Thursday, May 26, 2011

Foster care in Texas: This time seeing is believing

Some of the best child welfare reporting anywhere in the country is being done by Randy Wallace at KRIV-TV, Fox26 in Houston.  There was a fine example on May 19.  But I’m not sure my telling you that will be enough to get you to click on the link to this latest story, about a child who never should have been taken from her parents.

So allow me to show you two stills from the video of the Fox26 report.  This is a picture of the three-year-old child at the center of the story before Child Protective Services took her away:

This is the same child, six months later, after CPS tore her from her parents, moved her from foster home to foster home and doped her up on psychiatric medication:

If you want to know what happened; if you want to know how this child ever wound up in foster care, and if you want to know why, even though she's home now, CPS wants to take her again - forever - click here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Foster care in Los Angeles: Two columns Garrett Therolf almost certainly won’t understand (even though they’re in his own newspaper)

The columns are by Sandy Banks, a longtime columnist at the Los Angeles Times, and one of the more astute writers about child welfare nationwide.  They’re about what I call the “in between” cases, in which the parent certainly isn’t perfect, but where the child welfare agency has made everything far worse by consigning the children to needless foster care.

The first column sets up the story of the mother, Shanell Walton, but it’s the second column that really zeros in on the harm done by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

The only thing that sets this case apart from thousands of others is a woman named Babs Greyhosky.  Greyhosky long ago became a mentor and more to Walton.  And Greyhosky, a television writer, is three things Walton is not: white, middle-class and media-savvy.  She knows how to get attention.

Banks writes that

Greyhosky said her "middle-class friends can't believe that life can be such a soap opera. They think it's 'those people' … and their eyes glaze over. But people are people. Shanell's not the only woman making a bad choice in a man. If they punish her for that, then what about Maria Shriver?"
The irony, of course, is that Greyhosky’s description fits perfectly far too many journalists, like NPR editor Andrea DeLeon who literally dismissed such parents as “these people.”  And, of course, Garrett Therolf.

In all his years covering child welfare at the Times, Therolf has never covered a story like this on his own initiative. (When one played out in front of him at a Board of Supervisors meeting, some years ago, he reported it, and did a good job.  But that was a long time ago.)  Instead, as we’ve documented in multiple posts to this Blog, particularly this one, Therolf chose to fuel a foster-care panic – a sharp, sudden surge in removals of children – through his hyped, distorted, one-sided coverage of DCFS.

Indeed, the fear Therolf has spread throughout DCFS may well be one reason why Ms. Walton’s children still are in foster care.

But what really sets these columns apart, and makes them courageous as well as insightful, is what Sandy Banks writes, toward the end, about herself:

 How many of us might end up in the system if social workers showed up at the house on the wrong day — when the laundry's piled up, the kitchen reeks, you're yelling at the kids over the TV.

I thought about that as I cleaned my house, from top to bottom, this weekend. I recalled my own near-misses as a frazzled single mother of three: The baby-sitter arrested, with my toddlers in tow, with a phony prescription at the drugstore. The black eye my daughter suffered in a trampoline fall, while I was in Vegas and a teenage neighbor was in charge.

I saw the chances I took, the choices I made, the sitters I trusted, and the men I dated. And even with my safety nets — caring neighbors, trustworthy friends, a well-paying job — I didn't always come out looking so good.

It’s a good thing Garrett Therolf wasn’t covering child welfare for the Los Angeles Times back then.  He probably would have written a story, dripping with outrage, demanding to know why DCFS did not take away Sandy Banks’ children.
DCFS isn’t the only child welfare agency to screw up this way, of course.  Stop by here tomorrow to see – literally – what the child protective services agency in Texas did to one little girl.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Foster care finance reform: A Welcome-to-Washington present for George Sheldon

Child welfare waiver legislation introduced in Senate

A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate to restore the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services to issue waivers from federal foster care finance restrictions.

If such a bill becomes law, many more states would have the opportunity to do what Florida did – take huge amounts of federal money now reserved for foster care and spend it on better options as well.

