Thursday, October 14, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 13, 2021

 We begin with three important follow-up stories

 ● Florida’s family policing agency, the Department of Children and Families, has, in effect, confirmed the findings of a USA Today Network investigation that found DCF ignored widespread abuse in foster care.  According to USA Today’s follow-up story: 

After a USA TODAY investigation in March brought to light more than 4,000 records detailing such complaints that had been kept secret from the public, DCF conducted an internal review of more than 1,100 of the calls.  The review’s findings? Only 19% of the accusations were inaccurate. Twice that number were deemed accurate. An additional 21% were partially accurate.  And few accused caregivers faced repercussions: Just 1% had their foster license revoked. … 

“If those were family-of-origin cases, would those children have been taken from their families? The answer is a resounding yes,” [State Senate Minority Leader Lauren] Book said. “We have a system that is taking children because they think they can do better (than parents), and we’re clearly seeing in black and white that they’re woefully ill-prepared to do so.” 

And once again, USA Today reporters trace the origins of the problem to the foster-care panic in Florida starting in 2014.  (As to why that panic occurred, we have an explanation here.) 

● Back in May, KING-TV in Seattle reported on what some workers for the state family policing agency allegedly were doing to youth who refused the cruddy group home placements in which the agency tried to stash them: 

Four people, who claimed they supervised foster kids overnight in cars and offices, said their managers encouraged them to use psychological tactics to make the youth miserable. They say they were told to do things like blast air conditioning or turn off the heat to make the youth intentionally cold. … Three workers said they were instructed not to allow youth to fall asleep throughout the night. [Emphasis added.]

As we noted at the time: 

Though the story doesn’t mention it, sleep deprivation is commonly defined as torture – the CIA used it on prisoners at Guantanamo. 

Now KING-TV has a follow-up, focusing on disturbing behavior by the head of the family policing agency, Ross Hunter.  

The station reports that 

Hunter knew of the accusations at least four months before the complaint became public in the KING 5 story. Hunter said he forwarded the complaint to other managers in January, but he didn’t open a formal investigation. 

And there’s much more in the story about Hunter’s overall approach to running the agency (something we first raised questions about more than a year ago).

● And Carolina Public Press updates the latest turn in the scandal over hidden foster care in Cherokee County, North Carolina.  Here’s how it worked: 

social workers at times coerced parents into signing [placement agreements that bypassed the courts], saying their children would be placed in foster homes far away if the documents were not signed. 

The practice apparently began when the agency got fed up with the fact that sometimes judges actually refused to rubber-stamp their demands to take away children. 

In other news: 

● NCCPR has a Guest Column in the York (Pa.) Daily Record that begins this way: 

After reading Kim Strong’s excellent story about child abuse deaths and implementation of the federal Family First Act in Pennsylvania, some readers may be wondering: Why in the world is that guy you quoted at the end (that would be me) saying we should do more to keep families together?  Why would he say we should improve defense counsel for families when more children are dying? 

Short answer: Because it’s the best way to stop more children from dying. 

● In child welfare, we can’t speak truth to power until we speak truth to CASA.  The most sacred cow in American child welfare harms the children it is intended to help.  NCCPR presented The Case Against CASA at the Kempe Center’s international conference last week. Here’s the text.   

● We also presented on Child Abuse, COVID-19 and the Legacy of “Health Terrorism.” 

In The Washington Informer, Melody Webb discusses the confusion of poverty with neglect: 

“It astounds me that we live in the richest country in human history that takes people’s kids away because, in part, parents can’t afford stable housing,” said Webb, executive director of Mother’s Outreach Network and representative of indigent parents seeking reunification with their children. … 

“It’s important that we dig deep into the reasons for these removals that are called ‘neglect only,’” Webb said. “I would imagine most people would take some pause if they understood neglect is related to poverty and poverty is driving these removals.” 

