October 29, 2009

Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse: October 30, 2009

Welcome to the October 30, 2009 edition of carnival against child abuse. As the Halloween holiday approaches, many of us will be welcoming costumed children to our door and passing out goodies. As we do so, let's remember that some of these children may be in trouble...we may never know the pain of some of the children that pass by our door. That's why its so important that each and every one of us do what we can, big or small, to help fight child abuse and to be the village of loving, caring, responsible adults that every child deserves (and to hold others in our community accountable to be that as well). Thanks to all who have dedicated their time to presenting ideas in this blog carnival.

Advocacy & Awareness

Surbhi Bhatia presents Will the Slumdogs ever become Millionaires? posted at The Viewspaper » The Viewspaper. The outrageous exploitation of the children of the film does not tell the whole story, there are many like them whose faces are not seen.

Carolyn Friedman presents 50 Things Your Child Should Never Know posted at Nurse Practitioner Schools, which provides a good jumping off point for important discussions with your children.

Patricia Singleton presents Lies Incest Perpretrators Tell Their Victims posted at Spiritual Journey of a Lightworker, describing it as "A list of lies that you may have been told if you grew up with incest in your family."

Pop Tart presents Preventing Sexual Child Abuse posted at MotherhoodMetamorphosis, discussing the book My Body Belongs to Me.

vjack presents Do Good Works Balance Clergy Sexual Abuse? posted at Atheist Revolution which responds to a common excuse for covering up clergy sex abuse.

Marj aka Thriver presents Take a Stand, Raise Your Hand! posted at Survivors Can Thrive!, saying, "I guess, over the years, I've decided that the best way to work to end child abuse--especially child sexual abuse--is to: Stop The Silence...to Silence The Shame...to Break The Cycle. Child abuse perpetuates in our silence and shame. We need to be talking about it! So, in this post, I'm raising my hand; I've got something to say!" And she says it in an inspiring poem.

Colleen Spiro presents How to Help A Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse posted at Surviving by Grace, saying, "Not sure if this is advocacy or awareness .. whet do you think?"

Dr. Kathleen Young presents Minimizing Trauma and the Damage it Does posted at Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago which discusses the importance of using language that does not blame the victim of abuse.

Michael presents "It takes a village to raise a child.” posted at SELF-ISH, a reminder that it takes the work of community to save abused children.

On In The Best Interest, There She Is...Miss America...in Recovery discusses the book by Marilyn van Derbur and how to support a loved one recovering from abuse.


Rabbit White presents The Beauty of Personal Freedom (Or Why I don't talk to my Parents) posted at Rabbit Write, asking "Can you even begin to imagine a world where we drop all abusive people and work on having real honest relationships...?"

Healing & Therapy

Hope presents Past, Present and Future posted at Hope for Trauma, sharing her experiences overcoming abuse and disassociative identity disorder.

In The News

Lisa O'neill presents Mother campaigning for the control of camera phones in nurseries Whereforcare.com posted at Whereforcare.com, discussing an up and coming issue in child welfare.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of
carnival against child abuse
using our
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Past posts and future hosts can be found on our

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October 21, 2009

There She Is...Miss America....in Recovery

Miss America By Day by Marilyn Van Derbur is not an easy thing to read. Van Derbur takes us on a frank, very painful journey through her recovery from incest by her well respected father, and how she struggled through the shame to reach the lives of many, many others suffering with recovery from sexual abuse.

Van Derbur has dedicated her life to public speaking to encourage youth and those who work with them to find the best ways of encouraging self esteem and routing out the pain of those living with a shocking secret.

It was my husband who first alerted me to this book. He is a CASA worker, and yet I think the thing that most shook him about this book was the tireless support of Van Derbur's husband Larry, who stood by her through an incredibly difficult and long recovery. He seemed perfect. I think it terrified my husband to think such perfect spouses were wandering the earth making him look bad! And this is sort of where the book has its major flaw for me...because I suspect that even though Larry is doubtless a wonderful guy, that he had moments of despair and wanting to give up. He either hid that from Marilyn Van Derbur, or she is hiding it from us..still trying to please the man in her life (though this time he is clearly more deserving than her wretched father).

Which begs the question, how should we support those in our lives who are struggling with recovery from incest or sexual abuse?

There have been endless books and articles written on that subject, but I think I can boil down what I think is most important from Van Derbur's book combined with what I know from other sources and my own experiences.

How Do I Support My Loved One Through Recovery from Sexual Abuse?

