Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Child welfare Finance: Beware of “The Triad”: The bill they’re backing has become a Trojan horse

Time to take a close look at the "Family First Act"
To read the rhetoric coming from the foster care-industrial complex lately, you’d think that the private child welfare agencies that need a steady supply of foster children to stay in business had undergone a conversion worthy of Saint Paul.

Suddenly they’re all talking about “more should be done to keep kids in families” and how the federal government should be spending more on “prevention.”  They’ve even created a website called Keeping Kids in Families, (run by a group that actually calls itself the “Triad” partnership)  with infographics implying that they want to change funding priorities.

Don’t believe it.

They’ve stolen the rhetoric of reform, while getting rid of almost all of the substance.

Indeed, you have to spend a long, long, time poking around the website to even find the specifics about the legislation they urge people to support.  There’s a reason for that.

What these groups really are supporting is a plan for legislation (it’s not even a bill yet) called the Family First Act.  (This analysis is based on this outline from Senate Finance Committee staff, and a similar memo circulating among some child welfare groups.  So instead of referring to “the bill” I’ll be referring to “the outline.”) 

Like so much in child welfare, the original proposal was born of good intentions – and it might have made a pretty good bill. But it was quickly watered down.  In its present form, it opens up funding only to very limited forms of prevention.  And it does nothing to curb the current huge, open-ended entitlement for foster care.

In its present form the Family First Act is a Trojan Horse.  It leaves the false impression that its passage would lead to fundamental child welfare finance reform – thereby removing the pressure to make real changes, and possibly setting the stage for efforts to funnel even more money into foster care.

Child welfare funding today

Foster care is funded through a large open-ended entitlement program known as “Title IV-E.”  For every eligible child, the state picks up a large share of the tab – the share varies from state to state.  Roughly 44 percent of foster care cases are eligible for this reimbursement, and that percentage declines ever so slightly every year.  That’s because of something called “The lookback,” which I’ll get to below.

In contrast, a much smaller pot of money, called Title IV-B, is available for services to help keep children out of foster care – and that money is not an entitlement.  (Details are in this NCCPR Issue Paper.)

What the Family First bill would do (as far as we can tell)

The Family First Act outline calls for allowing IV-E funding for some services to keep children out of foster care.  However:

--These could be almost exclusively “soft services” – the “counseling” and “parent education” that typically do nothing to actually keep children out of foster care, but make the helpers feel good.  The one exception: Some forms of services might be available for “substance abuse prevention” – whether that also includes drug treatment is not clear. In addition. when a child is placed with her or his parent in a residential substance abuse treatment program, federal foster care reimbursement could be used to pay for the child’s care.

Totally absent are what families so often really need: Aid for child care, housing, or simply basic cash assistance to ameliorate the worst aspects of the poverty that often is confused with “neglect.”  This reportedly was in earlier proposals but was negotiated away early in the process.

The outline calls for allowing very limited aid of this sort under Title IV-B – but that’s the one that has almost no money in it, and is not an entitlement, so this means almost nothing.

The outline does allow emergency cash assistance if the child is placed with a grandparent or other relative.  In other words: In a case where the allegation is “lack of supervision” the new federal money could not be used to help the child’s parents pay for day care.  But if the child were placed with grandparents, federal money could help them pay for day care.

The problem is compounded by the criteria any prevention program must meet to be eligible for funding.  By the time the provisions in the outline are fully in effect the standard of proof would be so absurdly high that almost nothing would qualify.

That’s because the outline continues the profound double-standard for what constitutes an “evidence-based” practice in child welfare: If it’s an alternative to foster care it must be able to dot every I and cross every t on the most rigorous form of evaluation. Lizbeth Schorr, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, has several excellent articles on why this is an unwise approach in human services.  And in child welfare, there is the additional problem of a profound bias among many of the “scholars.” But the same standard does not apply to foster care – in fact, the outline contemplates continuing funding-as-usual for foster care despite the overwhelming evidence that, for most of the children placed there, it’s a far worse option than family preservation.

