Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Congratulations, Alaska: You’re the foster care capital of America

At the end of 2016, the federal government finally released state-by-state foster care numbers for 2015.
Congratulations, Alaska: You’re number one!
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform uses a “Rate of Removal Index” to determine each state’s propensity to place children in foster care. The index compares the number of children entering care over the course of a year and in care on the last day of the federal fiscal year to the number of impoverished children in each state.
In 2015, Alaska had proportionately more children in foster care than any other state. Have a look.

We believe the fairest comparison factors in rates of child poverty. But when you instead compare the number of children in foster care to the total child population, Alaska still has proportionately more children in foster care than any other state.

As for the number of children taken from their homes over the course of the year, Alaska’s rate of removal is only the third highest in the nation – again, that ranking holds whether comparing to the number of impoverished children in each state or the total child population.
Alaska’s rate of child removal in 2015 was more than triple the national average, and more than quadruple the rate in states that are, relatively speaking, models for keeping children safe.

There is no evidence that Alaska children are three times safer from abuse and neglect than the national average. And check out this dismal trend: Between 2012 and 2015 the number of children taken from their homes over the course of a year in Alaska soared by 65 percent – with most of that increase between 2014 and 2015. Nationwide, there also was an increase during this time of less than 8 percent.

But then, why should anyone expect anything different when the head of the Alaska child welfare agency, the Office of Children’s Services (OCS), confuses child removal with child safety, and almost brags about breaking federal law requiring “reasonable efforts” to keep families together?

I’m sure the OCS will rush to blame the latest “drug plague.” That’s what child welfare agencies always do.  That’s what Arkansas tried to do. That state also had a spike in foster care numbers. So their child welfare agency hired consultants to tell them what they wanted to hear – that it was all because of drugs and budget cuts.

But the consultants didn’t go along. They found the problem was the culture of their child welfare agency and the courts. Imagine what they’d find in Alaska, where the rate of removal is well over double the rate in Arkansas.

You can be sure something else is happening in Alaska as well: Children in real danger, children who really should be removed from their homes, are being overlooked.  Because the more a system is overloaded with false allegations, trivial cases and cases in which family poverty is confused with neglect, the less time caseworkers have to investigate any case properly. So they make more errors in all directions.
Who is Targeted in Alaska

Although the most famous dysfunctional family in Alaska is white, they don’t seem to have been the subject of so much as an investigation (nor should they be). But imagine if that family were Native American. In Alaska, 18 percent of children are Native American or Native Alaskan. They represent 42 percent of foster children. But then, in a state where the “reasonable efforts” requirement is treated as a joke, it should come as no surprise that the Indian Child Welfare Act is ignored.

You can’t blame all this on money.
I’m a tax-and-spend liberal, and proud of it. And there is nothing at which I’d rather throw money than child welfare. I’d be glad to see all states spend more. But Alaska’s already spending a lot.  As of 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, Alaska was spending on child welfare at the third highest rate in the country, well over double the national average.

Even when you factor in the cost of living and vast travel distances in Alaska, it’s hard to make a case that the problem is lack of money.

The real problem is the great paradox of child welfare: The worse the option, the more it costs. Safe, proven alternatives to foster homes cost less than foster homes, which cost less than group homes, which cost less than institutions. So Alaska winds up spending on child welfare at one of the highest rates in the country — and getting dismal results.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A reporter whitewashes racial bias in child welfare

In former Los Angeles Times reporter Garrett Therolf’s world, white people “marshal data.” Black people rely only on “folkways.”

Therolf has left the building. But he left behind  a story
permeated with racial bias.
UPDATE, FEB. 22: Compare Therolf's failure to how Laura Nahmias covered the same issue for Politico New York.

Imagine for a moment that a reporter on the criminal justice beat wrote a story claiming that there are “two theories” about the police and the African-American community: Either there is more crime in poor Black neighborhoods - because there is more poverty - or there is police brutality, harassment, needless stop-and-frisk searches, traumatic interrogations of the innocent, false arrests, etc.

