Friday, September 1, 2017

What some lawyers for New York City’s child welfare agency REALLY think of the people they see in Family Court

The lawyers who represent the New York City child welfare agency in Family Court have been known to complain about how much work they have to do.  But some of them seem to have a lot of time on their hands.

The New York Times reports that three lawyers for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and a fourth from the Legal Aid Society, which represents children in child welfare cases, took pictures of people in Family Court, probably parents and other adult family members, then posted the pictures on Facebook and exchanged crude, demeaning banter about the attire of those they photographed.

According to the Times:
 State law … prohibits taking photographs inside a courthouse, including hallways, without permission of the chief administrator of courts. The photos, including one of an obese woman with an emoji superimposed over her face, appeared to have been taken surreptitiously.

ACS Commissioner David Hansell issued the customary denunciation of this behavior, telling the Times that it is “completely inconsistent with our agency culture and expectations…”

But is it?

On the one hand, there are a lot of lawyers working for ACS. There is no evidence that all, or even most of them think this way.

But what does it say about the culture at ACS that even some lawyers felt free to engage in this behavior – and post the results on Facebook? Apparently they did not fear discipline, or even censure from their peers.

Also:

● Anthropologist Tina Lee, who spent 14 months “embedded” with all key players in the New York City system wrote in her book, Catching a Case:

I often … witnessed disrespectful or callous comments made about parents and families by attorneys between cases or in hallways and elevators. … I heard attorneys and court officers openly make fun of parents and their problems between cases…

● Lee did her field work at ACS and Family Court in 2008. But Joyce McMillan, Director of Programming for New York’s Child Welfare Organizing Project says:

It has changed only  a little.  Parents still voice concerns about how they treated regularly. … I have great concern that the legal representatives in this article were so comfortable with their behavior they posted it on social media. This level of disrespect is indicative of a culture that is detrimental to preserving families.

● This story comes just weeks after the Times story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow” – documenting case after case of needless removal of children, rooted in biases against poor people, especially people of color.

● And, of course, Study after study documents both the racial bias and the class bias built into the American child welfare system.

Why should the lawyers be different?


Why should we expect ACS lawyers to be different from the “Blogger of the Year” for the so-called Chronicle of Social Change, an online child welfare trade journal, who, in criticizing the Times story, dredged up an odious racial stereotype

As she reminds us in every column she writes, the “Blogger of the Year” was a social worker for the Washington, D.C. child welfare agency for five years.  The editors of the Chronicle, the Fox News of child welfare, have not apologized or in any way distanced themselves from her hateful column.

And, once again, I hope the rest of America will keep in mind that most systems are worse than the one in New York City.

So the next time New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio or a member of the New York State Legislature whines about judges refusing to simply rubber-stamp ACS recommendations to tear apart families, keep in mind the baggage that some ACS caseworkers and some ACS lawyers are dragging into the courtroom with them.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Remember when Joe Arpaio’s men allegedly threatened to have a reporter’s children taken away?

Joe Arpaio (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Among the many unpardonable (or is that the wrong word?) things that allegedly happened during the reign of former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, let’s not forget the time two of his top deputies allegedly threatened to have a reporter’s children taken from her.

According to a report from another county sheriff’s office, it happened several times. According to the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times, “’[The reporter] was always threatened that her child would end up in the hands of CPS, which was very upsetting to her,’ the report states.”

It allegedly happened in 2009, but didn’t come to light until two years later. I wrote about it at the time, and that post is reprinted below.  A couple of updates:

● In the 2011 post, I discussed a foster-care panic ending in Florida and continuing in Arizona.  Now, Florida is panicking again and in Arizona, at long last, the foster-care panic may be ending.

● The post criticizes coverage of child welfare in the Arizona Republic. That coverage improved significantly over the past year, as a result of a new project led by reporter Bob Ortega. Unfortunately, Ortega recently left the Republic to join the investigative unit of CNN, to it is not clear whether the progress will continue.