So state and local child welfare agencies would end up with the theoretical “right” to spend federal money on preventive services – but almost none of the services actually would qualify for funding.

A ceiling, not a floor

One could argue that the outline should be supported because at least it doesn’t make things worse – and there are some improvements around the edges.  And one could argue that this at least would set a precedent for using Title IV-E funds for prevention – it could be said to be a floor on which more reform could be built.

But it’s more likely that this bill would be a ceiling, not a floor.  Once the bill was passed, all the pressure for real reform – ending the foster-care entitlement - would go away.  Everyone could say: “See, we’ve now given child welfare agencies all the funding flexibility they need!” And if, by some chance, the number of children in foster care doesn’t drop, that will be cited as evidence that financial incentives were never the issue, and all those children really, truly need to be in foster care.

That’s when the foster care industrial complex will come charging back, seeking what they really want all along – an end to the “lookback.”

As I mentioned earlier, thanks to the lookback, the number of children eligible for federal foster care aid under Title IV-E decreases ever so slightly each year.  As a result, the foster-care industrial complex is finally feeling the heat – they know that if they don’t support some kind of change, federal foster care funding is going to dry up completely – though not for another 50 years or so.

So they want the fake reform of the Family First Act, followed by some form of end to the lookback.  (Details on how the lookback works and why we need it are here.)

And that’s exactly why those of us who want real reform should not settle for the Family First Act.  Rather we should let the heat keep rising on the foster-care industrial complex, until they’re willing to support the real reform.  That means ending the unlimited, open-ended entitlement for foster care and converting it into an inflation-indexed flat grant, that could be used both on foster care and on all kinds of prevention and family preservation programs.   

Similar problems with provisions on “congregate care”

The Family First Act also attempts to curb the use of the worst form of “care,” group homes and institutions, by putting some limits on when federal foster care money could be spent on such placements.  One could argue, again, that this is better than the status quo, since currently there are no limits, even on paper.

But the outline has so many ifs, ands, buts, and assorted other loopholes that the limit appears largely meaningless. And by actually creating a category of placement called a “Qualified Residential Treatment Programs” (or worse, one summary of the bill says these would have the oxymoronic name Quality Residential Treatment Programs) the bill runs the risk of “institutionalizing” the idea that there is something acceptable about institutionalizing children.

Now, about the Triad

The people behind that Orwellian Keeping Kids in Families website are a who’s who of the foster-care industrial complex.  The group is calling itself “The Triad for Results-Based Funding for Safe Children and Stronger Families” (you’d think they would have at least run a basic Google search for “Triad” before coming up with that name).

Leading the Triad is the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a group that has little to so with either one.  Rather, it is a trade association made up largely of private agencies that oversee foster homes and run group homes and institutions.  These agencies typically are paid for each day they hold a child in foster care. The Alliance is led by Susan Dreyfus who came to the group after an undistinguished tenure running two child welfare systems. A good indication of where Dreyfus stands is the fact that, as a member of the so-called Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities she voted for the Commission’s awful recommendations.

Dereyfus’ group is joined by the National Organization for State Associations for Children, which actually is a collection of state federations dominated by foster care providers.  So two-thirds of the Triad has a vested interest in opposing any reform that actually would curb the huge open-ended entitlement for foster care funding. And there’s no downside for the third member of the Triad, the American Public Human Services Association, since the outline offers more money for limited forms of prevention without touching foster care.

The fact that these groups are supporting the Family First Act is not a reason to oppose it.  On the contrary, I’ve said repeatedly that child welfare is a field filled with good people who keep doing the wrong things for the right reasons.  If someone wants to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, I’ll take it.

But the Family First Act is not the right thing.

It’s also often said that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.  That’s true.  But the Family First Act is not good.  It is, at best, mediocre.  And the good should be the enemy of the mediocre.

