Denise Moore is the
Indiana caseworker who recommended taking 4-year-old Anthony Bars away from
a loving foster mother and placed him, instead, with a couple who starved
and beat him to death over a 10-month period.
Had Moore bothered with the required background check, she would have known
that the new "home" had a long record of abuse within the child protective
services and that the new "father" had a felony battery conviction for savagely
beating his own daughter with an extension cord.
Last week, D. Sue Roberson, director of the Indiana Personnel Department,
announced that no disciplinary action would be taken against Moore. Why?
Citing confidentiality laws, Roberson added, "I am not at liberty to discuss
Days later, Cheryl Sullivan, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services
Administration, stated that disciplinary action is still possible. But she
affirmed confidentiality and painted her agency as the true victim.
Sullivan's statements came in the wake of a four-month investigation by TV-station
WTHR. It came after a court case that convicted Anthony's killers, after
criticism from Rep. Phil Hinkle and Gov. Joe Kernan, and heart-breaking questions
from Florence Hurst, the foster mom who spent 15 months caring for Anthony.
She wanted to adopt Anthony and his sister before Moore recommended their
Why? Again that word.
Race may have been a factor. Hurst was white. Anthony was black.
The circumstances surrounding Anthony's death become more wrenching with
examination. But dwelling on them misses the larger point: the children abused
by CPS are not merely the fault of "bad" caseworkers. They are not restricted
to Indiana. The bodies of dead children demand we ask: is CPS harming - not
helping -- children?
I say "bodies" because Anthony is not an isolated incident. Almost one year
to the day after Anthony's death, 7-year-old Mark Adrian Norris II's was
found starved and covered with bedsores in an Indiana house, which was set
on fire to disguise his death-through-neglect.
Mark's caseworker, Michael Warrum, neglected his required monthly visits
to the home and did not follow up on complaints that Mark was being starved.
For his complicity in Mark's death, Warrum lost his civil service job. And,
presumably, his pension.
The problem is not exclusive to Indiana. The carelessness with which the
Florida CPS "loses" children became a national scandal last year. In California,
even the state's Department of Social Services admits families are being
aggressively torn apart and children unnecessarily placed in foster care.
The problem is federal and systemic.
A column that questions the fundamental value of the current CPS will elicit
outraged feedback from social workers who protest that they sincerely care
for children. I believe them without question. For one thing, I have a sister-in-law
working within that system.
The problem is not the intentions of individuals but the structure and rules
of the CPS, such as confidentiality. As long as those rules remain, the institution
will harm children.
Consider an analogy: a factory with machinery and procedures designed to
build airplanes. A worker on the factory floor loudly protests that he is
there to build motor boats. But, as long as he uses the factory's machines
and follows its rules, he will produce airplanes whatever his intentions.
The structure of the institution defines the product, not the worker's intentions.
What is necessary to protect other Anthonys within the system?
First and foremost: transparency. Both Roberson and Sullivan drew a shroud
of silence across Anthony's body. Confidentiality was never meant to hinder
the investigation into dead children. A threatened bureaucracy is using silence
to immunize itself. As Rep. Hinkle has said, "You cannot hide behind confidentiality
when there's been an obvious wrongdoing."
But the actions of the Indiana CPS amount to more than this. They are attempting
to shift the blame for dead children away from their own policies onto the
shoulders of society.
Sullivan, before the Indiana Commission on Abused and Neglected Children
and Their Families, asked, "Does it make more sense for the child protective
service workers to be sitting outside a juvenile justice courtroom or located
with the police?" She suggested that caseworkers should be protected from
"illegal drug labs" and other threats by being further removed from public
access by being housed in police stations or courthouses. Who protects Anthony
The CPS does not need more confidentiality, more difficult access and less
accountability. There is no overriding reason for silence: the deaths of
Mark and Anthony do not threaten national security or compromise the witness
protection program. They raise questions that threaten the structure of an
institution that may be complicit in killing the very children it was constructed
Short of deconstructing CPS, the solution is more -- not less -- accessibility
and the imposition of criminal liability for the gross misconduct of caseworkers
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. Her
new book is Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century.
Reprinted with permission of ifeminists.com.