Monday, February 27, 2012

Foster care in America: A Nebraska caseworker gives away the game

Says the worker: “It was a long day taking away babies.”

            When it comes to the all-time Child Protective Services Excuse Hit Parade this item almost always is in the top three: “We can’t take away children,” says the caseworker or the supervisor or the agency flack or the agency director.  “Only a judge has the power to do that. The courts make these decisions.” 
            The fact that this is a lie doesn’t stop reporters from falling for it over and over again.

            In fact, in every state, CPS caseworkers can remove any child they want on the spot.  In every state except Michigan, the child is supposed to be at imminent risk of harm – meaning the circumstances are so dire that there isn’t time to hold a hearing first.  But who judges that?  The same caseworker who is taking away the child in the first place.  (In Michigan, the imminent risk standard doesn’t even exist on paper.)  So it’s no wonder that taking away the child, solely on the authority of the caseworker, without a hearing first, is standard operating procedure whether there is an “emergency” or not.  A judge won’t enter the picture until anywhere from 24 hours to more than a week later.

            As Prof. Paul Chill of the University of Connecticut School of Law (and a former NCCPR board member) has written: “In practice … children are seldom removed on anything but an emergency basis – either unilaterally, without a court order, or on the basis of some form of ex parte judicial authorization.” (Ex parte means only CPS is in the courtroom – or the caseworker simply may make a phone call to the court.  But, as Prof. Chill notes, often she doesn’t do even that much.)

            In about half the states, the caseworker literally can walk out the door with the child. In the other half, including Nebraska, she has to call law enforcement to do it for her.  Either way, it’s the worker who has the power.

            And, when she apparently thought only her friends could read about it, one Nebraska caseworker admitted as much.

            While preparing a report for release next month about one of the worst child welfare systems in America, the one in Nebraska, I came across a story from WOWT-TV in Omaha from 2009.  The story concerned a couple, apparently falsely accused, who decided to investigate the investigator.  They found her personal Facebook page.  Apparently, like most of us, the caseworker had trouble with the privacy settings.  Because comments she posted, which were visible to everyone, included these:

           “I’m tired, it was a long day taking away babies.”

           And under “job description:” “I investigate child abuse/neglect and help families so it doesn’t happen again … and yes that means I will take their kid.” The posting also says: “We really don’t want to take kids away.” [Emphasis added].

            Contrary to what workers and their bosses say over and over to credulous journalists, this worker knows full well who has the power to take a child at will, before a judge ever enters the picture.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On our Blog at Youth Today: Child abuse in Los Angeles: Post-Penn State paranoia moves west

It’s hard to imagine an elementary school where the challenges would be greater: 1,500 students in one building, almost all of them from impoverished families.  Parents working two, sometimes three jobs, with little time to be involved in school activities.  Many don’t speak English, some are illegal immigrants, afraid to speak up or challenge any authority.  Nevertheless, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The school was on the upswing. Test scores were rising. The campus south of downtown Los Angeles was bright with new paint, murals and $6 million in other improvements. A new principal brought in parent education workshops, student leadership programs and other activities.

But then, post-Penn State paranoia came to Miramonte Elementary School.  The price paid by the students is the topic of NCCPR’s Blog at the trade journal Youth Today.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Foster care in Los Angeles: The courts stay open – for now

UPDATE: WitnessLA has a good take on the appeals court decision here.

            An appeals court has refused to close Los Angeles County courts hearing cases alleging child abuse and neglect just days after they were opened by Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash, according to the Los Angeles Times.  At the same time, one of the best recent essays in support of keeping these hearings open appears today in Pasadena Weekly.

            Although the ruling was only two sentences, the reasoning is important: The groups that tried to close the courts again have the contracts to provide representation for children and parents.  The appeals court ruled that they have no “standing” to challenge the ruling because open courts don’t do the lawyers any harm.  (Actually, one could argue that open courts do these lawyers a lot of harm because they reveal the pathetic excuse for “representation” that they provide – but that’s not an argument they’re likely to make on appeal.)

