Representative Ted Poe Introduces Resolution to Protect Children
Ted Poe is a former Texas Judge and a far-right Republican Congressman. Not the credentials one might expect to be a hero for battered women and children. But Congressman Poe is also the founder of the Victims’ Rights Caucus and has long provided a strong voice in support of victims of abuse. He is again sponsoring a Congressional Resolution seeking to make the safety of children the first priority in child custody decisions. In fact he wants the courts to first assess any abuse reports before focusing on less important issues. This is similar to provisions in the Safe Child Act that would make the health and safety of children the first priority and require an early hearing solely on the abuse issues.This makes sense because if the father is abusive and the mother is safe, we know the best outcome for children is custody for the mother and at most supervised visits for the abuser.
The resolution was crafted by advocates for domestic violence survivors and their children, and based on a 1990 resolution sponsored by Representative Connie Morella. The federal influence over child custody issues is limited because by law it is a state issue, but the resolution can have an important influence over state decisions. And lawyers can cite the resolution for its persuasive value.
Resolution Promotes Public Awareness of Custody Failures
Recently, some influential media organizations have started to investigate the widespread failure of courts to protect children. This is an important change because for decades the media failed to expose the scandal. One of the organizations investigating the problems in family courts is Pro Publica. This year they published a story about problems in New York City with evaluators and also concerns about the qualifications of judges.
Joaquin Sapien wrote a story last year about the Poe Resolution and more broadly the problems in the custody courts. He quoted Judge Poe, “Protecting our children is one of the most important things we can do for society. Courts should resolve all claims of abuse independently before looking at any other factors in deciding custody or visitation. An independent and rigorous investigation into claims of abuse, coupled with heightened evidentiary standards, will help courts prevent the endangerment of any child.” This sounds so obvious and yet in the courts today it is so rare.
The reporter cited a letter from 18 domestic violence organizations that include many of my friends and colleagues. “Too often, family courts sideline violence and abuse concerns in favor of unsound quasi-scientific psychological claims about the parents and children,” the letter said. We were of course referencing PAS and alienation theories by other names that are unsupported by valid research but have spread enormous poison into the custody system. Many children’s lives have been destroyed from reliance on a theory whose only use is to enrich unscrupulous professionals.
Mr. Sapien continued, “Concerns about the role of psychologists in family courts — they are often known as “forensic evaluators” — have existed for years, mostly discussed in the closed circles of those who work in the often poorly financed and volatile world of child welfare, child support and juvenile crime. ProPublica has spent several months exploring the work of such evaluators in New York City Family Court, and will publish some of its findings in the coming weeks.” Their investigation has since been published.
The Poe Resolution provides a good summary of the mistakes and problems that permeate the broken custody court system. The preamble discusses many of the flawed and outdated practices the courts continue to rely on. The Resolution than proposes important reforms that would help courts better protect children. Significantly, the Resolution is based on current scientific research but the present practices fail to consider this research. Inevitably this results in shattered lives.
The Stop Abuse Campaign is focused on state legislators as we try to pass the Safe Child Act. There is a limit to the role members of Congress and Senators can play, but passage of the Poe Resolution would certainly improve our position both in the courts and in the legislators. I hope our supporters will contact their representatives and ask them to co-sponsor and support the Poe Resolution.