Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Race, journalism and the Fox News of child welfare

An insightful Columbia Journalism Review essay on covering race and politics goes double for covering race and child welfare

The current print issue of Columbia Journalism Review is about exactly what any journalist would expect it to be about: Donald Trump and the press.

But one essay in that issue applies as well, if not better, to covering child welfare. It’s called “Covering a country where race is everywhere.”

“Race and racism are everywhere, and in everything,” writes Collier Meyerson, who covers race and politics for The Nation. “We are the product of a violent history that privileges one race over all others. And in order to tell that truth, we must look for it everywhere.”

Notice that she did not say “everywhere except the American child welfare system, which, of course, is run by such wonderful people that it is magically immune.”

Sadly, a lot of Americans who consider themselves liberals and would agree with Meyerson when it comes to politics, the police, and just about everything else, carve out a great big, unwarranted exception when it comes to child welfare. 

Child welfare’s caucus of denial

In that field, there is an entire coterie of self-proclaimed liberals, a kind of caucus of denial, who insist that the disproportionate rate at which children of color, especially Black and Native- American children, are investigated for child abuse and torn from everyone they know and love has absolutely nothing to do with racism. (Just for the record, here’s a summary of some of the studies showing that it does.)

Indeed, child welfare is a field so blind to the problem of racial bias that a prominent leader in the field can declare that the states doing the best job of curbing child abuse are the ones that have “smaller, whiter populations” and face no censure for it from the Left.

Giving constant aid and comfort to those in denial about the role of racial bias in child welfare is the Fox News of child welfare, the so-called Chronicle of Social Change.

It’s not just that the Chronicle publishes – and promotes – the dissemination of pernicious racial stereotypes, as is documented in detail here. It’s not just that they’ve published column after column promoting the denial idea.  The problem goes deeper. 

Chronicle publisher Daniel Heimpel works hand-in-glove with the leader of the denial movement, Elizabeth Bartholet. He co-authored op-ed columns with her, provided her with research assistance for a paper and then promoted her “findings” in the Chronicle (he did disclose his role).  Heimpel’s work with Bartholet is discussed in detail here.

Heimpel joined Bartholet and others in the “denial caucus” in a so-called symposium on “The Liberal Dilemma in Child Welfare Reform” – to which only “liberals” who shared the Heimpel/Bartholet perspective were invited. (The “dilemma,” according to these “liberals” is that other liberals, with their pesky notions of due process, civil rights and civil liberties, are insufficiently willing to tear apart families.) Then Heimpel wrote up a summary in a paper called “Child Welfare’s Parental Preference.”

At a time when The New York Times is breaking new ground with stories about foster care as “the new Jane Crow” and a piece about what some lawyers for the city’s child welfare agency really think, the Chronicle ignores all that (except for publishing an attack on the Times story) and showcases the deniers – exactly as one would expect from the Fox News of child welfare.

If he really considers himself a journalist, Heimpel should be paying close attention to CJR essays such as the one from Meyerson, who writes:

Not only do our racial identities as reporters matter, but so does our understanding of how race functions in the United States. It is everywhere, and in everything. It is in what we eat, it is with whom we eat, and it is in what we talk about while we’re eating. It’s where we live and whom we live with. It is in the absence of living around those who are of a different race, and it is living in close proximity to those who are of a different race. It’s in the conversations we have, or don’t have, with our neighbors, our parents, our friends. Race is as much a part of our lives as breathing, and its consideration must be integral to our reporting.

As long as the Chronicle of Social Change doesn’t get that, it will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Monday, October 16, 2017

NCCPR in Youth Today on the Pennsylvania county where almost every impoverished child may be "seen" by CPS

It is child welfare’s equivalent of stop-and-frisk. It happens over and over again, it’s traumatic, it’s usually baseless and unnecessary, and it’s racially biased. It is a child abuse investigation.

Increasingly, across America, this kind of state-inflicted trauma is becoming a routine part of growing up. Nationwide, a study suggests it happens to a majority of black children. And in one Pennsylvania county, there may be no child, or at least no impoverished child, who is spared.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Fox News of child welfare is always ready to cozy up to the group home industry

Suppose, hypothetically, we are able to start all over again and create a child welfare system from scratch.

