Sunday, November 28, 2021

Illinois “child welfare” sets a terrible record in 2020

The Illinois foster care panic may have ended 
in Chicago. But it's still tragically strong in 
other parts of the state.

The foster-care panic that started sweeping through the state in 2019 continued in 2020 – and in much of the state, 2021.  In some regions the number of families torn apart has more than doubled since 2017.

Guess what happened to child abuse deaths. 

When the federal government released its state-by-state figures on entries into foster care for Federal Fiscal Year 2020 there was good news in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.  All of these places tore apart fewer families than they did in 2019.  In North Dakota entries were unchanged.  In Arkansas they increased by 1%. 

And then there was Illinois. 

At one time Illinois was, relatively speaking, a model for keeping children safely in their own homes.  Independent court monitors said so. 

But budget cuts already were undermining the progress when, in April, 2019, a high-profile child abuse death combined with dreadful leadership from state government started a foster care panic – much like the one that tore apart countless families in the 1990s.  I wrote about both panics in this 2019 post.  By September of 2019 entries into foster care already had skyrocketed by 17%.  And by September 2020, even as almost every other state saw a reduction in the number of children torn from their homes, in Illinois the number increased by 17% yet again. 


The number of Illinois children taken from their parents in 2020 is the highest since 1998.  For the first time in more than two decades, Illinois is tearing apart families at a rate
above the national average when rates of child poverty are factored in.

According to the state’s own data, statewide things got no better in 2021.  The total number of entries into foster care is almost identical to 2020.  But that hides vast differences among regions.  In Cook County (metropolitan Chicago) removals fell back to their pre-panic levels.  But in the Northern and Southern Regions of Illinois, they continue to skyrocket.  Entries in these regions have more than doubled since 2017. 

There probably are politicians who will try to spin this as something to celebrate – after all,  taking away vast numbers of children is bound to stop child abuse deaths, right?  Of course not.  That never happens.  Well, OK, maybe not stop them, but at least reduce the number a whole lot, right?  That never happens, either. 

The same state report makes clear that, on the contrary, during the first year of the panic, 2019, such deaths skyrocketed. The number fell back in 2020.  But in 2020, there still were six more such deaths than in 2018 – before the panic.  We don’t know the 2021 figure yet because the cause of death is undetermined in many cases – but it looks as though that figure will be similar. 

The reason this never works is something I explained in my earlier post about Illinois.  Child abuse deaths are as rare as they are tragic. They are needles in a haystack.  The blue circle is the “haystack” – the number of children who become known to the Illinois family policing agency, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), in any given year.  The red line are all the needles in one place (which actually makes them easier to spot).  Can you see it?  Look closely.

You’re never going to do a better job of finding the needles if you keep making the haystack bigger. But that’s exactly what Illinois politicians and DCFS leaders did.  (Full details on methods and sources are in the previous blog post.) 

Bottom line Illinois pols and DCFS: you trashed a system that once was, relatively speaking, a leader.  You vastly increased the number of children subjected to the enormous emotional trauma of needless separation – in fact, when it comes to needless family separation you vastly outperformed Donald Trump.  You subjected all these children to the high risk of abuse in foster care itself.  You’ve even got children sleeping in offices again.  

And all that did nothing – nothing – to prevent the very sorts of tragedies that prompted you to start this foster-care panic in the first place.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending November 24, 2021

I don't know if you can say "the handwriting is on the wall" for New York City's family policing agency, but this is one of the messages JMacForFamilies projected onto the wall of the fisrt-stop parking place "shelter" where some children are taken when they're torn from their parents in New York City. It was part of a protest last week.

● Hey, remember when New York City schools and the city’s family policing agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, promised that this year they wouldn’t traumatize children and families by sending caseworkers to investigate them on “educational neglect” charges just because they felt it was still unsafe to send them to in-person classes?  Chalkbeat checked to see if they were keeping their word.  Can you guess what they found? 

● Check out the video of Prof. Dorothy Roberts’ lecture on “Black Families Matter: How the U.S. Family Regulation System Punishes Poor People of Color.” By the way, the lecture was co-sponsored by the “Penn Program on Regulation.”  I mention this for the benefit of those who insist the system shouldn’t be called a “family regulation system” just because it, you know, regulates families. 

“Family Separation is as American as Mass Incarceration” according to the ACLU of Southern California. They’re part of the #reimaginechildsafety coalition in Los Angeles, and they have a blog post that gives an overview of how the family regulation system harms children in Los Angeles County. 

