Published on Mar 21, 2014
MICHIGAN — Hundreds of thousands of parents have been flagged as “child abusers” in a huge database maintained in secret by Michigan’s Child Protective Services (CPS) agency. The names are entered into the database without due process, without a judicial hearing, without an opportunity for defense, without a conviction, and without even letting the individuals know they have been targeted.
Secret list: Having your name on this secret Michigan list of 275,000 people could cost you your job
LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) – It’s a secret list that can cost you your family or your job. Once you’re on it, it can be very hard to get off. While some changes are being made to the law, many experts say it doesn’t go far enough.
The state maintains something called the Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry and the sole power to label you an abuser lies not with a judge or a jury, but with child protective services workers.
And you may be surprised at how the state can define “abuse.”
Anita Belle says she’s never been convicted of a crime. But Belle’s name has been put on the Central Registry as a child abuser.
“Where is the due process,” asked Belle.
The Central Registry is maintained by Child Protective Services workers inside Michigan’s Department of Human Services, or DHS.
Right now, there are about 275,000 people on that secret list and many of them don’t even realize they are on it. You don’t have to be found guilty in court to be put on the registry. All it takes is the word of CPS staffers to label you an abuser, which can prevent you from getting certain jobs or doing volunteer work.
“A sex offender gets to be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, and then they’re placed on the sex offender registry, but parents and grandparents and teachers — for goodness sake, a child could just make up something,” Belle told 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
It was Anita Belle’s granddaughter who accused her and other relatives of spanking. And Belle’s case shows just how inconsistent the rules to get on the list can be: her CPS investigative report recommends Belle NOT be labeled an abuser.
“In your CPS report they say you should not be put on the central registry,” asked Catallo
“That’s correct,” said Belle.
“So how did you get put on the registry,” asked Catallo.
“I don’t know,” said Belle.
As the law stands now, once you’re on the registry — you’re on for life. You can ask for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge to be taken off the list, although that’s not easy to do.
But the law is changing in September. The new law will limit your time on the registry to 10 years, unless you were put on the list for criminal sexual conduct, battery, life threatening injuries, abandonment, or exposing a child to methamphetamine production.
But those labels are not always what they seem: the 7 Investigators have documented many cases of parents being accused of abandonment or neglect when they were simply trying to get help for the children from the state.
“The current reforms don’t go far enough,” said attorney Elizabeth Warner, who is suing the Governor, DHS and other state officials because she says the secret list is unconstitutional.
“You should be given an opportunity before the harm happens, to get a fair hearing,” said Warner.
Warner says CPS has too much power.
“You just get on the registry, by a push of the button. By one worker,” said Warner.
“With no verification that the crime was actually committed,” asked Catallo.
“They believe that their investigation, even if it’s one sided, is all they need to ruin somebody’s life,” said Warner.
“What do you say to the people who say CPS has way too much power,” Catallo asked.