One would hope such a journalist would be laughed out of the newsroom.

But, as is so often the case, the standards for child welfare, and for reporting on child welfare, are lower.

That brings me to the last two stories begun by reporter Garrett Therolf before he left the Los Angeles Times last year. He completed them while at his new job and they were published last week.

Several years ago, Therolf faced a lot of criticism on this blog and elsewhere for his child welfare coverage. Therolf is certainly not the only reason Los Angeles tears apart children at a rate well above the average for big cities, double the rate of New York and triple the rate of Chicago, but he’s a part of it.

One of his last Times stories follows a particular case through the Los Angeles County child welfare system.  That story actually is pretty good - except when it tries to deal directly with issues of race. And there are serious problems with a sidebar devoted specifically to that issue.

The error of either/or

Therolf begins the sidebar by noting that while eight percent of Los Angeles County children are Black, they represent 28 percent of the county’s foster children.  Then he writes:

There are basically two theories, and the approach an agency takes to addressing the problem depends, at least in part, on which theory it accepts. One holds that social worker bias against black parents is to blame. The other argues that black children truly are victimized at higher rates.

So it’s either/or, all-or-nothing.  This eliminates the obvious possibility that, as with criminal justice, because of poverty, both can be at play.

The problem is even more complicated in child welfare. Most state laws, including California’s effectively define poverty itself as “neglect.”*  So it’s easy to point to statistics and say: See? There’s more “neglect” in Black communities precisely because there is more poverty there – and that poverty is confused with “neglect.”

In addition, child abuse is related, in part, to stress. Poor people tend to be under more stress than rich people, and African-Americans are more likely to be poor. So again, the key issue is poverty.

But in the main story Therolf claims that on top of all the stress of being poor, the "prevailing view" is that Black parents are more prone to abuse their children “following generations of deprivation and inequity.”  (In fact, there is no "prevailing view" - but it certainly seems to be Therolf's view.)

In other words, Therolf suggests, past racism makes Black parents abusive, but there is no present racism affecting the decisions of child protective services workers.

Sadly, there are people in child welfare who believe this.  In fact, even as the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a group not known to be dominated by bleeding-heart liberals, issues an apology to communities of color for racial bias in policing, a faction of liberals in child welfare denies their field even has a problem.

Apparently unlike in the police force, and pretty much every other aspect of American life, child welfare workers are simply so much better than other people that they have acquired a kind of magical immunity from the biases that plague mere mortals.

This is reflected in the willingness of some of my fellow liberals to forego everything they claim to believe in about civil liberties and due process when someone whispers the words “child abuse” in their ears.  Consider how, as is discussed here, some liberals, appalled by stop-and-frisk, embrace the use in child welfare of  “predictive analytics,” a similar infringement on civil liberties that boils down to computerized racial profiling.

Harvard’s resident extremist

Then Therolf tells us about a 2011 conference at Harvard on the topic.  What he does not tell us is that the conference was organized by the leader of the “denial” movement – Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law School.  Bartholet’s views on child welfare are so extreme that if one takes the recommendations in her own book bashing family preservation seriously and literally (and surely we’ve learned by now that this is wise when dealing with extremists) states would have to take away at least two million children every year.**

In her book, Nobody's Children (pp. 170,171), she also proposes that every family in America with a young child be required to let in a government-approved “home visitor” to inspect their home at regular intervals from the child’s birth until school age. The visitors would be required to report to authorities anything they considered a threat to a child’s safety or “well-being.”  Bartholet is explicit in recommending this for purposes of, her word, “surveillance.”

Bartholet says this “would simply provide society with a realistic means of enforcing” laws against abusing and neglecting children. So would a surveillance camera mounted in every room of every home with no way to turn it off. Perhaps Bartholet didn’t suggest this because George Orwell thought of it first.

Nor does Therolf tell us that the conference was an exercise in deck-staking.  Bartholet decided who was invited to speak, and almost every speaker she chose shared her views.  Having listened to this parade of people who’d already decided that racial bias is not a problem, Therolf then tells us that the “prevailing view” among researchers is that racial bias is not a problem.