George Sheldon championed Florida’s waiver when he ran the Florida Department of Children and Families.  Next month, he will run HHS’ Administration for Children and Families.

It looks like a good bill.  So far, I see only one problem, on page 11: The waivers are reduced to three years each, instead of five years, and, after one renewal, a waiver can't be renewed again - so a state can benefit from the waivers for no more than six years.

Of course that makes no sense.  But it probably was put into the bill at the behest of groups that are wedded to the current open-ended entitlement for foster care and want to undercut waivers in any way they can.

Fortunately, if the bill becomes law, even with this provision, there would be six years to persuade Congress to repeal it. And if the waivers succeed, there probably will be lots of pressure to do just that.

There also are conditions states must meet to be granted a waiver.  Most notably, the states have to either have in place or promise to put in place at least six items on a long menu of services and policies for children and families.  Surprisingly, most of these are good policies and practices – in fact it’s almost a laundry list of best practices.  And it’s a long list.  A state that can’t implement six of these items probably isn’t ready for a waiver.

The biggest problem is not with the bill itself.  Rather it is a sad irony:

Opponents of waivers, or anything else that would end the foster care entitlement, even on a voluntary basis - groups like the Child Welfare League of America, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Center for Law and Social Policy - have used a series of scare tactics to kill reform.  One of those tactics is the false claim that an entitlement is more difficult to cut than a flat grant – so if the entitlement is eliminated, they claim, it will be much easier to cut spending on child welfare.

The Congressional Research Service proved this false when it estimated that had earlier reform plans been passed and had every state adopted them, states would have spent $5 billion more on child welfare over five years than they spent under the status quo.

And now, Bryan Samuels, who runs the Administration on Children, Youth and Families within ACF, points out in an interview with Youth Today, that states may be reluctant to seek waivers because a condition of the waivers is that states maintain their own child welfare spending.


It all kind of makes you wonder: CWLA is a trade association for child welfare agencies, including many that depend on a steady supply of foster children to stay in business.  So one expects CWLA to put the interests of the agencies ahead of the interests of children and try to subvert real child welfare finance reform.  Groups like CDF and CLASP, however, are widely perceived as leftist.  But given their enormous success in reducing child welfare spending, could it be that they are really brilliantly-disguised right-wing front groups?

After all, it’s thanks to the successful fear and smear campaign by CDF and CLASP that the proposals that would have led to up to $5 billion more in child welfare spending died.  So, in effect, thanks to CDF and CLASP, right-wing governors got what amounts to a $5 billion windfall to use on the kinds of things they really love, like tax breaks for big corporations and rich people.

If John Boehner knew how much CDF and CLASP had done for the far right, it would move him to tears!

And now, CDF and CLASP have made clear that, while they probably won’t overtly oppose waivers per se, they’ll do everything they can to “Yes, but …” the legislation to death.  If they succeed, right-wing governors won’t have to face embarrassing questions about why they didn’t seek a waiver to help more children.  They’ll never have to admit they didn’t do it because they wanted to remain free to slash state help for those children.

Were I a right-wing governor I’d be sending CDF and CLASP thank you notes – and maybe donations, so they could keep on helping me cut child welfare spending.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Big boost for child welfare reform: George Sheldon to run ACF

UPDATE, May 23: The longtime Editorial Page Editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, Mary Ann Lindley, has a great column about Sheldon.  

This is the best news for child welfare reform at the federal level since at least the start of the Obama Administration: George Sheldon, former director of the Florida Department of Children and Families and one of the nation’s most successful reformers, is about to become the top federal official in charge of child welfare policy.

The job titles are long and complicated but the bottom line is that by mid-June Sheldon will be running the Administration for Children and Families within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sheldon and his predecessor, Bob Butterworth, led the largest transformation of an American child welfare system in recent decades, turning Florida from the national example of failure into, relatively speaking, a leader in doing child welfare right.