1. Believe them. They may say things that sound completely insane...but incest and sexual abuse IS insane...its an insanity they have had to wrestle with. Don't assume because it sounds implausable that it isn't true.

2. Listen to them. Sometimes, just listening to the story, sometimes over and over, is the best gift you can give.

3. Ask if you aren't sure. If you don't know what you can do to help, ask the person. They probably know. They may want to be held. They may not want to be touched. Everyone is different and in different parts of their journey. So ask.

4. Support them in finding professionals to help them through it, and don't be afraid to say so if you think one professional is not right for them (but respect it if they don't agree). Marilyn Van Derbur had some doozies of therapists and doctors...one who even sexually abused her and one who suggested she smoke pot! Sometimes a person in recovery may not be strong enough yet to say no to something even if they feel it isnt in their best interest, so don't be afraid to validate them if you see something is wrong.

5. Don't ask them to finish their recovery before they are ready. Don't ask when they are going to get over it, or suggest they should be done by now. Everyone's recovery is different. For Van Derbur, it took years. For some they are able to deal with it rather quickly....but everyone has to go through their process.

6. Do get support for yourself. You need to find somewhere you can safely blow off steam and get help too. Especially if its a long journey. This can be a therapist, trusted friend, support group, church...whatever helps YOU.

7. Keep their secrets until they are ready. Don't tell other people what your loved one is going through without their permission. As they deal with the shame and learn that what happened wasn't their fault, they need to be the ones in charge of deciding who knows and how they find out.

8. Love them. And when its appropriate, protect them and help them protect themselves until they are able to do it alone.

October 19, 2009

Carnival Against Child Abuse for October 2009

In the Best Interest is excited to host the Carnival Against Child Abuse for October 2009. The theme is: Beginner's Guide to Saving a Child. We are seeking submissions on volunteer opportunities, ways to help work to end child abuse and organizations that focus their efforts on this important work.

Nevertheless, we are also accepting generalist posts on child abuse as well in the categories of Advocacy & Awareness, Aftermath, Healing & Therapy,
In the News, and Poetry & Survivor Stories.

To submit, fill out the form here. Submissions are due by midnight on October 28.

Thank you for your commitment to the children!

August 18, 2009

Back to School : Ten Things Teachers Can Do to Prevent and Address Child Emotional and Physical Abuse

1. Pay attention to the chatter. Bullying is not just "kids will be kids". "Bullying is actually the most common form of violence in our society. It is at the core of domestic violence, child abuse, workplace violence, hate crimes and road rage. Bullying is everywhere and schools are a primary breeding ground” - BK Weinhold. When you see bullying happen in your classroom, intervene. Do not let children think that it is okay.

2. Protect gay youth. Kids have a tendency to use terms like "that's gay" to express negativity. Police homophobic comments as you police all other hate speech in your classroom. Even if your personal belief system is at odds with homosexuality, know that gay teens are six times more likely to commit suicide than straight ones. Stop hate speech and you might save a life.

3. Do not ignore signs of abuse. Be familiar with the signs and symptoms and trust your gut. Don't be afraid to report. If your school has policies against reporting, lobby to change that...and in the meantime report anonymously to your state or local hotline. Keep that hotline number in your cell phone so you always have it ready.

4. Keep a journal of your teaching practice. Being a reflective practitioner is important. Keep a journal of things you think you might be doing that might be either enhancing or detracting from the self esteem of your students. Commit to increasing the positive self esteem of your students this year.

5. Collect resources. Have brochures, numbers, websites for programs for troubled kids and families available. You never know when someone will confide in you. You can't solve everyone's problems but you may be able to refer them out to someone who can. If your school guidance department doesn't have resources like this available, collect them for them as well.

6. Teach your students compassion for others. The best way to do this is to model it in your teaching style. Select activities and readings that teach good character. Reward demonstrations of good character more often than you punish demonstrations of bad character.

7. Educate parents. If you have a PTA, offer to present a program on spotting child abuse and addressing it, or on resources for parents in need of help. Remember, you are an expert. Keep learning and keep sharing.

8. Be gentle with yourself as well. As the stress of the school year heats up, you may feel too burnt out sometimes to have your eyes open to bullying, abuse or the needs of the children in your care. Don't let that happen! Make sure you take time out for you to heal and rejuvenate yourself.

9. Influence other teachers. If you eat in the teachers room, we all know what a toxic environment it can be. Its often whine central, and burned out, cynical teachers take center stage. Gently attempt to provide positive messages about children, and promoting their self esteem. You don't have to be confrontational and hated to change the climate, and changing the climate even a little may help children in these teachers classrooms to have a more positive day.