            In any event, the appeals court ruled that open courts can’t be challenged until that challenge is brought by someone who actually claims to have been harmed by open courts.  Given that the record all over the country has been that the fears of such harm have proven groundless, that’s likely to be a very high bar.

            Of course it’s impossible to guarantee that no child ever will be harmed by an open court hearing.  But we know that thousands of children are harmed every day when the hearings are closed – sometimes the harm even can be fatal, if a bad decision leads to the death of a child.  So, as I’ve noted before, while it’s impossible to guarantee that no child ever will be embarrassed by open courts, the odds are if courts are open the quality of everyone’s work will improve – and more children will live long enough to blush.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Foster care in Oklahoma: Inside the baby warehouses

How many children have to suffer
so adults can get their “baby fix”?

            I’ve written often on this Blog about the horror of parking place “shelters,” abominable first-stop placements where the worst child welfare systems leave children for weeks or months, to be “cared” for in shifts and then moved on to foster homes or other institutions.

            The primary role of shelters is to turn real flesh-and-blood human beings into human teddy bears who exist for the gratification of the adult staff and volunteers who care for them.

            Case in point, “Mr. Lou.” He told a local television station that he loved coming to work at what was once one of the very worst of the baby warehouses, Child Haven, in Las Vegas,  because babies and toddlers "grab my leg. They call me Mr. Lou. They tell me they love me."

But when a young child grabs the legs of anyone who will pay him a little attention and tells him "I love you" he's not getting better – he's getting worse. He is losing his ability to truly love at all, because every time he tries to love someone, that person goes away. It's even worse than the well-known problem of children bouncing from foster home to foster home. We are setting some of these children up to become adults unable to love or trust anyone.

            Mr. Lou’s comment was so amazingly ignorant that, when I first wrote about him, I’d assumed he was a volunteer.  Turns out he actually ran the place.

            More recently, before leaving the agency last year, a reform-minded director of the child welfare system in Las Vegas, Tom Morton, got all of the babies out of the shelter, cut the number of children of all ages there on any given day from hundreds – yes, hundreds - down to a handful and made sure almost no one stayed more than 24 hours.  He also fired Mr. Lou.


            Nothing like that has happened in another God-awful system, the one in Oklahoma.  Scores of children, including babies, routinely are parked in overcrowded shelters in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.  And adults still get their psychic satisfaction at the children’s expense. 

Before The Oklahoman ran a package of stories about the shelters Sunday, the state Department of Human Services apparently tried desperately to find even one national expert to tell the newspaper that shelters were a good idea.  They failed.  Then the agency turned around and claimed that they have no choice but to use the shelters.  That’s not true either.

            Data in the stories also raise the possibility that Oklahoma’s already- outrageous rate of child removal may be getting worse – and that may be partly because of The Oklahoman itself.


            One story features Oklahoma’s answer to Mr. Lou.  I won’t name her because she really is a volunteer and she almost certainly doesn’t know any better.  But what she said captures the real purpose of shelters in a nutshell.  The volunteer stops in two or three times a week to rock babies in the nursery because, she told the newspaper:

             “They are so cute — my kids are older — for me, I get my baby fix.”

             Indeed, that's just what it looks like.  Check out the 40 second video at the top of the main story showing strangers using other people's babies as human teddy bears, as they talk mostly about how much they - the adults - get from it; in effect, the "high" from their "baby fix."  It's almost as though the babies were taken down from a shelf just before the tape began, and put back whenever the adults got bored.

            As noted in previous posts to this Blog, the babies pay a very high price for giving the adults their “fix.”  As Carole Shauffer, senior director of strategic initiatives for the Youth Law Center in San Francisco told the Oklahoman:

there has been a significant amount of child development research that shows every month that babies and toddlers spend in shelters can lead to behavioral, brain and cognitive changes that can be long lasting.