● The murder of a child in Hawaii, allegedly by the foster parents who adopted her has a lot of people seeking answers.  Here are some of the questions they need to ask

● And there’s still another case alleges horrifying abuse in Florida foster care.

Friday, November 19, 2021

An adopted foster child dies in Hawaii – but nobody seems to be asking the right questions

Ariel Sellers, as she was known before her adoption, was reported missing by her foster/adoptive parents.
Now they've been charged with her murder. (Honolulu police dept. photo)

We don’t know why six-year-old Ariel Sellers was taken from her parents. 

But we do know this: 

● Relatives were ready to take her in. They say Hawaii’s family police agency, known as “Child Welfare Services” (CWS) ignored them. 

● Instead Ariel was placed with strangers, Isaac and Lehua Kalua.  Ultimately, they adopted her and changed her name. At the time of her death, her legal name was Isabella Kalua.

● The foster/adoptive parents, who initially reported the child as missing, have been charged with murdering the child.  She allegedly died trapped in a dog cage with duct tape covering her mouth and nose. 

● Despite the pleas of relatives, Isabella’s siblings are still in foster care with strangers. The family is fighting to bring them home, and to overturn the adoption so at least in death Ariel will have her name back.

It’s all stunningly reminiscent of the tragic death of Sara Hunsicker in Pennsylvania.  (She’s better known as Grace Packer because before raping and murdering her, the foster/adoptive parents changed her name.) 

Diversion and double-standards 

But just as in the Hunsicker case, in this latest death the child welfare establishment has been quick to divert attention from its own failings.  And just as in the Hunsicker case, there’s been a tragic double standard in the response. 

CWS is actually whining about budget cuts and staff shortages – as though if you just made the agency that refused to place Isabella with relatives and rushed her into a quick-and-dirty adoptive placement even bigger, this wouldn’t have happened. 

And while whenever the alleged killer is a birth parent, there are accusations that government is going too much to keep families together, now that this child died in a foster/adoptive home, no one is asking if Hawaii is doing too much to tear families apart – even though Hawaii is another one of those states that has a hair-trigger when it comes to tearing apart families.  

In 2019, Hawaii took children from their parents at a rate well above the national average – even when rates of child poverty are factored in.  When you tear apart so many families, there is an enormous incentive to rush children into any home with a bed without looking too closely.  More than three-quarters of those children were taken not because of abuse, but because of “neglect” – which often is confused with poverty. 

We also know that abuse in foster care is widespread, and we know that agencies often turn a blind eye to such abuse. 

We also know that there are profound incentives to rush children into slipshod, quick-and-dirty adoptive placements.  Under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act, states are paid a bounty of $4,000 to $10,000 for every finalized adoption over a baseline number.  What happens to the money if the adoption fails – or if the adoptive parents are accused of murder? Nothing – the state still gets to keep it! 

But the incentives go beyond the financial.  The one way an agency like CWS is guaranteed good press is when it gets those adoption numbers up. How many news organizations questioning what CWS did in this case have done treacly features about “Adoption Day” celebrations? How many will do them again tomorrow? 

So no, you can’t stop these tragedies by throwing more money at CWS or going on a caseworker hiring binge.  The only way to fix foster care is to have less of it. 

Only then will there be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for the relatively few children who really need them.  And only then will workers have the time to find children in real danger, whether in their own homes or in foster care.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending November 17, 2021

 ● Let’s start by looking ahead to Saturday – it’s time for National Adoption Day!  Cake! Ice Cream! Balloons at the courthouse!  Because what could be more appropriate than a festival commemorating the aftermath of termination of children’s rights to the parents they were born with.  If termination of parental rights is child welfare’s equivalent of the death penalty, then what is Adoption Day but a macabre celebration of family executions

● If anyone still doubts how easy it is to “execute” a family, how casually it occurs and how much harm it does, check out these stories from Next City: In two parts they x-ray the soul of a family policing agency – in his case, Philadelphia, but it could be anywhere.  The picture is even uglier than you think. 

● Even when a child isn’t taken, the trauma inflicted by the child welfare surveillance state is huge.  “In early June, I had brought my children to the school building for the first time since the start of the pandemic to speak to the district superintendent and principal about my concerns regarding my children’s safety and dignity in their classrooms,” writes Shalonda Curtis-Hackett in the New York Daily News “Six days later, I was under investigation by ACS. 