Under their leadership, entries into foster care were reduced significantly and independent evaluations found that child safety improved.  (Sadly, the reforms are now in danger, thanks to a Miami Herald-fueled foster-care panic in Florida. Sheldon’s successor has not been aggressive enough in countering the panic.)

The implications for federal child welfare policy are profound  -  and all good.

● For starters, Sheldon championed the waiver from federal funding restrictions that allowed the state to divert more than $100 million per year in federal foster care funds to better alternatives.  So this gives a big boost to those who want Congress to restore HHS’ authority to issue such waivers, and it’s a huge blow to the child welfare establishment types who have been trying to “Yes, but…” child welfare finance reform to death.

● Another hallmark of Sheldon’s leadership is openness.  He and Butterworth took DCF out of the bunker.  So we may see support for things like efforts to open child welfare court hearings in states where they’re still closed (in Florida they’ve been open for decades.)

●As DCF secretary Sheldon banned the use of foster children in drug trials – and got absolutely no help from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Now he can pursue the same goal nationwide, and push states to curb the misuse and overuse of psychiatric medication on foster children in general.

●And one more thing about Sheldon: He believes in taking responsibility for failure, not just credit for success.  I can’t imagine George Sheldon tolerating Bryan Samuels’ effort to let the foster care system off the hook for the harm it does to so many of the children who pass through it.  

Foster care in America: Research vs. the tyranny of personal experience

Everybody knows that the outcomes for most children who grow up in foster care are dismal.  They are far more likely to wind up on welfare, homeless or in jail than other young adults.  One study found that seven years after being released from “residential treatment” 75 percent of institutionalized children were back in the only places where they knew how to live – other institutions, like psychiatric centers and jails.  In contrast, only two percent of children who “age out” of foster care graduate from college.

we also know that, thanks in no small part to the mad rush to terminate parental rights in the wake of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act, the number of children “aging out” with no home has soared 70 percent since 1998.

So it’s no wonder that groups like the Child Welfare League of America love to fixate on the exceptions.  They and other bastions of the child welfare establishment are all over Twitter “re-tweeting” any treacly feature story they can find about that incredibly rare, inspiring former foster child who overcame the almost-impossible odds and succeeded. 

The young people themselves more than deserve that attention.  Their stories really can be inspiring – all the more so when they turn their attention to helping others, as many do.

But as always, with what I’ve come to call the foster care-industrial complex, there’s an ulterior motive: Use the two percent to distract attention from the 98 percent; use their success to deflect blame for everybody else’s failure.  In short, focus on the kids who beat the odds to avoid talking about how the system needs to reform in order to change those odds.

It gets really scary when someone who is, himself, among the two percent does it.


Which brings me to some downright weird comments from Bryan Samuels, who runs the federal governments Administration on Children, Youth, and Families.  ACYF is a division of the Administration for Children and Families (causing no end of confusion), which is, itself, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Samuels was interviewed by the trade journal Youth Today.

Samuels is part of that elite two percent.  In his case, I don’t think he has any ulterior motive.  Rather his is a classic case of the tyranny of personal experience.

Samuels was institutionalized – living in the same institution for 11 years.  Unlike most, he was able to cope with it. So now he’s suggesting that maybe those rotten outcomes from foster care are simply the fault of all those no-good parents, telling Youth Today:

We ought to challenge the assumption that it is the child welfare experience itself that is causing bad outcomes instead of the maltreatment being the root cause.

But it’s Samuels who is making an unfounded assumption: that all foster children are there because of maltreatment.  In fact, many are there because family poverty has been confused with “neglect.”

In contrast, what Samuels chooses to brand an assumption is, in fact, exhaustively-documented fact.

Of course some children really are brutally abused and they suffer enormously for it.  But other children are not harmed until they enter foster care.  And for both groups, the question is: Is the foster care experience making things better or worse?

Again, there certainly are some cases where the abuse was so bad at home and/or the foster care experience so exceptional that foster care definitely was the less detrimental alternative.  But good policymaking requires understanding what happens to most children most of the time.