Here’s the original post:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Child welfare in Arizona: They don’t threaten reporters, do they?

Two top deputies in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office allegedly threatened to retaliate against a reporter by taking away her child.  That should give Arizona journalists second thoughts about their embrace of unchecked power to intervene in families – but it probably won't.

It took Florida seven years to end the foster-care panic that swept through the state starting in 1999.  But with Florida having reversed course and made children saferwhile significantly reducing entries into care, there now is a new record-holder for perennial foster care panic: Arizona.

That state’s panic started much like Florida’s: First a high-profile death of a child “known to the system” then a new governor embraces a take-the-child-and-run approach. In Florida it was a Republican, Jeb Bush, in Arizona it was a Democrat, Janet Napolitano.  (In child welfare idiocy tends to be bipartisan.) 

Just four days after taking office Napolitano told caseworkers to just take away the kids “and we’ll sort it out later.”

Although there are strong indications Napolitano herself realized within months that this was a huge mistake, she never said so publicly.  Now, more than eight years later, Arizona still hasn’t sorted it out.  Details are in our report on Arizona child welfare.  The Arizona Foster-Care panic has broken Florida’s record.   Nationwide, between 2002 and 2010 entries into foster care over the course of a year declined nearly 15 percent.  In Arizona they soared 70 percent, with no end in sight.

As always with foster-care panics, the one in Arizona backfired.  All those false allegations and trivial cases and all that needless removal of children from their homes further overloaded caseworkers leaving them less time to find children in real danger.  So the cycle of failure continues year after year. Every few years, when a new high-profile case or cases grabs headlines, everyone repeats the same mistakes – like assuming that the solution is to encourage everyone to report their slightest suspicions to CPS, further overloading the system.  As a matter of fact, that’s happening right now.

And sometimes it gets worse.  Although politicians started the Arizona Foster Care Panic, a lot of the responsibility for keeping it going rests with the state’s press corps.  The one reporter at a daily newspaper in the state who really came to understand child welfare, Karina Bland of the Arizona Republic, was transferred off the beat several years ago.  So whenever there were signs the panic might abate, someone at the Republic in Phoenix and/or the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson would respond to a horror story by pouring on the hype and hysteria and start it up again. 

It’s not that these reporters didn’t hear from parents who said they were falsely accused or threatened with removal of their children for no good reason, perhaps as retaliation for being insufficiently cooperative with authorities.  It’s just that, like many reporters across the country, the journalists at the big Arizona dailies rolled their eyes and figured it was probably just some lousy parent making up excuses.

But one would think they’d reconsider after it happened to one of their own.

Actually, it happened a couple of years ago, but only became public in May, and I just stumbled on it this week.  It’s all explained in this story from the “Valley Fever” Blogon the website of the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times.

The story revolves around one of the many scandals involving the right-wing sheriff of Maricopa County, (metropolitan Phoenix) Joe Arpaio.  (The “Valley Fever” home pageon the New Times website includes a countdown clock – or, more accurately a count-up clock, ticking off the days that the sheriff has been under investigation by the federal government. Click on it and you’ll get to a page with 15 years of New Timesinvestigative stories about Arpaio and his office.)

But here’s the bottom line. According to the Valley Fever post on May 13, a reporter for the Republic, Yvonne Wingett-Sanchez, says two deputy chiefs of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Dave Hendershott and Paul Chagolla, threatened to arrest her  – and take away her child – because the reporter was doing her job. The story quotes from a report on an investigation of Arpaio’s office done by the sheriff in another county.  Here’s the relevant section of the story:

A year [after the incident], after Arpaio had put Hendershott on administrative leave, Wingett complained to [sheriff’s office spokeswoman] Lisa Allen that he and Chagolla repeatedly had threatened to arrest her over the incident.

"Next week, Yvonne, you're going to be arrested ... and your child is going to end up with Child Protective Services," they said, Wingett Sanchez told Allen, adding that she could barely speak about it without getting "emotional."

