Friday, March 31, 2017

New columns on #CASAsoWhite and protecting homeschooled children

In a follow-up to a column about a law review article challenging the most sacred cow in child welfare - Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) I write about a former judge who was deeply offended by that column, and the article itself - mostly because they dared use the term "white supremacy."

But how in the world are we supposed to have an honest discussion of race in this country without using the words “white supremacy”? How can anyone, especially a former judge, dismiss a law review article out-of-hand just for using the term? How is it that, in child welfare, “white supremacy” is the hate that dare not speak its name?

Read the full column here.

I've written before about the tendency of some on the left to start sounding like Donald Trump as soon as anyone whispers the term "child abuse" in their ears. Here's another case in point: proposals to spy on any family that opts to homeschool their children.

Read the full column here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Protect homeschooled children from child savers

Updated, January, 2018
More than a year ago, I wrote a column called Donald Trump and the Child Savers: Not a Band, But They Sing the Same Song.  In that column I wrote:
Some of the same people who probably are horrified by Donald Trump seem to have no problem using his tactics in the fight against child abuse.

More recently, I compared the standard rhetoric used, often by self-proclaimed liberals, in the war against child abuse to Kellyanne Conway’s attempts to justify Trump’s Muslim ban.

And now, after tragedies involving homeschooled children in Iowa, there are calls by some, including those who call themselves liberals, for requiring that every parent who homeschools a child bring that child before a mandated reporter of child abuse for periodic inspection. Try substituting “terrorism” for “child abuse” and “Muslim” for “Homeschooler” and the problems here should be obvious.

As with every other well-intentioned proposal to intrude on families, the problem with this one is the harm it would do to children in 32 states. (In 18 states everyone is a mandated reporter, including every parent, so, presumably, the proposal would have no effect at all.)

But in those 32 states, consider the real-world impact of requiring parents to submit their children to inspection by a mandated reporter, in this case probably a public school teacher:
§  The teacher knows that this child is being brought before him or her specifically to be checked to see if the child is being abused or neglected – that creates an inherent bias toward finding such maltreatment.
§  To the extent that the mandated reporter has been trained at all, it often involves broad, vague lists of “symptoms” or “warning signs.” One website alone lists 77 different “signs” that could be child abuse. They also could have many other causes. At least one of these “signs” probably could be found in almost any child at some point in that child’s life.
§  The mandated reporter knows that if s/he fails to report and then it turns out the child really was abused s/he could face dismissal and perhaps even criminal penalties. There is no penalty for a false report made in good faith.
§  All those additional false and trivial reports filed by mandated reporters will only further overload child protective services, making it more likely that CPS workers will overlook children in real danger. 
§  Children will know the purpose of these visits, and they will sense the tension they cause in their families. That makes them, inherently, an act of emotional abuse against the children. As three of the leading child welfare scholars of the 20th century, Anna Freud, Joseph Goldstein and Albert J. Solnit wrote, in calling for far higher standards before ever intervening in families:

Children react even to temporary infringement of parental autonomy with anxiety, diminishing trust, loosening of emotional ties, or an increasing tendency to be out of control. 

Increasing government-mandated surveillance would do significant collateral damage to thousands of innocent  Muslims –  sorry, I meant children – because a few Muslims – er, homeschoolers – are terrorists – oh wait, I mean child abusers.
Why Single Out Homeschoolers?
The singling out of homeschoolers is odd for other reasons as well.
The children most at risk of abuse or neglect are the youngest. So the same logic behind this proposal requires that every child from birth to at least kindergarten age also be presented for periodic inspection.
Something like this, in fact something even worse, has been suggested by one of the most extreme of America’s latter day “child savers” – to use the term their 19th century counterparts proudly gave themselves.
The proposal in question comes from Elizabeth Bartholet, another self-proclaimed liberal, greatly admired by Daniel Heimpel, who runs the Chronicle of Social Change (the Fox News of child welfare) and partners with her in exploiting horror stories to attack safe, proven innovations to keep families together. 

