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The True Cost of False Witness

3-2-2005 National:
.It is the "nuclear option" in divorce and custody cases. It is the nightmare scenario for foster parents. It can be the end of a teaching or child-care career. What is it? It is a false allegation of child abuse. This is not only a particularly vicious form of fraud; it is one of the few lies that the legal system makes no effort to punish. There is, for all practical purposes, no penalty for making a false accusation of child abuse.

Many different characters can have a motive for making a false allegation. Sometimes a birth parent will accuse the foster parents of harming the child. The birth parents may believe that they can improve their chances of reunifying with their child by discrediting the foster parents. Or the birth parents may simply be vindictive.

Sometimes the foster children themselves invent stories, for reasons of their own. The kids might want to get out of a foster home, because the rules are too tough, or they don’t like the food. Inventing a story of sexual molestation or physical abuse can be a foster child’s tactic for getting himself or herself thrown out of a foster home. Kids who have been in The System for a while compare notes with one another about how to get themselves thrown out of a foster home. False allegations are so common, that our local foster parent association has a policy of assisting families through their first experience of being investigated.

But of course, it isn’t just people already in the child welfare system who have motives for making false allegations. Some parents in custody disputes make accusations against their spouses as a tactic for keeping the parent out of the child’s life. Others have no practical reason for inventing a charge: they do it simply for spite. One study, however, found that some 70% of child abuse charges in custody cases, proved to be unfounded.

Now a little thought will bring to mind the cost to the victims of a false allegation. The divorced father loses his reputation, his livelihood and all contact with his children. The foster parents go through a long investigative procedure, which may cost them money and will certainly cost them sleep. But let’s not dwell on the obvious costs to the obvious victims. There are many hidden costs of indiscriminate charges of child abuse. ... ... : by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. ..more..

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