Family Court

STATE DSS OFFICES PUNISHING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS BY REMOVING THEIR CHILDREN

A team of USA Today Investigative Reports began looking at the Child Welfare System and discovered something very horrific – that the system is too often stacked against Domestic Violence Victims, treating them as if they were at fault for being beaten or trapped by financial abuse for being in the abusive relationship. The victims children are traumatized by being torn from the victim, when they need the comfort the most. And in case after case Child Protective Services or DSS are dead set against reunification of the children with the victim – even when the records show that the children were never harmed.

Many States blame the victim for the abuse – and remove the children from the vicitms.

The USA Today team uncovered many cases where victims were willing to be interviewed and produced Court documents that would normally have been hidden from public views. Domestic Violence was cited in many cases as the main reason children were removed from the victims care. In many States these numbers were between 25 and 35 percent, using 2020 statistics this translates into between 5000 and 6500 cases of where children were removed from the victims, in the individual States. Bringing the average total to 250,000 and 325,000 of children removed from Domestic Violence Victims Nationwide.

It’s important to note that, while all the cases USA Today was able to review involved mothers, it’s easy to see how fathers (who are far less likely to report domestic abuse, even when they sustain serious injuries) could be caught in the same trap and separated from children they never abused.

The potential for injustice doesn’t sink home until the stories of individual families are told. Leah Gunion told reporter Suzanne Hirt about a night when an ex-boyfriend came to her New Smyrna Beach apartment and attacked, beating and choking her into unconsciousness, inflicting internal injuries and leaving her with severe bruises, a black eye and a split lip. Her two sons  – one toddler, one still nursing  – were in the apartment as well. The morning after the attack, she was just settling her boys down  when a woman wearing a shirt with the logo of the Florida Department of Children and Families knocked. 

Leah Gunion, 30, lost custody of her two sons after an ex-boyfriend beat her. The boys spent weeks in separate foster homes before a judge returned them.

Like many of the women interviewed for the series, Gunion thought the investigator was there to offer help. Instead, incredibly, Gunion found herself accused of leaving her boys “unsupervised” while she lay unconscious on the floor. Gunion says she was told she could never be alone with her children, or they might be taken into foster care. It was weeks before the investigation was closed.

Victims in other cases did lose custody  – often over minor offenses that would never warrant removal in most circumstances. Some were penalized or threatened simply for expressing frustration that they were being investigated.  It is also noteworthy to mention that in all cases Law Enforcement Officers were present, for what can only be called intimidation tactics.

Some saw their children handed over to the individual accused of abusing them.

Many State Child Protective Services states, “That domestic violence and child abuse are often linked  – and that the state has a duty to do whatever it must to keep children from being neglected and abused.” The USA TODAY team was highly criticized for their research by many CPS Services for basing their research on a handful of cases.

There are States such as Alabama and Michigan that focus on supporting and strengthening families after domestic violence.

Here in South Carolina there are several cases of Domestic Violence victims whose children are taken away and the victims made to jump through ridiculous hoops in attempts to regain their children. In many of these cases victims are only given 2 hours a month of visitation with their children, normally under very strict supervision by DSS Officers. And are forced to undergo a string of evaluations, which many of these recommend further and further evaluations or counselings prior if at all of the children and victims being reunited. In many of these cases here in South Carolina the children were placed in foster care, siblings were separated to be placed with strangers prior to DSS ever having attempted to place these children with family members.

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