Sunday, May 8, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 8, 2022

● You know how family policing agencies say they never, ever take children away or keep them in foster care on their own?  Remember how they say: “a judge has to approve everything we do”?  Apparently, there’s an exception: If the judge orders a child returned to a mother who had never abused or neglected that child, but the family police just don’t feel like it.  Oh, and then they lie under oath about who’s responsible. 

All that is according to a judge in Kentucky. The Louisville Courier Journal reports that the judge held the state family police agency in contempt – and urged authorities look into criminal sanctions against agency employees she says lied under oath.  She also filed a complaint with the Kentucky Bar Association against the agency’s lawyer. 

In other news:

● WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, continues its excellent reporting on the harm done to children and families by hidden foster care in that state. 

● Prof. Dorothy Roberts and members of Rise discuss Prof. Roberts’ new book, Torn Apart at Revolution Books: 

Rise has more about the event here.

● Two lawsuits deal with the harm done to children when hospitals rush to judgment. 

--In Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports, a hospital confused a Black child’s birthmark with a bruise.  According to the lawsuit, without even minimal investigation, the hospital rushed to call in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  DCFS is in full foster-care panic mode – which helps explain why they promptly inflicted a so-called “safety plan” – actually a form of hidden foster care -- on the family. 

--According to a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, a hospital reported  to family police authorities a mother who had just given birth for allegedly using methamphetamine – after a single drug test that can’t distinguish between meth and the mother’s Vyvanse – a legally prescribed amphetamine.  The Allentown Morning Call describes the trauma inflicted on this family – and others.  The story is one more illustration of the harm done by the so-called “plan of safe care” provision of an odious federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

● At last: Some skepticism from local media about Pittsburgh’s use of what amounts to computerized racial profiling in family policing. For more context, see this AP story

WHYY Public Radio reports on a hearing held by the Philadelphia City Council Special Committee on Child Separations in which the commissioner of the city’s family policing agency responded to the committee’s report.  Here’s some context on that report.

● And, as The Appeal puts it in this story: “A judge finally called bs on ‘shaken baby syndrome.’”

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 3, 2022

BuzzFeed News examines the enormous harm to families when parents are wrongly placed on “central registries” of alleged child abusers. A listing can shut parents out from the very jobs most often open to low-income workers, driving their families further into the poverty that often is confused with “neglect” in the first place.  And, because of who is disproportionately likely to be included in these registries, the story is aptly titled “The Black List.” 

● At last, a big, mainstream news organization that wasn’t suckered by the hype spewing forth from the evangelists for using “predictive analytics” in family policing: Much of that dangerous hype has come from Pittsburgh, where proponents hand-picked the people who would review their plans.  But look what the Associated Press found when, at last, there was a truly independent evaluation: 

According to new research from a Carnegie Mellon University team obtained exclusively by AP, Allegheny’s algorithm in its first years of operation showed a pattern of flagging a disproportionate number of Black children for a “mandatory” neglect investigation, when compared with white children. The independent researchers, who received data from the county, also found that social workers disagreed with the risk scores the algorithm produced about one-third of the time. 

The story reveals something else; the character of Erin Dalton, who led the push for using this kind of computerized racial profiling in Pittsburgh and now runs the family policing agency there.  Her response to the potential for error boils down to: So what? Or as she told AP: 

“If it goes into court, then there’s attorneys on both sides and a judge,” Dalton said. “They have evidence, right?” 

The Imprint has a big story about Prof. Dorothy Roberts and her decades of work exposing the racial bias that permeates family policing – work that continued in April with the publication of her new book, Torn Apart. 

● Here Prof. Roberts discusses her book, and racism in child welfare with Marc Lamont Hill 

And here with Ali Velshi on MSNBC:

● Velshi refers to Prof. Roberts’ article in The Nation on the real lessons for family policing from COVID-19: No, there was no “pandemic of child abuse” – on the contrary, children did better when family policing agencies were forced to step back and mutual aid organizations stepped up. You can read that story here. 

