Why the “Village” Cannot Raise or Protect A Child

Marc Fisher recounts the disturbing case of the Caplan family,who had their twin infant daughters taken from them by DC’s Child Family Services Agency for “abuse” that never happened. One of the twins knocked her head and required medical attention.

In the wake of the tragic story of Banita Jacks’ four daughters, and exposure of the DC government’s monumental ineptness, the bureaucracy was not taking any chances that it would be embarrassed again. In short order, the twins were removed from their parents custody and put into foster care.

The police investigator would write that “all five examining physicians made no medical diagnoses or cause to support physical abuse.” And D.C. Magistrate Judge Mary Grace Rook would find that “there are not reasonable grounds to believe that [the baby] was abused.”

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But Child and Family Services neither waited nor investigated. With lights flashing and four police officers on hand, social workers arrived at the Caplan house at midnight on the night after the baby entered the hospital. They took the infant’s uninjured sister out of her father’s embrace and put her in foster care in Prince George’s County…

She was forced to spend nearly two weeks at the foster care facility in Hyattsville. The injured sister, after her recovery, was kept in the hospital awaiting test results. Afterward, she was in foster care for five days. Both sisters were then reunited at home under their grandmothers’ care, but on condition that the Caplans move out of their own house.

The Caplan’s spent their savings and borrowed from family to pay for their legal battle against an outright hostile city bureaucracy

Just as disturbing as the agency’s rush to judgment was their fixation on the Caplans because of their class, or, as CFSA head Sharlynn Bobo put it, their “privilege.” “This family is privileged and able to marshal significant resources to accomplish its goals and fight the allegations,” Bobo wrote to her staff in September. “I believe that we made the right decision” to take the girls away from their parents.

Even after the court found for the Caplans, the city offered to end its investigation only if the parents submitted to counseling, anger management classes and unannounced visits from social workers. The Caplans declined the deal.

The Jacks case was a tragedy, and the DC government clearly failed those poor girls. However, the city’s treatment of the Caplan family shows that merely swinging bureaucratic behavior in the opposite direction is not the answer, it is as the Washington Post editorial board noted, a false choice. Mayor Adrian Fenty rightly made promises to reform the District’s flawed child services system, and he made a good start by firing the social services employees who failed to do their job. Unfortunately for Fenty, he is facing the wrath of the public sector unions for firing the CFSA workers who failed to take action in the Jacks case, AFSMCE is taking legal action against the city for the firings. This isn’t the first time Fenty has run afoul politically powerful unions, he found himself at loggerheads with the teacher’s union over cutting dead weight from the school system. Fenty is trying to do some good, and the fact that the unions are upset with him is a good sign.

The Caplan’s are suing the District to reform its child services system. This is the second case of this nature. The family of New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, who was robbed and murdered in Northwest DC, declined a substantial monetary settlement in return for the city setting up a task force to reform its emergency services. The family sued due to negligence on the part of DC firefighters, police, and EMTs, because they thought Rosenbaum was lying drunk on the ground instead of dying from a head wound. The Caplan’s may bring about another similar settlement.

However, what good will that do if the District has a history of legal success arguing that it is under no obligation to do any such thing.

crossposted on The Main Adversary

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