Wednesday, June 29, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 28, 2022

● A single mother dies in a car crash.  Her own mother, who has been part of her grandson’s life since his birth, steps forward to take custody. Normally it wouldn’t even be an issue.  But in this case the child is in foster care.  As Honolulu Civil Beat reports, that allowed the family police and courts to do “comparison shopping,” place the child with strangers they simply liked better, and destroy the child’s bond with his grandmother. 

● Also in Hawaii, there’s good news concerning the “grab and go” case that was the subject of this Civil Beat story.  A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of the child and her mother.  Their lawyer says that opens the way to a large damage award, “but we’re also talking about appropriate changes so the social workers on their own don’t play God and just take children.”

● In another case involving a grandparent denied custody in favor of strangers, a grandfather of two young children is suing. The children are dead.  The adoptive parents the family policing system preferred to the grandfather have been charged with their murder. 

● As the racial justice reckoning finally reaches family policing, one big mainstream “child welfare” group after another has been trying to launder its reputation – hoping we’ll forget all the harm they’ve done, as they co-opt the rhetoric of reform in service to the status quo. NCCPR’s new publication, “Child Welfare” heads to the reputation laundry, includes a guide to how to recognize reputation laundering, and what real change is all about. 

● In spite of a mountain of evidence of the harm of institutionalization, there actually are extremists in family policing who want philanthropists to put even more money into institutionalizing children.  In the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Sixto Cancel explains why this is a horrible idea, and what philanthropy should do instead.  It is based both on that mountain of data and his lived experience.  He writes: 

I had spent time in and out of foster homes. My brother, by contrast, was deemed too emotionally troubled to be placed with a family following the sudden death of his adopted mother and was put in a state-run institution. 

Those diverging paths eventually turned into a chasm. By the time I was in my twenties, I had founded Think of Us, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming child welfare. I testified before Congress. My brother spent most of his twenties incarcerated or homeless. 

The Takeaway does a segment on children at risk of being taken away: They talk to experts about the harm done by the use of “predictive analytics” in “child welfare.” 

During the program, Nico’Lee Biddle, who lives in Allegheny County, Pa., which may have the nation’s most Orwellian predictive analytics algorithm reminds listeners of a group that faces special risk as a result:  

I did experience foster care as a teenager. I was in the system for about seven years before aging out. This was years ago at this point and so this was before the algorithm or anything like that. The thing that concerns me, especially now as a person who I've been able to acquire a lot of privilege. I have a good education and a good job and the house and a car and all those good things that we don't necessarily see for a lot of former foster youth. What I'm concerned of is that there's data in that [Allegheny County Department of Human Services] warehouse on me and on my time of being in foster care and the services that I had to use as I transitioned out of care. 

Let's say that there's a [child abuse hotline] report made against me that, I don't know, my child showed up to school dirty or something.  I'm using a really simplistic example here. Let's say that that happened and that the call hotline worker that they received this algorithm score that says, "Oh, this person has a higher score because they were in foster care or because they were on Medicaid when they were 23 or just whatever it says in there. We don't know what the impact that is on the score. For me as a former foster youth is the system rating that I'm at a higher risk of having my child in the system because of that?

Two notable podcasts: 

● On The Imprint podcast, longtime family defender Diane Redleaf talks about the need to do what reputation-laundering groups like Prevent Child Abuse America still resist: Narrow broad, vague legal definitions of “neglect.” 

● And Prof. Dorothy Roberts is the guest on the first edition of “How is that legal?” the new podcast series from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. 

She talked about one of her early experiences learning about the system. She was teaching a course at Northwestern University in which her students could observe court proceedings and later, question the judge: 

And so one student said, why would you keep this mother's children in foster care because of the conditions of her apartment, it's not her fault. It's the landlord's fault. The landlord has an obligation to make the apartment habitable so she could have her children back. And the judge said, "well, I don't have jurisdiction over the landlord. That's for housing court to deal with. I only have jurisdiction over her and her children and I can't let the children back." And I knew that this was a terrible system that punishes people for being poor, especially being poor and black. 

● In Minnesota, individual counties are in charge of family policing.  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a story about a legislative audit that finds, to what should be the surprise of no one, that there is wide variation in when children are torn from their families and the efforts, if any, counties make to keep families together.  The range is from awful to horrendous.  And while it is true, as the story says, that Minnesota is tearing apart fewer families than it used to, its rate of removal is still among the highest in the entire country – more than double the national average. 

● WBEZ public radio has a follow-up to the story it produced for NPR on Illinois housing foster youth in jail. 

● Every local newspaper in America that had a so-called “boarding school” into which Native American children were forced should do what the Everett Herald in Washington State has done and done well: Tell the story. 