The threats to Wingett Sanchez came in person and, at least once, by telephone, Allen reported.  "She was always threatened that her child would end up in the hands of CPS, which was very upsetting to her," the report states.

So maybe some of those parents some of those Arizona reporters have been rolling their eyes about aren’t so crazy after all.  And maybe the kind of unchecked power law enforcement and child protective services have in the child welfare arena isn’t such a great idea after all.

It’s not only reporters at the dailies who could learn from this story.  If this little itemin the Valley Fever Blog itself is any indication, it seems that when the reporter who understood these issues best, Sarah Fenske, left New Times to become managing editor of Riverfront Times in St. Louis, the paper’s institutional memory concerning these issues left with her.


In fact, it’s not just journalists who could learn from this story.  I’ve often written about the hypocrisy of  some of my fellow liberals - those on the left who forget everything they claim to believe in about civil liberties when someone whispers the words “child abuse” in their ears. (The response among many on the left to the FLDS case in Texas being a prime example.)  But there’s plenty of hypocrisy among those on the right who say they’re against state interference in families and abuse of power by “big government” - but love people like Joe Arpaio. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Another study documents the transformative power of cash

It also illustrates child welfare’s tendency to confuse poverty with “neglect.”


Behold!  A revolutionary new program to prevent child neglect!

“The rich are different from you and me.”
“Yes. They have more money”
--Exchange attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway,

Want to cut the rate of child “neglect” in America by ten percent? You don’t need another task force or study commission, you don’t need to hire more caseworkers, you don’t need a predictive analytics algorithm and you don’t need to put more families under surveillance and shovel them into meaningless counseling and parent education.

All you need is cash.

Specifically, raise the minimum wage by just $1 an hour.

That’s the finding of a new study from researchers at the University of Indiana and the University of Connecticut.

According to Indiana University’s press release on the study, the researchers

reached their conclusions by analyzing nine years of child maltreatment reports from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. More than 30 states had minimum wages exceeding the federal requirement by an average of $1 during the study period, allowing the researchers to track changes in the number of reports to child protective service agencies with increases in the minimum wage. …
"Money matters," [study co-author Lindsey Rose] Bullinger said. "When caregivers have more disposable income, they're better able to provide a child's basic needs such as clothing, food, medical care and a safe home. Policies that increase the income of the working poor can improve children's welfare, especially younger children, quite substantially."

It is, of course, a testament to the willful blindness of the child welfare system, and its obsession with treating what we define as child neglect as a public health problem instead of a social justice problem, that people in child welfare even need studies to tell them that parents do better at providing basic needs for their children when they have more money.

The findings are consistent with other studies

This is not the only study to reach similar conclusions. 

As this latest study notes:

The direction and magnitude of our results are consistent with what others have found. Cancian et al. (2013) found that only a modest increase in income of $100 per year reduced the likelihood of a child maltreatment report by 2 percentage points. Moreover, Berger, Font, Slack, and Waldfogel (2013) found that a $1000 increase in income via the EITC [Earned Income Tax Credit] decreased the probability of CPS involvement by 7–10%.

And here’s a story about another study documenting the transformative power of cash.

The latest study also is still more evidence of the single biggest problem in child welfare: the confusion of poverty with neglect. After all, if child welfare systems weren’t confusing poverty itself with neglect, then simply ameliorating poverty would not reduce neglect. Yet, lo and behold, it does! Or rather, it reduces what child protective services agencies label neglect.

Of course, if you actually did refocus child abuse prevention on alleviating poverty there’d also be an income reduction problem: A lot of counselors, parent educators and assorted other professionals who provide help that makes the helpers feel good, instead of what really helps families, would have to find other jobs.

The Indiana University-University of Connecticut study is part of a “special issue” of a child welfare journal “on the economic causes and consequences of child maltreatment.”

