Monday, October 30, 2017

A Halloween reminder to CASA: No, it’s not a good idea to raise money by holding a talent show with a blackface act. (And yes, one CASA chapter actually did that.)

We suggest that the National office for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program use this item from The Daily Show as a training video


This Halloween, The Daily Show offers a useful history lesson: The topic, why it’s a really bad idea for white people to dress up in blackface:




But the lesson isn’t just useful for Halloween. It’s also something that anyone involved with that most sacred cow of child welfare – Court-Appointed Special Advocates -- needs to know.

CASA is a program in which minimally trained volunteers, overwhelmingly white and middle-class, are assigned to families who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Then they tell judges if the children should be taken from those families, sometimes forever.   That, of course, raises problems of inherent bias.  But some CASA chapters have made their biases depressingly obvious.

Consider what happened nine years ago in Arkansas City, Kansas. To raise funds for the local CASA chapter, they held a talent competition. The winning act featured the mayor of Arkansas City – dressed in blackface.  The head of the local CASA chapter couldn’t understand why that was a problem.   "It wasn't black black," she said. "It was all really just tan." That’s only the beginning. All the awful details are here.

It would be one thing if this were just an isolated example of racial bias. But it’s not.

● There was the CASA chapter in Marin County, California, which fell apart when the state CASA association merely asked that they strive for more diversity among the volunteers.

● There was the appalling racist rant by someone who says he volunteered in a scandal-plagued Washington State CASA program for 20 years.

● There’s the fact that the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that CASA volunteers spend significantly less time on a case if the child to whom they are assigned is Black.

● And then there’s the question of whether the very structure of CASA makes it, in the words of a law review article, “an exercise of white supremacy.”

Showing the Daily Show video won’t solve all these problems; not even close. But it might help prevent the worst excesses of racial bias in CASA programs.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Yes, you CAN reduce foster care – even in Ohio

Two counties embrace family preservation, one by “[taking] to heart” NCCPR recommendations.


In 2006, NCCPR released a report on child welfare in Ohio, with a particular focus on Butler County, just north of Cincinnati.  Ohio is one of the states in which individual counties run child welfare agencies.

Last week, a story in the Dayton Daily News about deaths of children previously known to those agencies all the way back to 2009 included this:

After the 2006 death of Marcus Fiesel, a Middletown boy who was bound and left in a closet by his foster parents, Butler County was the subject of a scathing report by [NCCPR], which said the system is too quick to yank children out of troubled homes and place them in foster care, where they may not get the same level of supervision. 
Butler County took many of the report’s recommendations to heart and has seen success in the years since, according to Butler County Job and Family Services Director Bill Morrison. 
The county has achieved a 20 percent reduction in removals and did not have a child death from abuse or neglect post-reunification in the years examined by this newspaper.

Butler was not alone.  Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, reduced needless foster care by embracing “differential response” an approach found to be safe by 25 of the 26 studies to examine it.  Montgomery County had the same excellent results as Butler concerning fatalities.

 Learning from an earlier “drug plague”


What makes these results all the more notable is that they come from Ohio which is, we are told in one news story after another, the “epicenter” of the latest “drug plague” – the opioid epidemic.

So how did foster care go down in these counties when it is going up elsewhere in Ohio? 

Perhaps these counties learned from an earlier 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 left with their birth mothers did better.  For the foster children, the separation from their mothers was more toxic than the cocaine.

Similarly, consider what The New York Times found when it looked at the best way to treat infants born with opioids in their systems. According to the Times

a growing body of evidence suggests that what these babies need is what has been taken away: a mother.  Separating newborns in withdrawal can slow the infants’ recovery, studies show, and undermine an already fragile parenting relationship. When mothers are close at hand, infants in withdrawal require less medication and fewer costly days in intensive care.
“Mom is a powerful treatment,” said Dr. Matthew Grossman, a pediatric hospitalist at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital who has studied the care of opioid-dependent babies.
  
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. 

Butler and Montgomery Counties also seem to have done something else: They took a long, hard look at all the cases that did not involve drug abuse to see if those children really needed to be torn from everyone they know and love.

A caution about how results are measured


The results concerning fatalities do have to be looked at with caution.  Indeed, I have long argued that you can’t judge child safety simply by looking at fatality numbers. That is for a reason for which we all should be grateful.

