In Part 1 of this post, I described a letter I had received indicating that Wendi G.’s daughter, “Caleigh”, who is ten years old, is in great distress from having been cut off from all contact with her mother. The writer, who is a parent with a child at Caleigh’s school, told of hearing and seeing signs that Caleigh is feeling unsafe at home and feeling afraid to tell people what she is experiencing and feeling. Important concerns were raised by the reports that the parent was hearing from her daughter about Caleigh’s statements to her.
Around the same time, I received a letter that caused me worry for the well-being of Caleigh’s older brother, whom I will call “Monte.” This letter was written by another parent at Monte’s school, Skyview Middle School in Colorado Springs. I will call that mother "Natalie," and her daughter “Isabel”; Isabel is a friend of Monte’s. Natalie wrote me that Isabel has told her of the following conversations with Monte:
• Monte said that his father showed him and his sister court papers related to the father’s legal efforts to have Wendi’s parental rights terminated, and that his father told them they will never see their mother again “because she took them away from him and what she did was very wrong.”
• Monte told Isabel that he was not allowed to talk to her because her parents are bad, and they are saying back things about Monte’s father, and if his father found out that Monte was talking to Isabel or to Natalie, he would be in a lot of trouble.
• Monte told Isabel that his father informed him that he had people from the church watching the house of Isabel’s family while Wendy and the children were in hiding because he believed that Isabel’s family was harboring them.
Isabel also described Monte as “not the same person he was when he left for the summer to be with Wendi.” She said he won’t talk about “anything with anyone,” and that he said he won’t tell any adult about the abuse he and his sister have suffered in their father’s home “because he doesn’t believe it will really help.”
[All quotations are from Natalie’s letter, reporting what her daughter told her.]
What’s going on in cases like these? When people report these cries of distress by children, why aren’t child protective services and family court running in to perform sophisticated, unbiased investigations to find out whether the children are making these statements, and if so, why?
The sad truth is that the reasons are so many that I can only give a few. Beginning with the family law arena, we are dealing with a system where there are no juries; single judges make all the decisions, and as a result they have extraordinary power and no oversight. Few mothers haver the money to appeal judicial rulings – appeals are very expense – and appeals courts often don’t want to be bothered to look closely at abuse cases, which they tend to lump into the category of “custody disputes.” To make matters worse, family law attorneys, judges, and evaluators tend to all know each other and to work together on case after case, with the result that objectivity vanishes. In towns or cities where a network of influential and interconnected people have the real power, whether through the government or through the churches or through a combination of the two, it can be impossible for a mother to be taken seriously when she reveals that her children are describing abuse.
Child protective services are dramatically underfunded, and since workers are given little pay for highly stressful work, they don’t tend to stick around long. The result is that CPS line staff tend to be inexperienced and highly subject to pressure from their superiors. The whole business of child protection is, regrettably, governed by few concrete rules, so that workers and supervisors can make decisions largely based on their own preferences and prejudices.
We are, thus, dealing with two systems that need to be overhauled from top to bottom. In the mean time, the people who are suffering the most from the actions of these broken systems are people of color, poor people, and those mothers who need to protect their children from an abusive father.
In the Wendi G. case, we have reason to believe that the fact that the father is a pastor at a local church is one of the reasons why bias is governing the actions of officials, rather than proper careful concern for the well-being of the children.
While we struggle to bring systemic changes about, we need to publicize the ways in which cases are being mishandled and children are being left in captivity. Wendi G.’s case calls urgently for careful investigation by professionals who are not tied to either of the families or to their churches, and who will be free from influence and pressure. Based on what I’ve read about this case so far, there is very good reason to believe that these two children may be facing grave harm.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Email news station KOAA in Colorado Springs. Tell them that you are writing them about the "Wendi G." case, and that you read about it on a national blog. Then tell them why you are concerned about the case, and ask them to do a story on it right away.
To email: Go to the stations's website, at www.koaa.com/contact-us/, then look down the left side of the page, and under the "Contact Us" list click on "Assignment Desk", which will take you to a form for emailing them.
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