He also tells us that “Many left the conference believing that any caseworker bias against black families accounted for only a small portion of the disparity in foster care rates.” Of course they did. It’s what they believed when they walked in the door.

Double standards for describing experts

But where the story becomes most condescending is in its treatment of experts on each side.  First, he gives one paragraph to one of the few dissenters Bartholet invited to speak at the conference.  He writes that those who believe racism is a problem

…gained encouragement from University of Pennsylvania law professor Dorothy Roberts, who said: “If you came to any child dependency court in Chicago, in Los Angeles or in New York and had no preconceptions about what the purpose of the court was, you would probably leave thinking its purpose was to monitor and regulate and even tear apart black families.” 

He never mentions that Prof. Roberts (a member of NCCPR’s Board of Directors) also is the author of several books on issues of race in America and beyond, including Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Civitas Books, 2001).

Bartholet gets very different treatment.  There is no mention of her extremism. Instead, in a paragraph that sounds like it should have begun with “Some of her best friends are…” Therolf writes about how she was once, long ago, a real life civil rights lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense fund!  (So of course, anything she says about child welfare and race could not possibly be tainted by bias.)  This is like suggesting Ronald Reagan could not possibly have been out to break unions or enact a radical right-wing agenda as president because decades earlier he’d been a liberal and a union leader.

Bartholet didn’t rely on mere anecdote, Therolf tells us. Bartholet “marshaled data to argue that when poverty and neighborhood characteristics are used to analyze foster care rates, race disappears as an explanatory factor.”

Compare this with Therolf’s treatment of the next expert to appear in his story, Cheryl Grills. Dr. Grills is a clinical psychologist and director of the Psychology Applied Research Center at Loyola Marymount University.  She also served as Co-Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. 

But Therolf identifies her only as “a professor at Loyola Marymount” who, Therolf claims, wants to “institutionalize child protection based on African and African-American folkways, not the latest studies and academic research.” [Emphasis added.]

Got that everyone? White people “marshal data.”  Black people just want to rely on anecdote and “folkways.”

It is offensive, and speaks to the extent of bias not just in child welfare but in newsrooms, that the following even needs to be pointed out:

The data are overwhelming that there is, in fact,

racial bias in child welfare.

Much of that data can be found in Prof. Roberts’ book.  NCCPR has prepared a short summary of some of the studies finding profound racial bias, over and above the class bias and other problems that permeate child welfare.

Therolf goes on to suggest that caseworkers can’t possibly be biased because many of them are, themselves, Black. He dismisses the notion that institutional bias can push any caseworker to treat less favored groups differently. He ignores the scholarship of, for example, Prof. Tanya Cooper of the University of Alabama Law School, who writes:

Unconscious racism is embedded in our civic institutions; and the foster care system is vulnerable as one such institution controlled and influenced by those in power. Those in power in turn may unwittingly discriminate against people of color, which history demonstrates.

But also, the issue of bias isn’t so, uh, black and white.  If there is a racial, religious or ethnic group that doesn’t have to grapple with biases among themselves I have yet to find it. Often, though not always, the fault-line for intra-ethnic conflict is class.

In child welfare, racial bias and class bias combine to create a toxic mix for poor families of color.

Consider the very case on which Therolf focused.  The children were taken because the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) alleged that, in Therolf’s words:

One: [The mother, Monique] Baker’s house is “filthy,” placing “the children at risk of physical harm, damage and danger.” Two: Baker is not taking her children for psychiatric treatment.
 Three:  Baker has “mental and emotional problems, including major anxiety disorder, major depression and PTSD, which renders the mother unable to provide regular care.”

But even if we assume all of these allegations are true, had a case such as this arisen in, say, Beverly Hills, DCFS never even would have noticed. It would have been solved privately by application of the following “preventive services”:

One: a maid.
Two: a nanny.
Three: a psychiatrist.

