Are responsible and loving parents safe from having their children taken away from them by government agents? The Joneses had always thought so, until recent events taught them otherwise.
During his junior year in a public high school in Massachusetts, Tom Jones (pseudonym), suffering from effects of a childhood trauma inflicted by a bully in school, for which he had been receiving counseling for many years, confided to his school guidance counselor that he believed he was gay. Although she knew that Tom was already seeing a therapist, the counselor, without informing his parents, referred him to a gay youth organization, where Tom was told not to trust conventional therapy but to seek counseling from them, and was encouraged to reject his faith and his family. The result was an exacerbation of Tom’s distress and the development of self-destructive behaviors.
One Friday morning, emotionally confused and angry after a romantic breakup, Tom called his guidance counselor, who illegally picked him up at his home — again without his parents’ knowledge — and drove him to school. Mrs. Jones eventually found Tom in the school’s guidance office, where the counselor refused to allow her to take her son home, threatening to place him in the custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) unless she allowed him to spend the weekend at a friend’s home and agreed to seek family counseling from DCF — all this despite the fact that school officials had previously acknowledged that the Joneses were exceptionally loving and responsible parents, and that they already had a team of therapists working with Tom.
The following Monday, a social worker from DCF visited the Joneses, and, although they had explained the background issues and emphasized how much they loved their son, the social worker branded them “unaccepting parents” in their son’s presence. She told them that Tom could not go home with them and instead took him back to stay with the friend with whom he had spent the weekend, despite well-founded protests from his parents that the environment was unhealthy. The social worker also manipulated Mrs. Jones into signing a form requesting counseling from DCF by insinuating that failure to sign would delay the return of her son. On the basis of this form, which was signed under duress and which indicates that counseling was the only service to which his parents agreed, DCF now claims that its intervention was a response to the family’s voluntary request.
When another social worker evaluated the case, she returned Tom to his home, stating that there was absolutely no evidence of abuse or neglect (of which the Joneses had never been formally accused) and that she considered the Joneses to be exceptionally loving parents.
Even worse than what actually happened are the deceitful and evasive responses of school and DCF officials to the Joneses’ complaints, and evidence that the school’s and DCF’s violations of parental rights are not unusual.
After several unanswered e-mails to the school principal asking for information about the school’s practice of referring students to outside organizations, and about the connections between Tom’s guidance counselor and the Massachusetts Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), Mrs. Jones received a response indicating that she should contact the school’s lawyer. The lawyer denied that the school has a practice of referring students to outside organizations, contradicting an earlier letter in which the principal had indicated to Mrs. Jones that the school had no intention of ending this practice. The lawyer also claimed that Tom’s counselor was not the school’s liaison with GSA, despite the fact that GSA’s website lists her as such. DCF officials also denied that DCF had taken Tom away from his parents without due process, claiming that they had been following the Joneses’ fully voluntary request for services.
There is also reason to believe that what happened to the Joneses was not an isolated incident. At their booth at last year’s Massachusetts Gay Youth Pride Parade, DCF officials told Mrs. Jones that DCF routinely manipulates standard processes to remove children with sexual-identity issues from the homes of conservative and Christian parents.
When the Joneses met with DCF leaders to present their concerns, the officials appeared to be troubled and promised to take steps to remedy the situation. Shortly thereafter, however, DCF moved on from this promise. The new commissioner refuses to respond to the Joneses’ letter or phone calls.
Regardless of one’s beliefs about homosexuality, anyone who cares about parental rights, children’s well-being, and the limitation of state power should be horrified by the Joneses’ story. Exploiting the emotional fragility of adolescents to turn them against their parents and enlist them in a political movement; removing troubled children from the care of loving parents and taking them to live with unvetted families, with a complete absence of due process or evidence of abuse or neglect; denying after the fact that there is any basis for grievances and failing to follow proper grievance procedures: These are the actions of a totalitarian regime, not a liberal democracy.
To stop such abuses before they wreak more havoc on vulnerable children and their families, legislators throughout the country should pass laws — such as House Bill 427 in Massachusetts — forbidding school officials to refer children to outside organizations without their parents’ knowledge. The Massachusetts DCF’s practice of removing children with sexual-identity issues from the homes of loving parents for ideological reasons should be thoroughly investigated, as should the practices of social-service agencies throughout the country, in order to prevent further unconstitutional government intrusions into the family sphere.
— Melissa Moschella is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America.