The evidence that, for a great many children, foster care makes things worse, has been piling up for decades, at least since Intensive Family Preservation Services programs started producing better results than foster care with a better track record for safety than foster care.

And it was confirmed by three studies, the two massive studies from MIT and a smaller study from the University of Minnesota, all of which, in effect, asked exactly the question Samuels is asking.  All three studies found that, in typical child welfare cases, on outcome after outcome, children left in their own homes, typically fared better than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care.

So there should be no more excuses for the failure of the child welfare system.  It’s a fact: A key cause of the rotten outcomes for children in foster care is foster care.  But apparently, since the research doesn’t jibe with his personal experience, Samuels wants to use his position to undermine the research.

Also: The last time I wrote about Samuels it was to ask if he might be a friend to true child welfare finance reform.  Looks like the answer is no.  His comments to Youth Today suggest tepid support at best.   So don’t expect him to stand up to the efforts from CWLA and others to “yes, but…” reform to death.

 IN A FUTURE POST: Why Samuels also is wrong about class-action lawsuits to reform child welfare.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: Corrigan sends the b.s. meter off the scale

Looks like Detroit television station WXYZ’s expose of the way child welfare really works in Michigan, and/or yesterday’s post to this Blog really rattled Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan.  Because she’s got an op ed column in the Free Press today that sends the b.s. meter off the scale.    

But the column does illustrate how Corrigan, a former state supreme court justice, rose so far in the legal profession.  What becomes immediately clear if you read the piece closely is the weasel-wording.

Corrigan says DHS workers can’t take children on their own authority.  But look closely.  Then she says law enforcement can take children on their own authority – but they only do it in “emergencies.” So what Corrigan really is saying is: DHS workers can't remove children on their own.  But they can call the police and have the police do it for them. 

Then, Corrigan says, child protective services "still must obtain a court order before accepting the child from law enforcement..."  And where is the child during this process?  Already in foster care, of course.  You can bet it makes very little difference to the child that the person keeping him away from everyone he knows and loves is a cop, rather than a social worker.

So Corrigan's legal hair-splitting notwithstanding, DHS workers can and do remove children on their own authority,.

And if children are removed this way only in emergencies, please explain, ex-justice Corrigan: How did Leo Ratte, the boy in the Mike's Hard Lemonade case ever wind up in foster care?  (If anyone isn’t familiar with that case, it’s discussed in detail in the Channel 7 story.)

Corrigan then claims that “both the parents and the child are represented by an attorney before the judge when the case is being weighed.”

Leaving aside the wretched quality of much of what passes for defense counsel for parents in Michigan, something documented in detail in the first of our reports on Michigan child welfare, even at face value this is grossly misleading.  This time the weasel words are “when the case is being weighed” – because often that’s after the child already has been removed.

For example: what lawyer represented Maryanne Godboldo, or her daughter, before DHS came to take the child away?  The answer, of course, is no lawyer.  DHS went to court by itself (the legal term is ex parte) and got the court order without Godboldo ever having a chance to tell her side of the story.

Corrigan even tried to hide behind vulnerable children to defend her agency’s routine stonewalling when journalists try to hold DHS accountable.  Oh, we’d really, truly like to tell our side of the story, she suggests - and we’re always right - but we just can’t because it would invade the privacy of those poor children.

But several states have laws allowing their child welfare agencies to tell their side of the story when cases already have become public.  I'm sure the Michigan Legislature would consider passing similar legislation if Corrigan asked for it.  But she almost certainly won't.  Child welfare agencies love these laws since they allow them to cover up their mistakes.

Still, at least this sets me straight on one point concerning Corrigan: I thought she was a law-and-order conservative.  But over and over in her op ed column, when it comes to her own agency’s blunders, she tries to get the agency off on a technicality.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: Maura Corrigan flunks her first big test ...

...and WXYZ-TV in Detroit documents how the system really works.