Showing no concern for the trauma it would inflict on children, Bartholet has suggested in her book, Nobody’s Children (p. 171), that every parent of a young child be required to admit to their home at periodic intervals a government-authorized “home visitor.” She specifies that the visitors would be mandatory reporters and the purpose of those visits includes “surveillance.” Indeed, that seems to be their primary purpose.

Bartholet claims that a spy in every living room is no more intrusive than child labor laws. It “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.
Those who drew sweeping conclusions from the Iowa cases drew those conclusions selectively. In those cases the children also were adopted from foster care. In one case, relatives desperate to take in the child were turned down. Yet I've read no sweeping conclusions about either adoption - nor should there be.  The reasons to curb the misuse and overuse of foster care are grounded in the data showing the harm of needless removal of children and the high rate of abuse in foster care. When horror story cases become the basis for public policy we get horrible policies. In child welfare they only wind up hurting the children we want to help. 

Why are homeschoolers a special target of 21st century child savers?  Because we liberals tend to stereotype them as a bunch of right-wing fundamentalists – and we all know what they are like, right?

Those kinds of stereotypes have no place in the war against terror – or the war against child abuse.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#CASAsoWhite In child welfare, “white supremacy” is the hate that dare not speak its name

Former Juvenile Court Judge Len Edwards, a favorite on the child welfare conference circuit, is upset about a column I wrote  on March 8. The column discussed an article in the City University of New York Law Review that calls that most sacred cow in child welfare, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), “an exercise of white supremacy.”

CASA is the 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. In more than 60 percent of cases, according to a study discussed in more detail below, judges rubber-stamp every single recommendation these amateurs make.
Edwards appears to be most upset about two words in the Law Review article: white supremacy. In a comment posted below the column,* he says that my “highlighting a law review article that uses ‘white supremacy’ in the title [sic] is regrettable.” He comes back to this theme at the end of his comment, complaining that my “supporting the law review article with its inflammatory language is harmful as it may simply discourage volunteers to participate in a valuable program.”

In fact, the Law Review article does not use “white supremacy” in the title.  I used it in the headline for my column. The Law Review article does, however, use the term in the text.

The first use of the term comes in response to a comment by a judge who called CASA  “a gift, the gift of an important person in a child’s life.” The authors respond by writing the following:
However kindly intentioned their work may be, this paper posits that CASAs essentially give voice to white supremacy — the same white supremacy that permeates the system as a whole and that allows us to so easily accept the idea that children in the child welfare system actually require the “gift” of a CASA, and do not already have an abundance of “important people” in their lives.
Perhaps Edwards is so offended because the judge who called CASA a gift was – Len Edwards.
Toward an Honest Discussion of Race

But the offense he takes to this column is revealing on another level. How in the world are we supposed to have an honest discussion of race in this country without using the words “white supremacy”? How can anyone, especially a former judge, dismiss a law review article out-of-hand just for using the term? How is it that, in child welfare, “white supremacy” is the hate that dare not speak its name?
This is one more example of the extent to which, unlike almost any other field, much of child welfare is “in denial” – to use a favorite phrase in the field – about the role that racial bias plays in decision-making.
If a black man and a while man try to hail a taxi, does anyone really doubt who is more likely to get the cab? If a black man and a white man walk into a store, does anyone doubt who is more likely to be followed around by store security? Even in the hard sciences, where objectivity theoretically is at its height, black scholars have more trouble getting research grants.

And of course, there’s law enforcement, where bias is so apparent that the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police apologized last year to the African-American community for police treatment of people of color.

CASA and Child Welfare Exceptionalism

Yet in child welfare, despite abundant evidence of racial bias over and above the class bias that permeates the system, there is an entire coterie proclaiming that child welfare is The Great Exception. The people in this one field supposedly are so wonderful that racism magically ends at the child welfare agency door, a notion eagerly lapped up by credulous journalists. And now, we have a white, middle-class judge condemning lawyers for even using the phrase “white supremacy” in a law review article.

Edwards also disputes that great big study of CASA, which found that it does nothing to improve child safety, prolongs foster care, and makes it less likely children will be placed with relatives instead of strangers. But he offers no data in rebuttal, only anecdotes.