But the real answer doesn’t need an entire scholarly journal. It’s simple:

The poor are different from you and me. They have less money.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

NYC child welfare officials can’t get their story straight

Still another ACS official makes still another claim about the New York City foster-care panic

 Before anyone reads this, I recommend checking out this brilliant op-ed column in The New York Times by Emma Ketteringham of the Bronx Defenders. It explains everything that the editors of the Chronicle of Social Change, and their “Blogger of the Year,” don’t understand about child welfare.

In the previous post to this blog I discussed the resurrection of an odious racial stereotype in a column in the Chronicle of Social Change – the Fox News of child welfare. The stereotype appears in a column by the Chronicle’s “Blogger of the Year,” Marie Cohen, in which she complains about the New York Times story on foster care as the new “Jane Crow.”

But Cohen’s column did serve one useful purpose.  It brings us still another official from the New York City child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, contradicting claims made by his colleagues concerning the extent of the foster-care panic in New York – the sharp spike in removals that tends to follow high-profile tragedies.

ACS Commissioner David Hansell told WNYC Public Radio there had been no increase at all.  A deputy, Andrew White, contradicted him, claiming that removals had increased, but only at about the same rate as the increase in reports passed on from the state child abuse hotline for investigation. The Center for New York City Affairs said both had increased by about 20 percent.

But now Cohen tells us she was told by ACS that “ACS investigated 27,549 allegations of maltreatment in the first five months of 2017, 2,000 more than in the first five months of 2016” – that would be an increase of less than eight percent – while removals increased 20 percent.

Cohen makes other claims about ACS data that are wrong, however.

She misreads the data when she suggests that ACS is responding with more use of family preservation.  There has, indeed, been a sharp increase in cases under “court supervision.”  But that does not mean ACS is providing more help – only that the “help” is being provided with more surveillance and more hoops to jump through.  As the Center for New York City Affairs explains in its report, that’s actually led to less help for families.

Cohen is correct in noting that the rate at which children are removed from their homes is lower in New York City than most places – though not all. Chicago is lower, and independent court-appointed  monitors have found that the reforms which reduced foster care in the state-run Illinois system improved child safety.

Child safety also improved in New York City as the number of children taken away each year declined.

But, as Cohen is quick to point out, there are still horror stories, such as the death of Zymere Perkins. They have the same kinds of horror stories in all those places that take away, proportionately, far more children.  (That means, of course, that the very real problems exposed by the Times are probably far worse almost everywhere else in America.)

Perhaps if caseworkers spend less time harassing parents such as those profiled by the Times they’ll find the next Zymere Perkins before it’s too late. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Foster care, racial bias and the Fox News of child welfare

Chronicle of Social Change should apologize for column that revives an odious racial stereotype


As many of my friends know, I often referred to writing for a child welfare trade journal that calls itself the Chronicle of Social Change as analogous to being the token liberal at Fox News. It’s not that the Chronicle has a right-wing agenda, but it has a strong take-the-child-and-run agenda.  (The issue of writing for them is moot – they’ve rejected my last four columns, including this one.)

But I didn’t think even the Chronicle would allow blatant racial stereotyping in its columns.  My mistake.

Shortly after The New York Times published its landmark story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow” a more truly fair and balanced trade journal, Youth Today, decided the story was so important it linked to the story from the top of its homepage.  The Chronicle, on the other hand, treated the story the way Fox News treats revelations about Russian meddling in the 2016 election: Story? What story?

Until, that is, Marie Cohen was ready to complain about the Times story. Cohen is the Chronicle’s 2016 “Blogger of the Year.”  Her views often are similar to those of Chronicle publisher Daniel Heimpel.  Both are, like most people in child welfare, well motivated. In their own way, both really want to help vulnerable children. But that does not excuse what Cohen wrote, or the fact that the Chronicle published it without even a disclaimer - and promoted it on social media.

Cohen’s argument seems to be that the Times dared to report on the problem of needless removal of children in New York City without discussing in detail, in the same story, the fact that sometimes children known to the city’s child welfare agency die. She cited a recent case in point, the death of Zymere Perkins. In fact, the Times has published scores of stories on such tragedies. The fact that the Times devoted even one story to wrongful removal is simply more than Cohen can bear.