● The Imprint has an interview with MJ Jihad who founded MJ Consulting “to be doing whatever it takes to have these children remain within their birth family.”  Her work is partly an outgrowth of her own experience, when she and her siblings were taken from their father when his poverty was confused with neglect. 

● From NPR’s review of Andrea Elliott’s book, Invisible Child: “Elliott is a masterful storyteller and, by sharing Dasani's story, she calls on all of us to dismantle the systems that so often failed her and countless others.” 

● After NCCPR wrote a column for The Imprint about a widely-circulated, and grossly misleading, graphic, Chapin Hall put a great big warning label on their version.  But why use it at all?  We have an update.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The numbers are - literally - unreal! Chapin Hall adds a “warning label” to a bad graphic about child abuse – but it’s still misleading

 About a month ago, I wrote a column for The Imprint calling out several organizations for using a grossly misleading graphic that exaggerates the rate of physical and sexual child abuse.  In fact, two-thirds of the numbers in the graphic are, literally, made up.  The creators of the graphic, from the University of New Hampshire, decided to give the actual rate of known neglect, but double the rate of physical abuse and triple the rate of sexual abuse. 

As I explained in The Imprint: 

The end result is a graphic that leaves the impression that there once was just as much physical and sexual abuse as there was neglect — and all three existed in massive proportions — until the child welfare system got the abuse figures to plummet.
The creators of the graphic include a disclaimer – but only in the fine print, where many who see the original shocking visual are unlikely to notice.  The Chapin Hall Center for Children reproduced the graphic in a presentation earlier this year.  Then Chapin Hall’s Executive Director, Bryan Samuels, compounded the error by extrapolating from the numbers in ways not backed up by the figures themselves. 

See for yourself.  Here is the graphic with the made-up numbers, as presented initially by Chapin Hall:

 


 Here are the real numbers (Bonus, this version is interactive!):


Last week at a virtual conference sponsored by the Kempe Center, Chapin Hall was back.  To their credit they slapped a great big warning label on the graphic:

But why use made-up numbers at all?  Why are so many in the child welfare establishment afraid not to exaggerate? 

And we shouldn’t forget the worst offender: Prevent Child Abuse America.  When they used the graphic at least year’s Kempe conference, they reproduced the original but actually eliminated almost all of the fine print – so it would be extremely difficult for anyone to see that the physical and sexual abuse numbers are not real.  (If you read our earlier post on this blog about “health terrorism,” that probably comes as no surprise.)  

Meanwhile, another panel at this year’s Kempe conference used the same most-misleading-of-all version as PCAA. 

It is the Graphic That Will Not Die.  Perhaps that’s because, for the child welfare establishment, made-up numbers have always told a better story than real ones.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

NCCPR at the Kempe Center conference: Child Abuse, COVID-19 and the Legacy of “Health Terrorism”

This is the text of the second of two NCCPR presentations at the 2021 Kempe Center International Virtual Conference: A Call to Action to Change Child Welfare

I’m going to spend a lot of time criticizing things people said and did in the past.  Call that whatever else you’d like, but please don’t call it hindsight.  All of what I am criticizing now was criticized then by a wealth of experts. But they were drowned out.  They need to be heard now.

So, where were we?

I begin that way because this talk was inspired by a presentation at last year’s conference.  At that conference, I first learned that a phenomenon I’d been writing about, and deploring, for decades actually had a name – and the name came from someone who had admitted his organization used to practice this particular dark art.

It’s called health terrorism – deliberately misrepresenting the true nature and scope of a problem in the name of “raising awareness.”

Millions of children in the United States have been victims of health terrorism – and it’s happening even as we speak.  Over the past year-and-a-half we’ve seen both a classic example of health terrorism and vivid proof of how effective it’s been at poisoning the public discourse about child abuse and neglect.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

NCCPR at the Kempe Center conference: The case against CASA

 This is the text of the first of two NCCPR presentations at the 2021 Kempe Center International Virtual Conference: A Call to Action to Change Child Welfare

Most Court-Appointed Special Advocates programs call themselves CASA programs – as you’d expect.  Two programs cited in this presentation either in the past or now use a different term: Volunteer Guardian-at-Litem or VGAL.  They mean the same thing, and to avoid confusion I will refer to these programs as CASA programs throughout.  Where a quote uses the term VGAL I will substitute the term CASA.