“It's because a fundamental task for those very young children, particularly children ages 6 months to 3 years, is to attach to one particular caregiver and that's how they learn. It's how they learn language. It's how they learn to rely on people ... So, if they have constantly changing caregivers, which is what happens in a shelter, they cannot attach to any one of them because they are not there long enough.”

            When told about the Oklahoma shelters, John Mattingly, the former Commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, and someone who certainly has never hesitated to break up a family (albeit at far from the rate in Oklahoma) told the newspaper:

             “I'm really shocked. … An experienced child welfare person shudders to even think about that, to tell you the truth. That's how out-of-date it is …

 “Some teens you'll have trouble placing.  But infants and toddlers — foster parents, if you treat them right, will be beating down your doors to take care of those kids.”


            Knowing that The Oklahoman was working on these stories, in fact, just minutes after one of the reporters interviewed me, someone at Oklahoma DHS did a Google search using the terms: "Experts on shelter care for children is good."

            Apparently, they couldn’t find any such experts, because none is cited in the Oklahoman stories.  That suggests that for all these years, even as they tolerated the baby warehouses, no one at DHS actually checked to see how much harm they are doing.

            And if, by some chance, they’d actually found an “expert” somewhere to support shelters, what would DHS have done?  Would the agency then have said shelters are wonderful – and they’d known this all along?

With no “expert” to be found, the director of DHS's children and family services division, Deborah Smith, gave the usual excuse:  We don’t like shelters either, we really wish the children all could be in families, but we just don’t have enough foster parents.


            She failed to explain what it was about Oklahoma that made it so different from all the states that have dramatically curbed the use of shelters.

Here’s one key difference: Oklahoma takes away far too many children.

            After systematically ignoring the issue for more than a year, the team of reporters writing most of the child welfare stories in The Oklahoman finally noted in a sidebar Sunday that “Oklahoma traditionally has taken children into custody at a much higher rate than the national average.”

And, at the very bottom of the main story, the reporters included this from Oklahoma State Rep. Ron Peters:

Peters said he believes the big problem is DHS has been taking too many children into custody. … Peters said many reunifications occur within the first week. In cases where the children's safety isn't in jeopardy, everyone would be better off if necessary services were provided and the children were left in the home so they wouldn't have to experience the trauma of being taken to an unfamiliar home or shelter, he said.

            But The Oklahoman made two errors.  First, in noting that Oklahoma had “drastically [reduced] the number of children removed from homes” the figures the newspaper gave actually confused the number of children in foster care on any given day with the number of children removed over the course of a year. 

That mistake is less of a problem than it otherwise might be because, in fact, both figures have declined by about one-third since 2007.  But the bigger mistake the reporters made was failing to note that, even with these declines, in 2010, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, Oklahoma still was taking away children at a rate 30 percent above the national average.  And the number of children in foster care on any given day was more than 40 percent above the national average.

            And Oklahoma’s record might be getting worse.

            The stories note that for awhile, DHS had begun to get the shelter population under control.  But now, the shelter population has skyrocketed again, with both shelters often overcrowded and at least one in violation of the state fire code.  The newspaper quotes from a state fire marshal’s inspection on May 31, 2011:

            “The overcrowding of this facility creates a serious and immediate risk to the lives and life safety and welfare to all occupants and residents.”


            DHS “solves” this problem by hiring a “fire watcher” a firefighter who patrols the overcrowded building watching for fire hazards.

            But The Oklahoman never explains the sudden surge in the shelter population.  One possibility: Entries into care also may be going up again.  That certainly would be no surprise.  For the past year or so The Oklahoman has been covering child welfare in the usual mediocre way: systematically ignoring cases of wrongful removal and running story after story about deaths of children “known to the system.”