10. Get to know the parents. Parent teacher night isn't enough. Try to reach out to the parents as much as you can. You will get a sense of things going wrong for a child in the home very clearly if you have a line to what is going on with Mom and Dad.

Have a great, healthy school year!

August 7, 2009

Hiatus is over!

I apologize for the long hiatus. I was studying for and taking the bar exam. It's over now, so I will be resuming regular posting within the week.

June 18, 2009

Why Iran's Children Need a Revolution

Like much of the world my eyes have been riveted to the protests after the Iranian election on June 12. The results of this potential revolution could be extraordinary in terms of human rights if it is successful.

Not too long ago I read Shirin Ebadi's book "Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope". Ebadi, an attorney known for her stalwart activism for women and children's rights in Iran, writes a compelling tale of her struggle for human rights in Iran despite unbelievable restriction. She is one of many activists fighting for a better Iran for its children.

A free Iran could mean reform in many areas of child welfare, including:

- Alteration of the abysmal child custody system that can award custody to abusers over innocent mothers

- The elimination of child execution for crimes

- Investigation into the sexual abuse of children that appears to be permitted by fatwa of Khameni and perhaps engaged in by the Ayatollah himself according to one source

- Changes in the definition of child (children are adults at 9 for girls and 15 for boys) to enable a broader application of potential child protective laws

- Freedom for reformers like Shirin Ebadi to return to Iran and work to end human rights abuses for children and others

Although I agree with President Obama that this situation calls for restraint on the part of the United States who could potentially make matters worse for dissidents by becoming entangled, the United Nations is in a unique position to address the potential abuses in the election because Iran is a member nation.

I stand in support of those seeking freedom for Iran, because the children of Iran need a voice, particularly Iran's female children. I urge you, and the United Nations as a body, to do the same.

Photo copyright Ed Hale

June 1, 2009

Tougher Laws to Halt Foster Parent Abuse

Many foster parents are loving people who want to open their homes to a child or children in need. They take the subsidy given by the state and use it as it was intended to support the child, provide for their physical, emotional, spiritual and developmental needs and ease the burden on the household of having another child in the home.

However, there are those foster parents who take children in as a means to supplement their income, or to provide an outlet for their abusiveness.

Federal law, through the Adoption and Safe Families Act, requires criminal background checks for any prospective foster parent. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act also requires a fingerprint based check of national crime data before a foster child can be placed in the care of any adult.

Placements will be denied if the prospective parent has been convicted of felony child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against children, a crime involving violence such as rape, murder, sexual assault...but not including physical assault or battery. Placements will also be denied if in the past 5 years, the applicant has been convicted of a felony for physical assault, battery or a drug related offense.

All states must comply with the federal laws, but some states also add other requirements as well.

If these background checks were sufficient to prevent foster care abuse, then there wouldn't be so many stories in the news about foster children being abused.

Trudy Festinger, head of the Department of Research at NYU's School of Social Work, did a study in Baltimore that found that 28 per cent of the children in foster care had been abused while in the system. The ACLU's Children's Project estimates that a child in the care of the state is ten times more likely to be abused than one in the care of his parents.

Although there is already a dearth in needed foster care placements, its absolutely worth it to tighten up the requirements for foster care parents and protect children from further abuse. Some potential, needed changes which could be implemented on a federal or state level without significant costs to any state that is properly monitoring their placements would include:

- Disallowing any person convicted of a felony from becoming a foster parent unless they were a juvenile at the time of the felony.

- Requiring monthly record-keeping and documentation of how foster care subsidies are spent, subsidies which can be reduced by the amount of inappropriate expenditures. This will discourage those who are in it for the money from pursuing foster care as a means of padding their income.

- More thorough investigation of potential foster parents including a check for prior abuse and neglect substantiations (some states do this already) and interviews with any former natural or foster children who have lived in the home.

- Most importantly, a report of abuse from a foster child about any foster parent should result in immediate required removal of the child from that foster care setting followed by a thorough investigation of the situation before that foster family can take another placement. Certainly, some children will use this to 'forum shop' for a foster parent they like better, but so what? It cannot hurt to investigate, and if foster children know that they will be heard and removed rather than potentially ignored and left in the care of real abusers, they may be more likely to speak up.

- Finally, federal law should require states to provide trauma assessments and long term trauma specific therapy, as well as pay monetary damages into a trust for the child upon their 18th birthday to any child who is substantiated to have been abused in a foster care setting. Putting this expense on the states may make them more eager to thoroughly investigate the homes they place foster children into.

