Failures in child protection system need action
Vermont’s child protection system is in real trouble, as demonstrated in a recent study by the Vermont Parent Representation Center. The problems have only gotten worse in the last five years. A bizarre system in which the Department for Children and Families (DCF) uses one standard of evidence and the Courts another, where evidence is required in court, but DCF can substantiate based on “information” alone. Substantiation by DCF precludes a person from working in most professions that have contact with children. In court, there is a judge and attorneys, but in the DCF process, there is only an investigator and their supervisor who make the decision.
One single mother, for example, lost her nursing job, her nursing certificate, her housing and her children. Criminal charges were brought because of the substantiation, then all charges were dropped when it was shown that there was no evidence supporting the state’s actions, but only after she became destitute and homeless.
Overturned substantiations of abuse and neglect by DCF, as depicted in a new study, reveal such failures as lack of evidence, failure of the investigator to follow investigative protocol, failure to interview witnesses, withholding exculpatory evidence, findings that evidence cited by DCF was not true, failure to notify the parent that they were substantiated for abuse and numerous other issues. See Broken Systems, Broken Promises at www.vtprc.org.
Of course, there are good people in the system, protecting children and assisting parents. But these failures are clearly systemic, harming too many families. The individual stories are outrageous, and Vermonters should be outraged by them. It’s time for our elected representatives to act. Surely we can do better than this by passing House Bill 169.
Former Vermont DCF Commissioner