In courtrooms around the country, decisions about child custody are being made behind closed doors, allowing social workers and agencies to remain unaccountable to the public. The L.A. Times reports that, although the social services agency in Los Angeles County has problems “too numerous to list and too serious to ignore,” one problem that compounds all the others, and which taints social services proceedings around the country, is that many court hearings are conducted behind a veil of secrecy.
Many social services agencies claim that secrecy must be maintained to protect the privacy of the children involved, but this same information is disclosed in other situations in other courts. This argument also loses water because there are more than twenty states which conduct their child custody proceedings in the open—where the light of truth can shine.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a speedy and public trial to the accused in a criminal prosecution. Although child custody proceedings are normally characterized as “civil,” and not “criminal,” the penal nature of having your little children stripped from your arms is at least as horrific as losing ones own liberty, if not more so. There’s certainly nothing “civil” about it. Consequently, the same protections guaranteed to criminal defendants should also extend to families.
L.A. Times Editorial Board: Dependency courts, where cases of child abuse and neglect are heard, should be open to the public.
* * *An open criminal proceeding helps protect the rights of the accused and allows the public to assess the work of its representatives.
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