Though each is among the worst imaginable tragedies, let us be grateful that the number of such tragedies is low enough to rise or fall due to random chance.  A child returned to his home in Montgomery County could die tomorrow. If that happens, you may be sure those wedded to a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare will rush to scapegoat differential response.

So it’s not changes in the number of fatalities that prove you can’t have child safety without family preservation.  It’s a much larger “evidence base”:

●The reason we know differential response is safe is not because no child returned to his own home has died in Montgomery County since 2009. It’s because of all those studies.

●The reason we know Intensive Family Preservation Services is safe and effective is because of all the studies that prove it.

●The reason we know that rebuilding systems to emphasize safe, proven approaches to keeping families together works is because independent court-appointed monitors have found that it works, as, for example, in Alabama. (A member of NCCPR’s volunteer board of directors brought the lawsuit that led to the Alabama reforms.)

●The reason we know lower rates of removal can improve child safety is because of places such as New York City. In New York, key safety indicators  - the rate at which children “known to the system” were reabused and the rate of foster-care recidivism (children returned from foster care who had to be placed again) - improved when the city reduced needless removals of children.

That’s why other Ohio counties should be learning from Butler and Montgomery. And that’s why take-the-child-and-run does not have to be child welfare’s knee-jerk response to every new problem, or even to every new drug plague.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Rhode Island overuses group homes – because Rhode Island takes away too many children

A story in the Providence Journal on Thursday ran under the headline “Rhode Island Kids Count says state relies too heavily on group homes.”

To which I must respectfully reply: Tell us something we don’t know.

Seven years ago, NCCPR released a comprehensive report on Rhode Island child welfare emphasizing the same point: Rhode Island is way out of line in its misuse and overuse of the worst form of “care” – group homes and institutions.

We included a section comparing Rhode Island’s dismal record to Maine, a state which once had the same problem, but dramatically reformed. (There since has been some backsliding in Maine – as one would expect given that the state currently is run by Paul LePage, the man Politico called “America’s craziest governor.” – but it still does better than Rhode Island.)

But unlike Kids Count which gave the usual knee jerk (and wrong) explanation for this overreliance – a supposed shortage of foster homes - we examined the real reason: Rhode Island was tearing apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation. 

That’s still true.

The most recent comparative data available, from 2015, show that Rhode Island took children from their homes at a rate more than 70 percent higher than the national average – even when rates of child poverty are factored in.  Rhode Island’s rate of removal is double and triple the rate of states that are, relatively speaking, models for keeping children safe.

So, as we’ve said about other states with similarly absurd rates of removal, either Rhode Island is a cesspool of depravity, with vastly more child abuse than most places, or Rhode Island is taking away too many children.

No, it’s not because of opioids


And no, the all-purpose excuse for high rates of child removal, the “opioid epidemic” doesn’t hold up either.

● Rhode Island has been an extreme outlier for at least 16 years, since long before this latest “drug plague”

● Other states hard hit by opioids, such as Connecticut, do not take children at nearly as high a rate. That’s because Connecticut is responding by beefing up drug treatment instead of simply jerking its knee and tearing apart families. (For more about how the opioid epidemic has become a phony excuse for taking away children, see this NCCPR Issue Paper.)

So no, Rhode Island doesn’t have too few foster parents. Rhode Island has too many foster children. Get the children who don’t need to be in foster care back into their own homes and there will be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for the children who really need to be there  - and no need to warehouse children in institutions. That’s how Maine did it.

Rhode Island’s failure to face up to the real reason it misuses group homes and institutions led us to call our 2010 report “State of Denial.”


Sadly, the denial has only grown deeper.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Churnalism at the Fox News of child welfare

A “news story” about an alleged prevention initiative by New York City’s child welfare agency is little more than an agency press release.


Nine years ago, British journalist Nick Davies coined the perfect word to describe a disturbing phenomenon in media: churnalism. It means taking an organization’s press release, adding little or nothing, rewriting it a bit and presenting it as a news story.

For a classic example, look no further than the Fox News of child welfare, the so-called Chronicle of Social Change.  Yesterday, they published a story about what is said to be a new prevention initiative launched by New York City’s child welfare agency, the Administration for children’s Services (ACS).







