In June 2016 the notoriously unreliable web site Health Impact News published an article reporting that agents of Alabama's child protective services (CPS) had stormed a hospital and taken a newborn baby away from its 14-year-old mother solely because the child was conceived during a rape:
Juda Myers of Choices4Life calls her a “Hero Mom.” A 14 year old Alabama girl became pregnant from a rape, but she courageously chose life for the baby that was conceived. She refused to consider the option of abortion, and told her grandparents, who are her legal guardians, that if they would help her, she would raise and love this baby.
Instead of celebrating her as a hero, Alabama child protective services — DHR — came into the hospital yesterday and seized her newborn baby, leaving a devastated young mother and her family in their wake.
Juda Myers and I were there to witness the trampling of every Constitutional and moral right of this young mother, and we are shocked and devastated at what we saw. There is no legal or moral justification for what we saw happen at Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster, Alabama, on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
Alabaster Police Officer Edmunson later told us that he had told the nurse to do that “so that we could avoid this” — this being the emotional confrontation that happened shortly after when he and 2 other police officers, DHR supervisor Evans, 2 security guards, and several hospital staff, including hospital Risk Management director Ashley Cole-Tyson, all came into the hospital room stating that they were taking the baby.
There was no reason given while we were in the room. There was no history of drug or alcohol abuse by the mother whose only “crime” was that she was a rape victim. The mother’s plans were to go home with her custodial grandparents, who had approval from the state to take care of her and her siblings.
As described, the chain of events indeed sounded harrowing. Each police officer and Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) official involved in the incident was depicted or mentioned by name, and Health Impact News added an update reporting that the young mother and her twin brother were also taken into state custody:
The 14 year old mother and her twin brother have now been seized by DHR. A tearful Dee Prince called at about 6 pm on Thurday to report that DHR and the police were on their way to take the twins. She had no idea why. When they arrived, the family asked for a court order or warrant. There was none. It was reportedly a “DHR order.” Could this be retaliation for the story going viral and putting pressure on DHR?
The young post-partum mother was permitted to pack a few things, but her twin brother was not permitted to pack anything at all. They were both quite upset and didn’t want to leave their family.
A police officer present at the scene reportedly told the boy that, if he didn’t get in the car, he would taze him. The boy was not even privy to the reason he was being taken, much less was he a criminal, yet this Alabaster police officer was willing to risk the child’s life in order to place him in “child protective” custody. (See link to taser dangers here.) He left in just his shorts and a T-shirt.
We contacted Alabama's CPS department with the expectation that the agency would be unable to comment on the specifics of the case, and as is frequently the case with such rumors, the individual with whom we spoke stated that the agency could not provide any details due to the nature of the claims. However, that representative told us that under Alabama state law, the agency has 72 hours to present a case to a judge proving that removal of a child or children from the care of parents or guardians is in the best interest of the minor[s], and Alabama law indeed holds [PDF] that:
When children need immediate out-of-home foster care to assure their safety, a summary removal may be used. Summary removal occurs when law enforcement or the Department of Human Resources removes children from parental care or custody without a court order; or the court issues a pick-up order for the children. If the removal occurs without a pick up order, child welfare staff must notify the court and file a dependency petition the next working day. A preliminary hearing (shelter care hearing) must be held to determine whether continued out of home care is needed within 72 hours of the summary removal/pick up order.
The same laws provide for removal as a last resort in any open case:
The County Department must make reasonable efforts and offer all appropriate services to prevent removal of the child from the home unless that child is in immediate danger of harm or threatened harm ... The Department must show immediate or threatened harm to a child when seeking protective custody and requesting summary removal. Summary removal is accepting care of a child pending a court hearing.
Per Alabama state law, child protective services agents must "offer all appropriate services to prevent removal of [a] child," "unless that child is in immediate danger of harm or threatened harm." Presumably, state workers will be obliged to present evidence that summary removal was necessary within the 72-hour window mandated by the state.
Stories like the Alabama CPS claim achieve viral traction on social media in large part because child protection agencies are prohibited by law from commenting on individual cases, making it very difficult for independent sources to challenge one-sided stories presented online. In one notable instance, Health Impact News and Medical Kidnap heavily publicized, without critical examination, a family's false claim that CPS agents had taken their children simply because they opted for a homebirth.
CPS agencies are often painted as capriciously snatching children without valid cause, and "media blackouts" or "suppression" are then cited as the reason for a lack of news coverage of such reports (rather than that news organizations might be cautious about running with unverifiable, one-sided stories):
Many have asked why the local media will not report on this story. That is a great question. The answer is pure speculation. Are there financial connections, for example, between the media and the hospital in this story, or other local connections applying pressure to not report on this story? We don’t know. Local media is reportedly telling readers that there is “more to the story” and that it is not worth reporting. Really?? If you work for one of the local mainstream media outlets in the Birmingham Alabama area, and want to “blow the whistle” on why this story is being censored, please contact us. We will keep your identity confidential, if that is requested.
News outlets are generally unable to verify a family's claims in any given CPS dispute, which creates the risk of unwarranted public alarm being generated from incidents that have practical and reasonable explanations. It's possible that the child removals in the case cited here were tied to a 14-year-old girl's traumatic assault, but it's equally possible CPS agents sought summary removal of all three children for entirely different reasons.