There was one person who could have put an immediate stop to the suffering endured by Maryanne Godboldo’s daughter, the 13-year-old needlessly torn from everyone she knew and loved and institutionalized for seven weeks, after her mother took her off psychiatric medications that were making the child’s mental health problems worse.  One person could have ended the suffering with little more than a wave of the hand.  One person could have said: We were wrong; this child has suffered enough, send her home.

That one person is the new director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, Maura Corrigan.

Corrigan had been a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court when Gov. Rick Snyder named her to the job in January (reportedly after she actively sought it).  As usual, the issue isn't motivation.  Corrigan always has had the best interests of children at heart - as she saw those interests.  But she saw them much as a 19th Century "child saver" would.

Corrigan had long been one of the more regressive forces in Michigan child welfare.  But there was hope she was beginning to change.  Her decisions certainly had gotten better in recent years, so there was hope that that a “new, improved” Corrigan was emerging.

But Corrigan’s behavior in the Godboldo case suggests we’re back to Corrigan version 1.0.  Corrigan allowed Godboldo’s daughter to suffer for those seven weeks.  For most of that time she was silent about it (and, as far as I know, reporters never asked her about the case).   When she did speak, according to MLive Detroit, she sought to justify that suffering.  The website reports that Corrigan told a local radio station:

"You could say that there is an abstract debate about holistic medicine versus what a traditional doctor would say, but that is going to be a very considered decision by a judge about whether there is evidence." … While she declined to discuss specifics of the case, Corrigan said CPS did not unilaterally decide to remove the girl from Godboldo's custody.

"Before you would do something so serious, as to take a child away from its parents, you need a judge -- a neutral and detached judge -- to decide whether you've got enough evidence to do that."


Corrigan has to know this is nonsense.

For starters, the case is not about holistic vs. traditional medicine.  Godboldo had agreed to try a powerful psychiatric medication, Risperdal, on her daughter.  But the agreement she signed authorizing the treatment also said Godboldo was free to stop that treatment – which she did when it made her daughter’s symptoms worse.

Corrigan also knows her comments about the court process amount to the Disney version. Here’s how it really works:

In every state, caseworkers have the power to remove children entirely on their own authority.  If they decide to go to court first, they rush in on their own, claim it’s an emergency, and claim there’s no time for the judge to hold a hearing where the family can be heard.  Having heard only one side of the story, and fearful of what will happen to his career if he says no and something goes wrong, the judge rubber-stamps the child welfare agency request.

And, of course, there is no possible excuse for Corrigan allowing her agency to try to snatch Godboldo’s child back two hours after she was freed.

Just last night, WXYZ-TV in Detroit documented how Corrigan's Disney version compares with reality in Michigan.

But there is a special irony in Corrigan talking about neutral judges.  I know of no prominent figure in the American judiciary who has done more to undermine judicial neutrality in child welfare than Maura Corrigan.  In fact, while on the bench, she undermined two noble principles at once: judicial neutrality and permanence for children.

She did that by turning the court into a propaganda arm for promoting adoption at the expense of any other outcome for children.

Adoption is a vitally-important option for some children.  But it is not the only way to achieve permanence. Indeed, all else being equal, on the hierarchy of best outcomes, adoption by strangers  generally ranks fifth, behind not taking away the child in the first place, reunifying the child with her or his own parents, adoption by a relative and guardianship by a relative.


But not to Maura Corrigan. At least not if her actions, public statements and what she did to the Michigan Supreme Court website are indications.

Among her first acts upon becoming the court’s Chief Justice was to create a task force on adoption – not a task force on permanence, a task force only on adoption.  And one would think the court was an adoption agency, given how Corrigan slathered its web site with promotional material about adoption and “adoption day” events.

I’ve noted before that these annual Adoption Days really should be called National Child Welfare Hypocrisy Day, since they show how a system that claims its first priority when a child is taken is reunification celebrates only the supposed lower priority, adoption.