That’s nothing new. CASA never has been willing to face up to this study. As Youth Today explained when the study became public, it was not commissioned in the interest of objective scholarship. CASA commissioned it to prove how wonderful CASA is. When the results didn’t confirm that, Youth Today reported,

National CASA has boasted about the parts of the study it liked, while saying the findings that could be considered critical are questionable and in need of further study. This might be a natural organizational reaction, but it can border on duplicity.

So CASA is in denial about the study findings, just as the larger field of child welfare is in denial about white supremacy. Sounds like the child welfare field needs to get into “counseling” to face up to all that denial.
But there is one way Edwards could help a lot. He could use his influence at National CASA to get them to look into what’s going on in the Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem program in Snohomish County, Washington, a program accredited by National CASA. I hope he considers behavior in the program that a judge there termed “pervasive and egregious” misconduct to be at least as offensive as seeing the words “white supremacy” in a law review.

*Both this column, and the one to which Judge Edwards objects, originally were published in the Chronicle of Social Change.  In what is apparently a fit of pique over my tendency to refer to having written for them as like being the token liberal at the Fox News of child welfare, the Chronicle has moved most of my columns behind a paywall. Columns by a writer who regularly promotes the notion that there is no racial bias in child welfare, and who herself has promoted a pernicious racial stereotype are still free – which kind of proves the point about “Fox News of child welfare.”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New columns on the failure of CASA and the obscene rate of removal in Iowa

Call it #CASAsoWhite: Court-Appointed Special Advocates, the most sacred cow in child welfare, is "an exercise of white supremacy" according to an excellent analysis in the City University University of New York Law Review.  I write about the article here.

In Snohomish County, Washington, a judge found what she called "prevasive and egregious" misconduct in the county's CASA program  Read about it here.

In Iowa, politicians are up in arms after two horrific cases of abuse involving children adopted by their foster parents. But, of course, they're ignoring the heart of the problem - Iowa's obscene rate of child removal. I wrote it about it in this column for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

#CASAsoWhite: Judge’s decisions reveal extent of scandal at a Washington State CASA

Last year, I wrote about the scandal at the Volunteer Guardian-ad-litem (VGAL) program in Snohomish County, Wash., an affiliate of the state’s Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) network.
CASA is a white, middle-class bastion of the child welfare system, a system that tears apart families that are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately families of color. The most comprehensive study ever done of the program found that it does nothing to make children safer. The study also found that CASA prolongs foster care and reduces the chances children will be placed with relatives instead of strangers.
Last year, I wrote about how Judge Anita Farris found that a volunteer for the Snohomish County program “infiltrated” – the judge’s word – a listserv for family defense attorneys and passed on what she’d learned so her program could use the information against families. The judge called the guardian’s explanation of her actions “filled with lies.”
But that was only the beginning. In two more court rulings, revolving around the same termination of parental rights case, Judge Farris has blasted the VGAL program for “the blatant withholding and destruction of evidence and … rampant continuing lying …”

“This was not just a lot of lying,” Judge Farris said in one decision:

It was lying with no concern that you were lying. It was lying with “I don’t care if I get caught.” It was lying again and again and again after getting caught. It was lying under circumstances where it could be absolutely proven you were lying.

“Pervasive and egregious” misconduct

In another decision, the judge said her rulings “should not be interpreted to mean the entire program or every VGAL has committed misconduct. They have not.” But for those who did, she declared: “The misconduct was not minor or insubstantial. It was pervasive and egregious.”

There’s more about this ruling in this story from KING-TV:
The judge found that the misconduct violated state and county rules for Guardians ad litem.  The program’s explanation: According to the judge, well into the proceedings, the head of the program declared that no one in the program had ever heard of such rules. Said Judge Farris:

Are we to believe that [the program’s] staff attorney … who’s been there for decades, has never once mentioned the GAL rules to any VGAL employee?  … It would be akin to an attorney general saying none of his deputies was aware of the criminal code…

Judge Farris found that VGALs do get training in “how to keep things out of discovery,” the legal process by which each party obtains information from the other essential for preparing their case. These actions, she said, denied parents information they have an “absolute right” to receive.  Sometimes, she wrote, the files just disappeared:

The sheer number of unexplained missing pieces of evidence, all showing misconduct, is remarkable. … The inescapable conclusion is that [someone] in the VGAL program scrubbed discovery to hide VGAL misconduct.

