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Child-abuse claims vs. parents' rights

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Imposition of the safety plan can be authorized by a single unconfirmed tip received via an anonymous child-abuse hot line, the suit says.

In contrast, to authorize the removal of children from their parents, authorities must be able to present enough evidence to convince a judge that there is "reasonable suspicion" that a child has been abused or is in imminent danger.

Illinois officials bypass this evidentiary standard and judicial oversight by giving parents an offer they can't refuse, according to the lawsuit.

The offer: Agree to a safety plan or your children may be taken away. Parents are not given an opportunity to know the substance and source of an abuse allegation, nor are they given an opportunity to challenge the safety plan before a neutral decisionmaker.

Is it coercion? Judges disagree.

A federal judge ruled that such tactics by state officials were a form of coercion. But a federal appeals court disagreed. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the state program, saying it raised no constitutional issues because the parents had voluntarily agreed to the safety plan.

"We can't see how parents are made worse off by being given the option of accepting the offer of a safety plan," wrote Circuit Judge Richard Posner. He said the safety plan offers parents more options, not fewer options.

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