● It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some “child welfare” agency announcing an initiative that supposedly will make family policing kinder and gentler.  But none of them takes account of “the tattletale factor.” I have a blog post about it. 

● In Hawaii, a state legislator is urging that state’s family police agency to stop stealing foster youth’s Social Security benefits, a practice exposed last year by The Marshall Project and NPR.

● In Massachusetts, children in family policing proceedings already get a lawyer charged with advocating for what the child wants – not because that’s always what should happen, but because judges can’t make informed decisions unless everyone has a zealous advocate for their point of view.  But now, the governor wants to spend $50 million adding a fifth wheel to the process – a guardian ad litem (GAL) whose job would be to act on his or her own adult whims and prejudices and, quite possibly, fight against the child’s wishes if they don’t match those whims and prejudices.  In other words, something a lot like the quintessence of racial and class bias in child welfare, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).  CommonWealth Magazine has an excellent commentary on why the GAL proposal would make the state’s atrocious system even worse. 

The motivation for this terrible idea is a horror story – the disappearance of 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery.  But it was Massachusetts’ fanaticism about tearing apart families that made that tragedy more likely in the first place.  So, of course, leave it to the governor and his human services leadership team to propose doubling down on their failed approach.  In my own commentary for CommonWealth Magazine last month, I suggested some alternatives. 

● In the Albany Times Union, Madelyn Freundlich, policy research consultant for the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York writes in support of legislation that would replace anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse and neglect with confidential reporting.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The tattletale factor in “child welfare”

It’s why all those plans for kinder, gentler family policing won’t do much good – and might even backfire.  Connecticut is a case in point. 

It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some “child welfare” agency announcing an initiative that supposedly will make family policing kinder and gentler.  

There’s the longstanding “differential response” in which, in cases deemed less serious, caseworkers are sent out to do a supposedly family-friendly “assessment” and offer voluntary help, instead of an investigation with the accompanying risk of onerous surveillance.  On the one hand, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned that this leads to needless net-widening. On the other hand, another in a long line of studies suggests it may reduce foster care entries. 

Then there are “family resource centers” – drop-in centers, in which families can stop by and get help, including the concrete help families really need. 

But for these and similar interventions there is one huge catch:  Call it the tattletale factor.  

All of these alternatives are either run by the family police themselves or contracted out to agencies whose workers are mandatory reporters of “child abuse” and “child neglect.” At worst, this can wind up widening the net of needless intervention into families.  At best, this creates a deterrent to families coming forward to seek help because they never know if the “helper” will feel compelled to call the family police.  Prof. Kelley Fong, who’s done extensive research on this issue, summed it up in an article for Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly: 

“Seeking help is no easy decision when those in a position to assist are also potential tattletales.” 

The tattletale factor persists because no state or locality creating these plans has taken the one step necessary to make them work: surrendering some of their vast, untrammeled power to intervene in the lives of families. 

And that brings me to something included in Connecticut’s plan for how to use funds under the federal Family First Act.  Here’s how The Imprint describes the plan: 

The state is planning to support a community-based organization that will help steer some reports away from its surveillance-oriented hotline, known as the Careline. 

Funding for this venture — described wonkily in the Family First plan as a Care Management Entity (CME) — has already been included in the state’s budget negotiations this year, and department leadership are confident it will secure about $1.5 million for this venture. 

“We want to go further upstream and serve families without having them become known to us … and really do prevention in a more robust way other than cases accepted,” said DCF Deputy Commissioner of Operations Michael Williams. 

The idea is that reports of concern that do not rise to the level of abuse or neglect would come to the CME from schools or child care centers, law enforcement officials or the community. Parents could also come directly in search of help. 