The laws must be strengthened to protect abused and neglected children from being further abused in the interest of their protection.

May 26, 2009

International Exploitation of Children and the Sweden Solution

Educating yourself about the international exploitation of children for sexual purposes is painful. It is much easier to turn your face away and imagine a world in which such evil doesn't exist. It is much easier to not know that even as you read this, there are many children being exploited and hurt, abused and used because of sex tourism, the international sex trafficking trade, and prostitution right here in the United States.

But not knowing doesn't help these children.

I recently read The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It by Victor Malarek. Combined with a viewing of Sex Slaves, a Frontline documentary, I got a very balanced view of the sex trade. Malarek has an axe to grind, and his judgment of the Johns throughout the book is palpable, but nevertheless largely absolutely correct. He exposes how the hatred of women and backlash of feminism factors into the decision of so many men to participate in sex tourism. Often, these men turn a blind eye to the fact that children are also being exploited or that the women they are buying are not willing participants or may be underage. But some specifically seek underage children.

In a video put out by Foundation Peduli Anak, Indonesian street children discuss being hit on by older male tourists who attempt to win them over with toys and food or a small amount of money.

The Frontline documentary provided a better look into the way in which the trade works and how women are brought into it. Less focused on children's issues, the documentary instead shows how the trade operates, which is beneficial to understand if the goal is to consider what policies might reduce the trade.

Malarek's book upholds Sweden as the best example of policies that reduce the sex trade. Sweden decriminalized prostitution in 1999 and instead focused its efforts on prosecuting those who buy, not those who sell. Since the switch, the sex trade has virtually stopped in Sweden as it is no longer economically beneficial to the traffickers. Further, the number of prostitutes in the country has reduced by 2/3 since the law changed.

The Swedish solution certainly seems promising in result, but it was more than just the switch in policy. Sweden also attempted to switch the cultural understanding of prostitution by making official the position that all prostitution is violence against women perpetrated by men (this of course leaves male-male prostitution in an philosophically awkward position). Some feminists see this position as problematic in casting women always in the role of victim, when certainly some women do choose to use their bodies for economic gain.

For me, the risk of casting women into a victim role by changing the culture to perceive Johns as the criminal rather than prostitutes is one I am willing to take. The large majority of women engaged in prostitution are not doing so because they enjoy it, but because they are either forced by someone or by circumstances. Tolerance of the purchasing of women for personal exploitation,even for an hour, is a tolerance that permits sex trafficking of women and children to continue not only to exist but to thrive. A cultural, legal and political change toward vilifying the purchaser rather than the purchased would put children who are being exploited in a much better position to receive help, because it would make it easier for them to come forward and seek help and services when they are being abused. Further, it would reduce the demand for sexual services and would therefore automatically reduce the supply, including children.

In the meantime, I urge everyone to educate yourself about the issues of sex trafficking and support organizations struggling to end it. It is not a small isolated problem. It's global and it's huge, and it is absolutely catastrophic.

Some good organizations to get you started:

The Project to End Human Trafficking

The Polaris Project

Children of the Night

Foundation Peduli Anak

And consider joining the UN Blue Heart campaign against Human Trafficking.

May 11, 2009

Twitter's #simplysaturday

The Twittering community knows well that on #followfriday you post the names of people that you think other people should be following on the popular social networking site.

@We_Care_ProJect and I (@llhinkle) began two weeks ago to promote the idea of #simplysaturday. Each week on Saturday, #simplysaturday, Twitter users can post something simple that anyone can do to help advocate for children. Some examples might include:

Posting a link to a blog or community group that is doing great work for children.

Suggesting political action: write to a politician about an issue related to children.

Promoting a solution to a problem in child welfare.

Reminding people to report if they see signs of child abuse with children they know.

You can also check the Twitter search for all the posts by searching the term #simplysaturday. You can check these out even if you are not a Twitter user.

This is just one small way you can help advocate for children.

May 4, 2009

Reform Ideas for New Jersey (and Everyone Else!)

In March, Governor Corzine of New Jersey lauded the improvements to the child welfare system in New Jersey in a press release. Additionally, new reports show that the system is improving, and I would certainly agree that my state is better situated in child welfare than it maybe ever was.

However, if New Jersey wants to be a leader in child welfare (maybe it does, maybe it doesn't...but I'd like it to be!), I have some proposals that appear below.

To: Governor Corzine

From: Lynda L. Hinkle

Re: Reform to New Jersey’s Child Welfare System

Reforming New Jersey’s Child Welfare system will require a true commitment to building child-centered protocols and changing the culture of the current system to encourage professionalism and professional responsibility among those who work with children. It will also require a change in public perception of the process.