Friday, April 22, 2016

How to get a liberal to renounce everything he claims to believe in: Whisper the words “child abuse” in his ear

Why is the kind of behavior that got the left rightly upset with Southwest
 Airlines, considered just fine when the fear is about child abuse?
By now, most people have heard about the Muslim student who was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger overheard him speaking Arabic and reported him to the flight crew. Of course. Young male + Arabic = terrorist, right?

My fellow liberals were outraged – and rightly so.  The story made The New York Times, and was the subject of this segment on The Daily Show:


All that is exactly as it should be.

But compare that response to what happens when the same sort of “if you see something, say something” extremism is applied to child abuse:

As I noted in a previous post to this Blog, a post at Medium by Michele Booth Cole, who runs a “Child Advocacy Center” in Washington, urged us to turn in anyone we think might be sexually abusing a child if “you just get the feeling that something’s not right.”  In other words, the author of this post, a so-called child abuse professional, is urging all of us to behave exactly as the passenger on that plane did – report someone based on essentially nothing.

Yet the comments on this post were almost entirely favorable. The column got one endorsement after another – such as this one: “even a 1% risk of a child being at risk is worth saying something, and you can do so anonymously.”

Yes, isn’t it great?  Unlike that airline passenger, who at least had to reveal her own identity to the flight crew, you can accuse someone of child abuse based on absolutely nothing with no accountability at all!

This advice is given even though the consequences of a false report – for the child – are a lot worse than being thrown off an airplane.

As I noted in that previous post, Cole writes that

You may never be sure and you don’t have to be sure. If you report your suspicions, the professionals in law enforcement and child protection will follow up and find out what’s happening. You could literally be saving that child’s life.

Or you could be bringing down a world of misery upon that child.

First of all, referring to the child protective services workers who will respond to the call as “professionals” often is a stretch.  In Washington, D.C., where Cole is located, they’re generally well-qualified.  More typically, however, you’re talking about someone with a bachelor’s degree in anything and a quickie training course.  Law enforcement often isn’t any better.

These total strangers will interrogate the child about the most intimate aspects of her or his life.  That’s what happened in this case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (with my organization’s Vice President acting as pro-bono counsel for the family).

Often that interrogation will be followed by a medical examination that, if anyone else did it, would be sexual abuse.

All this harm occurs before we even reach the issue of the child protective services worker possibly panicking – depending on whether a high-profile tragedy is in the news at the moment – and consigning a child who was not abused to the chaos of foster care.

Sometimes all this has to be done anyway.  The problem of child sexual abuse, like all child abuse, is serious and real. But starting this process in motion should be based on more than “you just get the feeling that something’s not right…”

Other advice given by Cole is even worse – at one point she actually encourages the dangerous practice of distracted driving.  Seriously.  She writes:

Let’s say a school employee needed to give a child a ride home, and only the two of them would be in the car. The adult and/or the child could be on a cell phone the whole time, giving a running description of the drive to the child’s parent or caregiver.

I've put a great big National Safety Council infographic at the end of this post in the hope that Cole will understand just how dangerous and irresponsible that suggestion really is, and everyone else will see how extremism and paranoia in the war against child abuse can trump research and sound judgment.

  More generally, her ideas would lead to a generation of paranoid adults raising a generation of terrified children. In fact, it’s worth comparing Cole’s column to the comments made by the right-wing Republicans in the Daily Show video.

Odd how easily we on the left understand all this when the issue is terrorism, and how easily many of us forget when the issue is child abuse.

Read more about how the normal due process and civil liberties protections liberals fight for in other fields don’t exist in cases of alleged child abuse.


Hands free not risk free
Provided by The National Safety Council

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Texas Hide ‘em: Nearly Two-thirds of state’s foster care placements are “off the books”

The repeated claims that Texas takes proportionately few children are false.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

The claim has been made over and over by Texans who want the state to take away more children: Texas, it is claimed, takes away children at a much lower rate than other states.

That claim always hid more than it revealed.  But now it turns out that the claim is flat-out false in every respect.  Because now we know that when Texas tells the federal government, and the public, how many children it placed in foster care in a given year, Texas simply leaves out nearly two-thirds of the placements.