The effort is probably sincere.  It may have been inspired by Prof. Fong’s research, some of which was done in Connecticut.  And when it comes to reducing needless foster care, over the past decade or so, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families has shown some real leadership and done better than other states (although using the Orwellian term “Careline” to describe the number you call to reach the family police does not inspire confidence). 

But the closer one looks at the fine print, the less there is to Connecticut’s plan. 

For starters, the claim that this entity will “serve families without having them become known to us”
isn’t quite accurate.  Under the plan, mandated reporters will keep right on calling the policing line (no way I’m calling it “Careline”).  Then, if the family police decide the report doesn’t rise to a level that needs investigation, the reporter will be told to call the CME instead. 

So this means that a second entity will, in fact, go out and knock on a family’s door in situations where that does not happen now, thus reinforcing fears that Family First opens the door to making needless intervention into families worse. 

And while it’s true that, in theory, this new entity is only there to help, there’s another catch: According to the plan “CME staff are mandated reporters and if they hear something that meets the statutory criteria of abuse or neglect, they will refer to the [family police].”  Why, then, should families be less afraid of the CME than they are of any other mandated reporter? 

Prof. Fong describes parents forced constantly to weigh whether to reach out for help and, if they do, what they dare not say to “helping” professionals: 

In communities highly exposed to [child protective services], the specter of CPS accompanies families to doctors’ visits, to parent-teacher conferences, to homeless shelters, to therapy

Appointments … Parents in need face a no-win situation: close off opportunities for support or open themselves up to the risk of state scrutiny and family separation. 

Connecticut’s plan doesn’t change this. 

A far better approach would be a plan that said: “We will seek legislation exempting CME staff from mandatory reporting requirements.”  That doesn’t mean they’d be prohibited from reporting, only that they’d be free to exercise their professional judgment without fear.  But that would require the family policing agency to relinquish some of its power. 

A good plan also would have included a provision allowing “mandated reporters” to fulfill their legal obligations by calling this new entity instead of calling the family police.  But that, too, would require the family policing agency to give up some of its power. 

The fact that this proposal is part of Connecticut’s plan to implement the so-called Family First Act creates additional problems.  Family First will only help states pay for a service if the service is provided for families where children are, using the law’s own Orwellian term, “candidates” for foster care.  That creates even more entanglement with the family police.  As the proposal itself says: 

…the CME will be expected to conduct an assessment protocol for all families coming through the CME. This will include 1) an evaluation of safety; if there is a safety concern the CME will make a call to the Careline for further evaluation, and 2) an assessment of risks, strengths, and needs to inform case planning, and service matching… 

So how can this be purely voluntary, if the family must allow all that “risk assessment”? Will a family that says: “no, thank you, we’re not interested” automatically become higher risk?  And how does all this constitute serving families “without having them become known to us”? 

At best, this seems no different from differential response, at worst is it simply subcontracting child abuse investigations by another name? 

Why entangle this with Family First at all?  Surely the richest state in America could come up with the $1.5 million needed for the CME without federal reimbursement. [UPDATE: I now understand the state is, in fact, going to come up with that $1.5 million without Family First.] As for Family First eligible services, with the strings that attach to them, savings from reduced foster care would cover the costs of any services the CME might arrange. 

A better approach would be to take the money the state would spend on the CMEs and give it to community-based community-run service providers, no strings attached, and let them figure out how to reach out to families and help them – in other words, what happened in New York City, not by design but by way of COVID-19.  But that would require the family police agency to relinquish some of its power. 

Short of that, there is one thing that would make this plan far more reassuring: If the mandate for the CME included immediately linking the family to high-quality interdisciplinary legal representation

But that would require the family police agency to – well, you know.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 26, 2022

● I am proud to serve on a special committee of the Philadelphia City Council examining the child welfare system in that city.  We released our report last week.  There’s a story about the report in Billy Penn.  And, because many of the recommendations apply statewide, in the York Daily Record. My statement about the report is on this blog here.