And that brings us back to Bartholet’s claim that “when poverty and neighborhood characteristics are used to analyze foster care rates, race disappears as an explanatory factor.”

Back before scholars such as Prof. Roberts marshaled all that data to show how pervasive racial bias is in child welfare, those wedded to a take-the-child-and-run approach insisted that agencies never take away children because of poverty.  Now, rather than admit to racial bias, they effectively admit to class bias.  I suppose that’s progress.

But neither bias should be tolerable in child welfare, and neither bias should be whitewashed by journalists.

* In California, neglect includes: “The failure or inability of the parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child” and “The willful or negligent failure of the parent or guardian to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment.” 

**In her book, Nobody’s Children, Bartholet argues that children should be removed from the home in cases of “serious” abuse and neglect. In the same book (p. 61) she writes that “Estimates indicate that more than three million children a year are subjected to serious forms of abuse and neglect.” Even if she could be persuaded to leave one-third of “seriously” abused children in their own homes, that would mean taking away two million children every year.

Friday, February 17, 2017

New columns on abuse in foster care in Iowa and Nebraska and #CASAsowhite: racial bias in CASA

Cowley County, Kan., a place almost exactly in the middle of middle-America, is conservative and working-class. It would seem to have little in common with coastal Marin County, Calif., one of the wealthiest places in America, where the politics are as blue as the ocean.
But it seems the two places have one thing in common: an inability to confront issues of race and class biases in that most sacred cow of child welfare, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
An advocate of the take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare now is claiming that a case in which a child was removed from her parents, placed in foster care, adopted by the foster parent and then allegedly severely abused by the foster/adoptive mother somehow is an example of “family preservation at all costs.”  Seriously.
And speaking of abuse in foster care: Everyone should be shocked by the fact that the inspector general of Nebraska Child Welfare, Julie Rogers, has identified 36 cases of children consigned to the “care” of the state, only to be sexually abused in foster care. But no one should be surprised.  The heart of the problem: Nebraska still is tearing apart families at one of the highest rates in the country.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When foster care overrides common sense

Last month I wrote a column called “Why the ‘Foster-Care-at-All-Costs’ Crowd Will Never Surrender Their Horror Stories.” I offered those wedded to a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare a deal: a mutual moratorium on the use of horror stories to make our points.

But I also said those favoring foster care at all costs would never take the deal. Because with all the studies and data showing that family preservation is the safer option for the overwhelming majority of children the overwhelming majority of the time, they can’t afford to give up broad-crush condemnation of family preservation based on horror stories. The horror stories are all they’ve got.

So thank you, Marie Cohen, for proving my point. Cohen’s latest attack on family preservation is based entirely on a horror story. In this case, though, I don’t need one of my own in order to respond. Instead, I’ll use the same story Cohen uses.

Because this time Cohen tries to argue that a case in which a child was removed from her parents, placed in foster care, adopted by the foster parent and then allegedly severely abused by the foster/adoptive mother somehow is an example of “family preservation at all costs.”  She bases this on the fact that after the child, Maliyia Knapp, 17, escaped from her abusive adoptive home, a judge left her siblings with the adoptive parents.
If the allegations are true, it is indeed a horror story. But it’s a horror story that’s more about the blinders people in child welfare put on concerning foster care and adoption than about family preservation.
A “Spate” of Horror Stories – All Involving Adoptions From Foster Care
Cohen neglected to mention that this actually is the third Iowa horror story to come to light in recent months, all of them involving children adopted from foster care. When birth parents are accused, this is almost always referred to as a “spate” or “series” that “raises questions” about family preservation. So, again, in the absence of a mutual moratorium, the same rules should apply.
Here are some other things Cohen neglected to mention:
§  Iowa takes away children at one of the highest rates in America, far above the national average and vastly above states that are national models for keeping children safe by emphasizing family preservation. (By now we all know which ones, right? but for the record, here’s that New York Times story about one of them again.)
§  Maliyia Knapp says she and her siblings were taken from their parents because of “drug problems.” That covers a lot of possibilities. But surely, if Iowa really is fanatical about “family preservation at all costs,” the state child welfare agency wouldn’t have cared about the drug abuse. In fact, child welfare agencies should care. But the better approach in most such cases is neither doing nothing nor rushing to consign the children to foster care – it’s drug treatment.
§  The same story from which Cohen quotes selectively reported that as soon as the children were taken away, paternal grandparents say they came forward and spent thousands of dollars trying to gain custody. They were turned down. That doesn’t sound like family preservation at all costs. It sounds like a state where the hostility to families extends to extended families. That is contrary to the mass of research, including this study and this one and the studies summarized here and here, finding that kinship care is typically safer than what should properly be called stranger care.
§  As far as we know, abuse in adoptive homes is rare – as is abuse in birth parent homes. But abuse in foster care is not rare. And the rate of abuse in group homes and institutions – Cohen’s favorite options – is worst of all.

