'Most Americans would never imagine that going to the hospital could result in the government seizing their child, but that's exactly what happened to Debbie Westlake when she went to the emergency room three years ago.
Montana's Child & Family Services division sent out a social worker on their first "Priority 1" call who determined Westlake's 4-year-old son, Robert, should be taken from daycare to foster care before his mother was released from the hospital that day.
There were no allegations of child abuse or substance abuse — the state wanted to make sure Westlake had an adequate backup plan for a babysitter in the instance of her getting sick again. Now, Robert has been adopted out to another family, and his case shines a light on how states are incentivized to bring kids into the system and keep them there in exchange for federal dollars.
What are the details?
CFS required Westlake to take a slew of courses and attend counseling, which she did. In the meantime, she had a hysterectomy that cleared up the symptoms that landed her in the hospital in the first place. But she could never reach the state's demands.
According to court documents obtained by TheBlaze, District Judge Michael Menahan admitted during proceedings, "I have to say that this is one of the more difficult cases, if not the most difficult case, that I've had in terms of the narrow legal issue as to whether or not to grant temporary investigative authority and emergency protective services based on a finding of probable cause that a child — in this case, Robert — may be a youth in need of care."
Nonetheless, Judge Menahan ultimately decided the boy would be better off raised by someone else and terminated Westlake's parental rights, and the Montana Supreme Court upheld the ruling on appeal.
Robert was adopted earlier this year by a couple who had no children of their own.
Meanwhile, the rookie social worker, Grace Zitzer, who pushed for Robert's removal in the first place bragged of the "patience and kindness" she learned at CFS as part of her bid to become the reigning Miss Montana.
What happened to the Westlake family is egregious, but far from rare. Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform wrote in the Montana Standard earlier this year that "contempt for parents who use drugs, or parents who simply are poor and whose poverty is confused with 'neglect,' runs so deep that Montana now has a dubious distinction: It is the child removal capital of America."'
Read more: Montana case of mother who lost her child due to health issues shines spotlight on child protective service abuses
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