Texas does this by slapping a different label onto these placements.  They’re called “parental child safety placements.”  They are a form of kinship care – that is, placement with extended family or friends of the family instead of with total strangers.  Kinship care almost always is a  better,  safer option than stranger care. But it is still foster care.

Here’s how it works. The state Department of Family and Protective Services decides to remove a child from the home.  In order to make the process easier – for the agency, not the family – they essentially blackmail the parent: Give us the child and let us place him “informally” with a relative, without involving the court, or we’ll go to court and your child might wind up with a stranger – or worse, in one of our wonderful Texas institutions.

And make no mistake – once the child is gone, the child welfare agency and maybe, at some point, a court, but not the parent decides when or if that child will ever come back. It is a foster-care placement in everything but name.

The federal government understands that these placements are, in fact, foster care and should be counted as such.  As we noted in a previous post to this blog:

Federal regulations define foster care as :

24 hour substitute care for all children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the State agency has placement and care responsibility. 

The regulations go on to say that

the State is required to count a placement that lasts more than 24 hours while the child is in foster care under the placement, care or supervision responsibility of the State agency” 
 Note that it does not say “custody” of the agency, only “placement, care or supervision responsibility.”

What we did not know when we put up that previous post, and the real shocker in all this, is how widespread the practice is. 

Officially, Texas took away children 17,357 times in 2014 – at least that’s what Texas reported to the federal government.  But according to a December, 2015 report from a  “roundtable” of “stakeholders” convened by the Texas Supreme court Children’s Commission there also were 34,000 so-called parental child safety placements. 

According to the report, about 4,000 of those PCSPs later became officially-counted foster care placements, so counting those 4,000 would be double counting. But that still leaves 30,000 foster care placements in 2014 that Texas simply chose to call something else.

Or to put it another way, Texas has been hiding more than 63 percent of its foster care placements from the federal government – and from anyone else trying to compare the rate at which states take away children.

Put back those off-the-books placements and Texas is apparently taking away children at a rate more than 60 percent above the national average – even when rates of child poverty are factored in. 

Of course, that assumes Texas is the only state that cheats this way.  That’s almost certainly not the case.  We’ve known for nearly a decade that Kansas has its own way of cheating.  And kinship care is particularly vulnerable to this kind of cheating. But I doubt that there are many states that cheat to the extent of hiding nearly two-thirds of their entries into foster care.  Maybe everything really is bigger than Texas.

The reason all this is coming out in the open is that PCSPs now are under attack by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who wants to crack down on these kinship care placements, not because they’re off-the-books, but because two of them were the scenes of headline-grabbing horror stories.  (And, of course, nothing ever goes wrong in other Texas placements.)

So now, caseworkers are afraid to use PCSPs, and traditional foster-care placements are skyrocketing.  Soon, we may finally see an official figure on entries into foster care that is closer to reality – but thousands of children will pay the price, by losing out on the chance to stay with relatives.

There are other revelations in the “roundtable” report:

The report notes that “PCSPs are not really voluntary when the alternative is removal of the child.”  The roundtable participants also noted that, since the state doesn’t have to go to court first, “the parent does not have a lawyer or understand the child welfare or legal system.”

There’s also a truly Orwellian twist:

In theory, federal law requires states to make “reasonable efforts” to keep families together before resorting to foster care. In fact, this has never been enforced and the law is full of loopholes. But Texas actually claims that, if they put a child in foster care and call it a “parental child safety placement” they’ve met the “reasonable efforts” requirement – because, supposedly, that’s not foster care.

One other point about the Roundtable and its December, 2015 report: Scott McCown, the state’s leading champion of a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare, served on the roundtable.  So I don’t understand why, one month after the report came out, McCown, still was repeating his claim about Texas having an unusually low rate of removal.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

There is nothing “incomprehensible” about the latest child welfare failure in Texas

The Dallas Morning News reports that, in response to the latest child abuse death in Texas involving a child “known to the system,” four-year-old Leiliana Wright, State Rep. Chris Turner, a Democrat whose district includes the town where the tragedy took place tweeted this:

“Incomprehensible failure of Govt.”

