Library Journal, March 1, 2012, pg. 110, review by Reba Kennedy, San Antonio, TX
Two skull fractures discovered during an emergency room visit led Child Protective Services (CPS) to place a toddler with his grandparents. Now, the toddler’s grandmother shares her story of juggling the coexisting roles of a child’s caretaker with his parents’ supporter, as they fought for their son’s return against CPS’s presumption of guilt. Former teacher and children’s book author Frontiera includes summaries of similar situations and suggestions for change. As a memoir, the book gives voice to grandparents with whom CPS placement is preferable to fostering and she successfully describes their many frustrations. As a call to action, the book fails, as it lacks appropriate citations, information resources, or even analysis, E.G, of moving CPS cases to the criminal arena or altering burdens of proof. VERDICT Families battling CPS claims may find comfort in the voice of a kindred spirit. Those seeking information about the complexities surrounding balancing parental rights with protecting children and those seeking systemic change are better served by Joseph Goldstein’s The Best Interests of the Child: The Least Detrimental Alternative and Dean Tong’s Elusive Innocence: Survival Guide for the falsely Accused.
Marquette Monthly, April 2012, pg. 43, “Superior Reads” review by Tyler Tichelaar
Whether you are a parent, grandparent, or someone who cares about children, Fighting CPS will open your eyes to the dysfunction within a system intended to help and protect children. It provides a frustrating and heart-breaking example of what happens within the system works against families, due to senseless and inept procedures in a government agency.
At first, I felt some resistance to reading this book, but I was hooked instantly as U.P. author Deborah Frontiera describes the true life experience of her family in Texas when her grandson, James Bonilla, was removed from his parents by CPS and placed in protective custody with his grandparents while CPS investigated the situation.
Frontiera’s daughter and son-in-law were, without being formally accused, assumed to be responsible for signs of fracture to James’ skull. Immediately and without any investigation, James was taken from his parents and put into his grandparents’ care. Ironically, no one bothered to investigate whether the Frontieras’ home or James’ day care were safe alternatives for him. Frontiera was told she had to fill out paperwork that never was given to her and her phone calls were not returned, until she had to complain to the Office of Consumer Affairs.
CPS then provided an “individualized” plan for the child’s care and changes the parents needed to make to get back their child; this individualized plan obviously was a form because it included irrelevant (and insulting) details such as requiring the Bonillas to provide a drug-free environment, when neither of them were involved with drugs and CPS never investigated their home to see whether drugs were an issue. Based simply on the Bonilla surname, CPS even assumed the parents spoke Spanish.
Through this mess of irony and frustration, Frontiera fought to keep her cool. She was supposed to have monthly visits to her home with regular caseworkers, but no caseworker came until the third month, and then it was a substitute because the caseworker assigned to the case was on vacation.
Over thirteen months, thirteen different caseworkers were assigned to the case, most of whom Frontiera had little or no contact with. No real assessment was even done until the seventh month to determine whether the Frontieras were suitable caregivers to have James under their protection.
This situation would read like a comedy of errors if it had not caused such unnecessary pain and frustration for James, his parents, grandparents and all involved. The family felt like it was dealing with the “Gestapo” and actually were instructed by their lawyer not to question, be sarcastic, or show any anger for their situation or CPS would interpret it as signs of their being bad parents or grandparents. Then one day out of the blue, without reason given, a caseworker decided James could be returned to his parents.
Of course, the possibility exists that the Bonillas could have been guilty of abuse, although I believe them innocent based on everything stated in this book. The next question is, was this case atypical? Frontiera makes it clear it was not. She presents numerous stories of other people who had undergone similar and even more frustrating cases, and she spoke to police officers who had worked with CPS and found its policies and procedures frustrating.
Frontiera reveals that CPS operates by forcing parents to prove their innocence rather than for CPS to prove guilt. Frontiera tries hard to depict the situation fairly, and as a teacher, she states she relied on CPS in the past in come cases with her students. She understands CPS must do its job; she just feels it does its job badly, that the police rather than CPS should investigate potential child abuse cases.
Although not fun to read, Fighting CPS is a real page-turner. I continually shook my head over the situations described, and I remain amazed by such ineptitude that turns children and innocent families into victims. I encourage all parents, grandparents, social workers and anyone interested in government agencies to read this book so they are aware of how a child’s well-being can be overlooked due to incompetence and impractical policies. I hope Frontiera’s book helps to achieve the reform obviously needed in CPS and similar agencies in each state.