At a meeting to figure out how to do this someone says: “I have a great idea!  Let’s take young people who have suffered severe trauma, either because they’ve really been abused or because they were needlessly taken away from everyone they know and love, and put them all together in one place! Let’s do this right at the age when they are most vulnerable to peer pressure! It would work especially well for youth who are victims of sex trafficking! What could possibly go wrong?”

Odds are anyone proposing such a harebrained scheme would be laughed out of the meeting.

But that is exactly what we do now.  Call them group homes, or residential treatment centers or orphanages, or shelters, it’s all pretty much the same. And in a field where there is very little consensus, there is widespread agreement on one point: “Congregate care” is almost always the worst option for children and youth.  It’s not just that the places have an alarming tendency to turn into hellholes. It’s also that the very concept of congregate care is a failure.

So, why do we keep doing it? Because over more than a hundred years a great big, powerful group home industry has grown up to run them. And they don’t take kindly to anything that would even slightly curb their power. This was well-documented this year by the San Francisco Chronicle in its brilliant expose of how advocates for one of the worst forms of institution, parking place shelters, defeated reform efforts.

Most recently, the group home industry has found a new “market” to exploit – or perhaps the correct term is re-exploit: young people who have been victims of sex trafficking. The industry got a last-minute amendment added to federal legislation that would have slightly curbed the use of congregate care to exempt this population from the restrictions (the entire bill ultimately failed). But sexually trafficked youth are among those likely to suffer most from institutionalization.


The group home industry’s best friend

During all of this the group home industry has had a reliable ally – a so-called news website that’s always ready to stand up for the industry’s interests.  I’m speaking, of course, of  the Fox News of child welfare – the so-called Chronicle of Social Change.

Along with promoting odious racial stereotypes, the Chronicle runs story after story bemoaning an effort by California to ever-so-slightly curb the misuse and overuse of group homes and institutions.  Yes, the stories include a quote or two from a token supporter of the reforms. But that perspective is drowned out by gushy prose about a particular group home or shelter that is now at risk, and hand-wringing quotes from people who run the places and their allies.

The premise is always the same: Congregate care may not be the best option, the story admits, but there simply are not enough foster homes.  Group homes and foster homes are presented as the only options. The idea that states could solve the foster home “shortage” by taking fewer children needlessly is never even mentioned.

So readers dependent on Chronicle “news” stories would never know that California tears apart families at nearly double the rate of Illinois, where independent court-appointed monitors have found that child safety improved. They would never know that Los Angeles County takes away children at well over twice the rate of New York City and more than triple the rate of metropolitan Chicago.

The latest case in point:  this story, which ran under the headline: “With Group Home Reforms in California, Fears Emerge About How Sexually Trafficked Youth Will Fare.”

The focus of the story is a Santa Clara group home called The Nest. Here’s how the story begins: 

After a 16-month hiatus, The Nest, a Santa Clara group home for commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC), is scheduled to re-open at the end of the month.
“We can report that The Nest, our specialized residential group home program for CSEC girls is definitely NOT closed for good,” Clinical Director Renee Brown wrote in an email. “California has a serious staffing shortage,” she added, “thus the long duration to obtain persons dedicated to this very traumatized population.”
The Nest, a small six-bed residential facility, found itself short-staffed in May 2016 when two employees were let go in the wake of a series of complaints. Although The Nest is a small facility, it serves a population of kids who often require specialized services. And with two staff down, The Nest could no longer meet the needs of its youth.
“We weren’t able to deliver the kind of treatment necessary, so we took time out. The timeout was longer than we thought,” said Brown in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.

Readers don’t find out what really was behind the “series of complaints” that led to the “hiatus” or “timeout” until the very bottom of the story:
 Before temporarily closing, The Nest had a series of problems with staff that led the state’s licensing agency to file six investigation reports on the facility during 2016. The complaints ranged from staff calling youth derogatory names to staff being aware that clients were using drugs, going AWOL and becoming involved in sex trafficking, and one youth was pregnant. Two staff were said to be at fault and were let go, leading to the year-long search for new employees.