The judge found that a supervisor provided trial testimony that was:
uninformed, inconsistent, dishonest, and biased. … The mutations in testimony followed a pattern. First, she would testify to an inaccurate fact that either supported her recommendation or hid VGAL misconduct. Then, only if confronted about the inaccuracy, she would completely reverse her prior testimony and cough up the truth.

After the judge describes what she said was one misrepresentation after another, she concludes:
Not one of these fabrications did anything to promote the interests of a child. These were not well-intentioned lies. Without exception, their sole purpose was to hide the misconduct of the liar, and that was done at the expense of this child.

“A pattern of retaliation”

Also, according to Judge Farris:
The Snohomish County VGAL program engaged in a pattern of retaliation against the mother’s attorneys during this case.

 The judge noted similar complaints in other cases, though she did not rule on their validity:

One declaration [from a lawyer in another case] alleged that after an attorney had made a complaint against a Snohomish VGAL, the VGAL knew about the complaint, changed her VGAL recommendation and began a vehement witch hunt. This retaliation went on so long, and was so rabid, the lawyer felt compelled to withdraw for the sake of her client …
 Declarations also were submitted from foster parents, in another case, indicating they made a complaint against the VGAL … and the VGAL retaliated by trying to have the child removed from the foster parents.

 After listing several more instances she deemed acts of retaliation, Judge Farris concluded:

It is impossible to measure how and to what extent retaliation against a small firm in this small community affects the willingness of all parent attorneys to zealously advocate to protect their clients’ constitutional rights to raise their children. … When VGALs retaliate, they are putting their personal passions for revenge ahead of the needs of any children whose best interests they are supposed to protect.

A lawyer for the firm that was subjected to what the judge called retaliation summarized the particulars here.

As of March 13, 2017, the website for the Snohomish VGAL program states that it is still “accredited by the National CASA Association and is an associated member of Washington State CASA.”

Perhaps those groups should take a closer look at what’s going on in Snohomish County.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#CASAsoWhite: Law review article calls CASA an ‘exercise of white supremacy’

Idaho, 1902: An “officer” of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho writes about how fortunate Native American children are when they are taken from their homes and forced into white-run orphanages.  “What a contrast” those wonderful orphanages are, she writes, to the children’s own homes:
The smoking fire in the centre of the tepee, and on it the pot of soup stirred by the not over-clean squaw … and then to think of the neat, comfortable home at the mission, with the uplifting of its daily prayer …
Washington State, 2016: A Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a volunteer named by a juvenile court to investigate a black family, explains why the court should sever the bond between a black father and his children forever:
Formerly homeless, the father had bought an RV for the family to live in. The CASA deemed that  an unstable environment and repeatedly compared the RV to the foster home, which had “lots of toys.”
Both of these stories are told in However Kindly Intentioned: Structural Racism and Volunteer CASA Programs, an article in the City University of New York Law Review by Amy Mulzer, a staff attorney and clinical instructor at Brooklyn Law School, and Tara Urs, an attorney for the King County Department of Public Defense in Washington.
CASA volunteers are 81 percent white and 82 percent female, according to a 2014 national survey. Sixty-nine percent have a college degree. But they are sent out to assist families that are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Then they tell judges what is supposedly in the children’s “best interests.”

However Kindly Intentioned argues that the problem of racial bias in CASA goes far deeper than issues I’ve written about before: a CASA program seeing no problem when a performer at a fundraiser dresses in blackface or a CASA program falling apart as soon as it has to confront issues of race.