Not a whole lot of difference, is there?

The initiative might be a good idea – or not


The prevention initiative discussed in the story / press release might be a very good idea.  Then again it might not. By relying solely on vague descriptions from people at ACS, the story leaves readers no way to tell.

Primary prevention can mean many different things. Will this initiative simply be more “counseling” and “parent education” – services primarily designed to make the “helpers” feel good?  Will it be a backdoor method of spying on families, exposing them to even more “mandated reporters” of child abuse? 

Or will it involve replacing this dominant “public health” approach to child welfare with a “social justice” approach - linking families to concrete help to ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty, such as child care or housing assistance?  The comments from ACS hint that it may be more like the latter. If so, this could be a real step forward.

On the other hand, the press release claims that the initiative is “ACS’ first funded, community-based initiative committed to partnering with local communities to support child and family well-being,” a claim duly repeated in the story.

That’s not true.

More than a decade ago, ACS and a group of foundations partnered on an outstanding prevention initiative called Bridge Builders in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx. It was highly successful, and NCCPR received a grant from one of the foundations, the Child Welfare Fund, to assist in production of a report about the program’s success. 

ACS responded to this success by severely cutting the program’s budget.

The fact that the press release does not mention Bridge Builders, while describing the supposedly “new” initiative as a first raises questions about whether this will be a similar initiative or something geared more toward providing the wrong kind of help.

The story should have at least tried to answer these questions.

Plenty of additional sources


New York City is unusual in the breadth and depth of its advocacy for families. There are groups such as the Child Welfare Organizing Project and a network of high-quality providers of legal services for families. What do these groups know about this project? What do they think of it? Did ACS consult with any of them?  If not, how can it be a real prevention initiative? 

But, as usual, when it comes to the Fox News of child welfare, voices of the families themselves are not heard. 

ACS’ version of ACS’ history


To the extent that the Chronicle story adds anything to the press release, it’s still only ACS’ side of the story, and the account is, in some respects, misleading.

We’re told about the enormous progress the agency has made in reducing the number of children in foster care over the past 20 years.  The story begins by referring to the initiative as “a bid to maintain the pace of reforms that have seen New York City’s foster care population plummet…”

Later the story says “The effort is consistent with the city’s general trend of reducing entries into foster care, and reinvesting in prevention services.”  This is accompanied by a graphic supplied by – yes, ACS itself.

Some of these claims are, in fact, true. There has indeed been a commendable long-term decline in the number of children in New York City foster care on any given day – with no compromise of safety. 

There also has been a commendable long-term reduction in entries. But that reduction has been less consistent. There were foster care panics that sent entries way up from 1996 through 1998 and from 2006 through 2009.  And there is a foster-care panic underway right now.  Not only has the pace of reform not been maintained in this regard, at the moment it’s being reversed.

As for the increase in preventive services:

● The foster-care panic stopped the increase. Between October 2016 and May 2017, the number of such cases was down 20 percent compared to the same period the year before.  

● Even the long-term figures touted by ACS raise questions. If the “services” are simply hoops families must jump through – again, typically “counseling” and “parent education” -- they sometimes do more harm than good. 

● There is considerable controversy in New York City over whether ACS is really investing enough of the savings from reduced foster care in prevention.

But, of course, you’re not going to know any of this if you rely for information about ACS solely on ACS – or if you rely on the Fox News of child welfare.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

New York City bill would be a small step toward curbing computerized racial profiling in child welfare

It is the latest fad in child welfare: Use a computer algorithm that supposedly can predict who will abuse a child. The term commonly used in the field is “predictive analytics.” A more accurate term would be “computerized racial profiling.”

Child welfare is not the only field to embrace predictive analytics. It’s already in use – and proven to be racially biased – in law enforcement, for example. A few members of the New York City Council, including the chair of the council’s Technology Committee, James Vacca, see the danger. They’ve introduced legislation that would, at least, bring a small measure of transparency to how the city uses predictive analytics. Columbia Journalism Review reports that the committee’s hearing on the bill this week was among the best attended in recent history.