The investigation and surveillance were invasive and dehumanizing. They checked our cabinets and fridge, scrutinized our living arrangements and questioned our lifestyle. We have been parents for 14 years and we have never been subjected to violence of this magnitude. After several visits, the ACS worker told me she was glad that she had my case because I would have scared her white co-worker.

● It will get uglier still as family regulation systems embrace “predictive analytics” – computerized racial profiling.  That’s why those who want to sell the idea in New York City were desperate to stack the deck at what was billed as a virtual “examination” of the topic.  They tried to shut out opponents like J. Khadijah Abdurahman – until family advocates and defenders fought to get her included.  And then they disabled the chat function, so no one else could directly challenge the predictive analytics salespeople, such as Emily Putnam-Hornstein, whose work is discussed here – and who even gets offended at the thought of the family regulation system being called a family regulation system. 

To see why they were so afraid of Abdurahman, start the event video here. Then watch as Aaron Horowitz, chief data scientist for the American Civil Liberties Union, systematically dismantles the arguments from the predictive analytics evangelists. 

● In Los Angeles, which tears apart families at the second highest rate of America’s biggest metropolitan areas, the #reimaginechildsafety coalition is out to change that.  Check out the story in The Imprint.  They’re already making a difference.  In more than 20 years of following the way the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors responds to child abuse tragedies I had never seen them even consider the possibility that the problem rests with taking away too many children in the first place – until Tuesday.  Check out The Imprint’s follow-up story and this story from the Los Angeles Daily News and City News Service. 

● Although it doesn’t get as much attention as the other populations targeted by family policing, children of disabled parents also are more likely to be forced into foster care.  Attorney Robyn Powell writes about what happens to those families in The Regulatory Review. 

● Don’t miss Andrea Elliott talking about her book, Invisible Child on the PBS NewsHour

● In Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News and Wisconsin Watch report, still another “child abuse pediatrician” is under fire. “'I am very fearful for anybody who has to bring their kids to Alaska CARES right now,' said Sarah Duran-Wood, a former forensic nurse at the clinic.” Why is Wisconsin Watch also reporting this story? Because that same child abuse pediatrician had left her previous job in Wisconsin under a cloud.

● In Florida, the cave-in to the Miami Herald’s crusade to tear apart more families even extends to financial incentives which have been skewed to encourage holding children in foster care and discourage sending them home.  I have a blog post about it.

● Here’s another example of the importance of financial incentives, and this time it’s good news.  You know how the residential treatment industry spent decades telling us that all those children absolutely positively had to be there and there was simply no way to care for them in families?  Amazingly, The Imprint reports, now that financial incentives are changing, institutions are finding a way! 

● But sometimes, it’s just the sheer banality of the system that’s infuriating.  Here’s a case in point.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

You get what you pay for: How Florida shifted funding priorities to foster care


Child welfare’s foremost data nerd has weighed in on the mess in central Florida child welfare caused by – well caused by a lot of things, including the dreadful performance of Eckerd Connects.  Eckerd is the “lead agency” in the region (though not for long) under Florida’s largely privatized system of family policing.  (Florida calls it a “Community-Based Care” (CBC) system of “child welfare,” but both those terms are euphemisms.) 

We wrote a detailed blog post about what went wrong last week.  Now there is a much more detailed post from Prof. Robert Latham, associate director of the University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic. He also has a degree in computer science and a talent for data visualization.  That makes him unafraid to go as deep into the weeds as necessary to determine whether a claim is true. 

In his most recent blog post, he documents, in chart after chart, why the claim by Eckerd that its failures are due to the agency not getting enough money is b.s.  As the headline for the post puts it “CBC Funding Doesn’t Make Children Live in Offices.” 

But there are some other significant observations.  Much as we did last week, Latham notes that 

None of the problems are new, and every player in the saga had some hand in creating the mess. The [Pinellas County] sheriff, who is now saying Eckerd could be criminally liable, is the child protective investigator in Pinellas county and has been removing children (at higher than statewide average rates) and handing them to Eckerd for years despite all the known problems. 

But he also explains how the Florida Legislature, the current administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the administration of former Governor Rick Scott skewed financial incentives for the “CBCs” toward holding more children in foster care and against trying to keep families together. 

In other words, in addition to all the other ways Florida government caved-in to the Miami Herald and reporter Carol Marbin Miller’s crusade to tear apart more families, the governors and the Legislature also rewarded agencies like Eckerd for holding children in foster care and penalized them for working to keep them safely at home. 