He’s wrong.

It’s a horrible failure of government, a tragic failure of government and an abysmal failure of government, and I don't doubt that Rep. Turner is sincere in wanting to do something about it.

But it is entirely comprehensible.  It happens over and over in Texas, year after year.  And while Republicans bear most of the responsibility – because they run the state government - Democrats who can think of no alternative other than spending more (which is necessary) without also spending smarter (which is just as necessary) share some of the blame.

That’s not hindsight.  NCCPR issued a comprehensive analysis of Texas child welfare in 2005.  Several years later, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal Texas think tank, issued a report in which it found that taking away more children does nothing to reduce child abuse fatalities.

And while we’re considering responsibility, some of it rests with those in the Texas press corps who have covered the issue year after year after year and written pretty much the same stories or columns year after year after year, all the while systematically ignoring the problem that leads to most of the others: the needless removal of children from their homes.

Because it’s all those unnecessary investigations and needless removals that are overloading caseworkers to the point that, at best, they can’t possibly find all the children in real danger or at worst, as may be the case in the most recent horror, they don’t try.

One exception is Randy Wallace of KRIV-TV in Houston.  Consider this case he reported on last week:


In addition to all the harm done to this father’s children by being consigned to the hellscape of Texas foster care, consider all the time and resources spent investigating this case, hauling the family into court and finding placements for the children.  All that time money and effort was, in effect, stolen from finding the next Leiliana Wright.

It’s not the first time Houston CPS rushed to confuse poverty with neglect.  Here’s another example.

So why do reporters keep covering the story the same old way – in Texas and elsewhere? 

In the worst cases, it’s an example of what David Simon aptly calls “Pulitzer sniffing.”  Of all the stories you can do in child welfare, the “Who Let [name of child] Die?” story, or better yet, the entire series on the children the child protective services agency “allowed” to die, is the quickest way to cheap glory within the profession.

But like most people in the system itself, most reporters are well-motivated.  So the answer may lie in another video: this 11-minute Ted-X talk from Molly McGrath Tierney, someone who is trying to run a child welfare system the right way:


 In particular I’m struck by what she says about why caseworkers keep taking so many children, knowing – in their heads, at least – how much harm it does them.  It’s at about four minutes and 16 seconds in, where she says:
“[I]t feels good to save kids. We get a great injection of adrenaline when we rush in and our brain responds to that stimuli just like we do anything else that feels good — we want more of it. And when we figure out how to keep returning to that good feeling, we start thinking that, in and of itself, is success. We start mistaking something that feels good to us for something that’s actually helping other people — ‘cause it feels so good, we must be doing the right thing.”
She could as easily have been speaking of a lot of journalists – the ones who actually are well-motivated but who get their righteous-indignation high from writing the “boy-do-I-hate-child-abuse-and-look-how-I-care-more-than-anyone-else” column, or the news story dripping with sneer and swagger instead of the kind of sophistication and nuance Simon calls for.  It feels so good – so they figure they must be doing the right thing.

At best such reporting diverts attention from the real problems besetting child welfare  - and from real solutions.  At worst it encourages foster-care panics, with workers rushing to tear apart many more families needlessly rather than risk being on the front page if they leave a child at home and something goes wrong.

And then, once the panic takes place, papers like the Dallas Morning News solemnly proclaim in an editorial that there has been “a spike in the number of children removed from dangerous home situations.”  In some cases, those home situations really were dangerous; in others they were not.  But the editorial writers, dependent on their own paper’s news coverage, would have little way of knowing that.

I can hear the reporters’ responses now: Oh, so you want us to let incompetent workers and administrators get away with it!  You want to let them stay on the job and let more children die! You want us to ignore child abuse deaths!  You don’t care if children die!

All of which is fully in keeping with the sneer-and-swagger ethos of those journalists.  And all of which is b------t.