- Create a licensing system for DYFS workers that requires professional education to address protocols and developing strategies for successful case management.

- Develop contractual requirements for DYFS workers to continue their education in the same manner that teachers and lawyers must in order to retain their licenses.

- Initiate a transparent “complaints” system in which parents, children, and law guardians can appeal to the oversight of an outside source when they feel their cases are being mishandled by a DYFS worker or other arm of child protective services. This system could be modeled after the way in which the state manages complaints about mediators, by providing a task force of professionals in the area who can investigate.

- Provide additional, annual training to judges who will be managing child welfare cases, and to their staff. Address not only the philosophy of child welfare, but seek to provide uniform procedure and methodology that is appropriate for judges to approach these cases.

- Create tax incentives for private industries that provide grants to agencies who advance child advocacy in New Jersey through programs, services, and trainings. One such program that could be funded by private industries would be a website for children in foster care that provides information about their rights, how to complain about problems they are having, and a discussion board so they can share information with other foster children (modeled after the STEPS program used as a mental health promotion initiative in high schools, information available at http://www.promotestrength.org/)

- Initiate a public relations campaign to educate the public on how to spot and report abuse, and encourage people to change their perception of reporting. Include in this campaign outreach to schools where abused children may be made aware that there is help for them. Create and distribute lessons that teachers can use in classrooms to help children to develop an understanding of abuse and how to report.

- Incorporate into the Core Curriculum Standards a section on spotting and reporting abuse as well as on managing anger and depression so problems can be caught before children grow into adults who abuse. These standards should be implemented beginning early as part of the Life Skills module.

These are just some of the reforms that would help New Jersey to emerge as a leader in child welfare and child advocacy.

April 27, 2009

Mom and Dad in Cuffs: Arrests in Front of Children

Watching Predator Raw on MSNBC, I watched police shout to a man to hit the ground, grab him and roughly cuff him. It was deserved, as he was being arrested for coming to the home of a 14 year old for illicit purposes. But...it was done in front of his approximately 6 year old child. The child watches in horror as his father is slammed to the ground and cuffed and a female police officer scoops the child up, holding him so that he watches the scene unfold behind her shoulder. I cringed inwardly, imagining the scenario to follow:

- The child waking up in the middle of the night screaming
- The child being terrified when he sees police or people in uniform
- The child clinging to his mother in fear that she too will be taken
- The child exhibiting bad behavior in school
- The child disrespecting authority and possibly growing up with innumerable problems if this trauma isn't addressed, and addressed properly, in a therapeutic setting

Certainly the blame rests on the father for committing a crime and shuttling his young child to the scene of that crime. But could police have mitigated the negative result for this young boy through a few modifications of procedure?

2 million children across the United States have a parent that is incarcerated. A 1998 study showed that 67% of children with a parent incarcerated had witnessed the parent being handcuffed (Phillips, S. “Programming for Children of Female Offenders.” Washington, DC: 4th National Headstart Research Conference, 1998.). Studies show that witnessing a parent's arrest can have long lasting negative effects on the psyche of a child. Post traumatic stress disorder is a common result, and that can lead to a host of adjustment problems if left untreated.

Many police departments do not have protocols for the proper management of arrests in the presence of children, but an increasing number are developing them, often at the demand of state legislatures.

The Family and Corrections Network has developed a bill of rights for children with incarcerated parents that includes the right to be safe and informed at a parent's arrest and calls for the following:

Develop arrest protocols that support and protect arrestees’ children but do not unnecessarily involve the child welfare system and increase the risk of permanent separation.
Training police officers to understand and address children’s fear and confusion when their parent is arrested is an important first step. At a minimum, police could be trained to inquire about minor children, and to rely—in the absence of evidence that to do so would place the child at risk—on the arrested parent as a first source of information about potential caretakers. This would minimize both the possibility of children being left alone, and of children entering the child welfare system unnecessarily when family members or other caretakers are available.

Recruit and train advocates to support children during and/or after a parent’s arrest. The amount of time a police officer can invest in caring for the child of an arrestee is necessarily limited. In any case, when a child has seen an officer arrest his parent, he may be less than receptive to seeing that officer as a source of comfort and aid. To fill the resulting gap, volunteer advocates could be recruited through existing organizations that serve prisoners and their families, or at-risk youth generally.Police could call on these advocates when they have reason to believe a child may be present at a planned arrest, or shortly after an arrest takes place. The advocate would be there to support and reassure the child, and also to assist in finding a family or other informal placement when child welfare intervention is not deemed necessary.