Had she stopped there, then the column would have been pretty much like almost every other column Cohen writes. But she didn’t stop there.  And that’s where the racial stereotyping comes in.

The sneaker stereotype


Though the Times story cited many cases of needless removal, Cohen focuses only on one.  The way she writes about it is disturbing.

Here’s how the Times story actually begins:

Maisha Joefield thought she was getting by pretty well as a young single mother in Brooklyn, splurging on her daughter, Deja, even though money was tight. When Deja was a baby, she bought her Luvs instead of generic diapers when she could. When her daughter got a little older, Ms. Joefield outfitted the bedroom in their apartment with a princess bed for Deja, while she slept on a pullout couch.

Here’s how Cohen paraphrases that paragraph and comments on it:

Reporters Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg began with a description of Maisha Joefield, a mother who “splurged” on her daughter even when money was tight. For example, the reporters added helpfully, Ms. Joefield “bought her Luvs instead of generic diapers when she could.”
It is odd to me that the authors seem to consider splurging on brand-name diapers, sneakers, or apparel to be an indicator of good motherhood.

Sneakers?  What sneakers?  The Times story never mentions sneakers – or any other “apparel” aside from the diapers.

I don’t know why Cohen brought sneakers into the discussion. I do know that there is a crude, pernicious racial stereotype that says African-Americans are poor because they waste money on expensive sneakers. 

It’s a staple of right-wing rants on internet comment boards. In one such rant on Glenn Beck’s site, The Blaze, about “HOW TO PREVENT BLACK CHILDREN FROM GETTING MURDERED” (caps in the original, of course) a commenter writes: “#5 INSTEAD OF BUYING THEM EXPENSIVE SNEAKERS AND SMARTPHONES - BE A REAL PARENT.” 

(If editors at the Chronicle still don’t see the problem, I recommend they  read this.)

The Chronicle not only published Cohen’s exercise in stereotyping, it promoted it on Twitter and Facebook. Heimpel even promoted it in his personal twitter feed. All this, just four days after the tragedy in Charlottesville, a time when, one would hope, editors would be extra careful about racial stereotypes.
 
By the way, if you did not see the part about sneakers when you clicked on the link to Cohen’s column, it means that the Chronicle decided to sanitize it by editing out the offensive words, while leaving the rest of the column. (As is discussed below, there’s a precedent for that.)  So on the right you'll find a screenshot of the original, just in case.

Coping with issues of race


This is not the first time Cohen has had difficulty coping with issues of child welfare and race.

In another column, Cohen claimed that a group known as the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare “quietly suspended its work” a claim so obviously false the Chronicle felt compelled to add a correction – but only after it had stood uncorrected for weeks.

Or consider Cohen’s take on “predictive analytics” a form of computerized racial profiling, that I have called the stop-and-frisk of child welfare.

During the 2016 campaign, former house speaker and early Donald Trump supporter Newt Gingrich said this in defense of stop-and-frisk:

You run into liberals who would rather see people killed than have the kind of aggressive policing … And a lot of the people whose lives were saved because of policing in neighborhoods that needed it the most, were minority Americans.

Here’s what Cohen, a self-proclaimed liberal, originally wrote about predictive analytics in child welfare:

As to the concern about racial profiling that has haunted the predictive analytics debate, I find it very hypocritical. Letting more black children die to protect them from racial profiling cannot possibly be an ethical approach or one that is endorsed by responsible child welfare leaders.

The Chronicle persuaded Cohen to delete the paragraph, but it was briefly published by mistake.

In yet another column, Cohen complains that “As a social worker in the District of Columbia, I was subjected to multiple low-quality, heavy-handed trainings that tried to help me discover my hidden biases.”

The Chronicle owes the African-American community, and all of its readers, an apology for publishing a column from its “Blogger of the Year” that indulges in racial stereotyping. 