How the incentives work 


In 2010, back when Charlie Crist was still governor and the Florida Department of Children and Families had a visionary leader in George Sheldon, a small proportion of the complex formula for allocating funds to agencies such as Eckerd rewarded them if they reduced the number of children they trapped in foster care.  But by 2015, the year after Miller’s Innocents Lost series started a foster-care panic, that was gone.  Not only that, the proportion of the formula based on the number of children held in foster care doubled – from 30% of the formula to 60%.  It declined to 55% in 2018 – but it’s still, by far, the largest single driver of how much money Eckerd and its counterparts get.
 

That isn’t even the worst of it.  The formula for how much these agencies get is based in part on what the other CBCs are doing – apparently, it’s a little like grading on a curve.  But in this case, the better you do the worse the grade. 

Writes Latham: 

[I]f an agency holds its numbers steady while every other CBC increases theirs, that agency will lose money in the formula. There is no incentive to be the first agency to lower the numbers … There is, however, an incentive to be the first to raise your numbers in a given category and capture a higher proportion before the other agencies catch up. This could be a good or bad thing depending on the category and the cost of care for that group. [Emphasis in original] 

In other words, if, say, a county sheriff is tearing apart families needlessly, a lead agency has no financial incentive to complain about it.  And they have no incentive to get children home as quickly and safely as possible.  In fact, if they do the right thing before anyone else, it’s great for the kids, but bad for the agency’s bottom line. 

Double standards and bad incentives 

Any discussion of financial incentives is plagued with the same sorts of double standards that afflict any discussion in child welfare: tearing apart families is automatically considered the good, “safe” option, while avoiding the horrific trauma needless removal inflicts on children, and avoiding the high risk of abuse in foster care itself, is somehow deemed risky. 

So you may be sure that were the legislature ever to restore even a slight incentive not to hold children needlessly in foster care, the Herald or the Tampa Bay Times would find the first available horror story and blame it on a supposedly dangerous incentive to return children home. 

Of course, neither newspaper has expressed any concern about the current incentive to
prolong foster care, with all of the well-documented emotional harm this inflicts on children (think Mexican Border because it’s the same kind of harm), the well-documented rotten outcomes this causes in later life,  the well-documented high rate of abuse in foster care – and, of course, the well-documented harm to children who fall into the clutches of outfits such as Eckerd.
 

There are also huge incentives to prolong foster care beyond the financial: No caseworker wants to be on the front page of the Herald or the Tampa Bay Times, accused of “allowing” a child to die.  They need have no fear of being on the front page for tearing apart families needlessly.  The same dynamic applies to judges and agency administrators. 

The bad financial incentives compound all that. Changing them would be a very small step toward redressing the imbalance and allowing the system to handle each case on its merits. 

That this can be done in Florida is illustrated by what happened when Sheldon and before him Bob Butterworth ran DCF.  During their tenure a waiver from federal funding rules allowed more money to be used to keep families together.  Entries into foster care declined and independent monitors found no compromise of child safety. 

Then the Miami Herald came along and blew the whole thing up. 

Everything from the series of outstanding stories from the USA Today Florida Network, and the accounts of youth left to the tender mercies of Eckerd make clear the consequences.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The $20 million boondoggle that perfectly illustrates the banality of child welfare thinking

           


Compared to the billions of dollars wasted on things like harming children by institutionalizing them, the small item discussed in this story in The Imprint is barely a drop in the bucket  - and odds are it won’t actually make things worse.            

            But it’s hard to imagine anything that more perfectly captures the banality of child welfare thinking than this waste of $20 million: 

            Five organizations will spend this federal grant money to create a “Quality Improvement Center on Engaging Youth in Finding Permanency.”  And what will these groups do with the $20 million? 

Over the next five years, the consortium will launch pilot sites that “give youth an active role when decisions are made about their care, including reuniting them with their birth families or placing them in other legally recognized and permanent arrangements,” according to a press release from the University of Washington School of Social Work. 

The sites will work with local youth in the foster care system, ages 12 to 20, to glean their greatest needs and their thoughts on what moves would be most helpful in achieving permanency. 

            Where oh where to begin. 

            OK. For starters, not one of those twenty million dollars will go to a group actually run by current or former foster youth – you know, the very people this project is supposed to “engage and empower.” There are many such groups. They already know their own “greatest needs” – and they’ve been trying to tell the “child welfare” establishment, in some cases for decades. 


