To a parent, their child is the most precious thing in the world. A good parent will do anything and everything for the betterment of their child’s present and future circumstances. What happens when a parent cannot fulfill those needs? What happens when a child’s home life actually has a negative impact on their development and well-being? Failure to Protect is a documentary that tackles those questions and the systems in America that stand to protect children from unfavorable home lives.
A dozen or so adults sit in a circle, sharing from their hearts what is going on in their lives. This is not a meeting of alcoholics anonymous but a support group for fellow parents who have had children removed from their homes for “failure to protect.” This phrase, “failure to protect,” refers to laws in which the state may remove a child from a caretaker’s home if that caretaker does not adequately protect that child from harm or neglect when possible. The process to remove a child from their home temporarily or permanently comes after a series of reviews by social workers through Child Protective Services (CPS) and escalated to an eventual court decision.
The film introduces us to the world of Child Protective Services and the family court system by highlighting three families whose lives have been forever altered by the removal of children from their homes. These three families are in the middle of legal battles to bring their children back home. Through interviews, we learn a bit about each of the families and the circumstances that led up to the removal of their child or children. As details of each case unfold, the film discusses the integrity of the family court system and a bit of the history of Child Protective Services.
“…tackles… the systems in America that stand to protect children from unfavorable home lives…”
This documentary pulls no punches in its negative portrayal of social workers, CPS, and the court system. The film leans completely into defending parental rights and highlighting the injustices that parents have faced at the hands of CPS and the legal hierarchy. Failure to Protect makes the argument, particularly with the three featured families, that parents are often the victims in these cases. Though I empathized with the parents, I found that the three families this documentary chose to feature were not particularly compelling in proving their point. I think they should have found stronger examples of parents being treated unfairly by “the system.”
This documentary goes so far as to suggest the complete defunding and dismantling of Child Protective Services, closing with the statement that the overwhelming bad outweighs the good. This is an argument echoed in other areas of government-funded services that are likely, in fact, in need of reform. However, radical statements like these do not necessarily help promote discussions of reform but rather create polarization between the supporters and protestors of the system that is under the magnifying glass. The film fails to mention the lives saved by CPS or the positive results that have come because of measures carried out by the service throughout its history.
Failure to Protect is a well-made, albeit one-sided, documentary. The topic of child welfare in America is a very complicated and nuanced one. It is nearly impossible to summarize the entire scope of the subject within the run time of a feature-length film. The documentary takes a stand and brings evidence to the table for us to consider.
"…pulls no punches in its negative portrayal of social workers, CPS, and the court system..."