But here’s what all forms of substitute care have in common: The more you overload the system with false allegations, trivial cases, cases in which family poverty is confused with neglect and other cases where children never needed to be taken from their parents, the greater the temptation to lower standards and ignore signs of abuse in substitute care.
The same overloading of the system leads to pressure to rush through adoptions. And in those cases there’s also a financial incentive: a bounty of $4,000 to $12,000 for every finalized adoption over a baseline number. If an adoption goes horribly wrong, the state does not have to give back the money.
In fact, they can place the same children again and collect another bounty for each. That may contribute to a bigger problem than abuse in adoptive homes; adoptions that fail.

For all of these reasons, it is Iowa’s take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare that truly makes children less safe.  Failing to recognize that is the worst horror of all.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

#CASAsoWhite: Forced to face issues of race, a county CASA program collapses

Cowley County, Kan., a place almost exactly in the middle of middle-America, is conservative and working-class. It would seem to have little in common with coastal Marin County, Calif., one of the wealthiest places in America, where the politics are as blue as the ocean.
But it seems the two places have one thing in common: an inability to confront issues of race and class biases in that most sacred cow of child welfare, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
CASA volunteers are assigned to court-involved families in which children have been, or might be, removed from their homes, and tell the court what to do about it. Courts routinely rubber-stamp the recommendations of CASA volunteers.

No one doubts that, like most people in child welfare, CASA volunteers mean well. But nationwide, while more than 41 percent of the children to whom CASAs are assigned are children of color, only 18 percent of CASA volunteers are nonwhite. Children in the child welfare system are overwhelmingly poor. Since CASAs are volunteers, they need free time and flexible hours; often poor people have neither.

So you get this:
An Unfortunate Fundraising Event For One CASA Chapter

In Cowley County, the big annual fundraiser for CASA in 2008 was a drag queen contest. The winner of the talent competition – and the “Miss CASA” title – was a local mayor.  He dressed up as a woman to whom he gave a surname described as “graphic slang for a female private part.” So is the name the mayor chose for his back-up dancers. Oh, and one more thing: The mayor did his act made up in blackface.

The local CASA director said she was mortified when someone explained what the surname meant.  Other than that, though, she thought the whole thing was great, telling a local news website: “The part of his act I felt was excellent was the dancing. … The back-up singers were gorgeous and could probably back up any professional.” As for the blackface, the CASA director said she didn’t think the mayor was trying to portray a different race: “It wasn’t black black,” she said. “It was all really just tan.”
It was not until after the National CASA Association went into damage control mode and set up a conference call with the local chapter, the state chapter and the local NAACP that the local chapter apologized.
Conflict Over Diversity in Another
In Marin County things were more complicated.
According to the Marin Independent Journal, it began when the state CASA organization got upset at how white things were at Marin CASA – presumably even whiter than the national average, since they called for a “much more robust outreach plan for men, Latinos and African-Americans.”