● One of our recommendations is to abolish mandatory child abuse reporting – something that would be in line with decades of research showing that mandatory reporting backfires.  It’s one of the topics Prof. Dorothy Roberts discusses in The Regulatory Review.  She writes: 

Mandated reporting, therefore, drives many family caregivers from the very people who are most equipped to support them. It deters families from seeking needed assistance and weakens the capacity of teachers, doctors, and social service workers to nurture children’s well-being. Providing aid to families within a threatening and punitive system ruins the opportunity for schools, health care clinics, and social programs to be community-based resources where families can find non-coercive help with meeting their needs. 

● Prof. Roberts expands on that theme in the foreward for the new issue of Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly.  The issue is devoted to one of the two issues the family policing establishment least wants to talk about: the confusion of poverty with neglect. (I’ll be very disappointed if you can’t guess the other one – but here’s a hint.) 

Also in this issue: A mother and daughter write about being needlessly separated due to issues all rooted in family poverty. At one point, Hope VanSickle was jailed for writing bad checks to pay the bills.  Her daughter Diana writes:

During my mother’s incarceration, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit her. Those days were the absolute best days. I remember being able to see my mom would be the light of my entire week. Not to mention I think those visits are what got my mother through it all. My sister and I did not care that she was incarcerated, or that we were visiting her at a jail site, we just wanted to see her. If you asked me today if I remember anything about the jail I visited my mother at so many years ago, I simply could not answer because I was not wondering why I was at a jail at the age of 7. I was just excited to see my mother and that is all that mattered to us.

● When journalists publish a big project, it’s often accompanied by a “how we got the story” sidebar.  But the one that accompanied a major reporting project by The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica is different. It includes the reflections of a reporter who shows a rare willingness to grapple with ambiguity, complexity and nuance in covering child welfare. 

As Molly Parker writes: 

News stories about child welfare tend to stake out one of two positions: They take agencies like [the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services] to task for missing numerous and seemingly obvious red flags leading to a child’s death; or they draw attention to cases where children have been unnecessarily removed. Both of those situations are unfortunate, and deserving of attention. 

But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking: What does DCFS do about cases where departmental and parental shortcomings collide in a gray area? These types of cases, though exceedingly typical, don’t receive the public policy attention they deserve. 

And she adds: 

Having given birth to twins last year, I am awash with a fresh wave of empathy for struggling, tired, overwhelmed parents. I love my children dearly, but when you’re sleep deprived and inexperienced, some days are long and hard — especially when my children are sick and the crying feels ceaseless, or when I’m stressed about bills and work obligations I can’t always meet. I don’t know how I would manage without a husband, a village of family and friends, a supportive workplace and enough money to hire babysitters on occasion so I have room to breathe. 

So many of the parents I interviewed for this story have none of these luxuries. 

A Boston Globe expose reveals that, for hundreds of young people confined there, New Hampshire’s Youth Detention Center was 

a house of horrors. Rampant sexual abuse by staffers, beatings so severe they broke bones. Residents forced by staff to fight each other for food. Solitary confinement stays that stretched for months. The kind of violence that leaves lasting psychological damage, rippling through generations. 

It’s been that way for more than 150 years.  Indeed, the Globe reports, in the 1930s they even had their own version of waterboarding.  And for all that time, what is now the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families, and its various predecessors, which have been responsible for running the place, either were too stupid to know what was going on, or willfully ignorant. This seems to be a habit at DCYF.  DCYF is also the same agency that tears apart families at one of the highest rates in America.  Why in God’s name would anyone trust them with the power to do that?

Friday, April 22, 2022

A Blueprint for Child Safety

I am proud to serve on a special committee of the Philadelphia City Council examining the child welfare system in that city.  We released our report today.  Here is my statement.

Remarks of Richard Wexler, executive director,
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, for:

Councilmember Bass, Councilmember Oh, members of the committee, affected families and friends. 