 Another cheap shot at the mother


The sneaker remark was not Cohen’s only comment about Ms. Joefield’s case. Here again is what the Times wrote:

One night, exhausted, Ms. Joefield put Deja to bed, and plopped into a bath with her headphones on.
“By the time I come out, I’m looking, I don’t see my child,” said Ms. Joefield, who began frantically searching the building. Deja, who was 5, had indeed headed for the grandmother’s house when she couldn’t find her mother,[as she had been taught to do] but the next thing Ms. Joefield knew, it was a police matter.

Here is Cohen’s reaction:

The reporters quote legal aid attorney Scott Hechinger as saying, “In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s … a story to tell later … In a poor community, it’s called endangering the future of your child.”
I don’t know where Mr. Hechinger lives, but I have never heard of a friend or neighbor alone with a small child putting on earphones and listening to music so loud with the bathroom door presumably closed that her child could not hear her.

First of all, the fact that Cohen hasn’t heard of something doesn’t mean it never happened.  If a friend or neighbor had done this, or made any other mistake in the course of raising a child,  s/he might not rush to confide in Marie Cohen. 

And, apparently Cohen doesn’t live near any New York Times editors. 

While discussing the story on WNYC Public Radio, one of the Times reporters, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, said that after the story ran, she got an email from an editor at the Times who said something similar had happened to him. One night “one of his daughters woke up and couldn’t find him, or couldn’t see him immediately, and she wandered out in her underwear to a neighbor’s house.” Yes, it was “panic-inducing” at the time, but now it’s just a funny story. The editor told Silver-Greenberg that “This has become family lore.”

Cohen might argue that the Times editor did not specify where he was; he says nothing about bathing or headphones. But the point is, his child couldn’t find him and did exactly what Ms. Joefield’s child did.

 “Pockets Full of Stones”


Not that Cohen is alone in her sentiments. Some readers expressed similar views in the comments section for the Times story. That prompted this response from someone identified only as LF:

I love these sanctimonious, would-be-perfect-parents-if-they-ever-had-kids commenters with their pockets full of stones. They would never, NEVER take a bath after the kids were down for the night. Heavens! They would never walk downstairs to the front door with a child alone upstairs. Abuse!
No, these glorious specimens of perfect, theoretical motherhood wouldn't sleep, eat, bathe or use the bathroom. They would follow the child around, day and night - filthy, haggard, unwashed, eating the occasional granola bar, dressed in an adult diaper, with their eyes pinned open, Clockwork Orange style, just staring, staring, staring at their child. That's how you raise the perfect child, apparently - with constant, frantic monitoring. Oh, how well-adjusted those kids are going to be.

Cohen’s column also displays a misunderstanding of key data provided by the New York City child welfare agency. That will be discussed on this blog tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shock and outrage as child welfare agency treats people like US the way they usually treat people like THEM

UPDATE, AUGUST 28: Now there's even MORE shock and outrage: WCVB-TV has done a third story about this case. They even asked the governor about it.  The station also reports that, according to the state Department of Children and Families "the social worker who initiated the investigation is no longer employed with the agency."

Amazing how much media and political response you get when something like this happens to middle-class white people.

           Massachusetts State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell is furious at the state child welfare agency, the Department of Children and Families. She is shocked - shocked! - about how DCF treated a family.

          According to the investigative unit of Boston  television station WCVB it all began with a report to the state child abuse hotline of small bruises on one of the children. Then, according to the story, “…young children were strip-searched and emotionally scarred by state investigators who showed up at their home late at night.” 
According to the investigative reporting unit of Boston
Mass. State Rep. Shaunna O'Connell

            The next morning, the father said, “my four-year-old asked my wife, ‘Is DCF going to take us forever?’”

            Said Rep. O’Connell: “You can’t just barge into someone’s house like that when clearly there’s not evidence for it, scare their kids, scare their family …” she said. “As a mom, I can’t imagine that happening to my kids.”