The Marin CASA program was run by Marin Advocates for Children. Kerline Astre, an African-American who is executive director of Marin Advocates for Children, took the criticism to heart and decided to act. Astre says that when CASA director Laurie Good, who reports to Astre, resisted reform, she fired Good.
The firing, and a critique saying they were insufficiently diverse, apparently greatly upset the CASA volunteers. Their complaints prompted the county judge who handles child welfare cases to act. Unfortunately, she did not decide she ought to consider if there really was a diversity problem in CASA.
Instead she said Astre, who sought to make the program more diverse, and the entire board of Marin Advocates for Children, should resign. When they didn’t, the judge shut down the program. CASA in the county is on hold until a new sponsoring organization can be found.
Meanwhile, Good argues that she is the one who was discriminated against. She’s filed a lawsuit. Perhaps all this helps explain why, in Marin County, black children are in foster care at a rate more than 23 times the rate for white children.

These are not the only CASA chapters to be embroiled in high-profile scandal. Recall the CASA program in Washington State in which one of the volunteers was accused by a judge of spying on lawyers for parents – and lying about it in court. CASA chapters also behaved badly in another Washington State case and this high-profile case in Texas.

And most important, there’s that great big, embarrassing 2004 study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself. As a Youth Today columnist put it at the time, the study

not only challenged the effectiveness of the court volunteers’ services, but suggested that they spend little time on cases, particularly those of black children, and are associated with more removals from the home and fewer efforts to reunite children with parents or relatives.

Yes, there have been slight improvements. National CASA now has an African-American CEO. And the fact that California CASA raised the issue of diversity was a start. But now, the state organization does not seem to be backing up Astre, who tried to make Marin CASA more diverse.
And racial diversity is not enough. In child welfare, racial bias often combines with class bias to create a toxic mix for poor families of color. Economic diversity is almost impossible in a program dependent on volunteers.

In its current form, CASA is inherently unfixable. CASAs should be restricted to the one area where they really can be useful: as mentors for foster children. Such a program would provide real help for children, instead of harming them by prolonging foster care and undermining families.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

“Policy Brief” touting foster care shows trump has no monopoly on “alternative facts”

When White House advisor Kellyanne Conway tried to explain away false claims made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, she branded those claims “alternative facts.” To which Chuck Todd, who was interviewing Conway on Meet the Press, replied: “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

But the Trump Administration has no monopoly on this Orwellian approach to truth.  It’s been a staple of hype and hysteria about child abuse for decades.
So this seems like a good time to bestow the first – drum roll, please:
Sean Spicer / Kellyanne Conway Award for Most Creative Use of “Alternative Facts” in Child Welfare

Kellyanne Conway
(Photo by Gage Skidmore)
And the winner is: The group that calls itself California Advocates for Change for “Are There Too Many Children in Foster Care?,” a “policy brief” sure to become a classic in the alternative facts genre.

The brief states that “There is no data indicating that the prevalence of child abuse has decreased.” That is a classic “alternative fact,” since it is simply not true.
§  The federal government’s annual Child Maltreatment reports have measured the rate of alleged child abuse and neglect since 1990. The rate of child maltreatment peaked in 1993. It has declined almost every year since. It rose slightly in 2014 and 2015 but it is still 40 percent below the 1993 peak.
§  The federal government’s most recent National Incidence Study, which seeks to go beyond officially reported cases to estimate the actual prevalence of child abuse and neglect, found a dramatic decrease in child abuse compared with the three previous NIS studies.

It’s fine to argue about the validity of these studies – or any others. But to deny their very existence, by claiming that there are no data indicating child abuse is declining, is an “alternative fact” – a falsehood.
The brief deserves other awards as well.  So I am pleased to hereby confer upon it:
The Golden Fruit Basket Award …
… for comparing apples to oranges.

Right after falsely claiming there are no data showing child abuse has declined, the report says:
“On the contrary, recent studies suggest that annual rates of confirmed maltreatment understate the cumulative number of children confirmed to be maltreated during childhood.”

But, as I’ve noted before, saying that more children are abused over the course of 18 years than over the course of one is not exactly shocking. And it does not mean that child abuse is increasing.