These are interesting points to begin the discussion of proper procedure, but they fail to address some key points.

First, there need to be protocols in place for arrest that permit the most non-traumatic experience for the present child as possible while maintaining safety. Some possible means of achieving this would be:
- attempting to plan pre-planned arrests when a child is not present
- asking the parent to cooperate with the removal of the child from the scene before cuffing, and giving them an opportunity to reassure the child when appropriate
- when necessary to cuff the parent in the presence of the child, explaining to the child that the parent is not being harmed and that the child is safe
- remove the child from the scene as quickly as possible, and provide them with something to distract them from the event (toy, game)
- avoid using flashing lights and sirens, and other loud noises when possible

Secondly, the recommendations of the Family and Corrections Network suggest finding appropriate placement for the child without involvement of child welfare. As well meaning as this is, without the resources that child welfare can provide in screening potential kinship placements, putting a child with an uncle or grandparent could potentially be putting them at risk for other harms. Although placement with a family member can be and should be a priority over foster care, the safety of the child in such a placement must be properly and thoroughly assessed.

Finally, providing advocates to help children through the experience of their parent's arrest is a great idea, but an expensive one. In the absence of such targeted advocacy, police should be trained to provide it at least until child welfare or the other parent can relieve the situation. Common sense, combined with sensitivity training and and procedure that is guided by the advice of child advocates and professionals, can significantly minimize the trauma experienced by children. However, in every case where a child experiences the arrest of a parent first hand, child welfare should be required by state law to enlist the help of professionals in performing a trauma-specific evaluation to determine if the child needs trauma related therapy, and if they do that therapy should be provided. If parents cannot pay for the therapy, then the state should provide for it. Although this is costly on the front end, there is societal savings in the long run because of the high risk that children with PTSD will grow up to be offenders themselves.

April 21, 2009

Professionalism Part Deux (Duh?): Sex Offenders Shouldn't Practice Law

Recently, Eric Gaynor, a Connecticut lawyer was sentenced to five years for receipt of child pornography and running a child porn website. Here's the kicker: he was a former chairman of the Orange Board of Ethics. He currently still retains his law license, though is subject to "sanctions from state disciplinary officials" according to a Law.com article.

The Connecticut Code of Professional Ethics
contains this statement:
A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs.
This is expounded on by Rule 8.4 which provides that it is professional misconduct to

(2) Commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;
(3) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

Further, the commentary of 8.4 states:

Many kinds of illegal conduct reflect adversely on fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offenses carry no such implication. Traditionally, the distinction was drawn in terms of offenses involving ‘‘moral turpitude.’’ That concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation.
How will the state disciplinary board interpret this rule in this case? To the child advocate, it is clear that the circulation of child pornography is more than moral turpitude. It may be that the board relies on the "repeated offenses" clause because of the number of young boys involved in Gaynor's illegal conduct.

A solution to this intricate dance for Connecticut and other states is providing a clear clause in their professional ethics legislation that sex offenders cannot retain a license to practice law. It is a dark stain on an honorable profession that there might ever be a question of sex offenders practicing law, particularly sex offenders that have preyed on children.

A nation so allegedly outraged by sex offenses against children still seems to provide fairly light consequences to sexual predators. The legal profession should be a leader in changing that trend.

April 16, 2009

Opportunities for Advocacy Activism

White House Conference on Child Welfare
The Child Welfare League of America is asking for support for a White House Conference on Child Welfare in 2010. There hasn't been such a conference since 1970, and it is long overdue!

In addition to being a mechanism to raise awareness on child advocacy issues, such a conference could be the means to better interaction of child welfare agencies, information sharing and broad based problem solving on a host of issues from kinship care to proper CPS protocol. It is essential for the welfare of American children that child advocacy be brought before the President of one of the only developed nations not to sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
Oprah is calling for the reauthorization of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. The Act will expire in July 2009. The Act has been criticized for its over-breadth and the effect on low level sex offenders who are also subject to registry, and it is certainly not without its civil rights challenges. However, without its reauthorization there is no strong, federal interim protection for children against sexual predators.

April 13, 2009

Witch Hunt: A Documentary With Some Lessons To Teach

The documentary Witch Hunt had its television premiere last night on MSNBC. The film follows the story of a group of parents in Bakersfield California who were falsely accused of child molestation in the 1980's. The film takes the position that the Ed Jagels, Bakersfield's District Attorney (still), had an overzealous tough on crime stance that led to a "witch hunt" for child molesters. The convictions of these parents have since been overturned, but not until they served between 12-20 years in jail.