 Other group homes get the same treatment

The Nest isn’t the only place to get this kind of sympathetic coverage from the Chronicle.  Two years ago the Chronicle published a 2,000 word encomium to another California group home for the same population, this one in Redwood City.  It featured gushy paragraphs like this:

The interior walls of the yellow craftsman style home … are all painted bright colors and dusted with empowering quotes; the aesthetics a small indication of the lengths to which Annie Corbett … and her staff have gone to ensure that this home is a safe place …

After all, if the walls look pretty and the quotes are “empowering” what could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, actually. Two years later the state had shut the place down, and the owner agreed never to open a group home in Redwood City again.

The Chronicle responded with still another piece sympathizing not with the home’s victims, but with the home. The headline: “Complexities of Sheltering Sexually Exploited Youth Result in Closure of San Mateo Group Home.”  Before the Chronicle decided my dissenting views were unwelcome, I wrote about it here.

The Chronicle treats first-stop parking place “shelters” the same way. Just this year, the San Francisco Chronicle exposed the horrors of many such places in California. And, as with other institutions, there is strong evidence that the shelters do none of the things they claim to do and harm the children they are meant to help.

But in the Chronicle, shelter stories have headlines such as “Los Angeles to Shutter Celebrated Center for Abused Children” (which I discussed here) and “California Time Limits 30-Day Shelters for Foster Youth in Midst of ‘Epic Crisis’ in Foster Parent Recruitment.”

Contrast this to the approach of a real news source, Youth Today, which, in its heyday ran front-page stories about institutions that had crises of conscience and reformed themselves to de-emphasize congregate care – places like Youth Villages and EMQ Child and Family Services. Both stories focused on how the reformers had to fight the group home industry in order to make the changes.

The Chronicle’s extremist friends

The Chronicle cozies up to the group home industry, promotes group homes and derides safe, proven alternatives to foster care for the same reason it gives a platform to the most vile racial stereotyping: Chronicle publisher Daniel Heimpel is allied with the most extreme elements in the take-the-child-and-run faction of child welfare.

He’s co-authored op-eds with Elizabeth Bartholet, whose ideas are so extreme that they include requiring every family with a young child to open itself to mandatory government surveillance. (No, I’m not exaggerating. There’s a summary of her views in the section of this post called “Harvard’s resident extremist”  and the details are in her own book, Nobody’s Children, pp. 170, 171).

Other Bartholet proposals, if implemented, would lead to the removal of at least two million children every year. (Again, see this post for how that figure is calculated.) When Bartholet and her allies gathered for a conference attacking efforts to keep families together (with no dissenters invited), it was Heimpel who wrote up the proceedings, in a paper called “Child Welfare’s Parental Preference.”

Heimpel also provided extensive help to Bartholet for a paper she wrote attacking differential response, a safe, proven alternative to child abuse investigations in some cases. Then he promoted Bartholet’s findings in the Chronicle. (He did disclose his role.) Then he co-authored an op-ed column attacking differential response in Massachusetts – exploiting a horror story that never involved differential response at all.

Bartholet also is a leader of the movement that insists that child welfare is magically exempt from the racial bias that permeates all other aspects of American life. Heimpel not only published but personally promoted the vicious column that dredged up a pernicious racial stereotype.

Given that agenda, one can only wonder: Just how bad does a group home or institution have to get before the Chronicle will stop doing puff pieces about it?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to fail up in child welfare: Bobby Cagle oversaw a foster-care panic when he ran child welfare in Georgia. Now he’s going to run child welfare in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
            Last November, when the federal government finally released state-by-state data on the number of children trapped in foster care the year before (yes, the feds release the data more than a year after they get it) the Associated Press reported on the grim news this way:

            The number of U.S. children in foster care is climbing after a sustained decline, but just five states account for nearly two-thirds of the recent increase.

            Among those states, the one with the worst record – the one in which the number of children in foster care increased at the highest rate – was Georgia.

According to the state’s own data, the number of children trapped in foster care on any given day skyrocketed 64 percent from 8,136 in September 2013 to 13,266 just three years later. As of March, 2017, the most recent month for which data are available, the figure had reached 13,348.

            There was a similar surge in entries into foster care – the number of children taken from their parents over a course of year. That figure increased more than 45 percent from 2013 to 2016.

            What’s been happening in Georgia since the end of 2013, the sharp, sudden surge in the number of children taken away and the number of children trapped in foster care, is a classic foster-care panic. And the man in charge of the Georgia child welfare system for almost this entire time was Bobby Cagle.

