Non-Abused Siblings Who Remain at Home: A Dangerous Child Protective Services Intersection

Article excerpt

A recent study identifies the nation's most dangerous traffic intersection. It's at Flamingo Road and Pines Boulevard in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The insurance company engineer who compiled the report notes that the intersection meets appropriate design standards and is regulated by traffic lights. He said traffic volume and driver error were two important factors in the high number of crashes.

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One of the most dangerous intersections in every state's child welfare system is the decision whether to remove or to leave non-abused siblings in a home in which another sibling has been abused or neglected. Like the dangerous intersection in Pembroke Pines, child protective service (CPS) workers often face high caseloads ("traffic volume") and constant life-threatening decisions (the possibility of "driver error").

A Pennsylvania case involved "an appeal from the determination of dependency where the adoptive father sexually abused one of the children. The trial court removed the victim child from the home, placed her into foster care while allowing the non-abused child to remain under court-ordered protective supervision in the parents' home." The Pennsylvania court wrestled with this knotty issue: "When a finding is made that a child is well cared for, safe in his parents' home, and has neither been physically or sexually abused, can the child be found dependent because a sibling has been abused or neglected?" Because another child of the parent "had been the victim of physical abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, sexual violence or aggravated physical neglect by the parent" the court determined that there were sufficient "aggravating circumstances" as defined by Pennsylvania statute and the Adoption and Safe Families Act to designate the non-abused child as dependent. Yet, as Bean (2009) notes, the vagueness of the "aggravated circumstances" exception "invites inconsistent and thus unpredictable decisions about when a state should expend efforts to reunite a child with his or her parent." The court went on to eloquently frame the challenging legal landscape: "The trial court had the unenviable responsibility of evaluating the testimony of parents, children, expert witnesses, Children and Youth Services officials and other interested parties. The factual determinations had to be melded with intricate legal concepts, which balance the rights of the parents to care for and control their children while protecting the welfare and safekeeping of the children to assure them a wholesome and adequate life. …