Monday, February 7, 2011

Who is in foster care? The lie at the heart of CR’s fundraising campaign

Repeatedly on this  blog I have criticized the group that so arrogantly calls itself Children's Rights (CR).  I've done that even though I believe the group’s founder, Marcia Lowry, and the people who work for her have good intentions.  I think they believe what they do helps children, and I'm on record taking issue with those who have questioned the group's motives.

I continue to believe all that - even though, a few months ago, CR began a new fundraising campaign built on a lie.

Not simply a statement that is misleading or disingenuous, but an out-and-out lie.

This is the lie: The group claims that "right now, there are nearly 500,000 abused and neglected children in foster care."

The problem isn't that the figure is a bit out of date and the actual number probably is closer to 424,000.  Whatever the exact number, it is way too high.

The lie is the claim that all of these children were abused or neglected before they came into foster care.

Of course some of the children were, indeed, abused or neglected before they came into foster care.  Some even were abused in a way that fits the stereotypes of sadism and brutality conjured up by the claim.  But certainly not all of them.  Probably not even close.


I'm not talking here about things like the confusion of poverty with neglect - areas where one can dispute whether the child was abused or neglected.

Rather I am talking about the basic, fundamental fact that children can be trapped for months in foster care before any judge ever decides whether the children were, in fact, abused or neglected in the first place.  They may even be torn from everyone they know and love, consigned to foster care for months, and then sent home without any neutral arbiter ever determining if there was any abuse at all.

In a presentation at an Urban Institute forum in 2010, John Mattingly, commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, and no friend of family preservation, complained about court delays making cases drag on for months.  Among other things, he said this:

We are returning families [sic] home before we’ve even decided they abused or neglected their children.

And Mattingly was basing his comment on data from one of CR’s own reports. 

Here’s how it happens:

In all 50 states child protective services workers can take away children entirely on their own authority if those workers believe the case is an emergency and they don't have time to go to a judge first.  In some states they can do it themselves, in the others they can call law enforcement to do it for them.  Even when a judge approves the removal at a hearing a few days later, that doesn't mean the judge has determined that there was abuse and neglect.  Rather, the judge is holding the child in foster care until such a determination is made. 

It is much like someone accused of a crime who is in jail, not because he is a criminal, but simply because he can't make bail before trial.  Just as everyone in jail is not a criminal, every child in foster care was not abused or neglected before being taken away.  And it's not as if CR, which was after all founded by a lawyer and is led by lawyers, isn't aware of this. 


In fact, there are two lies in CR's fundraising campaign - first, when they say that "right now, there are nearly 500,000 abused and neglected children in foster care” and then, when they refer to all of those children who are abused in foster care itself as suffering "further abuse" [Emphasis added].  That second lie fails to account for the fact that there are some children who never were abused until they were placed in foster care.  Children like, to cite just one example back in the news lately, Logan Marr.

So why did CR launch a campaign built on a lie?  You'd have to ask them - and I wish someone would. 

Certainly it’s puzzling since, if the goal is to find permanent homes for children, then the statement works just as well the honest way, by saying simply that there are nearly 500,000 children in foster care.

Perhaps CR wants to reinforce the false stereotype that all parents who lose their children to foster care are brutally abusive or hopelessly addicted.  Perhaps they want people to believe that bad as foster care can be, it can't possibly be worse than leaving the children with their "abusive" or "neglectful" parents.  Perhaps they want people to believe that even when children are abused in foster care, there is no such thing as a child who never was abused until he was placed in foster care.

Certainly, if people believe the lie, they are less likely to ask CR why their lawsuits and settlements keep ignoring the best option for most children most of the time: not taking them away in the first place.  They won't ask CR why they've actually undermined such efforts in Tennessee, Georgia and Michigan (see the section of our second Michigan report starting on Page 30).

Perhaps it's just easier to use horror stories to get people to give money - even when the whole campaign is built on a lie.