The solution to the problems of journalism is more journalism. Those of us who want better child welfare journalism want reporters to do more.  We want reporters to hold caseworkers and administrators accountable, and draw the distinction between accountability and scapegoating, and report on children wrongfully removed from their homes, and report on real solutions.

It’s not that hard. Because some journalists have been getting it right for years, we have a web page full of examples to learn from.

Read more about how to fix child welfare in Texas

Preventing child abuse: Welcome to Child Abuse Paranoia Month


Call CPS:  These children  appear to be
walking somewhere - on their own! 
           Six years ago, I wrote a post about the kind of op-ed column that typically turns up every April during “Child Abuse Prevention/awareness Month.”  There’s also a subset, of sorts.  It’s directed specifically at the issue of child sexual abuse.  Call it the Child Abuse Paranoia Month column. 
       
If we did what the authors of these columns suggest, we’d wind up with a generation of paranoid adults raising a generation of terrified children.  And we’d traumatize tens of thousands of children with needless child abuse investigations and extremely intrusive medical examinations. In fact, we’d be well on our way to recreating the atmosphere of mindless fear that led to the mass molestation hysteria of the 1980s, typified by cases such as the McMartin Preschool.

            This column is a classic example. It starts with the obligatory three bullet points of horror stories and jumps immediately to the claim that “No young child or teenager is inherently safe from sexual abuse.”

            That is, literally, true. Just as no young child or teenager is safe from getting into an auto accident or coming down with a serious illness. But it doesn’t follow that we should never let a child into a car or out of a 100 percent sterile environment. 

            When it comes to “preventing” sexual abuse, however, this column comes close to recommending something similar. The author, Michele Booth Cole, writes: 
So with everything that institutions and people have learned about child sexual abuse, why would a school allow a staff member to be alone with a student behind a closed door? Why are there places on campus where no one can see what’s going on?
             Probably because A) When a child needs to confide something personal to the school nurse or guidance counselor, it makes sense that the door would be closed and B) We don’t want to live in an Orwellian surveillance state with cameras poking into every corner. 

            But nothing better sums up the mentality of the column than one of Cole’s proposed solutions: 
Individually and collectively, we would have to get creative, constantly assessing places and situations to make them as safe as possible for children. Let’s say a school employee needed to give a child a ride home, and only the two of them would be in the car. The adult and/or the child could be on a cell phone the whole time, giving a running description of the drive to the child’s parent or caregiver. 
            Let’s start with the practical problems. Distracted driving, because the driver had to talk on the cell phone the whole time in order to prove he’s not a child molester, is a much greater danger to this child than the exceedingly small likelihood that this school employee will turn out to be the next Jerry Sandusky.  And yes, that also applies to "hands free" cell phone use.  I've put a great big National Safety Council infographic at the end of this post to illustrate just how irresponsible this idea really is. And imagine the panic that would ensue – complete with false alarm calls to 911 - if the signal were dropped.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE

            But the bigger problem is what all this would do to the psyches of our children. 

            Cole says she wants to “inspire adults to create safe, whimsical childhoods for children at all times.”

            But the “solutions” we hear during Child Abuse Paranoia Month don’t put much emphasis on whimsy. On the contrary, from as early as toddlerhood, Cole is talking about raising children to be constantly wary and fearful. We’ve also trained the adults in their lives to be wary of so much as giving them a hug for fear it will be misinterpreted. All that is emotional abuse on a massive scale.

            And it gets worse. Cole writes:
People sometimes ask how to get “bystanders” to report their suspicions of child sexual abuse. Perhaps, as a neighbor or an acquaintance, you just get the feeling that something’s not right, but you’re afraid to raise your concerns.
You may never be sure and you don’t have to be sure. If you report your suspicions, the professionals in law enforcement and child protection will follow up and find out what’s happening. You could literally be saving that child’s life.
            Or you could be bringing down a world of misery upon that child.

