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The Joshua Tree family case: Where do we draw the line between poverty and child abuse?




This handout photograph obtained March 1, 2018 courtesy of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, Morongo Basin Station, shows the area in Joshua Tree, California where a couple were allegedly living with their three children inside a box for four years.
This handout photograph obtained March 1, 2018 courtesy of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, Morongo Basin Station, shows the area in Joshua Tree, California where a couple were allegedly living with their three children inside a box for four years.
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On Tuesday, the parents of three children who had all been living in a plywood and tin shelter near Joshua Tree, were released from jail.

As reported by the New York Times, they were greeted by supporters with signs such as “Being Homeless is not a crime” and “Guilty of Being Poor.” The parents are facing three felony counts of child abuse and their kids are in county custody, but the question for both social workers and the law is whether their living situation is child abuse.

There was no running water or electricity and there was human waste throughout the property. But the family and surrounding community has reportedly said the family was trying its best. The father said he didn’t know many of the social services that were available to their family, but he also said he did not believe in government help.

So what services were available to this family and are they responsible for not taking advantage of them? How will Children and Family Services assess the situation? And can these parents be criminally charged with child abuse?

Guests:

Caroline Danielson, an expert on social safety net programs in California, and a senior fellow at the nonprofit think tank Public Policy Institute of California

Peggy Stewart, an expert in child abuse; adjunct professor of social work at USC and a licensed clinical social worker at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Matthew Ruff, criminal defense attorney in L.A. County who has handled many child abuse and neglect cases over 23 years