The use of the term “confirmed” also is misleading. It means only that a caseworker checked a box on a form indicating her or his belief that it is at least slightly more likely than not that maltreatment took place. Sometimes it means even less.
The authors of the “policy brief” do cite Child Maltreatment reports when it suits them, while ignoring more reliable data. The brief argues that “only” 21 percent of “substantiated” cases of alleged maltreatment lead to foster care. This is based on a Child Maltreatment 2014 report estimate of 702,000 such children (since revised downward to under 684,000, by the way), of whom 147,762 were said to have entered foster care.

But the Child Maltreatment reports are based on a voluntary survey of states. The mandatory, and more reliable, AFCARS database reports 264,746 entries into foster care in 2014; that would be at least 35 percent of cases workers claim are “substantiated.”

But the key question is not what percentage of children are in foster care, but what percentage should be. States such as Illinois and Alabama have improved child safety by emphasizing family preservation, reducing entries to well below the national average. This shows that the national average is way too high, and there’s plenty of room to further reduce entries into foster care.

The Silver Straw Award …

…for ignoring the mountain of research on the harm of foster care while grasping at a single straw: one study that, taken out of context, allegedly suggests otherwise.
The research literature is filled with studies documenting the rotten outcomes for foster children. There’s this one. And this one. And, as always, the two great big studies that directly compare outcomes in typical cases for foster children and children left in their own homes (and a third, smaller study that reached the same conclusion).

So what do the “California Advocates” do? They find one study from one state which does not even contradict those dismal findings. Rather that one study, the CalYOUTH study, questions children while they’re still in foster care and finds that 57 percent said they felt “lucky” to be there.

I’ve previously discussed, in detail, the problems with the CalYOUTH study in general and this figure in particular. But for starters: The foster children haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to face adult life after foster care.
And while some undoubtedly are lucky to be in foster care, and really feel that way, it may be hard to speak candidly knowing that after the interview, you have to go back to the same foster home or institution.
More important, the California Advocates brief uses the same CalYOUTH study to claim that foster children are taken only in cases of the most severe, most horrifying abuse. If that’s true, then 43 percent of foster children are saying, in effect, that foster care is as bad or worse than severe, horrifying abuse. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of foster care. (In fact, as is discussed in more detail here, a close look at the full CalYOUTH definitions does not support the claim about most children being taken because of severe abuse.)

The La-La-Land is the Center of the Universe Award

The brief claims that Los Angeles County was “one of the most aggressive in reducing caseloads …” but that now those caseloads are increasing. Therefore, it is argued, if Los Angeles can’t further reduce foster care, no place can.
This is misleading on several counts.
Los Angeles caseloads declined because they were so outrageously high to begin with. Even now, after all that caseload reduction, Los Angeles tears apart families at a rate well above the average for America’s biggest cities and their surrounding counties – and triple the rate of Chicago, where as noted earlier, independent monitors have found that the state-run system improved child safety while emphasizing family preservation.

Foster care is going up again in Los Angeles because of years of mediocre leadership and political interference by the Board of Supervisors. The experience of Chicago and other cities shows that L.A. and most of the rest of the country still can save thousands more children from the harm of needless foster care.

The Stephen Colbert Truthiness Medal …

Stephen Colbert
… for taking numbers out of context. 
When you define neglect as lack of adequate food, clothing and shelter, there is a good chance that child welfare systems will confuse poverty with “neglect.”
To divert our attention from this, the brief offers up a scare number: “42 to 45 percent of child fatalities are caused by neglect alone.” That would be up to 751 fatalities, according to the just-released Child Maltreatment 2015.

But according to that same report, 514,299 children were “substantiated” victims of neglect. In other words, 99.85 percent of allegedly neglectful parents did not kill their children in 2015. So the figure the brief pulls out of context tells us nothing about whether we really need to put those 500,000-plus other children into foster care.
And finally…

The George Orwell Achievement Award … … for abasing the English language. Who could be more deserving than a group that demands we maintain the system of substitute care essentially as it has been for well over a century, rejects any real reform, but calls itself “California Advocates for Change”?