I regret that, because I am over 65, and because Amtrak has failed to show the same wisdom as the City of Philadelphia concerning masks and indoor spaces, I can’t be with you in person today.

At the first virtual meeting of our committee I said this: 

Philadelphia has been leading the nation since before it was a nation. There is no shortage of talent or creativity. So my hope is that we frame recommendations that won’t just make Philadelphia no worse than other cities, but will allow Philadelphia to leap ahead and become a model of what child welfare can be.  I want there to come a time when people from all over America say: We need to do it the Philadelphia way.  

Today, we release a report filled with concrete recommendations to help achieve that goal.

But to get these reforms, one thing above all else must happen.

Our policymakers must no longer be suckered by the Big Lie of American child welfare: the false claim that massive intrusion on families and all the terrible suffering that inflicts upon them is somehow necessary to keep children safe.

To those to make that claim I have one simple question? Did it work?

Back when Philadelphia was tearing apart families at the highest rate among America’s biggest cities, did child abuse disappear? Did children “known to the system” stop dying? 

The people who want to sucker you into thinking that we need massive intrusion into families are the people who built and maintain a system that has done just that for decades, and it has failed.

Nationwide, the system they built inflicts emotional trauma on one-third of all children, and more than half of all Black children, through needless investigations.

The system they built exposes children to the high risk of abuse in foster care itself.

And the system they built so overloads frontline workers that they can’t investigate any case properly.

The system they built, in the name of child safety, has made all of Philadelphia’s vulnerable children less safe.

So why in the world should we keep listening to them?

All of us here today are the true advocates of children’s rights.  We are the true defenders of child safety. We are the true child advocates.  Today, we release a blueprint for child safety.

In closing, there are some people I’d like to thank.  First Councilmembers Bass and Oh, for their leadership in bringing this issue to the forefront and demanding action.  I’d like to thank Tyler DeBusi for his tireless staff work, and my fellow committee members for their abiding concern for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children, both on the committee and in their day jobs.

I want to thank the family defenders at groups like Community Legal Services and the Medical Legal Partnership at Penn – their model of high-quality family defense should be available to every family.

There’s another group I want to thank.  Frontline DHS caseworkers and their union.  Overwhelmingly, they want what we want – safe children and strong families. Sometimes we disagree profoundly on how to get there, but nothing in this report should be taken as a condemnation of their dedication and their concern as they do some of the hardest jobs imaginable.

Even if none of these recommendations is adopted, I think this committee has had a positive effect.  It is one of the reasons DHS has changed for the better.  There still is a long, long way to go. Philadelphia no longer is worst, though it still tears apart families at a far higher rate than many other cities.  But DHS deserves credit for beginning to make crucial changes.

That brings me to whom I want to thank most: The families.

The movement to change this system has been building for nearly two decades, starting with the work of DHS-Give Us Back Our Children.  But I believe a key turning point was the two days of City Council hearings that led to this committee’s creation.  The hearing was only supposed to go a few hours.  

But families rose up almost as one to defend their children against the harm inflicted on them by DHS.  One after another after another they told their stories; it took two days to hear them all.  The City Council listened.  That put pressure on DHS, and the creation of the committee keeps the pressure on.

I hope DHS will embrace these recommendations and use them to accelerate progress.

Thank you.

Read the full report.

Read the story about the report in Billy Penn.

Read the story in the York Daily Record

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 19, 2022

● The Washington Post Outlook section describes its weekly “Five Myths” feature as “challenging everything you think you know.”  Guess what the topic was on Sunday. 

● Following up on last week’s NCCPR column in The Imprint about what is being left out of stories about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s war against transgender children: Contrary to what one caseworker told the Texas Tribune, Abbott’s behavior isn’t revealing what one family policing agency has become. It reveals what all such agencies have been all along. On the NCCPR Blog: Is even a moment of self-reflection too much to ask? In child welfare – and journalism – apparently, yes. 

