Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Jugendamt- a law unto its own?

My last post took a dig at the original diagnosis of Melissa Busekros, which was convincing enough for the judge to remove her from her home. I had a closer look at that psychiatrist's report this morning (you can read a summary of it here in English - scroll down to update 10).
In the diagnosis (not mentioned in the English summary), Dr Schanda specifically diagnosed Melissa as suffering from the disorder F92.0 under the ICD 10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision).

I looked up this disorder here and read
Depressive conduct disorder
This category requires the combination of conduct disorder (F91.-) with persistent and marked depression of mood (F32.-), as demonstrated by symptoms such as excessive misery, loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities, self-blame, and hopelessness; disturbances of sleep or appetite may also be present.
Conduct disorder in F91.- associated with depressive disorder in F32.-

When I looked at the conduct disorder in F91, I read

Conduct disorders
Disorders characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of dissocial, aggressive, or defiant conduct. Such behaviour should amount to major violations of age-appropriate social expectations; it should therefore be more severe than ordinary childish mischief or adolescent rebelliousness and should imply an enduring pattern of behaviour (six months or longer).

Does Dr Schanda have psychic abilities? Above, it says persistent and marked depression of mood, not the kind of depression of mood induced by being taken away in a cavalcade of police cars. Did Schanda ask Melissa "So do you feel like this every day?" Loss of interest and pleasure in the usual activities doesn't sound like the kind of thing happening to a girl who practised playing the piano every day and was regularly attending English classes at the local Volkshochschule (German version of a community college). Is a developmental emotional delay of one year a major violation of social expectations. I'm also not too sure about loss of appetite - her refusal to eat anything at the police station (because she'd already had breakfast) was certainly no indication of a lack of appetite.

The Jugendamt states that what has happened has nothing to do with Melissa being a homeschooler. However, when one reads the court judgements, which focus on Melissa's non-attendance at school and this website, which outlines a program in Nuremberg for dealing with truants, one wonders how true this statement is. The statement on page 3 of this document,
In hohem Maß gefährdet ist nämlich ihre Entwicklung zu einer "eigenverantwortlichen und gemeinschaftsfähigen Persönlichkeit" und ihre Integration in die Gesellschaft, (their development into a personality able to take responsibility for itself and to function in a community and their integration into the community is highly endangered )bears an eery resemblance to Schanda's statements about Melissa: Serious and universal social impairment in the area of school adjustment and school related interests, pastimes and the ability to cope with social situations. The title of the project is "Sichere Erziehung" "Secure Upbringing", which is, by the authors' own admittance, a euphemism because titles like "Freedom-limiting Measures", were a bit too controversial. (I can think of some even better euphemisms - how about Final Solution?)

The fact is, is that Melissa's story is part of a much greater pattern. Removal of homeschooled children in Germany from their parent's custody is common practice in Germany. This is very easy to do, as school is perceived as essential to the child's welfare, by the courts as well as the social services and educational authorities. Last year another school refuser, a 15 year old boy who lived near me, was forced into a psychiatric institution against his and his mother's will after he became a ward of the state (the Jugendamt in question felt that going to therapy twice a week was not enough to deal with his problem). Last I heard he was still there, and he had been told that he was not going to be allowed to have any contact with his mother. The state even moved him to a clinic 2 hours drive away from where she lived. Even if there are emotional problems present, how can the state justify such a massive infringement of human rights?

The Jugendamt has been wrong before. For example, the case of the Haase family makes Melissa's situation look like a weekend at the funfair. (You can read the whole story here here too if you want - it's very long, but gives the whole background and the chronological order.) The scary part is not so much that the Haases had their children removed by the state, but that measures weren't taken by the relevant courts (apparently one judge even refused to recuse himself from the case) to ensure, as soon as possible, the validity of the expert opinion which led to this situation. They even refused to allow any witnesses to testify on behalf of the parents. At the beginning only the psychologist who issued the damning report, the representatives of the Jugendamt and Cornelia Haase's ex-husband were allowed to testify. Talk about accountability.

In a TV report, psychologist Uwe-Jörg Jopt blamed the miscarriage of justice in the Haase case on the failure of checks and balances. The only accountability which the Jugendamt has is to the judge of the family court, but when the judge takes the Jugendamt's expert at face value, the system is likely to break down, and has done so on several occasions. According to Jopt, the judges need to be better educated to enable them to evaluate the information brought before them. Although the Jugendamt has enormous power, the officials are only human and also make mistakes.

Another expert, Prof. Wolfgang Klenner is more critical of the role of the Jugendämter in cases such as these. In a letter to a German newspaper, he writes that as long as the officials can show that they have done all they can to prevent a child from being endangered in his or her current situation, they are protected from any repercussions. This is one explanation for the overzealous behaviour on the part of these officials. He states that they are then above the law. He says "To tell the truth, there are also women and men working in the Jugendämter who deserve full respect for their humanity and their sense of responsibility. However, these people are in the minority."

The Jugendamt claims to be working in Melissa's interests. But are they really? Or are they on a mission to prove themselves right? Frau Hoellerer of the Jugendamt has stated that the Busekros' will not get Melissa back as long as they continue stirring up people about her removal. Hallo, maybe someone should tell her that we are supposed to be living in a democratic country and not some banana republic dictatorship run by the Jugendamt.

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