We noted the first time we raised the issue on this Blog, no place is this hypocrisy more apparent than in Michigan, where Corrigan takes pride in having orchestrated more such celebrations than any other state.  She has not lifted a finger to promote celebrations of family reunification.

As for judicial neutrality in the first of our 2009 reports on Michigan child welfare we noted that, thanks largely to Corrigan

In theory it is possible for one or more justices of this court to give a speech touting adoption in the morning, preside at an adoption luncheon at noon – and hear an appeal of a termination of parental rights that afternoon. If the reality of justice depends at least in part on the perception, it is fair to ask if the actions of Justice Corrigan and her colleagues risk compromising that reality.


Corrigan’s priorities also were on display during a meeting of an ineffectual Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission created by Corrigan’s predecessor, Ismael Ahmed.  The incredibly-unwieldy “task force” had more than 80 members – including Corrigan - but, of course, not one birth parent who’d lost a child to the system.  The parents got one chance to give one presentation to the task force – but not to Corrigan, who had better things to do than listen.

As we noted in our first Michigan report:

Corrigan, who had been present at the meeting earlier and would return later, was absent during the birth parents’ presentation. Her spokeswoman said she had to return to her office to deal with "pressing court business" - preparing for the Supreme Court's weekly conference at which cases are discussed and decided. 

But Corrigan was back at the Task Force that afternoon, in time to chastise a task force committee, harshly and at length, for putting forward a recommendation that would require a little more work from the courts in support of family reunification at a time when their budget is being cut.  The task force promptly backed down.

Just last month, four months into her tenure running DHS, (and with Maryanne Godboldo’s daughter already institutionalized) Corrigan gave a speech outlining her priorities.  According to The Detroit News:

The department, along with other state agencies, recently submitted to Snyder lists of areas where it plans to show measurable results. Among them, Corrigan said today, were driving down the number of children maltreated in foster care; reducing the number of foster children who await adoption or guardianship longer than 24 months; and quicken the response time of investigations into child abuse or neglect.

What gets measured gets gone.  And there’s nothing on Corrigan’s list of measurable outcomes about keeping children out of the system in the first place, or reunifying families.


Corrigan’s failure is even more striking when her priorities are compared to those of the other state supreme court justice to step off the bench to run a state child welfare agency this year: Joette Katz in Connecticut.

Here’s what she told Hartford Magazine:

There has to be a lot more family engagement. There have to be differential responses. Obviously, you have cases where there is high risk and you’ve got to get in there and treat it a little more aggressively. But if it’s a case where there is what we would call minimal risk, there are ways of approaching that family.

Instead of a forensic investigation, it can be much more friendly: “What do you need? What can we bring to you? How can we make your situation better? How can we help you with this child?” It has to be a kinder, gentler approach to a lot of our families ­– an almost voluntary engagement.

Some children are so afraid of being separated from their family that they won’t tell on their abusive parents. That just shows you the [family] bond. It used to be that everything was all about safety, and some children obviously have to be removed. But it is [also] about well-being. We used to think, “Do no harm.” What we understand now is that even when we have to remove a child, we are doing harm. That’s why we need to understand there is that connection, and do what can we to facilitate that child’s re-entry into that family.

And while Michigan’s consent decree with the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights” puts obstacles in the way of placing children with relatives instead of strangers, Katz is trying to clear away those obstacles in Connecticut – even though that state also is saddled with a settlement with CR.

So there was plenty of reason to be disappointed but no reason to be surprised at Maura Corrigan’s response to the Godboldo case.

But, believe it or not, things could be worse.  When it comes to leadership at the Michigan Department of Human Services, the bar for improvement is extremely low.  Corrigan replaced Ahmed and a “leadership team” (I use that term loosely), so awful that the independent monitor overseeing the state’s child welfare consent decree urged the new governor to replace it.  So, if nothing else, it will be difficult to Maura Corrigan to actually make Michigan child welfare worse.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: DHS, out for revenge

The Detroit News reports that less than two hours after being forced to release Maryanne Godboldo’s daughter from the institution, (see the previous post to this Blog) the Michigan Department of Human Services rushed back into court seeking an “emergency” order to snatch her back.