● Because they have no shame, the people who build and run the foster care-industrial complex would probably claim Sarde Hardie as evidence of how wonderful the system is.  After all,  she’s a film executive in Canada. Here’s some of what Ms. Hardie has to say about herself and her siblings in the Los Angeles Times: 

It is impossible for me not to imagine what our lives might have been like if we had stayed with our birth mother. What others' lives would be if their families were given support and means to survive instead of forced separation. 

● Connecticut is proposing to fund an agency to help link families to real help. It would be a private agency separate from the state’s family policing agency. But is it separate enough? The Imprint has a story about it. 

The Imprint also reports on a committee in California looking at a more far-reaching solution: reparations. 

● And in South Carolina, legislators heard testimony on a “right to childhood” bill – the kind that would specify that it’s not neglect to let a child, say, do her homework alone in the front yard – yep, that was an actual case.  Fortunately, it is not yet considered neglect to let a child testify before a state legislature.  One of the witnesses was Caroline Lanz, age 6.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Is even a moment of self-reflection too much to ask? In child welfare – and journalism – apparently, yes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Contrary to one caseworker’s claim, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s war against transgender children isn’t revealing what one family policing agency has become. It reveals what all family policing agencies have been all along. 

Last week, The Imprint published a column I wrote called “Affluent America Gets a Wake-up Call on CPS Intrusion.”  It’s about how Greg Abbott’s war against transgender children is catching in the “child protective services” net people who never thought they’d be there – white, affluent families.  

The column focused on an excellent Washington Post story about one such family – and how wrenching the trauma was, even though they were so well off they could hire two lawyers and a private social worker to fight off CPS; even though they had advance warning of the inspection of their home and even though they were able to limit that inspection. 

Poor families have none of these options. 

I ended the column with the hope that 

readers finding out for the first time what a child abuse investigation is really like, and those who are writing stories about it for the first time, will remember something. While it is new to them, poor parents, especially poor parents of color, have known it all along, just as they know they will have to give their children “the talk” and fear that their children will be stopped and frisked. For more than half of all Black children, a child abuse investigation will be part of their childhoods. 

I also expressed the hope that we would see more stories about such families and more self-reflection within the system and in journalism. 

So far, it’s not looking good.  In fact, another story, even as it shows enormous sensitivity to these affluent white families, includes a sentence reinforcing the false “health terrorism” master narrative about the overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite families who dominate worker caseloads. 

This time the story, in the Texas Tribune, focused on workers who, finding themselves intruding needlessly on families with whom they could identify, are quitting. 

The story focuses on a transgender caseworker, Morgan Davis, who said he was glad that if anyone was going to have to investigate a family persecuted by Gov. Abbott at least he might be able to cushion the blow. 

But, according to the story: “The family’s lawyer didn’t see it that way.”  Yes, once again the family had a lawyer ready and waiting.  In fact, in an interview with Vice News about the same case, Davis said: “I was very grateful that they had attorneys.” 

In the 46 years I have been following these issues this is the first time I ever heard or read those words coming from a CPS worker. 

In fact, he goes further.  On the one hand, higher-ups at the Texas family policing agency have made it much harder to close these cases than others, leaving families in limbo.  On the other hand, this caseworker acknowledges that these families’ treatment during the investigations amounts to CPS lite, in part because he works out of an office in Austin. As he told Vice: 

But what if there's a county or a supervisor that [Agrees with Abbott]? And sends their caseworker in [and says] I want you to go to the school, I want you to record the child, show up unannounced to the home, all things that are normally done during the course of action of any investigation? [Emphasis added.]

In other words: OMG! What if we have to treat these white, affluent families the way we routinely treat poor families and nonwhite families? 

And speaking of things I’ve never read or heard before, consider this from the Texas Tribune story: 

Even the person who made the child abuse report didn’t seem to agree with the directive: Davis said they were sobbing on the phone, distraught that they were reporting the family, but the person was mandated by law to report child abuse and feared the consequences of not making a report. 

