The Parallels between Family Court and the Tobacco Industry: What We Can Do as a Nation to Protect Innocent Lives

Protest Photo of Grandparents 10-21-13

This week’s post comes from a my friend and fellow child advocate, Patrice Lenowitz.  Patrice is the founder and co-facilitator of The Nurtured Parent Support Group for survivors of domestic abuse. She is also the co-playwright of FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT, a three year play project written with author and dv expert Lundy Bancroft. FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT is a theatrical production that tells the true stories of family court victims, and raises questions about the improper court response to domestic violence and child abuse. FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT is expected to open to audiences in the fall of 2014. Most recently, Patrice and actress Kelly Rutherford co-founded the CHILDRENS JUSTICE CAMPAIGN, a non-profit that seeks to educate the public through the media about the injustices occurring to innocent children in the U.S. family court system.


In January of this year, Liz Szabo wrote an article in USA TODAY entitled U.S. smoking warning made history, saved lives. The article was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report on Smoking and Health. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that with the Surgeon General’s report, “this was the first time that the government was saying, no, there is no doubt that smoking causes cancer.” Although the tobacco industry has extreme economic and political might, America quickly began to question the health related risks of smoking due to the new research being presented. Responding to public concern, Congress was forced to take action. Although it took another six years to implement, in 1971 Congress passed legislation requiring a “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING” be placed on all cigarette packages. The tobacco industry responded in kind by switching up their advertising tactics, and began targeting women, children, and minorities.

Fortunately throughout the years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health have continued doing research, and have been responsible for 29 reports on the numerous health consequences of smoking. It was research that inspired the Surgeon General’s 1986 report determining that secondhand smoke was dangerous to non-smokers and smokers alike, and because of which, more life-saving measures were set in motion by public outrage. In 1989, Congress banned smoking on domestic flights, which lead to restaurants, offices, and most public spaces being declared non-smoking. Despite the powerful economic and lobbying influence of the tobacco industry to promote something that not only makes the public sick, but kills, the public’s anti-smoking campaigns have continued to take a stand to protect innocent lives by educating the public about the health risks of smoking. As Szabo’s article states, the U.S. smoking “WARNING” did make history, and because of which, it has saved countless lives.

So what does this have to do with Family Court?

1n 1998, the first Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This study, led by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, is the largest study of its kind ever conducted to examine the health and social effects of adverse childhood experiences over the lifespan. What they discovered is that adverse childhood experiences will represent medical and social problems of national importance. A child being exposed to certain traumas, such as an alcohol or drug-addicted parent, domestic violence in the home, being sexual abused, or being separated from a primary attachment parent, are strong predictors of childhood illnesses and injuries, later health risks, disease, and premature death. Similar to the harm caused by smoking tobacco, adverse childhood experiences will determine the likelihood of the 10 most common causes of death in the United States. The good news? Just like with tobacco related illnesses, adverse childhood experiences are preventable.

Beginning in the late 1990’s however, a most catastrophic trend began to emerge. Family court judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, parenting evaluators/coordinators, therapists and child protective service organizations began to ignore the health and safety of children in divorce and custody litigation. Comparable to the tobacco industry who knowingly concealed evidence that demonstrated how harmful nicotine was, family court vendors began to take children away from safe loving protective parents, and placed them with parents that pose a risk to their short and long-term health and safety – for money.And they continue to get away with it today due to a complete lack of transparency and accountability within our courts.

Is family court really a “kids for cash” business?

An estimated 58,000 children a year are court-ordered for custody or unsupervised visitation with reported abusers. That means in many cases, children are being ordered to live with their rapists. Child custody courts are generating approximately $50 billion dollars a year from the business of exploiting families in crisis and putting children in direct harm’s way. Adverse childhood experiences are the most basic cause of health risk behaviors, morbidity, disability, mortality, and health care costs. In fact, it costs taxpayers $500 billion dollars a year in health care related costs due to adverse childhood experiences.

In Jane Ellen Stevens article entitled, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest most important public health study you never heard of…, she references a subsequent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in 2012 that estimates just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment costs $124 billion over the lifetimes of the traumatized children. She states that the researchers based their calculations on only confirmed cases of physical, sexual and verbal abuse and neglect, which child maltreatment experts say is a small percentage of what actually occurs. Stevens remarks that the breakdown per child looks like this:

•       $32,648 in childhood health care costs

•       $10,530 in adult medical costs

•       $144,360 in productivity losses

•       $7,728 in child welfare costs

•       $6,747 in criminal justice costs

•       $7,999 in special education costs

“You’d think the overwhelming amount of money spent on the fallout of adverse childhood experiences would have inspired the medical community, the public health community, and federal, state and local governments to integrate this knowledge and fund programs that have been proven to prevent ACEs. But adoption of concepts from the ACE Study and the brain research has been remarkably slow and uneven,” said Stevens.

 

So what can we do as a nation to protect innocent lives?

The public cannot protest what it does not know, so let’s tell them! It is time to stand up and speak out America! We need to educate and inspire the unsuspecting public to take action. Reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ACE’s study to start the conversation. Hold family court rallies and protests. Write to your local newspapers, policy makers, medical community, and contact the media demanding that they begin to expose and address one of the greatest social injustices of our time. Eventually, our outrage will inspire Congress to hold our governors responsible for their respective judicial branches of government partaking in dirty deeds. The research is indisputable, and as such, illuminates what our hearts and minds already know to be true. It is our duty to honor the precious life and spirit of a child, and because of which, we must do everything we can to ensure that our courts will protect them from adverse childhood experiences.

Mr. Boris Lushniak, Surgeon General of the United States of America, we call upon you to issue your first WARNING on the U.S. family court system. It will make history, and save countless lives.

 

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Children exposed to the U.S. Family Court System (i.e. judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem), and their vendors (i.e. parenting evaluators/coordinators, social workers from Child Protective Services and Mental Health professionals not properly trained in domestic violence and/or trauma), will likely suffer childhood injuries and illnesses, later health risks, disease, and PREMATURE DEATH.

 

Cappuccino Queen with the lovely ladies of The Children's Justice Campaign.  (Far left: Kelly Rutherford, Far right: Patrice Lenowitz)

Cappuccino Queen with the lovely ladies of The Children’s Justice Campaign. (Far left: Kelly Rutherford, Far right: Patrice Lenowitz)