Fortunately, the judge refused.  But just imagine, for a moment, what it would have been like for the 13-year-old girl had they succeeded.  Try to put yourself in her place: Institutionalized for seven weeks, not knowing when or if you’d ever see your family again, finally released to an aunt, and probably still in the midst of celebrations with family and friends when DHS is back at the door to haul you away again.

Any government agency, any excuse for a human being, who would inflict that kind of cruelty on a child isn’t acting in anything resembling a child’s “best interests.”  These are the actions of a supremely arrogant agency that’s used to getting its own way but didn’t for once.  Now they’re out for revenge.

That also explains why, even after their own doctor and the doctor Maryanne Godboldo turned to help her daughter reached an agreement on her medical care, the state is appealing the decision to free the child to a higher court.  And they’re pressing ahead with a trial on neglect charges scheduled for June.


Meanwhile, tomorrow, Mother’s Day, at 11:00pm, WXYZ-TV in Detroit will have a story about DHS misusing its vast power in other cases. There’s a preview on the station’s website.

None of this behavior by DHS is particularly unexpected.  It all harkens back to the kind of arrogance that develops in any organization full of fallible human beings when that organization has near absolute power and operates in secret.

Twenty years ago, a caseworker in another state (not Michigan) allegedly told some parents: “I have the power of God.”  It’s alarming if he said it.  But what’s even more alarming is: It’s true.  Caseworkers for agencies like DHS do have the power of God.
To give a young, inexperienced worker the power of God, send her out on what she is convinced is a Godly mission to rescue innocent children from those she believes are the scum of the earth and then expect her to exercise self-restraint is more than can be expected of most human beings.  Rarely is the power of God accompanied by the wisdom of Solomon

But more should be expected of the leaders of these agencies.  The new leader of Michigan DHS could have stopped all this suffering, but, at best she did nothing, at worst she encouraged it.  Sadly, given this leader’s track record, that’s no surprise.

That story on this Blog Monday.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: Is Marcia Lowry’s licensing obsession holding Maryanne Godboldo’s daughter in an institution?

UPDATE, MAY 6, 3:45PM: Detroit News now confirms: In spite of the obstacles put in the way by the Michigan Department of Human Services and the state's dreadful child welfare consent decree, Maryanne Godboldo's daughter has been freed from the institution and is in the custody of her aunt.

At a minimum, the decree imposed on Michigan by the group that so arrogantly calls itself Children’s Rights (CR), and its leader, Marcia Lowry, is the excuse, at worst it's the last barrier to freeing Maryanne Godboldo's daughter from an institution.

Godboldo’s daughter was seized by caseworkers for the Michigan Department of Human Services after a chain of events, described in these previous posts, that began with her seeking help for a daughter’s mental health problems. She now has been needlessly institutionalized for seven weeks.  That’s 24-times longer than Leo Ratte, the white middle-class child in the Mike’s Hard Lemonade case, spent in any form of substitute care.

According to the Detroit Free Press, doctors on all sides reached an agreement on a treatment plan, but a DHS caseworker is balking for two reasons.  According to the story:

“… a DHS foster care worker testified Wednesday that, among other things, she found the treatment plan too vague and said the girl's aunt and likely caregiver, Penny Godboldo-Brooks, needs to complete foster care licensing paperwork.” [Emphasis added].

That paperwork didn't exist as a prerequisite for placement before the consent decree. That decree imposed Marcia Lowry's bureaucratic obsession with licensing on thousands of loving grandparents, aunts and other relatives. That obsession already has resulted in the expulsion of 1,800 children from the homes of relatives.  Now it stands in the way of finally getting Maryanne Godboldo's daughter out of an institution.

Even the judge, who initially seemed sympathetic to DHS, appears to be getting fed up.  She said she has no problems with the treatment plan.  She says the licensing process can be completed after the child is placed with her aunt.  And she says Godboldo’s daughter must be released tomorrow, or she’ll hold whoever is holding up that release in contempt.

