People who handle abuse and neglect cases often tell me they’re the hardest to deal with. Generally speaking, no kid, parent, relative, lawyer, cop, social service worker or judge would wish for anyone to see the disgusting details of the abuse and neglect situations they’re faced with each day.
It’s sick, sad stuff. Kids get raped or beaten, stuffed in closets or duct-taped to chairs, starved for days and weeks, shiver in homes with no heat, huff the second-hand dope smoke of adults and throw away juice boxes in overflowing, uncovered trash cans with hypodermic needles on top.
Kids watch grown-ups do very grown-up crimes to one another at ages so young that they come to see criminal behavior as a way of life.
Through it all, plenty of the kids still love and want to be with their parents, and they don’t necessarily understand why they’re not allowed to see Mom and Dad.
If a neglect case turns out unsubstantiated, if the cause for removal proves unfounded, kids come back with the understanding that their home is a thing that can be broken up by someone from the outside.
A driving idea behind the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes’ recent lawsuit against the state is that the bar for putting a kid through that ought to be higher, and that a lot more kids need to come home sooner.
A quote from one of the lawyers on the lawsuit, which appears in my story this Sunday, probably sums it up:
“If the parent is getting drunk, do they really need to lose their kids for 60 days?” Dana Hanna said. “It’s just crazy.”
Perhaps the sickest, saddest situation is when a child is removed from a dangerous home and put somewhere “safe” by the state, only to be abused, neglected or assaulted again.
The actions of a one-time state Republican legislator named Ted Klaudt brought this scenario into focus in 2007.
Klaught raped some of his foster children in a bizarre “egg harvesting” scheme that involving “examinations” of the teens. Klaudt was charged with and convicted of rape involving 16- and 18-year-old girls. He’s currently in prison in Springfield.
Another case of sexual abuse, involving Native girls, stirred controversy last year. Richard and Gwedolyn Mette had Native kids in their care in Aberdeen. Former Brown County Deputy State’s Attorney Brandon Taliaferro charged Mette with raping two of four sisters. Mette is in prison in Sioux Falls for raping an 8-year-old victim.
The Mette case caught national attention because of the involvement of Taliaferro and a court appointed special advocate named Shirley Schwab. They were charged with witness tampering in the Mette case by the Attorney General’s Office, which alleged that the pair had disclosed confidential DSS information.
Taliaferro’s case went to trial, but Judge Gene Paul Kean tossed it as soon as prosecutors were done, saying there simply wasn’t enough evidence to proceed. Defense attorneys didn’t have to present their side. Schwab’s case was tossed, too.
The Lakota People’s Law Project says the state was retaliating against the two for blowing the whistle on the removal of Indian children unnecessarily and the glossing over of problems in white foster homes.
Don’t be surprised if the Taliaferro case results in another lawsuit against the state.
As I said, any case of kids removed for their own safety and re-victimized in supposedly safe environments is especially disturbing.
But disturbing is the nature of abuse and neglect. Let’s consider the 1990 South Dakota Supreme Court case that established some ground rules for when it’s okay for the state to deny a tribe’s petition to intervene in a case.
The Indian Child Welfare Act gives tribes the right to intervene in custody cases involving Indian kids unless “good cause” can be shown that intervention would result in the kid or kids being placed in imminent danger.
The South Dakota Supreme Court denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s petition to intervene after a Native grandmother’s custodial rights to two children were terminated in the matter of The People of South Dakota in the Interest of J.J. and S.J., children, and concerning V.J., grandmother.
The details of that case give one a better understanding of what we talk about when we talk about “good cause” as the state of South Dakota sees it.
Here are some facts from the decision, but be warned: It’s unsettling.
“On New Year’s Day, 1987, Officer Blenner of the Rapid City Police Department, was called to the [J] home on an emergency call placed by [V.J.]. When the officer arrived at the door, an intoxicated and apparently unconcerned woman, later identified as [V.J.], nodded toward the back of the house and said, “The problems back there.” The officer was reluctant to enter the home on such cryptic information, but nonetheless ventured into the back bedroom. There she saw a small girl bleeding profusely from the vagina. In the room were [V.J.’s] son [G.] and two older females. That morning [V.J.] had thrown [G.] out of the house for having a woman in his bedroom. He returned later that afternoon. When asked at the hospital, four and one-half year old [S.J.] said in the presence of [V.J.] and Doctor Burnett, “[G.] did it.” Two physicians, a gynecologist and a pediatrician, examined [S.J.] and concluded to a reasonable medical certainty that she had been sexually assaulted. The doctors repaired a two inch gash along the vaginal opening. Despite these medical conclusions and despite the fact that [G.] was the only male in the home at the time the assault occurred, [V.J.] refuses to even brook the notion that [G.] sexually assaulted [S.J.]. “[G.] does not lie,” says [V.J.], and that ends the matter for her. To make matters worse, [grandmother] intimates that if similar events occurred in the future, she would still have to believe [G.].
In addition to the specifics of the rape incident, the trial court’s memorandum decision makes specific mention of the following highly relevant facts:
1. V.J. has a long history of intermittent alcohol abuse.
2. V.J. repeatedly entrusted the children to persons wholly unfit to care for them. Both children were sexually abused while in V.J.’s custody by another uncle B.C. (k/a “Bimbo”) as well as by G.
3. Both children were being physically abused while in V.J.’s custody. J.J. has permanent scars from burns on her buttocks which appear to be inflicted. She also had black and blue marks on her body, which she said *323 grandmother caused by hitting her with a shoe.
4. V.J. also permitted their birth mother, R.J., to take the children in a car when she knew that R.J. was likely to abuse alcohol.
5. Both R.J. and G. now live with grandmother. G. is violent and uncontrollable when intoxicated, as he was on January 1, 1987. V.J. concedes that G. dislikes S.J. and J.J. because “they get on his nerves.”
6. V.J. refuses to believe that she or her son played any part in the injuries to the children.
I can scarcely imagine the toll these cases take on the people making the decisions.