“[They] said to me, ‘Just promise me you’ll be kind,’” Davis remembered. 

Now consider how the caseworker made his judgment about the family he was forced to investigate.  According to the story: 

When he visited the family, the house was clean, the pantry was well stocked and the kids were healthy, happy and well loved. 

Now, let’s break that down: 

When he visited the family, the house was clean … 

To which the only reasonable response is: SO WHAT???? 

Why are caseworkers obsessed with equating cleanliness with love? Do only neat-freaks love their children? 

In no field I know of is the phrase “cleanliness is next to godliness” taken more literally than family policing – and none where the consequences are worse. 

A dirty home means you’re neglecting your children – so they wind up in foster care. 

Conversely, after reading thousands of news stories about family policing over the past 46 years I’ve seen it over and over again: fatal neatness - caseworkers declaring they never suspected anything was wrong in the home where a child died “because it was always so neat and clean.”  

I know of no study of how often caseworkers are blinded by what might be called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Home syndrome, but it happens often enough that one former state “Child Advocate,” Kevin Ryan, made this recommendation to the New Jersey child welfare agency in 2005: 

Until someone demonstrates a correlation between cleanliness and child safety, [the state child welfare agency] should instruct employees that this factor is, at best, hardly relevant unless the filth is severe enough to cause a real and immediate risk to the child. This both will reduce needless removals from dirty homes, and encourage workers not to write off the potential for risk in homes that happen to be spotless. 

Another observation from the caseworker: 

…the pantry was well stocked … 

Well of course it was! It’s not as if this family had to worry about the SNAP benefits running out at the end of the month. Again, what does that have to do with love? 

Not only does the Texas Tribune story show no understanding of the irony in all this, there are dark hints throughout that with all the resignations at the Texas family policing agency there won’t be enough people to go after the real abusers – and we all know who they are, right?  After all, as the story says, caseworkers are dealing with a crisis of children pouring into the system with no placement for them.  And, the story says: 

that’s in addition to their existing, often overwhelming job duties investigating some of the most heartbreaking, challenging cases of abuse and neglect.

Such cases are serious, real – and very rare.  Mostly family police are dealing with the confusion of poverty with neglect.  The reporter here has simply bought into the whole narrative of “health terrorism” that family policing agencies have sold for decades – that the extreme horror stories are the norm and family policing agencies are a “thin blue line” protecting helpless children from their (overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite) parents who are sadists at worst and sick, sick sick! at best. 

At the very moment that this reporter is eyewitness to the abuse of power of family policing, she rushes to draw a distinction between people like us and people like them. 

The workers interviewed seem anxious to do the same; the story is filled with their proclamations of moral superiority. 

None of this is meant to diminish the trauma endured by transgender children and their families in Texas – and elsewhere, or the trauma for caseworkers.  But as soon as the crisis hit, those who already know what family policing is like responded with empathy.  Within days, NCCPR Board Member Prof, Dorothy Roberts, America’s leading scholar of racism in family policing, had a column in The Washington Post condemning Abbott and emphasizing that, bad as foster care is for other children, it’s even worse for LGBTQ children. 

I have not yet seen evidence that such empathy is a two-way street, either within family policing or within journalism. 

At the top of the Texas Tribune story, the reporter notes that she and a colleague are working on several more stories and they’d like caseworkers to please reach out to them.  There is no similar request to poor, nonwhite families.  

As for those within the system, at one point David, the caseworker profiled in the story, says: 

“It was just heartbreaking to me, to everyone, to see what we were doing, to see what we had become.”
I’m sure Davis went into this work for all the right reasons.  He wanted to help children.  Now he sees how much harm a family policing agency with vast, unchecked power and no accountability can do.  But it’s not a matter of what one family policing agency has become.  In poor communities, especially poor communities of color they know: This crisis simply reveals what all family policing agencies have been all along.