from further abuse are routinely penalized for their efforts (Plummer & Eastin, 2007). It’s gotten so crazy that when a mother in a divorce proceeding believes that there has been child abuse, the lawyer will often advise her not to raise the abuse, for fear of losing custody. An estimated 58,000 children per year are adjudicated to custody or unsupervised visitation with known abusers (Leadership Council, 2008). Other countries have even granted asylum to American mothers and children because our court system has declined to protect the children from well-documented abuse.

My own profession is integral to the problem. Many psychologists without expertise in trauma, abuse, or domestic violence conduct inadequate evaluations and on that basis provide inappropriate advice to the court (Kleinman, 2012). Worse yet, some psychologists know exactly what they’re doing, and cynically play the system as “hired guns” helping child abusers to retain access to their victims (Greenwald, 2013). However, the problem is far more widespread, involving every aspect of the system that is supposed to be protecting children (e.g., Walker, Cummings, & Cummings, 2012).

My own work is primarily focused on trauma-informed evaluation, treatment, and training. But anyone in this field recognizes the value of an ounce of prevention. Surely we ought to at least be able to stop the child abuse that we know is occurring!

Some of the leading groups working towards solutions are featured in our new Links sub-page focused on Protecting Abuse Victims. Please browse this page, and consider supporting one or more of those organizations as you are able.

References

Greenwald, R. (2013, winter). Re: The “best interest” standard versus changing
the standard to assure child safety. [Letter to the editor.] Trauma Psychology News, 8(1), 4.

Kleinman, T. (2012). The “best interest” standard versus changing the standard to assure
child safety. Division 56 Trauma Psychology Newsletter, 7(3), 5-7.

Leadership Council. (2008). How many children are court-ordered into unsupervised contact with an abusive parent after divorce? Accessed 6/4/2012 Internet: http://leadershipcouncil.org/1/med/PR3.html

Plummer, C. A., & Eastin, J. (2007). System problems in cases of child sexual abuse: The mothers’ perspectives. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(6), 775-787.

Walker, L. E. A., Cummings, D. M., & Cummings, N. A. (Eds.) (2012). Our broken family court system. NY: Ithaca Press. - See more at: /http://trauma.info&ctask=check-out&ccm_token=1373244694:074b8d4dbe19b22ea299c8aaa3bad556#.dpuf


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Posted by Connie Valentine on
Thank you, Ricky Greenwald, for helping to expose this egregious and little known social justice issue. Children are being taken from safe mothers and give to dangerous abusers. They are twice wounded, once by having their attachment bond to their safe primary parent broken, and second by being forced to live with an abuser. They are being injured, maimed, psychologically destroyed and sometimes killed. Our research of 400 cases shows the pattern and practice across the country. No child is safe. We urge you to write to your Congressmembers to insist on emergency legislation to halt this policy.
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
A lot of people don't realize the damage abuse does even to the child's relationship with the non-offending parent, who (from the child's perspective) failed to protect. No matter how much the parent may have tried to protect.

Connie runs the CPPA which is linked on our Protecting Abuse Victims link page. You can read about their study at: http://www.protectiveparents.com/research.html
Posted by Robin Shapiro on
Thanks, Ricky. I've been able to keep kids from a few abusive divorcing fathers by calling CPS, appropriately, when the child reported abuse directly to me. Since I don't work with many kids, I had no idea that the system was so effed!
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
Robin, many kids do get protected, and many people in the system do care. There's just too much incompetence, bias, and in some cases corruption.
Posted by Melissa Sisco on
The story of Mary Ellen Wilson (1874) where the court's only mechanism of wielding a shield of protection for a severely abused child was a law preventing animal cruelty speaks volumes of the growth our system over the last 150 years. I can recall the first abuse shelters being opened in the 1960s and now we have comprehensive centers to yield care and protection or the police station adjacent to evaluation centers cropping up across the nation in the 1990s minimizing the secondary harm to children during the court process. We have come a long way. Please do not be discouraged by the shortcomings, perhaps we can build on the proven solutions instead. Best wishes, M. Sisco
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
Thank you for the reality check! I've seen so much of the bad side lately that it's good to be reminded that we have come so far.
Posted by Anon on
How can I contact you? I just found your site, and it describes EXACTLY what happened to my children during my divorce. One of my children (3 years old) was deliberately burned with a cigarette by her father - documented by a pediatrician and reported to CPS. The abusive parent gave 3 different stories for how the burn happened. CPS eventually "unsubstantiated" the claim and the divorce judge said that the burn was undoubtedly an "accident" and that I was over-reacting. The judge also refused to look at the photos of the burn. Now the children come back from visitations with bruises and unlikely stories of how they happened. Family court considers me an "overprotective mother." I am truly terrified to bring more allegations, because this will lead the judge to charge me with "refusing to promote and facilitate a relationship with the childrens' other parent." That is a claim that my ex-husband's lawyer will use to cause me to lose custody of the children. This is ridiculous. Can someone help me? I've considered fleeing to another country.
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
I'm so sorry for your situation. You can easily contact me by clicking on any of the e-mail links anywhere on this web site. But you'd probably be better off contacting one of the organizations that specializes in helping people in your situation. Some of my favorites are listed in our Links pages under Protecting Abuse Victims.
Posted by mary on
Excellent article, and unfortunately we have first hand knowledge of many of these horrific examples. Hopeful that your article will educate and wake up our country. It is a lonely journey fighting for your children, trying to protect them, and having these injustices continually occur. However; Your work will hopefully force a change. DCF also needs to learn from the evidence you provided, as their pattern of failing to protect the children, acting with bias against mother reporting abuse, is an atrocity!
Posted by Vicki Martin on
What can be done when I report a case based on what the child tells me, but he is too afraid or has been"coached" so that when the investigator talks to the child, the child doesn't tell what actually happened?
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
Mary, I am hopeful that we are moving towards a tipping point in public awareness, that will lead to the needed changes. We've got to keep on making noise about this.
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
Vicki Martin,

As you know, this happens all the time. A good evaluation by a specialist can be helpful, especially when this can be provided to the child protection investigator up front. If it can be arranged.

I wrote up another strategy here:

Greenwald, R. (2014). Intensive child therapy to prevent further abuse victimization: A case study. Journal of Child Custody, 11, 325-334.

Link: http://www.childtrauma.com/publications/child-intensive-case/
Posted by Rhonda Case on
Superb article, Dr. Greenwald. Thank you. I've come to the CTI website at the suggestion of Melanie Blow of the "Stop Abuse Campaign" and am moved by all that I see here: your blog, the highly qualified Faculty and Staff, the innovative approaches and your kind responses to those who comment on your blog! I take hope from your comment of March 2016 that we are moving toward a tipping point of awareness regarding the crisis in our family courts. I organized a panel for Dr. Riane Eisler's "Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence" on this subject, held at Marylhurst University in Portland, Oregon (January 6, 2013) The video is available on Dr. Eisler's CPC YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Centerforpartnership Sincerest thanks for your inspired and important work. - Rhonda
Posted by Ricky Greenwald on
Rhonda, I hope we are moving toward a tipping point. It's so bad for so many, it's been intolerable for far too long already. Thank you for your kind words and for your good work as well!
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