            Of course you say you can’t, Rep. O’Connell.  And of course you can’t either, outraged journalists. Because this was one of those incredibly rare cases in which the victimized parents were white, middle-class foster parents.  The original report alleging abuse was made by a caseworker who noticed the small bruises on a foster child.  The foster child was immediately moved to another home. The family’s birth children were stripsearched and traumatized.

            As for Rep. O’Connell’s claim that you can’t do things like this to families with no evidence, what she must have meant was, you can’t do this to white, middle class families without evidence. CPS agencies can and do behave this way in poor neighborhoods routinely.

            In fact it’s so routine that a searing account of how such agencies really work, just published in The New Yorker began this way:
 What should you do if child-protective services comes to your house? You will hear a knock on the door, often late at night. You don’t have to open it, but if you don’t the caseworker outside may come back with the police. The caseworker will tell you you’re being investigated for abusing or neglecting your children. She will tell you to wake them up and tell them to take clothes off so she can check their bodies for bruises and marks. [Emphasis added].

In Massachusetts, this kind of needless strip-searching has been routine for decades. Long ago, when I interviewed Massachusetts caseworkers for my book, Wounded Innocents, one of their complaints was pressure from higher-ups to keep expanding the number of cases for which stripsearches are required.  And it continues today. As Massachusetts attorney Andrew Hoffman told me.

I have had numerous cases involving allegations of physical abuse in which DCF demands that parents allow the removal of the child's clothing to view relevant body parts, under threat of legal action.  I have also had cases in which this occurred at day care or school, without the parent present, and DCF instructs the school personnel or daycare provider that it is necessary.

It could have been so much worse


The foster family is right to be outraged at what happened to their children. Rep. O'Connell is right to be outraged as well. But keep in mind that a late-night knock at the door and a stripsearch is about the least amount of harm a child protective services agency can do.  Had the allegation been sexual abuse, the children would have faced an exam far more intrusive than a stripsearch.  And, of course, the children were never, for even a moment, taken from the home.

The fact that even this much harm happened to this particular family is roughly the equivalent of a police car pulling up alongside a middle class white man walking down a suburban street, the officers getting out and then, for no particular reason, throwing the man up against the nearest white picket fence and frisking him.  I’ve never heard of that happening to a middle-class white guy - but if it does, it will cause the kind of outrage among the middle class and the politically-powerful that routine stop-and-frisk in poor communities does not.

And stop-and-frisk is an apt analogy for another reason: According to a recent study, a majority of Black children will be forced to endure a child abuse investigation before they turn 18. (The study did not break down the data by income level, so we can only imagine how common this kind of experience is for poor people of color.)  Oh, and in most of those cases there is no allegation of any bruise at all. It’s usually an allegation of neglect.

The reason Rep. O’Connell says she can’t imagine it happening to her kids is because, in fact, she finally can imagine it – because, on this very rare occasion, it actually happened to kids of the same status and the same color as her kids. When it happens day after day after day to poor families of color, lawmakers either never hear about it or choose to ignore it.

Unfortunately, with rare exceptions such as the New Yorker story, the New York Times story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow” and a few others, journalists ignore it, too.

In an interview with WCVB, the father whose children were stripsearched, John DeMalia, summed up his reaction this way: “Fear they were about to take my kids,” he told WCVB. The story continues:
  "You're opening your home to help these other children and now they're threatening to take away your own." That's why the family has decided to close their licensed foster home, a blow -- albeit a small one -- to a child welfare system that doesn’t have enough foster homes for the number of children in the system.

Or, as DeMalia put it:
 We can't help these children anymore because of what [DCF] put our kids through, my children have to come first and I can't expose them to this again.
 But there is one thing DeMalia didn’t say; or if he did, it never got into the story.  It’s something aggrieved foster parents almost never say.