            That, of course, leaves the false impression that the only mistake made by DHS workers is leaving children in dangerous homes.  It also terrifies workers into taking away even more children needlessly.  In short, it’s a classic formula for foster-care panic.  (Oklahoman editorial board, please note: This does not mean we want The Oklahoman to stop covering the fatalities – rather we want The Oklahoman to start covering needless removal as well.  Much like the Los Angeles Times, some at The Oklahoman have been known to accuse critics of how they cover child welfare of not wanting them to cover fatalities.)

            The Oklahoman stories on Sunday do a pretty good job of conveying the stark, institutional landscape at the shelters:

“Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to keep siblings together,” said Patricia Rowe, supervisor and trainer at the [Oklahoma City] shelter.

Babies sleep in one area, toddlers in another. Older children sleep in sparsely furnished dormlike rooms, two beds to a room. Older children are separated by gender, as well as by age. Some have a stuffed animal resting on their pillows.

Staff members try to arrange visits between siblings as often as they can, Rowe said.

Shelter staff also tries to make sure children have plenty of visual stimulation.
There are toys — lots of toys. … But reminders that the shelter is an institution are constant.

The murals are painted on cinder block walls. Rowe said that's a good thing because they can withstand the punishment if residents get angry and frustrated by their situations.

            What The Oklahoman reporters don’t say is that they may share some responsibility for the fact that so many children are trapped within those walls.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Foster care in Los Angeles: Opening courts in L.A. already is proving its value.

A story in today’s Los Angeles Times aptly illustrates the benefits of opening court hearings to the public in cases of alleged child abuse and neglect.  It also illustrates the one drawback – which has nothing to do with privacy.

The story appears even as the organization for lawyers who supposedly represent children in these cases is appealing the decision by Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash to open these hearings to the press and, under some circumstances, the public.  According to the Times, the organization for lawyers supposedly representing parents plans to join the suit.

The real reason for the appeal also was illustrated in today’s story.

The story was the one that almost always appears when courts first are opened: reporters rush in to see what really goes on, and give readers their first glimpse of this reality.

The Times sent two reporters, Garrett Therolf and John Hoeffel.  Their story led with a case from the court of Judge D. Zeke Zeidler, in which a severely-abused child was not getting the help he needed.   Specifically, the caseworker from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services hadn’t done nearly enough to find a permanent home for the child.  According to the story:

When the caseworker described her limited efforts to comply with the order, the jurist delivered a stern rebuke.

"You as the government have chosen to become vested with this child" by removing him from his home, Zeidler said. "But the court does not find that the department has provided sufficient services."

The story concludes this way:

After Zeidler's hearing, the interim director of the county's child welfare agency said he would look into the judge's complaint about efforts to find the injured boy a permanent home. "I am always concerned when I hear that a judge is not satisfied with the efforts of a social worker," Philip Browning said.

Presumably, Browning wasn’t sitting in that particular courtroom at that moment.  Presumably, he was notified of the judge’s displeasure by a reporter.

So opening courts already has made a difference:

● Because a reporter was present this time, he could let the acting director of DCFS know that there will be a public price to pay if the child doesn’t get the help he needs.  Odds are the child now will get that help.

● Next time, knowing that a reporter might be present, the caseworker is likely to do a better job of finding the right placement for a child, or whatever else is required of the worker.

● The privacy of the child was protected – no names were used. 


But there was more:

We got a first glimpse of what passes for legal representation in this court.  One judge was so clueless about how to handle open courts and the repeated objections filed by lawyers wanting their hearings closed that the whole process ground to a halt.  But Judge Zeidler handled everything with aplomb.

Even more revealing:

It wasn’t just the lawyers supposedly representing children who were objecting.  So were the lawyers who supposedly represent parents – even though the Los Angeles grassroots group advocating for families whose children have been taken, DCFS-Give Us Back Our Children – has been outspoken in its support for open courts.

Worse, some of the parents’ lawyers objecting to open hearings didn’t bother to check with their clients first.  Why?  According to their boss, they were just too “freaked out” by the thought of the general public finding out what they do and how they do it.  According to the Times:

"I think everyone is freaked out because this has only been in effect a couple of days," said Kenneth Krekorian, executive director of the law firm representing parents. "This is a big change for how things have historically happened."