Whatever you call it, the program I am going to discuss today is probably the most sacred cow in American child welfare; the subject of thousands of local news stories across America, gushing over how wonderful this program is.  I’m going to talk about why those stories are wrong, and how this most sacred cow in child welfare, Court-Appointed Special Advocates or CASA - harms to children.

That’s not because they want to hurt children, of course.  It was all created with the best of intentions.  CASAs still, overwhelmingly, are, to use Malcolm X’s famous phrase “kindly intentioned.” 

But it has failed.

To understand what CASA is and how it really works, I’d like you to imagine the following scene.

IF YOU'RE SEEING THIS ON THE NCCPR BLOG HOMEPAGE, PLEASE CLICK BELOW ON "READ MORE" TO SEE THE ENTIRE POST.

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 5, 2021

 ● We begin with publication of a landmark book about homelessness poverty and, therefore, inevitably, the family policing system: Invisible Child by New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott.  The book is, in some ways, a de facto sequel to what I consider the best book ever written on the topic, Nina Bernstein’s masterpiece, The Lost Children of Wilder.  Elliott adapted one part of her book into a New York Times Magazine cover story.  I have a blog post about the book and the cover story. 

In other news: 

● Stop and think for a moment about this comment, from one of only two Black directors of a county family policing agency in Ohio (there are 88 such agencies). She’s speaking of her own caseworkers: 

We’ve had people come in and say, ‘They were cooking something on the stove. And I don’t know if it was drugs or what,’ and it was collard greens.” 

The quote is from this Toledo Blade story about racism in the local family policing system.  

But that isn’t even the most revealing comment.  Wait until you read what the white transracial adoptive parent has to say. 

● This year the American Bar Association annual conference of family defense attorneys was, of course, an online event. The ABA has put some of the presentations online – including the keynote from Prof. MartinGuggenheim, who founded the nation’s first family defense clinic at New York University School of Law (and who also is president of NCCPR).

● The ACLU has an important new position paper out on “Family Surveillance by Algorithm” and  the need to question the use of “predictive analytics” in family policing.  They have a commentary about it in The Imprint

● The online news site The City has been on top of a story other New York City media have ignored: how the city schools and the city family policing agency join forces to harass families with “educational neglect” reports if they can’t get their children online for classes – and now, if they are rightly concerned about sending children back into classrooms.  Here’s their latest story. 

● Also in New York City, Rise has issued an outstanding blueprint for replacing family policing.  The report and a video about it are available here.  As the report explains: 

Like policing and incarceration by the criminal legal system, surveillance and family separation by the family policing system impact predominantly Black and brown, low-income families living in communities marked by societal neglect. Involvement with ACS often lasts for years and for generations, and, for families in these communities, can be unavoidable.  

Rise knows from our work with impacted parents, and from our partner organizations, that parents have been reported and investigated for suspected child maltreatment when they’ve rinsed their children’s clothes in a tub without detergent, left younger children in the care of an older child, run late for picking their child up from school, or sought medical care for an infant with health challenges. 

● As the so-called Family First Act, with its curbs on institutionalizing children, takes effect, New York State courts have made clear they’re going to demand that those who want to institutionalize a child actually show the child really needs to be institutionalized.  As The Imprint reports, some of the agencies that institutionalize children are very upset about this. 

● And, still in New York: Marcia Lowry suffered a huge defeat when a federal court refused to cerfity one of her McLawsuits as a class action.  The defeat is a significant victory for children. This particular lawsuit was opposed not only by lawyers for parents but also by the lawyers who represent children in family policing cases.  You don’t suppose they know something Marcia doesn’t. 