From the Herald’s three-part series: 

There was no use running away, Harriette Shelton Dover recalled, when the Tulalip Indian School matron thrashed her with a horse whip from her neck to her ankles, swinging “as hard as she could.” 

“Years later,” she said, “I found out that kind was also used in penitentiaries and outlawed. But it was used on us. And what were we doing? We were 9 years old and we were speaking our language.” … 

From 1857 to 1932, thousands of Pacific Northwest children passed through a federally mandated school at Tulalip, about 30 miles north of Seattle, where students lived under a strict military regimen. Abuse was by design, to eradicate Native culture, at hundreds of similar schools across the nation. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

PART FOUR OF FOUR: Reputation laundering in child welfare: “Prevent Child Abuse America”


They want you to think their days of “health terrorism” are over.   But look again.  They, too are trying to co-opt the rhetoric of reform to promote the same old family policing agenda

 The hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection have prompted a lot of talk about “reputation laundering” as former Trump Administration officials try to distance themselves from the president they served so faithfully – the most notable example: former Attorney General William Barr.

As America’s racial justice reckoning finally catches up with “child welfare” – or, as it should be called, family policing – the “child welfare establishment is engaged in its own campaign of reputation laundering.  Yet none of the recent trips to the reputation laundry from child welfare establishment groups includes support for any proposal that would reduce their power.  That’s how we know the real goal is to co-opt the rhetoric of change and put it to use maintaining the oppressive status quo.  Consider our final example. 

Prevent Child Abuse America 

Let us consider those masters of health terrorism at Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA).  Health terrorism means highlighting horror stories that are in no way representative of a problem in the name of “raising awareness.”   Decades of health terrorism conditioned much of America to believe that horror stories about beatings and torture of children are the norm, there’s a child abuser under every bed, and only an ever-bigger child welfare surveillance state can stop it.  

Health terrorism is not my term – I heard it at a presentation by Bart Klika, chief research officer for PCAA, who admitted that it was their m.o. for decades. PCAA denigrated any notion that poverty is confused with neglect. They even put out a special Spider-Man comic book in which a working mother is emotionally neglecting her child because she’s too busy “work[ing] with movie stars.” 

From the golden age of "health terrorism" at
Prevent child Abuse America

Yet after decades of health terrorism that inflicted very real terror on millions of children victimized by needless investigations and needless, abusive foster care, Klika refused to apologize. 

That alone should be reason enough to exclude PCAA from any serious discussion of how to deal with child abuse and neglect and to call out their current rhetoric for what it is: reputation laundering. 

But it’s actually worse. They’re still engaging in health terrorism. 

Thus, an op-ed column from Kylie Spies of one of Prevent Child Abuse America’s most influential chapters, the one in Iowa, tries to graft the language of reform onto the same old health terrorism.  It offers a token mention of the success of COVID stimulus funds in curbing “abuse” by curbing poverty.  But that comes only after suggesting that the most wonderful thing any Iowan could possibly do is to turn in a neighbor as a child abuser! 

More reporting of alleged child abuse is wonderful, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa says, because, while it reveals stress in a community 

it also measures the connectedness of a community.  The number of reports each year is a measure of time spent with caring helpers like teachers and pediatricians who are trained to spot signs of abuse. It’s the number of concerned coaches, neighbors, and relatives who noticed a problem. It’s the number of courageous children and youth who told a trusted adult the heavy secret they’ve been carrying. And the most common abuse type, “denial of critical care” (also known as neglect), contains an additional measure of a community — families’ ability to meet their basic needs. 

Yes, nothing says “connectedness” like turning in your neighbor to the family police – and explicitly declaring that poverty is the most common form of “abuse”!  No wonder, year after year, Iowa tears apart families at a rate far above the national average, even when rates of family poverty are factored in. 

Spies goes on to caution that 

The relationship between neglect and poverty is complex, and it’s important to understand that poverty is not child abuse. 

But apparently, Ms. Spies, Prevent Child Abuse Iowa thinks poverty is child neglect – because it sure sounds like you just said it was! 


Meanwhile, Klika himself sets up a straw man in a reputation-laundering article he and his PCAA colleagues co-authored.  On the surface, it’s a call for change. Klika and his coauthors bemoan the false “dominant narrative” blaming parents – without taking the slightest responsibility for the fact that their organization did more than almost anyone to build and maintain that narrative.  They acknowledge the ugly history of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) – but endorse it anyway.  Then they minimize the need for the only change they mention that would reduce the system’s power –narrowing definitions of “neglect.”  They even imply that it would be harmful to narrow the scope of family policing until a giant, alternative “child and family well-being system” is fully up and running. 

This is, again, just a laundering of the argument the child welfare establishment has made for decades: “Sure we’d like to eradicate poverty but until that happens we need to take away all those kids!”  In the new version, Klika & Co. write about their “child and family well-being system,” knowing full well that massive amounts of new funding are not forthcoming. 

