It's a chilling scene caught on camera: Armed police officers stripping a baby from his mother's arms.
No court order.
They just walk into a private home at take the child … all on the say-so of a social worker.
The Sacramento video clearly illustrated the power vested in Child Protective Services' social workers.
Only two entities – that we know of -- have the power to deprive people of their liberties:
Law enforcement and Child Protective Services.
It is an awesome power that demands rigorous oversight and scrutiny. Police abuse of that power regularly makes headlines. But social worker abuse? The very phrase sounds offense. These professionals dedicate their careers to helping people.
Then Fox 11 investigators began hearing from parents. Desperate parents. They said social workers had taken their children. They said social workers were lying, falsifying reports, perjuring themselves in court.
Frankly, the stories sounded paranoid. But there were so many parents telling such similar stories, we began investigating these reports for our series, "Lost in the System."
I met with several – let's call them court insiders. Veterans still working in Southern California's Family and Dependency courts. They confirmed what the parents were saying.
They told us that social workers were regularly lying and perjuring themselves – terribly abusing innocent families in the process. Why, that is a complex answer we hope to bring you in future reports.
Most families we talked to are so devastated – financially and emotionally – they have little chance of fighting back against multi-billion-dollar government agency.
But a few have found the strength and resources to fight back … and dedicated attorneys – like Shawn McMillan – willing to join for them.
"System of Lies" tells the stories of Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, Jill Randall and Marcus and Raelyn Stokes.
Each of them sued Orange County and their allegedly abusive social workers. Deanna won a jury verdict. Randall and the Stokes forced the county to settle for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite all of that, Orange County officials still deny any wrong doing.
They claim the full facts never came out in court – though the clearest decision went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Maybe they're right. If we knew more, we could understand.
But we can't know more. And critics say that's a big part of the problem. Social workers for Child Protective Services mostly operate behind a shroud of secrecy. Unlike criminal cases, the public – even friends and relatives – usually are barred from the courtrooms where social workers' most difficult cases are heard, Dependency Court. Records are off limits to all but parents and attorneys involved in the cases.
The secrecy does protect children's privacy. But it also protects government workers.