California Court Puts 58,000 Children in Harms Way

16 06 2009

Scandal Illuminates Troubled Family Court System

Byron-Williams.gifBy Byron Williams

The family court system has, in theory, operated on the question, "What is in the best interests of the child?"

But the findings articulated at a one-day workshop hosted by Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele and the Center for Judicial Excellence suggest that question is more theory than practice.

If the statistics are accurate, the frequency with which children are allowed to have unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents after divorce in this country is alarming and worthy of the public’s attention.

According to the Center for Judicial Excellence, "Not since the Catholic Church pedophile scandal has the United States seen this level of institutional collusion and corruption harming innocent children."

This may sound like hyperbole, but the comparison holds if, in fact, most family court professionals know the system is broken and are allowing the most vulnerable members of society to potentially suffer lifelong consequences.

It is indeed a broken system that allows 58,000 children each year to be placed in harm’s way simply because the abusive parent also possesses the resources to hire a bevy of professionals who plead his/her case to judges, mediators and other family-law professionals.

Heavy caseloads, bad judges and unqualified mediators, who evaluate families sometimes based on no more than a one-hour meeting, can add up to decisions that permanently

affect families.

As one parent shared with me, "I wouldn’t believe my own story if I didn’t live through it. We trust the courts to do the right thing, but it’s just not that simple."

Those who are not directly involved trust the system to work — but there was a consistent message at the workshop that it does not work, and children are paying the price.

Are these simply the musing of parents and attorneys who did not get their way? No, there is more than enough data to suggest there is a problem that warrants investigation. The primary charge finds that many judges, for reasons ranging from being overworked to becoming jaded by the system, have placed an inordinate reliance on court appointees such as mediators, evaluators, investigators, and minors’ counsel, who may or may not act in the best interest of the children.

This has created a scenario whereby individuals who have no understanding of the law often sway the individual who is appointed to administer justice.

Steele also cites a level of dishonesty that she states is pervasive throughout the system. "It’s not just mediators but social workers who are not telling the truth," she said.

The workshop featured experts in the field and parents sharing their gut-wrenching, first-hand testimony and offering solutions to the problem-plagued system in California.

State Sen. Mark Leno and other members of the Legislature are calling for an audit that will evaluate the magnitude of the concerns expressed over a number of years.

A number of participants also made it clear the problems they cite are not emblematic of the whole, maintaining there are indeed a number of good judges within the system. But there are enough bad ones who are not held accountable, causing the system dysfunction.

Steele should be commended for her willingness to bring attention to an issue that has flown under the radar for years. Investigation is long overdue.

Byron Williams has served as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland since 2002. As the only pastor/syndicated columnist in the country, Williams writes a column which appears in 10 publications and several progressive web sites across the country.

Posted on June 15, 2009


Justice For Survivors

16 06 2009

In the western world, our expectations are high on the agenda of humanity.  Socially, we expect that if we are harmed in any shape or form that it will be rectified within the natural course of justice.

In the shady world of family law, such a course is anything from natural and the course itself is further away from justice than the expectations of a developing country.

If such discourse continues within the western world, then such practices become amplified in developing countries to further perversion by persuasion.

So it is time that such a course be reversed and thus the influences that corrupted such a course be held accountable.