Article written by Angelika Albaladejo for Capital & Main. Excerpt below…
Ingrid Archie thought she was doing everything right to protect her children. She got a restraining order against her abusive partner and moved into a domestic violence shelter with her kids.
Then Archie got arrested for child endangerment. It had been only a month since she’d left the relationship and she was struggling to get back on her feet. She was stressed out and trying to run errands with her two youngest daughters. One of the kids had fallen asleep in the car, so Archie cracked open the windows and ran inside a store with just her baby. She returned to find Los Angeles police officers with her child in the car.
Archie’s daughters were taken away, including her oldest, who wasn’t with her at the time of her arrest. At the police station, Archie told a social worker about the steps she’d taken to separate from her abuser and find safety for herself and the girls. She explained that she had postpartum depression and was having trouble finding child care and a steady job. It made no difference; Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) charged Archie with “failure to protect” her children from domestic violence, on top of child endangerment.
“I thought you get a ‘failure to protect’ charge when you’re still in the relationship, not when you go to a place to protect you from the relationship,” Archie said.
Archie’s experience is an extreme example of how California’s failure-to-protect law gives social workers and courts incredible leeway to penalize domestic violence victims with children whether they do or do not take action to stop their partners’ abuse. The law’s impacts on the lives of victims and their kids have remained obscured behind the complexity of these cases.
Archie is far from the only domestic violence survivor to be held responsible for an abuser’s actions by California’s complicated web of child welfare and justice systems. Some parents who experience abuse at home are being dragged through the courts, losing custody of their children and being incarcerated—all for not stopping their partners’ abuse.
How many domestic violence victims are being charged with “failure to protect”? What are the long-term effects for them and their children? Remarkably, no California institution queried for this story seems to know. More than two-dozen domestic violence advocates and service providers who work with survivors and their children were interviewed for this story, as well as social workers and court officials tasked with handling these cases in Los Angeles and across the state of California. They all describe how a vaguely worded law meant to keep kids safe is casting a wide net that’s capturing abuse victims and holding them accountable for their batterers’ behavior.
The institutions handling these complex and sensitive cases—from child welfare agencies to the courts—have been aware of the issue for more than a decade, but little has been done to track or address it. Oftentimes, misunderstandings of domestic violence dynamics translate into the blaming of abused parents and prioritization of the immediate safety of the child, without consideration for the long-term welfare of the whole family. The law’s cruelest irony is that the threat of being punished actually stops many victims from seeking help in the first place.
Read the full article. Photo by Joanne Kim