The Imprint also has a story about a new Texas law which curbs the enormous power of so-called child abuse pediatricians – doctors who find child abuse when it’s there but also, sometimes, when it’s not. 

● United Family Advocates, a group that brings together Left and Right where we have common ground on family policing issues, has a new, updated website, with UFA’s bipartisan position papers on issues like the so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act. 

● The Chicago Sun-Times has an editorial headlined: “DCFS caseworkers with Spanish-language clients should be able to speak Spanish.”  And if you’re thinking: Wait, that’s even an issue? Unfortunately, it is.  Citing excellent reporting from ProPublica, the editorial explains: 

[W]hen it comes to the State of Illinois agency that bears the heavy responsibility of working with children and parents in family crisis, that bit of common sense — work with the families as much as possible in their own language — too often is not practiced, despite a federal court order.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

A chilling dispatch from Saviorland: A new book reveals the true nature of an institution widely touted by those who want to institutionalize more children. It also reveals a whole lot more.

             It began as a story about poverty and homelessness.  But, as so often happens, because family policing agencies prey on the poor, it also became an account of how the so-called child welfare system makes everything worse. 

            It began as a five-part newspaper series in The New York Times.  Now it’s a book: Invisible Child, published today by Random House.  It is a must-read for anyone concerned about race, poverty, and child welfare.  Exhaustively reported and superbly written by Times reporter Andrea Elliott, Invisible Child is, in some ways, a de facto sequel to what I consider the best book ever written on the topic, Nina Bernstein’s masterpiece, The Lost Children of Wilder.  (Even the book cover designers seemed similarly inspired.)

 


            While not quite as ambitious as Lost Children, which told both a family story and the story of an entire system; page-by-page, Invisible Child reveals how so many “helping” systems, especially child protective services, have oppressed impoverished families, especially nonwhite families, for generations.  The book tells the story through one such family and one child, Dasani. 

            In his review of the book for the Times, Matthew Desmond writes that “The family is a picture of chaos and love.” Readers will find plenty of both.  The other central character in the book, Dasani’s mother, Chanel can be a source of frustration, especially for the white and the privileged, like me, who have never walked so much as a step, much less a mile in her shoes.  Chanel desperately wants her daughter to succeed but part of her is afraid of that success.  

A wise, nurturing community-run human services system, working with the whole family, easily could have dealt with that; there were those huge reserves of love to work with.  Instead, the various “helping” systems repeatedly undermine family bonds and seem intent on doing things that magnify Chanel’s fears.  

And yes, Chanel has a drug problem – the result of getting hooked on opioids after Oxycontin was legally prescribed for Chanel’s pulmonary tuberculosis – yes tuberculosis, probably a recurrence of an illness contracted in a homeless shelter.  This generally does not happen to the white, middle-class people who, you may be sure, even now are wagging their fingers and heaping scorn on Chanel. 

            But there was nothing wrong in that family that, say, an annual income of $84,000 a year, tax free, couldn’t fix.  (I’ll explain why I chose that number below.)  Families with that much income and similar problems are successfully raising children without interference by the family police – and, of course, they are unlikely to contract tuberculosis. 

            Elliott punctures the “we made it, why can’t they” myth early on, as she tells the story of Dasani’s great grandfather – a war hero.  He earned three Bronze Stars in World War II, but as Desmond explains in his review: 

after the war ended, racism kept him from securing a union job or buying a home. The federal government effectively nullified his veteran’s mortgage by redlining his neighborhood. “The exclusion of African Americans from real estate,” Elliott writes, “laid the foundations of a lasting poverty that Dasani would inherit.”
             But everything from the poverty and racism to the fact that this was a real family with real problems made them even more vulnerable when the white saviors came calling. 

           


Elliott adapted one portion of the book for the New York Times Magazine.  But please don’t assume that if you’ve read the article you can skip the book – the book tells a vastly bigger story.  Personally, I wish the Magazine has adapted sections closer to the end, which reveal the New York City family policing agency, the Administration for Children’s Services in all its wretched ugliness. 
 