While what the DeMalia family went through is rare, other problems, such as arbitrary treatment, lack of information, and general disrespect of foster parents are more common – even though child welfare systems urgently need good foster parents.  Occasionally, someone such as former foster parent Mary Callahan will draw the obvious conclusion.  But she’s the exception. Whenever I read stories about the legitimate grievances of foster parents, I keep waiting for just one of them to say something like this:

“I never used to believe the things birth parents told me about how they were treated. But they really need me, and if this is how they treat me, how are they treating birth parents?”


Friday, August 11, 2017

NYC child welfare chief’s claims about entries into foster care are contradicted by his agency’s own data

David Hansell
See the update at the end of this post for a brief response from an ACS deputy commissioner - and a somewhat longer reply from NCCPR.

The deputy commissioner's own tweet makes clear there is no longer any dispute over WHETHER the number of children torn from their parents in New York City is increasing, only over the size of that increase.

I would like to think that the Commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services, David Hansell, was simply misled by his own staff. But for whatever reason, he made a claim on WNYC Public Radio’s Brian Lehrer Show today that is contradicted by data made public by ACS itself.

Hansell sought to refute data presented in both The New York Times and The New Yorker showing that the number of children torn from their parents in New York City soared after the death of Zymere Perkins – a classic foster-care panic.

Hansell claimed that, in spite of an increase in reports alleging child abuse (as almost always happens after a high profile tragedy), there had been no increase in the number of children placed in foster care.

But statistics provided by ACS itself show that, contrary to Hansell’s claim, entries into foster care have soared in the wake of the death of Zymere Perkins, just as The New Yorker and The New York Times reported.  Have a look at page 9 of ACS’ “Monthly Flash Indicators” report for June, 2017.

That report shows that the number of children taken from their parents in May 2017 was double the number in May 2016.  On the same page of the same report for July, 2017, the data show that in June 2017, the number of children removed was 50 percent higher than June 2016.

So not only are entries increasing, they are increasing at a significantly higher rate than reports alleging child abuse or neglect. [ACS denies the increase is this high, see update below.]

Hansell also made some comments concerning confidentiality that are not entirely correct. He implied that ACS can never comment about a particular case. But New York State law allows Hansell to comment under many circumstances, including when a parent has come forward to tell her or his side of the story. Here’s the law.

We have more about how Hansell is UN-reforming ACS here

UPDATE, 9:30PM: 


Andrew White, ACS Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Planning, has sent out some tweets arguing that the figures under the heading “Children Removed” at the bottom of Page 9 of ACS’ reports, only represent some categories of removals. He implied that other categories are down.  But he offers no specific figures.

The closest he comes to an estimate of his own is a tweet in which he writes:

Accurate number is that placements in care are up about as much as investigations this year, but census down 22% since 2014.

There are a whole slew of problems with this response:

● Even assuming White is correct, he’s still contradicting his boss. Hansell said there has been no increase in removals.  If, in fact, removals are rising at the same rate as investigations then that’s probably an increase of about 20 percent. Indeed, that’s exactly the figure used by the Center for New York City affairs in its own recent report on ACS.

● White’s implication, of course, is that an increase in removals at the same rate as an increase in investigations is perfectly normal. It’s not.  Rather, during a foster-care panic the proportion of reports alleging maltreatment that are, to use the polite term, nonsense, is likely to increase. (I call it the Sandusky Rule and discuss it, and the evidence for it, in detail in this previous post.)

● The line about the “census” being down appears to be an attempt to change the subject. The term census usually is applied to the number of children in foster care on any given day – a “snapshot” of a particular point in time. That can be influenced by all sorts of factors other than a jurisdiction’s propensity for removing children in the first place.

The issue here is entries into care – the number of children taken away over the course of a month or a year. Indeed, if the snapshot number is going down even as entries are going up it may be a further indication of foster-care panic. ACS may be rushing to take away children, quickly realizing they made a mistake and then sending them home again – much the worse for the experience.

● And whether measuring entries or the “census” 2014 is an odd, arbitrary year to choose as a baseline. The issue is not what’s happened since 2014 but what’s happened since September 2016 – when Zymere Perkins died, setting off the foster-care panic.