Krekorian acknowledged that some lawyers were objecting to media presence without checking with their clients. He said he had advised his attorneys to consult with their clients before acting.

"How can you object without any direction from your client?" Zeidler asked one attorney. "Maybe he's a parent who doesn't feel he is getting adequate services, or maybe he feels his due process rights are being trampled and wants someone to know."

What does it tell you about the general quality of family representation in Los Angeles County that the chief lawyer actually had to explain to his staff that it’s generally a good idea to ask their clients what they want before purporting to speak to them – and still, they didn’t always do it?


By the way, I’ve seen no news account from any other state that has opened these courts in which the attorneys were similarly “freaked.”  On the contrary, it was no problem in places like Minnesota and New York City, and it’s still no problem.  In fact, all over the country, no state that has opened these hearings has closed them again, and one-time opponents have become converts.  Yet the groups now suing or preparing to sue to close courts in Los Angeles apparently never consulted with their New York counterparts – or simply didn’t care about the reality of open courts.

There is a possible explanation for this:

This isn’t the first indication that the lawyers representing children in Los Angeles know that the public would be upset if it knew exactly what constitutes “representation” at these hearings. As attorney Edward Opton pointed out in a letter to judge Nash, the description of what they do and how they do it, in the memo sent to the judge by the children’s lawyers opposing his order is, in itself, remarkably damning.

All this suggests the real reason why the lawyers for children (and reportedly, soon, the lawyers for parents) are trying to close the courts again.  They don’t want people to see the quality of their work.  In particular, I suspect they fear a repeat of what happened in Santa Clara County. 

After the San Jose Mercury News won rare, temporary access to courts in Santa Clara County as part of a year-long investigation by reporter Karen De Sa, the newspaper’s series on the abysmal quality of representation forced the provider of defense counsel for families to completely reorganize and operate under the equivalent of what child welfare agencies might describe as a “corrective action plan.”  (The firm came within an inch of being replaced entirely, an outcome many advocates would have preferred.)


As I said at the outset, the Times story also reveals the one real drawback to opening courts: A biased reporter will filter everything through his biases.

So, with all the cases to choose from, the story in which Garrett Therolf is the lead author of course begins with one of the very rare cases in which a child was brutally abused, instead of one of the many more typical cases, often involving children who never needed to be taken from their homes.

We knew this would happen and supported opening courts in Los Angeles anyway, on the theory that the solution to the problems of journalism is more journalism and, ultimately, better reporters would set the record straight.

But Therolf’s bias also came through when he completely shut out of his story a group opposing open courts that does not have a vested interest, and therefore is the most credible.

Members of the California Youth Connection, a group made up of current and former foster youth, are terrified of the most intimate details of their lives becoming public.  Their opposition killed legislation to open these hearings statewide.

So 19-year-old Lucias Bouge, who had been through at least 40 separate placements in the six years after his grandmother died, told a reporter about how at school, he never told anyone he did not live with his parents – and how we would not have wanted classmates to find out because of a public court hearing.

The fact that what CYC fears simply has not happened in state after state where these hearings are open has not been enough to overcome that fear.   The fact that the Times used no names in the one case it describes in detail today probably won’t allay those fears either.  No wonder.  If there is one group that has good reason not to trust anything told them by an adult it is current and former foster youth.

But the fact is, if Bouge gets his wish and the courts are closed again, all he will accomplish is to make it more likely that more children among the next generation of foster youth will have to endure exactly what he did.

I wish CYC had examined other states before giving in to its fears, something discussed in detail in these posts to this Blog.  But the fact that I, and Garrett Therolf, disagree with CYC is no reason to shut them out of the story.

