A small group of area residents gathered Friday near Johnson City Juvenile Court hoping to bring attention to what they call state-sanctioned abuse committed against families and children in Tennessee and across the nation.
Ruth Cummins, the local protest coordinator for Govabuse, said the goal is to reform laws governing how child-protection services — the Department of Children’s Services in Tennessee — investigates claims of child abuse and the process used to find a suitable home while an investigation takes place.
“There are no longer family rights in this country. These social workers can commit perjury and fraud upon the court ... to take our children and grandchildren away from us,” Cummins said.
“There is nobody that oversees these people to make sure they’re following federal law, state law and even their own policies,” she said.
DCS caseworkers have sole power to remove children from a home when an allegation of child abuse is lodged against the parent or caregiver — allegations that are often false, Cummins said.
Too often, she said, a child is abused in a foster home as well.
“If it happens in a foster home, they won’t do anything to a foster parent so the abuse continues in the foster home and there’s no fear of repercussion.”
Her first experience with the DCS system started a year ago when she tried to get custody of her 4-year-old granddaughter, the child of her dead son. Cummins said a DCS caseworker in Knoxville told her she would never get custody of the child and that she, the caseworker, would find a family to adopt the child out.
Cummins said she and her fiance, a veteran with full military benefits, were not allowed the opportunity to protest the adoption and it was processed without them being contacted.
“I was told she didn’t need anything from me because she got a check from the state,” Cummins said.
Cummins is fighting the adoption and the case is pending in the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, she said.
Cummins said one of the biggest problems with the child-protective-service system is the money involved and paid to foster parents and adoptive parents. Foster parents receive hundreds of dollars each month to take a child into their home and adoptive parents are allowed to take large tax credits.
“There’s a lot of cases of actual abuse going on in the foster care system,” she said.
And children who end up in foster care are at a higher risk for alcohol and drug abuse because they turn to drinking and drugs as an escape, Cummins said.
“They’re having to turn somewhere to help deal with what they’re going through in the foster care system,” she said.
Crystal Ward knows all too well what being a foster child does to a kid. She lived in foster care for two years after she got pregnant as a 14-year-old and her mother was deemed unfit.
And now, her family has faced another situation involving her three nieces and nephews who were being removed from their home. Ward said when her family wanted to file a petition for custody to prevent the children from going to live with strangers, they were charged $110 per child in order to file the petition. She said it’s another way that money plays too big of a role in the system.
Cummins said the organization is already planning a second peaceful protest to continue educating the public about the abuse in the child protection system.
For more information, visit the organization’s website at www.govabuse.org or email Cummins at firstname.lastname@example.org.