Child welfare workers are quick to cry foul anytime they think someone is coaching a child to keep them from disclosing abuse. Yet they often turn around and do the exact same thing themselves, coaching a child against a parent or encouraging and coaching disclosures of abuse at a level of intensity unrivaled by anyone else.
In fact, child welfare workers continue to use techniques that are known to bring about false allegations:
- Repetitive questioning
- Alienating the child from their primary caretakers
- Asking strange questions within strange environments
- Questioning a child under fear or duress
Such things, if police did them with adults, would be grounds for any information that was obtained to be thrown out and rendered inadmissible in court. Yet apparently it’s OK to use such unethical practices on children. Even more sickening but none less unsurprising, social workers reveal that their agencies and child protection workers are often bullied into slanting affidavits by county district attorneys and prosecutors. (GCF, 2009; USA Today, 10-31-08, p. 9A) Once again, the child’s best interests seem to take a backseat to condemnation and displays of power. Even when it’s deserved, prosecution does little more than add additional conflict (and thus more injury) to a child’s situation. That there are those who seek to commit fraud in order to create this abuse and conflict (all in the name of children, of course) is appalling.
The troublesome reality is that false confession rates climb up to 100 percent the more times a child is questioned and the more questionable ways in which it is done. If welfare workers end up taking flak for improperly removing a child, it’s often only a matter of time and repetition, and putting on the right pressure until a child tells you what you want to hear. Don’t put it past welfare workers to administer enormous persuasion in order to gain a false confession and save face in high profile cases. I remember someone receiving an award on the television show America’s Most Wanted (though she should have been facing prosecution herself) bragging about how she is able to “pry” sexual abuse allegations out of children who originally say they weren’t abused. When the kids don’t admit to it, she pries and prods and suggests and bugs them, sometimes dozens of times, not giving up until they say what she wants to hear. In all likelihood, these coached confessions are little more than fabrications resulting from the tactics used. Destroying lives and often families, supposedly in the name of helping children.
There’s also a less sinister form of negative coaching that children endure while in foster care, and this one is even more common. Though less sinister in nature, it can be extremely destructive. Children are frequently subjected to negative comments by foster parents and other caretakers that engender further feelings of hurt or aggravate detachment issues. Someone may make a derogatory comment about a child’s parent, or talk about how horrible they were. Even inadvertent comments such as “I’ll take better care of you than your mommy will,” can be extremely hurtful to a child who loves their mother. Think back to the little girl who torched herself in chapter 15. What drove her to such actions? The social hurt caused by people making negative statements about her neglectful family. Such messages can hurt a child every bit as much as any abuse.