From a child advocacy perspective, the film highlights three key issues:

1. It is possible for child protective services to become overzealous and do more harm than good. ( But don't take that too far. )

That sounds like a no brainer, and the concept has been revisited recently by the FLDS debacle in Texas, but this is an important thing to remember. Efforts to protect children from harm should be lauded, and this film sometimes demonizes prosecutors and child protective workers in this case so utterly that it would be tempting for an uninformed viewer to believe that the entire system is always corrupt. This is certainly not true. However, it is a valuable shift from press coverage of abuse that usually demonizes the accused...innocent until proven guilty doesn't seem to apply if the words child abuse or child molestation appear in the charges. It is important for a balanced and just view to prevail, and for the public to begin to better understand the nature of the child protection process.

Society is a "consumer" of the services provided by child protection. We have decided as a whole that we want children to be safe from abuse in their homes, and this is a value that we have backed up with dollars and agencies. However, as consumers we are largely uninformed. The process and procedures through which each state manages its child protective functions remain largely a mystery....and the public only takes note when an extreme case of child abuse fails to be caught by the state agency, such as in a recent case in New Jersey where the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) closed its case not long before the 9 year old boy, Jamal Cruz, was beaten to death by his mother's paramour. Not as interesting for the headlines are the countless stories of dedicated DYFS workers who saved the lives of children who might have ended up like Jamal.

Public interest in how child protective services is managed and run is a crucial element to its improvement. Public education about how to recognize and report abuse is also needed. Little Jamal Cruz must have shown signs of abuse prior to his death, but they went unnoticed or unreported.

2. Unskilled or improperly trained interviewers can create lasting damage to the children they interview on child abuse matters.

One of the most chilling elements of the documentary was the series of interviews with the adults who were once the children who "reported" the molestation. Tapes and transcripts of the interviews with them as children demonstrate that they were clearly coached, led to express that they were abused even after they said they had not been. The now adult accusers spoke of the fact that even now they have trouble with authority figures. One young man said he feared bathing his baby daughter because of what he went through in the investigation of his own alleged abuse as a child. All of them spoke of the horrible guilt they suffered when people they accused were jailed. They recanted their childhood testimony and were instrumental in getting the convictions overturned.

In addition to coaching them in the initial interview, the children were also forced to testify against their parents and neighbors on the stand. When they would testify that nothing happened, a break would be called and they would come back testifying something different.

Of course, since the 1980's strides have been made in developing more effective training for people who question children in abuse cases and in understanding the impact of testifying on a child's psyche. This does not mean that this protocol is always followed. Witch Hunt documents the lasting negative effects of unskilled, untrained and improperly motivated questioning on children.

3. There needs to be oversight built into the system for when personalities or improper procedures dominate and create negative outcomes from child
protective efforts.

How did the Bakersfield DA manage to get away with all this? The Attorney General for California at the time is interviewed in the film and said it takes an extreme breakdown of law and order for the AG to become involved. This actually happened in this case, but the AG's involvement consisted of investigating and issuing a report that improper procedures for child testifying and evidence collection was happening. Although this is of some use to defense attorneys if they can get it into evidence in an appeal, it really had no other bite to it.

An oversight provision needs to exist in every child protective structure that is triggered by events less dramatic than "the extreme breakdown of law and order" or a child's death. Although there are certainly many people out there who complain that CPS is out to get them as a smokescreen against their own misdeeds, there surely must be the occasional case where CPS is indeed to blame for improper handling of a case. It must be made crystal clear within the system how complaints against CPS are to be handled and there must be some oversight from a disinterested party when things go wrong.

Overall, the documentary Witch Hunt tells a compelling and sad story of wasted lives, a catastrophic failure of the system, and the abuse of children not by the accused parents, but by the system. Some of the lessons of the documentary are worth heeding, but it is important also for the public to educate itself in a fair and balanced way about how child protection is managed in their state.

April 9, 2009

Raising the Bar: Professionalism in Lawyers and Judges Dealing with Children

Photo by Naixin

Are professional responsibility standards leaving the needs of children out in the cold?

The plight of the children in Luzerne County brings into sharp focus the need for specific rules of professional responsibility for attorneys and judges involved with children, along with more appropriate sanctions for those who violate those rules. There is a need for an even higher standard of professional responsibility in dealing with children because they are largely voiceless in the system, and only heard through the voice of their attorneys.

