Two Cases from Detroit Show Child Welfare’s Double Standards

In a previous column I wrote about the effort to pretend that the racial bias that can be found in every other aspect of American society ends at the child welfare agency door. I cited some of the many studies showing that even when one controls for poverty, child protective services agencies are more likely to rate families at risk, and take away the children, if the children are Black.

Two recent cases from Detroit further illustrate how white and black families are treated differently not only by child protective services but also media who cover child protective services.

You may have heard of the first one. A white professor at the University of Michigan, Christopher Ratte, takes his seven-year-old son to a baseball game.  He buys his son a lemonade – not realizing that it’s Mike’s Hard Lemonade – “Hard” as in, contains alcohol.

It’s not clear if the boy drank any – a blood test revealed not even a trace of alcohol.  But stadium security called police, who removed the child from his father on the spot and threw the boy into foster care.

But Christopher Ratte and his wife, also a University of Michigan professor, had access to some big guns: The best child-advocate lawyers are at the University’s Child Advocacy Law Clinic. The child was released from foster care within 48 hours. That’s plenty of time to traumatize a seven-year-old boy, but a vastly different foster care experience than most.

The family knows it. With the help of the ACLU of Michigan, they’re suing the state for more than just money – they want to help all children by changing Michigan law, which has an even lower standard than most for removing children on the spot without a court hearing first.

It wasn’t long before the Mike’s Hard Lemonade case made the front page of the Detroit Free Press. Columnist Brian Dickerson blasted CPS. The story was picked up by local television, then CNN. NPR’s Scott Simon devoted one of his weekly commentaries on Weekend Edition Saturday to the injustice of it all.

Scott Simon hasn’t said a word about Maryanne Godboldo and her 13-year-old daughter. I doubt he’s ever heard of them. They are Black and live in a low-income Detroit neighborhood. Godboldo had homeschooled her daughter and had exercised her right not to vaccinate the child. When she wanted to go to public school Godboldo agreed to it, and to an accelerated schedule of vaccinations. 

But Godboldo says the vaccinations caused serious side effects. She says when Children’s Hospital of Michigan couldn’t figure out what was wrong, they recommended an institution.  After ten days of tests, Godboldo says, that institution said the child was psychotic and recommended Risperdal, a powerful and controversial psychiatric medication.  

When the child’s symptoms worsened – including hallucinations – Godboldo consulted a pediatrician who recommended taking the child off Risperdal.  But, Godboldo says, the institution demanded that the child be admitted to that very institution – or they would call CPS. 

Godboldo refused, and the institution allegedly carried out its threat.

Without ever talking to Godboldo, CPS got an error-filled court order bearing only a rubber-stamp signature and, with the police, came to take the child.  It’s not known if a judge even saw the order.  Godboldo says police would not show her any document at all.

According to police, that’s when Godboldo resorted to the only kind of big gun she had – a real one.  She allegedly fired a shot.  Police say it was fired at them, but her defenders say it was fired in the air to keep the police out of the home.

In a scene that would have been like something straight out of The Simpsons were it not deadly serious, the police sent in a swat team, and, allegedly, a tank and a helicopter.  Godboldo surrendered.  The child was institutionalized.  Then the institution said she didn’t need the drugs after all.

Nevertheless, the child remained institutionalized for seven weeks, at least 24 times the length of stay endured by the college professors’ child.  She didn’t know if she ever would go home, and even visits were strictly limited.  A child with a fragile psyche to begin with now has endured vastly more trauma thanks to the best efforts of Michigan CPS to “protect” her.  Even now, the child is in the custody of an aunt, not her mother.

One can argue that this case is different from the lemonade case because Godboldo allegedly fired that gun. But that isn’t why the child was taken.  CPS already had made up its mind based on a call, allegedly form the same institution that would profit from her institutionalization.  Even now, the Michigan Department of Human Services still wants its pound of flesh, refusing to drop a neglect case that can do nothing but further traumatize the child.  Nor are they asking the district attorney to drop criminal charges or arrange for a plea that would avoid jail time – because what could be better for this child than having her mother hauled off to jail?

While it is no justification for what she’s alleged to have done, does anyone really believe Maryanne Godboldo would have pulled a gun if she could have brought out a couple of high-powered lawyers instead?

Does anybody seriously believe any of this would have happened to a white, middle-class family?  Does anybody really believe a family that wasn’t white and wasn’t middle-class could have gotten a child out of foster care in 48 hours in a case like the Mikes Hard Lemonade case?

But the double standards aren’t limited to CPS.  The story of Maryanne Godboldo has gotten no mainstream media attention outside Detroit – even one of the Detroit papers, the Free Press, which put the Lemonade story on page one, and recently ran an excellent six-part series about another white, suburban couple’s bizarre false-allegation nightmare, is paying as little attention as possible to the Godboldo case.

And on the first Saturday after the story broke, Scott Simon’s commentary was all about the cobra that escaped from its enclosure at the Bronx Zoo.


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