I’ve heard parents and family members say that children’s services stole their kids.

I’m pretty sure caseworkers don’t have sticky fingers. Even if they did, kids are pretty hard to steal.

Some people think children’s services can walk right into a home, snatch kids away from their parents, and never look back.

Not true.

Only a court order allows a caseworker to remove a child from a home. That court order is only issued once an attorney representing the caseworker has filed a motion in court and a judge has ruled on it.

So if anyone really was stealing a child, it would be the judge acting through the caseworker.

When I was 22 and a CPS caseworker, I removed a nine-month-old from his parents. It was ugly. Dad was violent and abusing mom, mom was mentally ill and not taking her meds, and the walls of their apartment were covered in roaches. They had three older kids who had been taken away and eventually adopted for mostly the same reasons.

Then came along ‘Little Buddy’. Little Buddy’s case opened after a neighbor reported she saw him in the third story window on a hot summer day. The window was open with no screens or other such barriers. His pasty white back matched his diaper and the neighbor was frantic that the tiniest movement on his part would tumble him backwards to the concrete three stories below. Two other times the neighbor saw this happen and warned Little Buddy’s parents about the danger. This time she called 911.

The police entered the apartment to find Little Buddy sitting on the floor in a soiled diaper and his parents strung out on drugs. They arrested both parents and called Children’s Services to report child endangerment. I arrived on the scene 20 minutes later. By now it was early evening and court was closed. After surveying the scene, talking with the police and parents, asking about potential family members, and consulting with my supervisor, I ended up phoning the magistrate on call to request an emergency order of custody which would allow me to place Little Buddy in a foster home. Even magistrates and judges work after hours by carrying an emergency phone (or pager, back in the day). After “swearing me in” over the phone (yes, I had to raise my right hand) and asking for the facts of the case, the magistrate granted emergency custody to children’s services and set a court hearing for 9 AM the next morning. Little Buddy and I were soon on our way to a foster home that had space for a baby.

I didn’t steal Little Buddy. If I had tried without a grant of custody from the court, I’d end up arrested for kidnapping and jailed right alongside his parents.