In that case, she may want to consider serving papers at the New York offices of CR.  Because they share the blame for this mess.

Monday, May 2, 2011

UPDATED, 4:20PM When a child dies in foster care: Some states give a damn, some don’t


The two tragedies are strikingly similar. Both involve children with serious mental health problems.  In both cases, the children were placed in foster care.  In both cases the children died there.  In one case, the child was found with a shower hose around his neck, in the other case it was a belt.

But there is one huge difference: the response of officials in the states where the child died.


When seven year old Gabriel Myers died in Florida, the state Department of Children and Families saw it as a wake-up call.  They convened a special work group to examine every aspect of the case, soon zeroing-in on the possible role of the misuse and overuse of psychiatric medications.

DCF made public just about everything it found out, even devoting a special section of its own website to the case.  And that website doesn’t just include the agency’s side of the story, there’s even a page with links to more than two dozen of news accounts, including stories and editorials critical of DCF.

DCF even approached the federal government seeking their help in order to ban the use of foster children in drug trials.  The feds were not interested.

It all resulted in a series of changes in policies designed to reduce the likelihood of such tragedies in the future.  Will it work? We don’t know.  But at least Florida DCF made the effort.  Because, at the time, DCF had bold leadership that genuinely cared about the kids.  (A new governor has brought in new leadership; whether they share that commitment remains to be seen.)


There actually was even less reason for Billy Mitchell to be in foster care than Gabriel Myers.  As KETV in Omaha reported last week, no one had accused Billy’s parents of mistreating him in any way.  Rather, they made the terrible mistake of asking the state child welfare agency for help to cope with Billy’s mental health problems.

There was nothing wrong that couldn’t have been fixed by providing Wraparound services or bringing other intensive help into the family home.  But the child welfare agency didn’t offer that.  Instead, they had the parents sign a “voluntary” placement agreement surrendering the child to foster care – where he died.  The foster parents have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

But Billy Mitchell died in a state where the attitude toward foster child deaths is very different from Florida.  Billy Mitchell died in a state whose God-awful child welfare system sometimes seems to exist solely to make everybody else’s look good.  Poor Billy died in Nebraska.

You remember Nebraska.  That’s the state that, year after year, tears apart families at one of the highest rates in America.  That’s the state that also holds more children in foster care on any given day than almost anywhere else.  That’s the state that was home to the safe-haven debacle. 0

Nebraska is the state where the former head of the human services agency made a sick joke at the expense of suffering families – only to be topped by an official at Boys Town who held all such families in contempt.  Nebraska is the state where a family squabble by the side of road can get your child thrown into foster care more than a thousand miles from home – especially if you’re from the wrong state and the wrong race.  Nebraska is the state where the foster care review board is constantly using its inexplicable clout with the state’s media to push the state to tear apart even more families – even as its longtime director survives one scandal after another over alleged misuse of state resources.

So no one should be surprised by how the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services replied to KETV when the television station started investigating Billy’s death.  There was no special panel convened, no top-to-bottom search for answers.  There was just this statement:

The death of any child is extremely sad, especially for us, when a child is a state ward and placed in our care.  Department staff did review this case after Billy’s death. The services that had been identified for Billy were provided. There was never a request or concern that he be monitored 24/7, and foster care was an appropriate placement.

In other words: Nothing to see here, folks, move along everyone.  A little boy died with a belt around his neck in one of our foster homes, but so what?  We don’t care, and neither should you.

That’s how they do things at Nebraska DHHS.

PS: As if to add insult to much-worse-than-injury, Nebraska DHHS just put out a press release filled with the usual boilerplate - and no useful information whatsoever - to remind us that tomorrow is "Children's Mental Health Awareness Day."

UPDATE: The latest issue of Rise, a magazine written by parents who lost children to foster care, has an excellent lead story about another family failed by two states when they simply needed help with a child's mental health problems.