            First of all, referring to the child protective services workers who will respond to the call as “professionals” often is a stretch.  In Washington, D.C., where Cole is located, they’re generally well-qualified.  More typically, however, you’re talking about someone with a bachelor’s degree in anything and a quickie training course.  Law enforcement often isn’t any better.

            These total strangers will interrogate the child about the most intimate aspects of her or his life.  That’s what happened in this case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (with my organization’s Vice President acting as pro-bono counsel for the family). 

Often that interrogation will be followed by a medical examination that, if anyone else did it, would be sexual abuse.

All this harm occurs before we even reach the issue of the child protective services worker possibly panicking – depending on whether a high-profile tragedy is in the news at the moment – and consigning a child who was not abused to the chaos of foster care.

            Cole runs a Child Advocacy Center – where the staff try their best to minimize the trauma (though suggesting, as Cole’s center does in a graphic, that the child is having a wonderful time through it all is somewhat misleading). Even when they’re the first to question the child – and that’s not always the case – it’s going to be very difficult for that child.
 
Sometimes all this has to be done anyway.  The problem of child sexual abuse, like all child abuse, is serious and real. But starting this process in motion should be based on more than “you just get the feeling that something’s not right…” (Special note to my liberal friends: How would you feel about a presidential candidate who said we should call the cops about anyone we thought might be a terrorist because we “just got the feeling that something’s not right…”?  UPDATE, APRIL 18: Or consider this story from The New York Times about what happened to a man who spoke Arabic on an airplane.  Liberals would be outraged.  Yet the behavior of the airline is no different from what Cole says we should do to children.)

            Part of the problem is the very fact that Cole runs a Child Advocacy Center. Day after day she sees the very worst that some adults do to some children.  I don’t know how you can do that and not emerge from it feeling that the world is a dark and dangerous place for children. But it’s a distorted view of reality – and another example of the tyranny of personal experience.

          “Imagine what the world would look like,” Cole writes, “if we did everything we could to keep kids safe?”

           Actually, if we went from doing what’s prudent and sensible to doing everything, it would look pretty awful. 
           
          ●It would be a world where children were raised to cower in their homes, afraid of everyone they meet – or running home after so much as seeing a stranger nearby.

          ●It would be a world that destroyed any opportunity to build the self-confidence, self-reliance and independence they’ll need to thrive as adults.  What will our children do when we’re too old to always be there to protect them?

          ●It would be a world in which children were taught to treat normal human kindness as suspect, making it far less likely they will be able to receive such kindness – or give it.

             We’ve already  gone way too far down this road, as Lenore Skenazy, once labeled the “world’s worst mom” for fighting the trend, documents on her Free Range Kids website.

WHOM ARE WE REALLY “PROTECTING”?

            Like so much that is done in the name of “child protection” Child Abuse Paranoia Month columns are not about protecting children at all – they’re about protecting parents.
          
            Specifically it’s about our efforts to protect ourselves from one of the inevitable side-effects of parenthood: Worry - that constant, nagging fear that the worst will happen to our children as soon as they are out of our sight.  (Interestingly, in my own experience, this does not stop when the child becomes a young adult.)

            When our daughter was in college and wanted to spend a semester of her junior year studying in South Africa my wife and I worried – constantly.  The easy way out would have been to say no.   But we let her go, and it turned out to be one of the most important and fulfilling experiences of her life.  (We remain grateful that she did not tell us about going shark diving off Cape Town until after the fact.)

            At other times, I’m sure we gave in to fears when we shouldn’t have. But putting the children first means rising above our own fears as much as we can, whenever it’s prudent.   

           Anything less is not child protection, it’s adult self-indulgence.

Now, about that distracted driving idea...


Hands free not risk free
Provided by The National Safety Council

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Three takes on child welfare and poverty

Former foster parent Mary Callahan has a great column in the Chronicle of Social Change about how the definition of child abuse can vary with the income of the alleged abuser.  It’s already been shared on Facebook more than 540 times.