            But since the Times chose the section dealing with one startling turn in Dasani’s life, I’ll focus on that as well.  It’s also worth attention because those in the child welfare establishment who want to tear apart more families and institutionalize more children sometimes point to this place as proof that this is a great idea. 

            After all the attention from the Times stories, Dasani’s middle-school principal, who’d always been in her corner and wanted only the best for her, encouraged Chanel to apply to have Dasani admitted to the Milton Hershey School.  The school was established in 1909 by the founder of the chocolate company. It’s located in the company town, Hershey Pa., about three miles from the Hersheypark theme park.  It’s a boarding school for impoverished students – and boarding is required, even for students who live nearby.  The school gets all the profits from all those chocolate bars – and that’s an incredible amount of money. 

            The school has an endowment of $17 billion – yes billion. That’s more than the
annual Gross Domestic Product of
at least 84 nations.  Taken from extreme poverty, students suddenly are whisked away to a world where their every material need and comfort is taken care of – and then some.
 

            Elliott writes that the school features: 

eight tennis courts, three indoor pools, a 7,000-seat football stadium, an ice-skating rink. Hershey pays for braces, birthday presents, piano lessons, tutoring, therapy and other privileges known to families of means. The school has its own hair salon, clothing center and 24-hour health clinic with staff pediatricians. 

No wonder at least two commenters on the Times story aptly called it “Hogwarts.”  

            Imagine what it was like for Dasani when she was first taken to the school’s Clothing Center. Elliott writes that it 

… spans more than 17,000 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling shelves, two fitting rooms and an alterations department. Dasani’s eyes travel the room, seeing crisply folded shirts and sweaters in every size, followed by rows of blazers and suits. There is an entire wall devoted just to socks. 

Dasani builds her school uniform, selecting polos in pink, orange, yellow and red, and a pair of khakis for each weekday. Formal clothes are next, as required for chapel: dress shirts and trousers, a pleated skirt and matching blazer. She completes the look with tights, flats and a charcoal coat with faux fur trim. For “leisure” time, she gets Levi’s jeans and sweatsuits, polka-dot shorts and shiny black Crocs. In the sleepwear section, she finds pajamas with a candy motif. 

Dasani zips in and out of the dressing room. “That’s mine,” she says with each new item. “That’s mine! That’s mine!” 

“Yes, it is,” [her “house parent”] Tabitha McQuiddy replies. “Yep. Yep.” 

            In all, Hershey spends, yes, $84,000 per year on each child. (A recent news story, discussed below, puts the figure even higher.)  But as Elliott reveals, as she peels back the layers of Hershey, there’s actually a terrible price to be paid.  Dasani must effectively turn against her own family. 

           


No one explicitly tells her to do that, of course.  But the message that she has been rescued from an inferior family and must learn to be someone else is loud and clear from day one.
 

            For starters, children at Hershey are almost entirely cut off from their parents for the first month.  Elliott writes: 

Chanel is allowed one weekly phone call to Dasani, at a predesignated time. There are no visits for a month — a separation that is designed to help incoming students form new bonds, particularly with their house parents. 

            Why, exactly must old bonds be diminished to form new ones?  Children are not cut off from things that those doing the cutting off think are good for the children – so the message to Dasani, and other Hershey students, is clear. 

Dasani is taught the Hershey way to sit at the table, the Hershey way to eat, the Hershey way to speak.  It’s all reinforced with an exhaustive code of picayune rules, rewards and punishments – and, as a recent expose by ProPublica, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Spotlight PA reveals, the system of carrot and stick extends beyond graduation all the way into college, sometimes with extremely harmful results.  (That story also reveals the vital importance of the Hershey demand to tuck in your shirt.) 

