The removal of more than 400 children from the FLDS ranch in
West Texas has put Texas Child Protective Services under the microscope.
That case has led others to wonder, if CPS can do that to FLDS children, can they do that to mine?
A Houston-area family says the same thing happened to them and eight years later, they are still trying to clear their names.
Gary and Melissa Gates have 13 children. Eleven of them are adopted. They saw a need of kids from a variety of background needing love and a stable home. The Gates were shocked when CPS showed up on their doorstep.
The school called CPS when they discovered the Gates, as part of a disciplinary measure, pinned a baggie with food wrappers inside the shirt of one of the kids who was caught stealing. It included a two-page explanation and a name and number of whom to call if there were questions. The school did make a phone call. It wasn’t to the Gates. I was to Child Protective Services.
Hours later, Gary Gates was shocked to find CPS workers in his home uninvited.
He said, "That opened my eyes to a whole new way of government."
Gates asked the CPS caseworkers to see a search warrant or a court order: "In my being naïve, I really kinda fell back on this Fourth Amendment thing. You're kinda raised that you have protection in the home."
Gates says the caseworkers told him they didn’t need a search warrant to be inside his home. They spent the next several hours interviewing his children and looking through cabinets and closets.
Gates says, "At the end of that day, six deputies and five CPS officials came into our house and removed all 13 children."
Although the investigation stemmed from an allegation of emotional abuse of only one child, all 13 of the Gates' children were removed from their home, loaded into a paddywagon and taken to foster homes. The removal was done without a court order, under what's called an 'emergency removal.'
The law allows emergency removals only when there is a danger to the physical health and safety of a child and the need for protection is so urgent, removal is necessary.
The Gates offered to leave their home and allow their pastor and his wife to come stay with the children, until they could go before a judge. Gates says CPS refused.
The weekend was agonizing for the Gates. They had no idea where CPS had taken their children.
The first thing on Monday morning, the Gates were in court. He was stunned to hear how CPS justified the emergency removal.
Gary Gates remembers "The reason they said, later on in court, is well, we felt Mr. Gates was uncooperative and his uncooperativeness with us, put the children at risk."
The Judge wasn’t convinced and ordered CPS to return the children immediately. But, to be safe, he ordered an independent evaluation.
Psychologist Jay Bevan conducted the home study. He wrote a glowing report about the Gates' parenting and concluded with "I've never said this about anyone I have ever evaluated. I admire the Gates. I would not hesitate to place my own children in their care."
But according to court records, CPS responded with "Both the department and CASA have found Dr. Bevans’ report disappointing."
Gates was baffled, "You'd think they'd say, you know, this is great. We don't need to be involved here. Let us go to somewhere else where there are some issues. But instead they say, well, we're disappointed and they have just continued to dig in their heels."
Even though the court dismissed the case against the Gates, CPS continues to classify them as child abusers in the state's central registry.
"They said, well, we felt you emotionally abused this one child and since all the kids saw that, that's 13 counts of abuse on those children. And because your wife didn't stop it, that's 13 counts of emotional abuse from her."
The Gates were never charged with any crime. Gary Gates says they were considered guilty based solely on the opinion of a CPS caseworker and supervisor. Anyone listed the registry cannot adopt children, work in the child care industry or volunteer in any organization related to helping children. The Gates say such a system is unconstitutional.
CPS spokesman Chris Van Deusen says the findings are based on the department's investigation and no court has ever ruled it unconstitutional.
"I haven't heard a lot of complaints. Certainly we go through administrative reviews and people have those determinations, have those findings reviewed, but I haven't heard a great deal of complaint about them," Van Deusen says.
The Gates are certainly complaining. They've spent the last eight years and about $175,000 trying to get their names removed. They are not alone. According to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, the number of parents who have filed appeals has increased 265 percent in the past two years.
The Gates are also challenging other practices by CPS. They say CPS can come into your home, search it, and take your children without a warrant or court order. They say not even the police, sheriff or FBI can do that. They have spent an additional $350,000 in legal fees, challenging the constitutionality of it in a federal court.
The Gates have founded a non-profit organization called the Texas Center for Family Rights to help other families dealing with CPS. They are currently helping some of the mothers whose children were removed by CPS during.
Family believes CPS victimized them, their 13 children