In Children and the Ethical Practice of Law, 64 Fordham L. Rev. 1281, 1286 (1995), Bruce A. Green and Bernardine Dorhn write:

It is understandable that prevailing professional norms, as reflected, for example, in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct ("Model Rules"), may not provide any answers, or, if they do, may provide incomplete or inappropriate answers to important questions about how lawyers properly should serve children. By design, the Model Rules state principles broadly applicable to wide-ranging areas of practice, but rarely provide detailed or context-specific guidelines. They assume that lawyers will be able to apply the general principles in particular practice settings.
These are, of course, often erroneous assumptions. The legal profession needs specific rules of professional conduct that address the very unique needs of children in representation.

Theo S. Liebmann writes in his article Confidentiality, Consultation and the Child Client, 75 Temp. L. Rev. 821 (2002):
Today, practitioners and scholars in the field of child maltreatment recognize both that children's lawyers hold unique responsibilities which require abilities and skills more commonly ascribed to mental health professionals, and that competent representation by children's lawyers consequently requires interdisciplinary consultation. The unique responsibilities which children's lawyers must fulfill come in the form of ethical mandates, statutory requirements, and practice guidelines, and range from the implicit duty to communicate with a client in a developmentally appropriate manner,to the practice standard of advocating for appropriate social services on behalf of a client, to the explicit obligation to determine a client's best interests.
Confidentiality in child welfare law is certainly a prickly pear, because in most cases the client is unable to waive confidentiality and their caregivers may be compromised or have reason to withhold information. When child protective services has custody of the child, they then control the output of information, and law guardians may be at their mercy for receiving information, which is also not always optimal when there are adversarial issues between the law guardian and child protective services. Special confidentiality rules in the cases of child clients should be considered by state legislatures so that law guardians have free access to client information without the permission of the family or child welfare agency.

Confidentiality isn't the only matter of concern. Professional responsibility in dealing with child clients has been addressed by the ABA in their Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases. However, these standards or the principles embodied in them are not universally or even generally adopted into the professional responsibility codes of states or their bar associations. It is arguable that higher standards of professional responsibility should be in place for lawyers representing clients that are incapable of recognizing or voicing that they are being improperly treated due to their minority. The Model Rules call for competent representation of clients, but in cases of child clients sometimes the definition of competency can be unclear. Serious consideration and defining of competency in child representation should be a part of every state's rules of professional conduct.

April 8, 2009

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the White House Press Office issued a proclamation, as has traditionally been done by Presidents to commemorate this month.

President George W. Bush's proclamation in 2007 and in 2008 were briefer documents including sentences like "America has a fundamental duty to protect the safety and well-being of its children" and "Children are the hope and promise of our Nation, and our society has a special duty to ensure young Americans get the care and attention they need to succeed in life" but also underscoring parental responsibility for prevention of child abuse. In 2008, the Bush Administration also patted itself on the back for signing the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which has to do with sex offenders that are generally outside the family, not the family violence that the Child Abuse Prevention Month program was originally created to educate the public about.

President Obama's proclamation took a different tone. Some of the important points in it, that may present a picture of the Obama Administration's approach to child welfare issues are:

1. Civic responsibility from private organizations but with funding and legislative support from government.

"Civic organizations and government also have an important role to play. Civic groups offer essential support through education, assistance to those at risk, and treatment for victims. Government at the local, State, and Federal level must provide funding for services, conduct public education projects, and enforce child abuse laws."

2. Parental education within the context of community based programs.

"A well-informed and strong family is the surest defense against child abuse. To help educate and strengthen families, community members can offer their time and counsel to parents and children who may need assistance. For example, parent support groups provide an organized forum for assistance."

3. Child abuse and neglect becoming a community problem and the general public becoming more educated (reminiscent of It Takes a Village?)

"This month, we emphasize the importance of understanding child abuse and the need for all Americans to help families overcome this devastating problem."

"Understanding the forms of child abuse is critical to preventing and responding to maltreatment."

4. The universality of the problem, and underscoring that the impact of abuse and neglect on children is community wide, not merely felt within the confines of an individual family.

"When the child next door is maltreated, we all suffer."

In a sense, Obama's inaugaral speech calling for more public/community responsibility is echoed in this approach to dealing with child abuse, and it does make good sense that communities, rather than big government, should solve the problems as they appear within them. However, the support of legislation and funding (which of course is difficult to get for anything in these economic times...unless you are a bank or major corporation) is needed for communities to successfully administer programs that lead to the prevention of child abuse.

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