When Dasani finally is allowed a visit home, she starts correcting her siblings’ grammar the way Hershey constantly corrects hers.  (It’s one thing to teach someone to code switch, it’s another to send the message that your own code is stupid and ugly.  That is the inevitable, albeit unintentional effect of that constant correction.)  

 The siblings are resentful, and Dasani becomes increasingly torn. 

            And what of the siblings?  Harry Potter was an only child.  What does it do to family relationships when Hershey reaches down and makes one child the Chosen One and the others too inferior to bother with?  How many families have been fractured this way? How many siblings lives were made worse because they were deemed too inferior to choose? 

            And why is a school that is so financially generous with the Chosen Ones, so stingy with their families.  Consider Dasani’s graduation from middle school.  It’s not in the Magazine story, but in the book, Elliott writes: 

In a few more hours, Dasani will graduate from Hershey’s middle school. She tries not to think about all the parents who will come. Even Hershey’s cash-strapped families exist within a hierarchy. There are those who can afford the bus ticket to attend graduations. Chanel cannot. 

           


$17 billion in the endowment and you can’t even spring for a bus ticket? Really?

            Hershey loves to tout its success rate with getting graduates into college.  But that is partly a result of a practice commonly known in child welfare as “creaming” – as in skimming the cream. 

Hershey picks and chooses whom to take, choosing impoverished students who appear most likely to succeed to begin with, and then claiming credit for their success.  The numbers are further improved by the fact that if you don’t do things the Hershey way, if you can’t adapt, if you miss your family too much, if you feel you are betraying them – and as a result you lash out – The Milton Hershey School will spit you out as if you never existed. 

            That’s what happened to Dasani, in part because of the pressure of being the Chosen One and in part because, while she was away, ACS was inflicting more misery on her family. 

            I was impressed by how many commenters on the Times Magazine story saw that Hershey is a very rich, very expensive, plush, luxury version of an Indian Boarding School. (The comments as a whole were surprisingly good, and I’ve included excerpts from some at the end of this post. Indeed it was a commenter who pointed me and other readers to the ProPublica story.) 

            Of course there are differences: Children come to Hershey voluntarily (if you can call trading in your family for material comforts and a better chance at college voluntary – and, as the ProPublica/SpotlightPA/Inquirer story makes clear, many Hershey students and their families are explicitly and reluctantly making that tradeoff – it is the main reason some choose to attend).  At Hershey, children live in luxury rather than facing starvation and physical and sexual abuse as happened in the boarding schools.  

            But what the commenters understood is that the underlying philosophy is the same.
  The boarding schools were established, in order to, in the words of the founder of one of the most notorious, “kill the Indian to save the man.”  Dasani felt that her culture and her family ties were being killed. She rebelled by getting into fights.  So Hershey spat her out.
 

            All children need unconditional love – children who have been in or near the clutches of the foster care system probably need it most.  But Hershey’s “love” isn’t love at all.  It has more “terms and conditions” than a software licensing agreement.  Hershey isolates children from family when they first arrive in order to “bond” with the house parents – but Hershey feels free to break those bonds at will. 

            One of the most telling aspects of how Hershey treats its rejects – one of the clearest examples of how it dehumanizes anyone who won’t do things their way – is left out of the Times story, but it’s in the book: 

            Remember how thrilled Dasani was about getting all those new clothes?  How she kept referring to them as “mine” and how the house parent assured her that was true?  The house parent was mistaken.  When Dasani was expelled, she had to give all those clothes back to the school with the $17 billion endowment. 

            Those clothes were never hers.  They, and she, belonged to Hershey.  And when Hershey didn’t want her anymore they almost literally stripped her of everything. 

            There is nothing to indicate that we have to do this to poor children so they will succeed.  After being kicked out of Hershey, Dasani found a mentor in her plain old New York City public school, who guided her to graduation. She’s now in a community college that’s part of the City University of New York, which used to do what Hershey did, provide a free education – without requiring students to give up their families or their culture. 