We know about Bouge’s concerns because Hoeffel wrote about them for the Times’ LA Now Blog.  Similarly, last year, when CYC came out against opening courts statewide, it was almost certainly disappointing to Karen De Sa at the Mercury News.  But she gave their side of the story a full and fair airing, and the Mercury News put it on the front page.

But in the Los Angeles Times story that made the print edition today, with Therolf as the lead author, CYC was shut out.

I think Louis Bouge is wrong.  But Los Angeles Times readers, even those who read the paper the old-fashioned way, in print, had a right to “hear” Bouge and decide for themselves.  Garrett Therolf denied them that right – just as he has denied them the right to hear from the families needlessly torn apart by DCFS.

Open courts will give better reporters a chance to tell the whole story. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where are America’s foster children? Our updated database

Datarevelations has updated NCCPR'S interactive database on foster care placements.  

How well does your state do in providing the least harmful form of foster care, care with relatives?  How well does your state do at avoiding the worst form of care, group homes and institutions? Data are available for every state on the proportion of children in kinship foster care and congregate care in 2010 and 2009.  The data are available by state and in rank order.

You also can compare the change in the total number of foster children in every state.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Foster care in Nebraska: Beware of the teddy bear subsidy bill

Suppose your child had to be placed out of your care because of some emergency – illness perhaps – and no one in your extended family was available.

Suppose a stranger came forward and said:

I’ll take care of him, I’ll even love him as my own  – just as long as you pay me for absolutely everything.  Not just food and clothing, mind you.  But if you want me to send him to an after-school activity you pay me.  If you want him to go to a movie, you pay me.  If you want him to have a teddy bear to comfort him at night – you better pay me for that, too!

Oh, and by the way, your kid opens and closes the refrigerator door an awful lot, and he keeps leaving the lights on.  You need to pay me for the additional electric bill as well.

Bet you wouldn’t want your child placed with anyone that greedy.

Yet a bill scheduled for a public hearing today in Nebraska would require that the state pay foster parents to cover all of these costs and more.

The bill would require that monthly pay for foster parents be jacked up to the point that it meets meet the level called for in a so-called study conducted by, among others, the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights” (CR) and the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA).  The study estimated a so-called “minimum adequate rate” that foster parents supposedly should be paid in each state.

“Minimum” sounds like they mean enough to cover the basics. After all, any parent who “loves a foster child like my own” would have no problem paying for a teddy bear or a movie ticket, right?

Not according to the twisted logic of CR and NFPA.

Their so-called “minimum” rate includes all of the items I just mentioned, and more.  (See for yourself: Check out the hard-to-find “technical report” issued by CR and NFPA which explains how the “minimum” was calculated.  I suspect it's called a “technical report” precisely because they hope no one will read it.)


This won’t come cheap.  Even though the report actually understated what Nebraska pays foster parents now, according to an estimate from the office of the Nebraska Legislative Fiscal Analyst, raising the rate to cover every toy, game, movie ticket and almost-everything-else-you- can-think-of will cost the state nearly $3.6 million in state funds every year, with the federal government forced to shell out nearly $900,000 more.  That's a lot of money for a small state.

Here’s what else $3.6 million can do:

● Provide $600-a-month rent subsidies for 500 families for a year, so their children aren’t taken away because of lack of housing.

● Provide $100-a-week day care subsidies for 692 families so their children aren’t taken on "lack of supervision" charges.  (By the way, the so-called minimum rate in the NFPA study includes reimbursing the foster parents for all day care and babysitting expenses.  So, under this bill, a child can be taken from impoverished birth parents because they can’t afford day care and then handed over to middle-class foster parents whose day care expenses would be  fully reimbursed by Nebraska taxpayers.)

● Provide Intensive Family Preservation Services interventions for 480 families. 

● Provide inpatient drug treatment at a family treatment center where children can stay with their parents for 144 families.

This would be outrageous in any state, but especially in Nebraska.  Any list of worst child welfare systems in America would be incomplete without Nebraska.  Year after year, Nebraska tears apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation – and traps proportionately more children in foster care on any given day than almost any other.  Most other lousy systems across the country could adopt as their slogan: “Hey, at least we’re not as bad as Nebraska.”