The bill comes just in time.  The former head of the city’s child welfare agency, Gladys Carrion, expressed doubts about predictive analytics. But she “retired” as Commissioner of New York’s Administration for Children’s Services under pressure after a high-profile child fatality. Her replacement, David Hansell, gives every indication of embracing this new and dangerous fad. That is likely to make worse everything The New York Times found in its recent story about foster care as the new Jane Crow.

The dangers of computerized racial profiling


If predictive analytics worked as well as proponents say it does, Hillary Clinton would be president. 
Remember how the predictive analytics algorithms
said she would be president?
The algorithms from organizations such as FiveThirtyEight and the Times kept telling us she would win.

But, as a Times analysis (published after the election) points out, there is reason for concern about predictive analytics that goes far beyond that one “yuuuge” failure. And those concerns should extend to child welfare.

ProPublica reports that predictive analytics already has gone terribly wrong in criminal justice, falsely flagging Black defendants as future criminals and underestimating risk if the defendant is white.  A new analysis of ProPublica’s data confirmed their findings.

●In child welfare, a New Zealand experiment in predictive analytics touted as a great success wrongly predicted child abuse more than half the time.

● In Los Angeles County, another experiment was hailed as a huge success in spite of a “false positive” rate of more than 95 percent.  And that experiment was conducted by the private, for-profit software company that wanted to sell its wares to the county.

● The same company is developing a new approach in Florida. This one targets poor people. It compares birth records to three other databases: child welfare system involvement, public assistance and “mothers who had been involved in the state’s home visiting program.”

So listen-up “at-risk” new mothers: In the world of predictive analytics, the fact that you reached out for help when you needed it and accepted assistance on how to be better parents isn’t a sign of strength – it’s a reason to consider you suspect, and make it more likely that your children will be taken away.
Philip Browning
None of this has curbed the enthusiasm of predictive analytics fans. Indeed, Hansell has brought in as a consultant a key backer of the L.A. experiment, the head of the Los Angeles County child welfare agency at the time, Philip Browning.

The campaign for predictive analytics is led largely, though not exclusively, by the field’s worst extremists – those who have been most fanatical about advocating a massive increase in the number of children torn from everyone they know and love and consigned to the chaos of foster care – and also by those most deeply “in denial” when it comes to the problem of racial bias in child welfare.

Some predictive analytics boosters have even argued that “prenatal risk assessments could be used to identify children at risk of maltreatment while still in the womb.” Though these researchers argue that such targeting should be used in order to provide help to the mothers, that’s not how child welfare works in the real world.

“Yes, it’s Big Brother,” said another predictive analytics enthusiast. “But we have to have our eyes open to the potential of this model.”

The real potential of this model was aptly summed up by Yung-Mi Lee, a supervising attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services at the hearing on the New York City bill. Said Lee:

At worst, such tools provide a veneer of color- and class-blind objectivity while exacerbating the racial and economic discrimination and other inequalities in law enforcement practices and criminal and civil penalties.

If anything, the problem is worse in child welfare, where the rest of the process – the records and, in most states, even the court hearings, also are secret.

The New York bill


The New York bill doesn’t do a lot – but it would be a small step forward.

First, it would require that algorithms used “for the purposes of targeting services to persons, imposing penalties upon persons or policing,” be public. That would make it possible for experts to test for bias. It also might eliminate private for-profit companies from pushing their products, since presumably they wouldn’t want their secret formulas made public.

Second, the bill would allow any New Yorker to “plug in” her or his own data and see the result.

So, for example, if the child welfare agency starts using predictive analytics, you could plug in your age, your race, your income level, and whether you’ve reached out for help and see if the agency thinks you’re high risk to abuse your child.

Unfortunately, the bill provides no redress if you find out that you are, indeed, falsely labeled “high risk” because of factors such as race or income (or factors such as whether you’ve changed homes or schools a lot, which are, in reality, measures of race and income).

And transparency alone is not enough.  Los Angeles County quietly decided not to move forward with the secret software from a private company – the one with the 95 percent false positive rate. The state of California is now embarking on what it promises will be a transparent algorithm and an open process to develop it.  But that alone doesn’t eliminate bias, it only creates the potential to reduce bias.


NCCPR has a detailed discussion of predictive analytics in child welfare in our publication Big Data is Watching You.

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?