           


Had Dasani’s family had that $84,000 per year, she almost certainly would have thrived, and so would her siblings.  Were our public schools given a tiny fraction of the resources of the Milton Hershey School thousands of Dasanis would be thriving.
 

            In the book, the head of the Milton Hershey School lectures parents to the effect that sending their children to him is the most “selfless” thing they can do.  But Hershey is the epitome of selfishness.  They have a bottomless pit of money that they can use any way they please.   But they do nothing to help students’ families.  Not only won’t they even let a student keep her clothes when she leaves, they won’t even spend the pittance required to pay for parents to attend their children’s graduation. What kind of message does that send to the children about who really matters?  Hershey demands huge sacrifices from impoverished families, while Hershey sacrifices nothing.  

There are two theme parks in Hershey, Pa.: Hersheypark and Saviorland. In a just society, one of them wouldn’t exist.

 

INSIGHT FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE

             Don’t get me wrong: A large proportion of the comments posted under the New York Times Magazine story adapted from Andrea Elliott’s book Invisible Child were the usual crap – in spite of the fact that the Times moderates its comments section.

             But it is a tribute both to Elliott’s skill as a reporter and writer and, perhaps, to changing times, that a surprising number understood exactly what was going on with the family, and exactly what the Milton Hershey School is all about.  So here are excerpts from some unrepresentative comments: 


“While the intentions were good, I am not sure that the school really did her any favors. It certainly damaged her relationships with her family, and likely led to the destruction of the family unit. The school, in its totally comprehensive approach, sends the message that everything about where the student came from is bad, and that maintaining the bonds of family love and mutual support are just a drag on achieving the student's potential. When students come from abusive homes, perhaps jetissoning the past is best. But in Dasani's case she had a loving, if poor, family. And family ties are vital to our mental health. I also question the financial cost of this comprehensive program. Might not the money spent to feed, clothe, house, and educate her in that little utopia have achieved more for her and the people she loves if it had been spent on more generous section 8 housing, food stamps, childcare, and local schools?”

--Katherine

 “While I understand what they're going for, it's hard for me to believe that the only way to make these kids succeed is to surgically excise their experiences and family ties.”

--KC

 “What I see is an opportunity offered and then taken away when the real problems surfaced. The message I see is that Dasani couldn't have too many serious problems because that wasn't acceptable. What I don't understand is how Dasani could be expected to separate home from school the way it seems Hershey wanted her to. …”  

--Hen3ry

 “Why was the school allowed to dispense their responsibility to this child, that family and to society in general so easily. They own this one. …”

--Ndgo

 “As a descendant of Indian Boarding School survivors, I am appalled that we are still taking poor children away from their families and calling it a ‘rescue.’ Dasani’s whole family needs ‘help,’ and when I say help, I mean reparations. When my grandparents went to boarding schools, there was nothing wrong with their families that colonization didn’t cause.”

--Stale Frybread

 “My grandfather was able to take full advantage of the GI bill, which set my family on the path to middle, then upper middle class. Had he been denied this opportunity, and instead forced to live in the projects working menial labor jobs, and had black skin, I bet my family's story would be similar to this family's story. But people want to pretend everything they have came from "hard work" and is all deserved.”

--Patrick

 “The school fully acknowledges these children can have aggression issues. Then when the inevitable happens-- fights-- they kick the kids out? This is wrong. It seems like this Hershey School becomes the childrens' world and then it just gets yanked away when the predictable happens. They have a responsibility to support kids like Dasani no matter what.”

--Sara 

“For all the faults of Dasani's relatives, their care was never conditional. That is the one thing this young woman always had and always trusted. It seems to me that this school did her no favors.

--Amy 

“@Amv Agreed. And Hershey's policy of allowing the child no contact with family the first 30 days (except by phone) so the child can "bond" with house parents and housemates is antiquated and harmful to the child. This initial adjustment period is when they need family the most.”

--Judith M. 

