Molaris v Roberts et al 062911
News, analysis and opinion
A Sierra County family has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for relief from and compensation for actions allegedly taken by staff of Sierra County.
The claim alleges that Dr. Carol Roberts, social worker supervisor James Marks, and social worker Jodi Benson conspired through the agent of County Council James Curtis (also named in the suit) to cause the local court to maintain dependency too long, thereby depriving the family of the life they were guaranteed by the Constitutions of the U.S. and California.
As evidence, the court document names social worker Jean Newfarmer Fletcher, a seasoned social worker recognized for her skill, who claims she reviewed the case and determined that the family should be released from court supervision. Social worker Newfarmer was over-ruled by James Marks and according to the document, Director Roberts had Newfarmer removed from the case, and Marks wrote the court documents over Newfarmer’s contradiction, thus causing the court to retain dependency.
While the lawsuit itself is of concern to the people of the county, of greater concern are the allegations that a director was, first of all, involved in a case, which is not usual, and second of all, that there was an effort on the part of administrative and management level staff to keep a family in court.
This is a concern to all the families in the county, because, if true, it means that not only is there a culture of over-involvement in families, but there is no immediate remedy since the problem begins at the top, in the director’s chair.
The position of director of HHS is responsible to the Board of Supervisors, they are our protection against an over-zealous department. Americans, even those living in Sierra County, have a right to live without undue government intervention. Abusing the power bestowed in trust by the people is a very serious charge, CWS has the power, nearly unchecked, to intervene in families, disrupting their normal development and the relationships they enjoy. The standard for reports of child abuse and neglect is to assume that the reports are true until an investigation results in a substantiated, unfounded or inconclusive finding. We think the Board of Supervisors should hold the department head to that same standard, that they should assume the allegations are true until an investigation either exonerates staff or concludes there was impropriety. Only the Board of Supervisors has authority over this significant source of power.
The board has refused to act. There were calls for investigation into Sierra County CWS before this law suit; the Board, at County Council’s urging, has rendered itself incapable of rational action. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, HHS has traditionally been a profitable department. The Mountain Messenger Newspaper has outlined how Dr. Carol Roberts has written checks for items for other departments, and has established a presence in Loyalton through employment and purchasing property. This source of income, while likely to be reduced due state budget cuts, continues to buy the department considerable influence.
Clearly, some supervisors are convinced the services HHS provides are vital. Those supervisors hesitate to disrupt the flow of funds and services by putting the director on administrative leave while the allegations are considered. They might remind themselves that the funds are not dependent on any one staff member.
A more thorny issue which might encourage inaction is the lawsuit. If the Board were to conduct an investigation and find the Roberts, Marks and Benson did, indeed, fabricate or manicure data to keep the family in the system longer, they would find themselves at a disadvantage in court.
Which “people of Sierra County” do we want to supervisors to represent at this time, the taxpayers or the families of the county? We’ll suggest that blood is more important the gold, and the supervisors should act to protect the children of the county from overzealous government intervention.
It is important to recall that long before the lawsuit there were indications that SC CWS was “helping too much.” The government has cobbled together a quasi-legal system to deal with parents, and it favors the CWS agency since it has all the experts and it writes the definitions of the family the court uses to arrive at decisions. It is very easy for local agency culture to outstep the authority of law in order to “help.” Workers are under pressure to produce good “numbers”, statistics which the state collects for the feds, who are the major funders of CWS activities.
But, even in the guise of helping, the agency should recognize the limits of its authority to interfere. The law allows the agency to intervene on behalf of the child if she or he is at risk of abuse or neglect. That broad standard might be seen as allowing almost any meddling in the family, particularly since the agency has the power to define what constitutes “risk”, “abuse” and “neglect”.
But, reason should dictate that not every imperfection a family has constitutes risk severe enough for intervention. We might not like it when petty criminals and substance abusers raise children, but the Constitution assures them the right to do so. The idea that the state can intervene to ensure every child an ideal childhood is unsupported in our expressions of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or in our experiences with reality. There is no strong evidence that the state can raise children better than even poor parents. Alcoholism is a terrible affliction for a parent, and a family, but literally millions of citizens have been raised by alcoholics, and there is really no evidence beyond conjecture that they would have been better off in foster care. Life is imperfect, people have flaws. There would be no end of interference if those who make their living from “treating” us were given free reign, and certainly their lives and families are not perfect, either. There simply must be a reasonable limit to intervention. That reasonable limit has been exceeded when court documents have to be manicured to convince the judge that a teen aged child is at risk from neglect. That child is not “at risk” in any reasonable sense, particularly if the parent has a safety plan: food they can prepare and eat; a means of personal hygiene, and neighbors, friends, or relatives who are identified and can be relied on in case of emergency.
Dr. Roberts, herself, is responsible for the escalation of this CWS case to a lawsuit, and the escalation of ill will toward the department. She has steadfastly refused to make any remarks to the public or the supervisors. She can’t discuss any particular case, but she could have orchestrated some outreach, some education, and could have encouraged a culture of openness in the agency. She has, instead, “circled the wagons”, taking an offensive stance toward Board supervision of the department.
This Editor believes Dr. Roberts has not met her responsibilities, even if her involvement in the lawsuit is ignored. She has been great at writing and managing grants, and she has followed state recommendations for department structure and functioning, but Dr. Roberts has used conflicted state law and grant dollars to avoid answering to her employers, the people of the county through the Board of Supervisors. I have long believed the Sierra County CWS is too involved, too punitive and too reliant on law enforcement. I’ve been shown documents in other cases which indicate a single-minded determination to maintain control over families.
I’m further dismayed that a director would be involved in any way in the disposition of a CWS case. I doubt Dr. Roberts has much, if any CWS training, and I can’t imagine why she would intervene to ensure that a family remains in jurisdiction.
I think the Board should act on Dr. Roberts. They should put her on administrative leave and do an investigation on their own. If there is the suggestion of improper behavior, she should be replaced, regardless how the lawsuit is effected by that action.
There were complaints for more than a year before a lawsuit was finally instigated. The Board has been derelict in their primary duty of protecting citizens and children from government intervention.