Now, Cagle has a new job. By a vote of 3 to 2, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors turned down a candidate who almost certainly would have been superior – JooYeun Chang – and decided to let Cagle bring his take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare to the largest locally-run public child welfare agency in the country, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

Los Angeles already tears apart families at a rate far above the average for America's biggest cities and their surrounding counties. Now the Supervisors are bringing in someone likely to make that record even worse.

Before Cagle, Georgia was making progress

            Before Cagle took over, Georgia had reduced its rates of foster care placement and removal to among the lowest in the country. So I’m sure Cagle’s defenders will rush to haul out the most tired cliché in child welfare and inform us that the “pendulum” had swung too far.

            But the evidence says otherwise. From 2006 through 2013, even as the number of Georgia children in foster care steadily declined, the key measure of child safety – the rate at which children who have been abused or neglected are maltreated again – also declined. In other words, child safety improved. In contrast, during the years of foster-care panic this measure has gotten worse.

            So why the foster-care panic?

Of course Georgia officials cited drug abuse, the all-purpose excuse for skyrocketing foster care. But many states have drug problems, they don’t all let their foster-care populations increase by more than 64 percent. And while the problem of drug abuse, like the problem of child abuse, is serious and real, it does not follow that the knee-jerk solution needs to be tearing apart families.

That is a lesson we should have learned from a previous “drug plague” – crack cocaine. University of Florida researchers studied two groups of children born with cocaine in their systems; one group was placed in foster care, another left with birth mothers able to care for them.  After six months, the babies were tested using all the usual measures of infant development: rolling over, sitting up, reaching out.  Typically, the children placed with their birth mothers did better.  For the foster children, the separation from their mothers was more toxic than the cocaine.

It is extremely difficult to take a swing at so-called “bad mothers” without the blow landing on their children. That doesn’t mean we can simply leave children with hopelessly addicted parents.  But it does mean that in most cases, drug treatment for the mother is a better option than foster care for the child. 

No, it's not just drugs

But Georgia officials also cited two other reasons. Georgia is a state-run child welfare system, but individual county offices each had their own child abuse hotlines. In 2013, Georgia created a single, centralized hotline with one statewide number. Reports alleging child abuse increased sharply – presumably because of all the attendant publicity. Such publicity typically is accompanied by pleas to report anything and everything no matter how absurd.

People do just that. So there should have been greater skepticism about reports and more careful screening.  In Pennsylvania, for example, where as in California, individual counties run child welfare, after the legislature passed a series of feel-good laws in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, reports alleging child abuse soared.  In Philadelphia, which has weak leadership, entries into foster care soared, too. But not in Pittsburgh, where the head of the county human services agency understood that the increase was likely to consist largely of false reports and trivial cases.

There is no evidence that Cagle brought the same critical eye to the surge in reports in Georgia. That’s probably because of the third factor.

As AP put it “Another factor [in Georgia] has been public outrage over some highly publicized cases in which children died from severe abuse even though caseworkers had prior indications they were at risk.”

That is, of course, the classic trigger for foster-care panics. And that is where leadership makes all the difference. Instead of refusing to be stampeded into tearing apart more families needlessly, Cagle threw gasoline on the fire. He drastically curbed a program to divert what appeared to be less serious cases to voluntary help, instead of launching full-scale child abuse investigations.  True, not every study has found that this approach, commonly called “differential response” is safe.  Only 25 out of 26 did -- and many found that safety improved.

Cagle’s move further strained caseworkers, leaving them less time to give any case the careful attention it needs. That may explain why the key measure of child safety, reabuse of children known-to-the-system, actually has worsened during the foster-care panic.

The same lousy system, only bigger

Cagle’s response: a caseworker hiring binge. But if all you do is hire more workers, even as you undermine safeguards against needless removal, all you get is the same lousy system only bigger.

The foster-care panic also may have contributed to the death of a two-year-old foster child, Laila Marie Daniel. A foster-care panic creates an artificial “shortage” of foster homes, making caseworkers less likely to scrutinize those homes carefully. But while Cagle was quick to suggest that deaths of children at the hands of birth parents required systemic changes, such as curbing differential response, he dismissed the Daniel case as an aberration and fired the caseworker and supervisor handling the case.

