Thursday, June 9, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: How Marcia Lowry helps to make poor people poorer

Two stories starkly illustrate why Marcia Lowry and the group she runs, the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights” (CR) may be one of the most harmful forces in American child welfare, and a threat to poor people across the country.

 The first story, from the Detroit News, is one of many about a foster care worker / child abuse caseworker hiring binge in Michigan as a result of the dreadful consent decree the state entered into with CR.  The hiring binge and other settlement requirements are going to cost the state $70 million this year.  (Of the many stories, this is the only one to raise any questions about priorities.)

And how does a state that was among the hardest hit by the recession propose to pay for all this?  In part by throwing 12,600 people off the welfare rolls. If the plan becomes law, the expulsions will be immediate, there will be no time for those kicked off to even try to find some other way to support their families.  This comes on top of years of cuts in prevention and family preservation programs in order to finance the settlement and a rate increase for “residential treatment” centers.  Details are in our reports on Michigan child welfare.

Jackie Doig of the Center for Civil Justice in Saginaw asked will happen when the parents thrown off welfare can’t afford to feed or house their children: “Are they just going to remove the children and put them into foster care?”


And 700 newly-minted caseworkers will be ready to come and get them.

Because while Marcia loves to negotiate settlements that call for spending more on child abuse investigations and foster care, the settlements never specify that states can’t get the money by cutting prevention family preservation and other help for impoverished families. So of course, governments go after those least able to fight back.  After all these years, surely Marcia could have figured that out.

Still, you’ve got to give Marcia credit for salesmanship.  While the left will blast the welfare cuts, lots of liberals love Marcia and her group, taking no notice of her role in those cuts.

But Marcia does not love liberals back. Marcia’s group used to be a project of the American Civil Liberties Union.  But Marcia told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that she left the ACLU in part because too much of what that group did was tied to a “liberal agenda.”  (Of course, leaving the ACLU also may have made her more appealing to Carl Icahn, the corporate raider who once chaired her Board of Directors).

So Marcia keeps on suckering liberal donors, and then using their money to win settlements that harm poor people.


As for why I keep referring to her group as arrogant, for one reason, just check out what was revealed at the first court hearing in connection with their suit in Texas.

Children cannot bring civil lawsuits on their own; it has to be done by someone known in legal jargon as a “next friend” – meaning someone deemed knowledgeable enough and caring enough to act in the child’s best interests.

In the Texas suit two of the next friends don’t even know the children they “represent.”  The rest were the children’s guardians ad litem in their individual cases.  But while in most cases CR’s Complaint specifies that the “next friends” have visited their clients, in three cases the Complaint makes no such claim – which raises an obvious question.

At the first hearing on the suit it was revealed that at least two of the “next friends” have not even bothered to tell the children they “represent” that they have brought suit on their behalf – even though these children are old enough to understand and to have a say in whether they want to be a part of the lawsuit.

And this isn’t the first time issues like this have arisen in connection with a CR suit.

This is one more indication of the dehumanizing, bureaucratic mentality that characterizes CR.  It’s hard to imagine an organization that saw children as flesh-and-blood human beings treating them this way. But it’s easy to see how that can come from a group that sees children only as numbers and case files.

That helps explain why it’s so easy for CR to accept funding its settlements by taking the money out of poor people’s pockets.