But no. This is just another way for the system to scarf up some more federal dollars.  The money goes to two adoption advocacy groups (reinforcing the bias that permanency equals adoption, not reunification, and prioritizing paper permanence over what has aptly been called “relational permanence”) not one, but two schools of social work, and – I kid you not - a consortium of child welfare system administrators. (After all, social work schools and child welfare administrators have created such a wonderful system, who wouldn’t want to throw an extra $20 million their way?) 

            Oh, don’t get me wrong.  After they’ve engorged themselves on the $20 million, I’m sure they’ll make some token efforts to include foster youth in some kind of prolonged planning process with lots of jargon and flipcharts.  They’re bound to set up some kind of “youth advisory committee” and hold token forums to get “input.” 

             After all, according to that press release from one of the social work schools “We want youth to be seen as competent and knowledgeable parties who deserve to have input and decision-making power about their own lives.”  Sure.  Just as long as the social work schools and their partners get to keep all the money, and the professors get to boost their status at their universities because they brought in a fat grant.  

            Oh, and that word “deserve” implies that actually having power over their own lives is some kind of privilege to be bestowed as a gift upon young people whose lives this same system uprooted in the first place – as opposed to a right.  

            It’s depressing to imagine what went into this.  Was there the usual mind-numbing jargon-filled grant proposal?  Did they promise to “leverage a paradigm shift”?   

            But if the thought of genuinely empowering and engaging foster youth is just too much to bear, here’s another way to spend the money: 

On any given day there are in foster care about 127,200 young people between the ages of 12 and 20 – the target group for this grant.  $20 million is enough to give each of them a check for $157.23.  

            Admittedly, that’s not a lot.  But it might buy someone who’s just aged out some new clothes for a job interview, or some college textbooks, or maybe a nice suitcase for a younger child so, the next time she’s forced to change foster homes, at least she doesn’t have to put all her things in a garbage bag. 

            And the government could still achieve the alleged purpose of this grant. Here’s how: With each check, include a note asking that the young person tell you “their greatest needs and their thoughts on what moves would be most helpful in achieving permanency.”

Monday, November 15, 2021

End child welfare’s public celebration of family executions

On this Saturday - “National Adoption Day” - who will stop to remember that for some children and some young adults every mass adoption ceremony, every treacly feature story on the local news is an act of cruelty – ripping the scab off a wound that never fully heals?

 

Termination of parental rights is child welfare's "death penalty."  So why do
some of the very judges who order a family "executed" preside over
public celebrations of the aftermath?   

            There was a time when, as a people, we were so uncivilized that executions were a form of entertainment – a public spectacle to be celebrated. 

In Canada, for example, 

Before they were banned in 1870, executions in public places could draw thousands of spectators, including families and young children. Boisterous behavior and a less-than-solemn attitude marked these macabre gatherings.  “When the day of a public execution arrived, the businessmen closed their factories and their stores and the people put on their holiday dresses,” noted an 1894 article in the Evening Star about hangings in early Toronto.   

The last official state-sanctioned public hanging in the United States drew a crowd of 20,000.  Even then, reporters condemned it as a “carnival.” (I probably don’t even need to mention that the man they hanged was Black.) 

Fortunately, nearly a century later, we have, of course, outgrown such practices. 

Except in child welfare. 

Termination of parental rights (or, as it should be called, termination of children’s rights to their parents) often is described as child welfare’s death penalty.  It is the prerequisite to any adoption of a child from foster care. 

And every year, all over America, we celebrate these family executions with a joyous public spectacle.  It’s called National Adoption Day.  This year it’s happening on Nov. 20. 

You know the drill. Open the court on a Saturday, bring in ice cream, cake and balloons, finalize foster-child adoptions en masse – and reinforce every stereotype about how the system supposedly “rescues” children from horrible birth parents and places them with vastly superior adoptive parents.  The same judges who are supposed to decide impartially on termination cases often lead these celebrations.

            Of course, because of COVID, in many places Adoption Day has gone virtual.  But don’t worry, organizers of the Los Angeles County event have added a particularly macabre 21st Century tough:  “A pool camera will be permitted at a pre-selected adoptive family’s home for coverage as the family’s virtual adoption ceremony takes place.”

  The whole spectacle also gets the courts and the local family policing agency (a more accurate term than “child welfare agency”) a guaranteed puff piece in the local newspaper celebrating what is, in reality, the aftermath of an execution.  And, of course, as with those other public executions, a disproportionate share of the families “executed” are Black. 


I’ve previously written that this day should be called National Child Welfare Hypocrisy Day – since while child welfare systems always piously proclaim that their first goal is to reunify a family they’ve torn apart, the outcome that brings them true joy, the one they celebrate, is when that child, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite, is adopted by someone who often is neither.
 