So why would a track record like this appeal to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors?  Because Cagle is good at doing what a majority of Supervisors appear to cherish most: placating politicians and media.

Anything that smacks of “cracking down on child abuse” is popular with a press and public that reacts, rightly, with shock and horror at what a few sadistic brutes do to their children, but is largely unaware or uninterested in the enormous harm that needless foster care does in cases that are far more typical, such as cases in which family poverty is confused with “neglect.” Two massive studies have found that in typical child welfare cases children left in their own homes typically fare better even than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care.

So the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which fanned the flames of foster-care panic in Georgia much as Garrett Therolf did did when he covered that beat for the Los Angeles Times, gave Cagle a fond farewell when the L.A. appointment was announced. The quote from “Together Georgia,” a trade association for the state’s foster-care providers, is particularly gushy.

While placating the press, the pols, and the providers, Cagle made caseworkers happy by hiring more of them and by doing something genuinely constructive, giving them a raise.  But he also wasted money on a giant pay raise for foster parents – in some cases raising their pay by more than 60 percent.  That same money could have been used for child care and rent subsidies so parents didn’t lose their children in the first place because of poverty.

So it’s clear that Bobby Cagle knows how to make journalists, politicians and foster-care agencies happy. But the impoverished families of Los Angeles now have even more reason to be afraid of DCFS.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Yes, NYC, there IS a foster care panic. The Mayor’s own “Management Report” proves it

Several posts to this Blog have documented the desperate efforts of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services to pretend there has been no foster-care panic – no sharp spike in children torn from their families and consigned to foster care – in the wake of the death of Zymere Perkins in late September, 2016.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's annual
"Mayor's Management Report" confirms the
foster-care panic.
Officials have stumbled all over themselves – and contradicted each other. ACS Commissioner David Hansell said no, there’s been no increase at all, then a deputy would say: Well, yes, there’s been an increase, but at no greater rate than the increase in reports alleging child abuse or neglect.  (Because of the Sandusky Rule, discussed in detail here, that would still indicate a foster-care panic.) Then still another official would contradict them both.

But now we have the definitive word from all of these officials’ boss: Mayor Bill de Blasio. In comes in the form of the section about ACS in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, an exhaustive annual compendium of stats and spin.  The most recent report covers the city’s last full fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2016 through June 30 2017.

According to this report, during that time period:

● Reports alleging child abuse or neglect increased by 7.2 percent.

● But entries into foster care soared by 13 percent – the first year-to-year increase since 2009.

So yes, there is a foster-care panic, and no it’s not because of increased reports alleging abuse or neglect.

And there were other disturbing data:

● The number of families receiving services to keep children out of foster care dropped.

● The proportion of allegations that workers deemed “indicated” – which means only that the worker checked a box on a form indicating s/he thinks there is “some credible evidence” there was abuse or neglect, even if there is more evidence of innocence, – is up sharply.  (The New York standard for declaring a case “indicated” is even lower than most states.)

This often happens during a foster-care panic, even though indication or substantiation rates actually should go down because during a panic anyone and everyone is encouraged to report anything and everything, no matter how absurd.

And perhaps most alarming: The time period covered includes nearly three months before Zymere Perkins died, in other words, three months before the panic began, so it does not reflect the full extent of the panic.

That a lot of these removals are unnecessary is made abundantly clear by the  fact that, during the years that entries into foster care declined, data show no compromise of child safety; in fact, key safety indicators improved,

The extent of unnecessary removal also is aptly illustrated by the New York Times story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow.”

And the panic appears to be continuing.  The latest monthly report from ACS, which includes July, 2017 the first month of the new fiscal year shows that removals to foster care are up significantly over the same month in 2016.  So everything that Times story found probably is getting worse.

Monday, September 25, 2017

NCCPR in Youth Today: Abuse in foster care: Research vs. the child welfare system's alternative facts

Suppose, hypothetically, you could gather in one room 333 former foster children. Now, suppose you asked how many of them had been abused while in foster care. Does anyone seriously believe that only one of those 333 former foster children would raise her or his hand?
Both common sense and an overwhelming mass of evidence says: Of course not.
But, apparently, Wendy Rickman wants us to believe it. That’s frightening, because Rickman is a high-ranking official in a state child welfare agency. She runs the division of adult, children and family services for the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).

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.


● 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.