I have a column in the Chronicle on a similar topic:  Need Evidence That Child Welfare Sees Poverty As Neglect? Step One: Look


And at Youth Today I have a column summing up that a great video from the director of the child welfare system in Baltimore.  It’s called  The Jig is Up, Child Savers: Molly McGrath Tierney Is on to You

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Governor of Texas doubles down on foster care tragedy

Gov. Abbott
The Texas Tribune has a story today about how Gov. Greg Abbott’s desperate effort to keep from being blamed for high-profile child abuse tragedies has led to thousands of low-profile child abuse tragedies.

That’s not how the story put it, but that’s what happened.

The Tribune obtained emails documenting how Abbott pressured the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to cut back drastically on a form of kinship care placement, called “Parental Child Safety Placements” after a child died in such a placement.  (Because, of course, children never die in any other kind of placement.)

Although Abbott’s office apparently cited three cases, one involved a four-year-old who fatally shot himself after finding a gun under a bed in the home of the relative with whom he was placed.  A horrible tragedy but, sadly, not something probably not unknown in all sorts of homes in Texas.  Another didn’t involve a child who was in a “Parental Child Safety Placement” at all.

In fact, study, after study has found that kinship care placements -- whether formal or informal, licensed or unlicensed -- are more stable, better for children’s well-being and, most important, safer than what should properly be called “stranger care.” 

But Gov. Abbott isn’t about to let research get in the way of saving his administration from questions about how his child welfare agency “allowed” a child to die.  So, ignoring the advice of his then child welfare agency chief, John Specia - one of the very few people in Texas child welfare who is almost universally admired - he pressured DFPS to drastically curb these placements.  Specia has since resigned.

The result: This type of placement has been cut in half, and, in 2015, the number of formal entries into foster care skyrocketed by 37 percent over the year before.  That means far more children are now consigned to the formal Texas foster care system.  And by now everyone knows that placing a child in foster care in Texas doesn’t simply put the child at risk of abuse – it almost guarantees it.

HOW TEXAS HIDES ITS TRUE RATE-OF-REMOVAL

The emails also tell us something else:

Some in Texas have claimed they don’t have a wrongful removal problem because the rate of removal supposedly is low.

That’s always been misleading:

● The number of children torn from their parents in Texas each year is escalating rapidly — it soared more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2014 – and that was before the 37 percent increase in 2015.

● The statewide figure hides as much as it reveals. The rate of removal in Dallas is more than 20 percent higher than New York City and more than 90 percent higher than Chicago.

● Among the nation’s biggest cities, children in San Antonio are taken from their homes at the third-highest rate, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.

But now we know something else: The official figures are 100 percent Grade A B------t.

Because Texas has been keeping all those “Parental Child Safety Placements” off the books – not counting them in the figures it reports to the federal government concerning entries into care.

But while kinship care is a better option than stranger care, it’s still foster care.  And a removal counts as a removal regardless of whether the agency goes to court or obtains formal custody.

Federal regulations define foster care as :

24 hour substitute care for all children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the State agency has placement and care responsibility. 
 The regulations go on to say that

the State is required to count a placement that lasts more than 24 hours while the child is in foster care under the placement, care or supervision responsibility of the State agency”
 Note that it does not say “custody” of the agency, only “placement, care or supervision responsibility.”

So yes, Texas is taking away too many children – but DFPS has been “hiding” many of them when it reports entries into care.

CASA’S IDEA OF A “CHAMPION”

One other item is noteworthy in the story.  It concerns the Texas chapter of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

CASA is the most sacred cow in child welfare.  It is a program in which largely white, middle-class volunteers are, in effect, deputized by courts to poke their noses into the homes of people who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately people of color, and pass judgment on how they take care of their children.  (Some CASA chapters actually are projects of the local Junior League.)  As my organization documents here, the results for the children in these families have been predictably awful.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Texas CASA took a look at the record of Greg Abbott, a governor fully committed to the far-right agenda of undermining children’s health, safety and well-being – not just in child welfare, but in all facets of state governement - and declared him to be a “champion for children.”

Read more about how to fix Texas child welfare

Read NCCPR's 2005 report on Texas child welfare