So at a time when Nebraska already tears apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation, some legislators in that state actually want to take scarce funds that finally could reduce Nebraska’s obscene rate of removal and divert those funds to cover a giant, needless subsidy for middle-class foster parents.


On top of everything else, the bill is incredibly insulting to foster parents.  

When foster parents are polled on why they leave foster parenting, low pay consistently ranks low on the list.  Far more important to most foster parents is the fact that child welfare agencies so often treat them the same way they often treat birth parents – like dirt.

 Foster parents often say that they can’t be in it for the money because there is not enough money.  For the overwhelming majority of foster parents it’s true.  But if this bill passes it will attract a lot of the wrong kinds of people to foster parenting.

The whole bill raises a fundamental question I’ve discussed on this Blog before: What is our “social contract” with foster parents?  If, as I believe, most foster parents really are in it for  the right reasons, including the good feeling it gives them to help children in need, why is it unreasonable that reimbursement not quite cover every expense – for children who, after all, foster parents say they love as their own?

If someone volunteers to tutor children at an after-school program, or serve meals at a soup-kitchen, he doesn’t get reimbursed for the mileage to get to and from the program.  He may even dip into his own pocket for some supplies.  Why is it wrong to expect the same of foster parents?

The best foster parents understand this.  Here’s how one I’ve quoted often on this Blog, Mary Callahan, explained it in an op ed column for the Los Angeles Times.

In addition:

● Existing rates aren’t as low as  CR and NFPA want people to think.  The existing rates cited in their “study” always are the “base rates.” But many states add additional payments and/or have additional tiers of rates.  In the case of Nebraska, for example, the Legislative Fiscal Analyst found that CR and NFPA failed to factor in the state’s coverage of liability insurance for foster parents.

Payments are tax-free since they are considered “reimbursement.”  In addition, foster children’s health insurance is covered by Medicaid.

● CR’s executive director, Marcia Lowry has suggested that if you don’t favor the rates she demands be paid to all foster parents, you want to take toys from foster children.  On the contrary, we want children placed with foster parents who care enough about those children to give them toys without demanding government reimbursement.

● Some proponents have argued this kind of huge increase is needed to help kinship foster parents who often are poor.  But it’s absurd to spend $3.6 million on mostly middle-class stranger-care parents because a little of it will trickle down to grandparents who provide kinship care.  There are other ways to target aid specifically to kinship care parents.

It will be interesting to see how many Nebraska foster parents really are so greedy that they'll come out and testify today demanding teddy bear subsidies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

UPDATE: LA child welfare hearings are open NOW

UPDATE, FEB. 2: I discussed the opening of these hearings on KPFK Radio this morning.  The audio is available here.

Court hearings in cases alleging child abuse or neglect in Los Angeles County are now presumed open to the media.

Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash issued his final order last night.  It’s effective immediately.

Journalists will be allowed in unless a party to the case can persuade the judge that this would be “harmful to the child’s or children’s best interests.”

Members of the public will be admitted as well, if they can show “a direct or legitimate interest in the case or the work of the court” and their presence would not be “harmful to the child’s or children’s best interests.”

This marks a significant victory for all of us in child welfare who want to see courts and child welfare agencies made more accountable.  It will be that much harder for the county Department of Children and Families, private foster care agencies, and the courts themselves to cover up their mistakes.  

Open hearings are not a panacea.  But they have led to modest systemic improvements, and often big improvements in the outcome of individual cases.  And none of the fears of opponents has come to pass. Full details are in our  Due Process Agenda.

The former chief judge of New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, and the judge who opened these hearings in New York State, Judith Kaye put it best:

“Sunshine is good for children.”

As noted in the previous post to this Blog, with this change, nearly half of America's foster children live in jurisdictions where court hearings are presumed open, as least to media.