CASA is a “Gift” Poor Children Could Do Without

Rather, these authors argue, “CASAs essentially give voice to white supremacy.” The program’s very existence, they argue, is a racist act. Indeed, they say, it is the only context in which the program’s existence makes sense:
§  According to a CASA training manual, CASAs are said to be present in order to bring their “community perspective, [and] common sense approach.” But, the authors write, “CASAs are from an entirely different community than the children for whom they are supposed to speak and the parents whose voices they replace.”
§  A prominent former judge calls CASAs “the gift of an important person in a child’s life.” But, the authors write, this assumes that until the white, middle-class savior steps in, the child “has no important people in her life already, no aunts or uncles, teachers, neighbors, friends, friends’ parents, pastors, grandparents, or others who have the child’s interests at heart.”
§  As I have noted before, CASAs actually spend very little time on a case. They average only 4.3 hours per month if the child is white and notably less, 2.67 hours per month, if the child is black.
§  CASA is surprisingly expensive – the authors write that it costs $304 million per year, and more than half the money comes from taxpayers.
§  The authors note that CASAs are not required to have expertise in law, social work, psychology or child development. Training is minimal. As another lawyer puts it: “In Washington State it takes 300 hours of training to massage a horse …yet it takes less than 24 hours of training for a volunteer to walk in off the street and recommend that a child never see his or her parent again.”

So courts get recommendations like the one in the RV case. Or a case in which the CASA supported termination of parental rights in part because the parents put too much Desitin on their child’s diaper rash. Or a case in which the CASA expressed concern that a black mother was not sufficiently bonded to her daughter because she allowed the child to unbuckle herself from her car seat and get out of the car on her own, rather than doing these things for her.
And CASA doesn’t work – unless your goal is to prolong foster care and increase the odds children will be placed with strangers instead of relatives. Those were the program’s accomplishments according to the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself. The study found that CASA did nothing to improve child safety.

Despite all this, CASAs are revered figures in court. Judges typically defer to recommendations made by these minimally-trained amateurs. The explanation for such deference, the authors say, is rooted in deep-seated biases about race, class and gender.
“Common Sense” = Middle Class Sensibility

The history of American child welfare is a history of the white middle and upper classes imposing their will on poor people who were hated and feared: Native Americans warehoused in orphanages in order to “kill the Indian, save the man,” impoverished immigrants, victimized by Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, (known in poor neighborhoods simply as “the Cruelty”) and then families of color.

Through it all, the authors write, “white womanhood has been long associated with purity, refinement and correctness … in contrast to depictions of Black and Native women as ‘degraded, immoral, and sexually promiscuous others.’”
So today, the authors argue, a CASA is viewed as an “expert” precisely because “as a white, middle class woman, she benefits from the assumption that such expertise is one of her natural attributes.” “Common sense” equals white, middle-class sensibility. The fact that they are volunteers and have good intentions further insulates CASAs from scrutiny.
The authors conclude: 
The lessons of the CASA experiment offer one clear message: the integrity of the legal system is compromised when the law invites voices of privilege to dominate. Given our nation’s long struggle with racial discrimination, it is particularly troubling to allow the voices of white people to speak loudest in a system disproportionately focused on families of color. …
 A legal system that allows middle-class white women to speak for the children of poor families of color is not hiding its bias if you only take a moment to look behind the “therapeutic” veneer. This exercise of white supremacy is out in the open, obvious, direct …
Allowing CASAs to stand in the place of child welfare-involved parents and speak for child-welfare-involved children is to take the structural racism underlying the child welfare system and give it a seat at the table. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New columns on confessions of a caseworker and the state where kangaroo court is always in session

Of all the crimes against children committed in the name of “child protection,” none is worse than when white America weaponized child welfare in an effort to destroy the culture of Native Americans.

Today, of course, people no longer say that the goal of child welfare is to “kill the Indian, save the man.” But whatever the intent, a series of federal court rulings from South Dakota make clear that Native children remain in danger from a state child welfare system out of control.

Read our column in Youth Today about South Dakota Child Welfare: Where Kangaroo Court is Always in Session.

One of the things caseworkers often say is just not true. Caseworkers often claim they are “damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.” But when it comes to taking away children, caseworkers are only damned if they don’t. It’s one of the reasons so many children are needlessly consigned to the chaos of foster care.

Now, a leader of a union representing caseworkers has admitted as much.