They Took the Kids Last Night
How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk
Today's "see something, say something" legal culture has led to wrongful prosecution of parents, while many actual cases of child abuse continue to go unreported.
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This account of six families whose children were wrongly seized by child protection services vividly illustrates the constitutional balancing act where medicine, family interests, and child safety can clash.
They Took the Kids Last Night shows a rarely exposed side of America's contemporary struggle to address child abuse, telling the stories of loving families who were almost destroyed by false allegations—readily accepted by caseworkers, doctors, the media, and, too often, the courts.
Each of the six wrongly accused families profiled in this book faced an epic and life-changing battle when child protection caseworkers came to their homes to take their kids. In each case, a child had an injury whose cause was unknown; it could have been due to an accident, a medical condition, or abuse. Each family ultimately exonerated itself and restored its family life, but still bears scars from the experience that will never disappear. The book tells why and how the child protection system failed these families. It also examines the larger flaws in our country's child protection safety net that is supposed to sort out the innocent from the guilty in order to protect children.
- Illustrates how the mantra "best interests of the child" masks errors, assumptions, and stereotypes that hide the real harm child protection policies are doing to children and families
- Reveals how families are wrongly separated when overworked and underskilled caseworkers jump to conclusions of guilt, ignoring evidence of innocence
- Focuses on the child protection system from the moment of intervention—starting with the child abuse hotline call that targets a specific child as a victim and his or her parents as suspects
- Highlights the many decision points, attitudes, policies, and practices that operate to make even innocent parents vulnerable to having their children taken from them
- Explains why basic due process principles ordered by federal and state courts would go a long way to help families, but cautions that just results depend on effective family defense counsel
- Author Info
"Redleaf's work is a worthy resource for families going through child welfare intrusions, and for the lawyers, doctors, and counselors who would advocate for them."
"The idea that you can bring your beloved child to the emergency room for a bump and find yourself accused of child abuse sounds like a bad dream. Terrifyingly, it's real life for the stunned parents in this book—and the Atticus Finch who goes to bat for them: Diane L. Redleaf."
"The United States practices child welfare like no other country in the world. In the name of child protection, it removes children from their families, temporarily and permanently, more than anywhere else on earth. Diane L. Redleaf, a pioneer defender of parents and families, reveals the many flaws in our system and makes important suggestions for change. Those who care about families and children should read this important book and heed her sensible proposals for change."
"Pioneering family defender Diane L. Redleaf tells gripping stories of clients caught up in the nightmare of America's child welfare system—a system that unjustly tears families apart based on flawed evidence; race, class, and gender biases; and wrongheaded policies. Her spotlight on parents wrongfully accused of harming their children reveals a critical aspect of the trauma caused by an approach to child welfare centered on investigating the parents rather than supporting families. They Took the Kids Last Night is a shocking exposé of the inner workings of a damaging system and an urgent call for change."
"In her gripping, urgently needed book, Diane L. Redleaf presents the child welfare system as it really works—not the Disney version presented by the people who run it. These are frontline dispatches from someone who has devoted her professional life to helping vulnerable children and families. As you read about the enormous harm done to children and families in these cases, remember, as Redleaf often reminds us, that these families actually suffered less than most. And this book reminds us of something else: though the system is most likely to attack those who are poor and nonwhite, it can come after anyone. The people who 'took the kids last night' could be back for yours tomorrow."
- In the News
The Atlantic, Letters: Legalizing 'Free-Range' Parenting Is a Step in the Right Direction, 4/12/2018
Reason, 5 Times Child Protective Services Separated Kids from Parents for No Good Reason, 6/21/2018
Reason, Activist Shaun King Says CPS Came to Take His Kids After Someone Filed a False, Anonymous Complaint, 8/3/2018
Ricochet, Kids, Courts, and the Indian Child Welfare Act , 12/17/2018
YouTube, Fulfilled Series Diane Redleaf HD , 12/25/2018
The Atlantic, After the Hotline Call, 1/27/2019
Washington Examiner, Cruelty in the name of 'child welfare', 3/11/2019
The Washington Post, How dare she dash in for muffins?, 5/22/2019
The Wall Street Journal, Are Social Workers the Answer?, 6/9/2020
- Look Inside