“Yes, they gave Dasani educational opportunities but not actual support or a sense of belonging. The school has a paternalistic model and is clearly there to serve the emotional needs of its wealthy benefactors who love the stories of kids taken from the streets and cleaned up.”

--Martha 

“What would Dasani say if we asked her, now and in the future as she matures and has the benefit of hindsight, ‘What would have been the best way to help and support you to be successful when you were a child?’"

--Michelle Bittner       

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, month ending Sept. 28, 2021

 So much has happened during the three weeks I was on vacation that I’m sure this list is far from complete.  But here’s some of what happened, starting with important news about two outstanding advocates with lived experience in the family policing system. 

● “Vowing to work against racial discrimination and unnecessary family separation, a former foster youth from Connecticut and outspoken advocate for her peers has been named as an advisor to the Biden administration’s child welfare leadership team,” reports The Imprint concerning the naming of Lexie Gruber-Perez as a senior adviser to Aysha Schomburg, who runs the federal Children’s Bureau. 

How good is this? Let me put it this way: One of the most extreme advocates for tearing apart more families and institutionalizing more children (whom I will not name) – already is whining about it! 

● Another former foster youth with public policy expertise, Sixto Cancel, wrote a powerful guest essay for The New York Times – and child welfare establishment types promptly did everything they could to subvert it.  I have a blog post about the efforts at subversion

In other news: 

● In addition to everything else foster youth must endure, they all have what amounts to targets on their backs as soon as they become parents themselves.  Because of actual hardships, but also because of stigma, stereotype and the fact that their every word and action is under constant scrutiny, foster youth are exceptionally vulnerable to having their own children needlessly torn from them.  The Imprint reports on legislation passed in California, awaiting a decision from the governor, that would make it easier for foster youth and their own children to stay together – including providing early legal representation. 

● Remember how the Washington D.C. schools and the District family policing agency joined forces to harass families if they were late to pick up children from school?  Well, the dynamic duo of family harassment is at it again: NBC Washington reports that if parents who are justifiably afraid to send their children to school during a pandemic that is now taking a heavy toll on children dare to keep them home, they may face a family police investigation for “educational neglect.”  

One parent, who says she may be forced to capitulate and put her child at risk, put it this way: 

If something were to happen to my child… it will be a decision I regret every single day. And it will be a decision and a consequence that I will lay entirely on the people who forced her back into that building.
 

● The news is a little better in, of all places, Texas.  Texas Monthly reports on how, in what may be the most polarized state in a polarized nation, Left and Right came together to curb the untrammeled power of that state’s family policing agency. 

● The Tennessee Legislature is considering an important change for the better in child welfare law: Replacing anonymous reporting to the state’s child abuse hotline with confidential reporting.  It would be such an important improvement that when one of the sponsors asked me to record a statement to play for his colleagues, I was glad to take a few moments away from my vacation to do it

● The infant son of American Idol contestant Syesha Mercado and her partner may be reunited with them, six months after he was wrongfully taken from them.  Now those who organized to help the family are working to “shine a light on so many other families, families that can’t get this same attention.” 

● Maine foster parent Mary Callahan and I have a column in the Portland Press Herald on how to really fix child welfare in that state. (Hint: It’s the way they did it once before.) 

And finally … 

● The book I wrote about the family policing system, published in 1990, begins at a hideous Los Angeles County institution known as the MacLaren Children’s Center.  Although I often disagree with David Sanders, who now is with Casey Family Programs, he deserves credit for being the Los Angeles child welfare director who, at long last, stood up to an assortment of vested interests and shut that monstrosity down in 2003.  But decades later, former residents still suffer.  Now some of them are suing.  

“They were put in this institution, treated like garbage and thrown away,” their attorney told the Orange County Register. “My clients are looking forward to confronting those that abused them and those that covered up the abuse.” 

As you read the story, please keep in mind that there are hundreds of MacLarens still open all over the United States – and a whole industry dedicated to fighting any effort to shut them down.