Unlike some of my friends in the family preservation movement, I am not opposed to all involuntary adoptions of children taken from their parents.  I am not opposed to all terminations of parental rights.  On those very rare occasions where this is appropriate, I am not opposed to an adoptive family having a private, quiet celebration.  But each of these things should take place far less often than they do now.

 So in that sense, my previous column was too kind.  It said adoption was sometimes an appropriate second choice after reunification and sometimes the appropriate first choice.  In fact, adoption should be farther down on the list, after not only reunification but also guardianship and perhaps other options as well, such as tribal customary adoption, a practice used by some Native American tribes that might well be adaptable elsewhere.  And while a private celebration is one thing, it should never be a mass public spectacle – it rubs salt into too many open wounds, and not just for parents. 

Prof. Christopher Church, senior director of strategic consulting at Casey Family Programs, has argued that using the term “civil death penalty” to describe the terminations that come before the cake, ice cream and balloons actually understates the trauma to the child.  Horrible as it is to lose a parent to physical death, losing a parent to termination of parental rights can be worse. 

“When a child knows somebody is out there but they have no way of connecting to them, that is ‘ambiguous loss,’” Church said at a recent conference.  “That is a more complex trauma for children than death loss.  … Death is finality and [children] can comprehend that better.” 

Church also reminds us that before the joyous public spectacle there’s sometimes another ceremony, if you can call it that.  It’s called the “goodbye visit.”  Children are told they will never, ever see their parents again, and now they all must say goodbye.  No cake and balloons here; just tears and anguish. 

The children are not always saying goodbye just to their parents.  If one child is adopted and the others are not, the sibling bond is severed forever.  If a parent later has another child whom s/he is allowed to keep, the child who was adopted amid the ice cream and cake may never know that sibling – unless, when they are adults, they find some way to find each other. 

But hey, don’t let that spoil the party. 

I can imagine some readers thinking: But wait. We have to do this, don’t we?  After all, if a case goes to termination of parental rights, the parents must have been the worst of the worst, right? 

Wrong. The termination phase is as arbitrary, capricious and cruel as every other decision-point in child welfare.  As Prof. Vivek Sankaran, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at the University of Michigan, has written: 

[C]ourts seem to terminate parental rights out of a sense of convenience. A child has been in foster care for 15 months, so let’s terminate. A foster parent prefers to adopt a child, so let’s terminate. A parent hasn’t fully complied with services, so let’s terminate. 

            Still another indication of what’s really behind termination cases can be seen in how different the outcomes are by age.  Among children torn from their parents during their first year of life, only 36% are reunified; 46% are adopted.  Then, year after year, reunification rates inch up almost every year until age 14. Nearly 54% of children taken at age 14 were reunified. 

            So are parents of infants vastly worse than parents of 14-year-olds?  Or do caseworkers have their own rescue fantasies triggered by a child about whom they can gush, “Awwww, he’s so cute!” 

            No, we don’t need adoption and the attendant spectacle of mass public family execution to give children “permanence.”  In fact, we don’t know how often adoption does that.  Child welfare systems don’t like to ask questions to which they don’t want to know the answers, so we don’t know how often, when, say, that cute baby becomes a teenager, the adoptive parents change their minds.  

            But even when the adoption doesn’t fall apart, and even when a child really can’t live safely with her or his own parents, the obsession with adoption still hurts children.  As Prof. Sankaran explains: 

Families, and the relationships within them, are far more enduring and resilient than we want to acknowledge. In our quest for legal permanence, we forget about a child’s need for relational permanence, often defined as a child’s lifelong connection with caring adults. For example, too often, we ratify adoptions with the hope of providing a child with a legally permanent home. But in doing so, we cut off the child’s ability to have permanent relationships with those who have – and will always – matter to him. A mother. A sibling. A grandparent. Hence the countless number of stories of adopted children searching for their kin.

           Other options, such a guardianship, don’t require a child to sacrifice any relationships. 

So this time, when National Adoption Day rolls around, remember that for some children and some young adults every mass adoption ceremony, every treacly feature story on the local news is an act of cruelty – ripping the scab off awound that never fully heals. 

Again, that doesn’t mean adoption by strangers and termination of parental rights are always wrong.  But it needs to be moved much farther down on the list of options for children.  And while, on rare occasions, we still need to impose child welfare’s death penalty, can’t we at least have the decency to stop celebrating it?