While it would be wonderful if Americans could be persuaded to spend huge amounts to create such a system – provided it was voluntary, community-run and entirely separate from the family police -- one does not need to eliminate poverty, or create a giant parallel bureaucracy, or even spend huge amounts of additional funds wisely in order to safely reign in the family police.  

Impoverished families and families of color have shown amazing resilience.  It takes only a small
amount of additional cash
assistance to lift families to the point where there is no need for the family police to even consider investigating them or tearing them apart.  The funds for that are readily available: All we have to do is transfer some of the billions now wasted on foster care.  

But not one of these huge organizations is willing to support changes in federal funding that would require that – or even allow states to do it voluntarily.  Not one has embraced any change that would actually diminish the police power of “child welfare.”  Not one has truly embraced reforms that would bolster due process for families.  

One more time: What real change looks like 

If Prevent Child Abuse America was serious about racial justice, if it was serious about ending the rampant confusion of poverty with neglect, if it was serious about ending a child welfare surveillance state that makes all vulnerable children less safe, they would endorse a due-process and finance reform agenda that includes at a minimum: 

High-quality defense counsel for all families at risk of being caught in the family police net.

● Real child welfare finance reform – not the tokenism of Family First.

● Repeal of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act – or at least strong backing for legislation proposed by Rep. Karen Bass that would curb its worst excesses.

● Repeal of CAPTA.

● Repeal of mandatory child abuse reporting

But Prevent Child Abuse America and the other groups we’ve spotlighted in this series will never go near an agenda like that. 

Because their real message is the same as it’s been for decades: Sure, fund “preventive services” as an add-on – that we get to run of course -- but we must continue to be judge, jury and sometimes family executioner for millions of children, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite.  We’ll just co-opt your rhetoric and hope you won’t notice. 

Read all the posts in this series as a single publication on our website here.

Friday, June 24, 2022

PART THREE OF FOUR: Reputation laundering in child welfare: “Social Current”


That’s the current name of a child welfare trade association that co-opts the rhetoric of reform to promote the same old family policing agenda
 

The hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection have prompted a lot of talk about “reputation laundering” as former Trump Administration officials try to distance themselves from the president they served so faithfully – the most notable example: former Attorney General William Barr. 

As America’s racial justice reckoning finally catches up with “child welfare” – or, as it should be called, family policing – the “child welfare establishment is engaged in its own campaign of reputation laundering.  Yet none of the recent trips to the reputation laundry from child welfare establishment groups includes support for any proposal that would reduce their power.  That’s how we know the real goal is to co-opt the rhetoric of change and put it to use maintaining the oppressive status quo.  Consider the second of three recent examples. 

Social Current 

That’s the name-of-the-moment for a group seems to change its name more often than most people change their Facebook profile pictures.  Most recently it was the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and before that the Alliance for Children and Families. But no matter how much they try to hide it, it’s another trade association full of private foster care and “residential treatment” agencies. 

Their “Director of Practice Excellence,” Amy Templeman, co-authored an op-ed column for The Hill with the authors of an important study debunking the racist myth that, in the absence of overwhelmingly middle-class, disproportionately white  “mandated reporters” in the lives of children who are neither, COVID-19 would lead their parents to unleash upon them a pandemic of child abuse.  On the contrary, the increase in direct cash assistance and community-based mutual aid organizations prevented any such pandemic.  

On the surface, the op-ed is a plea to continue such assistance in order to reach families “upstream” (which, by the way, is the latest buzzword in child welfare). But look more closely: Templeman contends that one way to do that is to reauthorize the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). 

CAPTA is the federal law that did so much to get us into this mess in the first place.  It is CAPTA that encourages states to create the massive child welfare surveillance state that includes mandatory reporting laws that inflict needless trauma on millions of children each year – to the point that more than half of all Black children will have to endure a child abuse investigation before they turn 18.  The very research highlighted in the op-ed shows these laws are not needed to keep children safe, and other research shows they backfire, overloading workers so they have less time to find the few children in real danger and driving families away from seeking help – in other words away from the “upstream” prevention Templeman claims to support. 

CAPTA also encourages massive state databases of rumor and innuendo – so-called central registries that ensnare millions who are falsely accused or whose poverty is confused with neglect.  These blacklists – in every sense of that term - shut impoverished parents out of exactly the kinds of jobs most accessible to poor families, driving them deeper into poverty. 

And CAPTA drives women away from seeking prenatal care and away from giving birth in hospitals, through provisions demanding that states turn them in to the family police if their newborns are “affected” by drugs. 

The actual amount of money states get through CAPTA is tiny – they would save more by defying its odious provisions, thereby reducing needless investigations and foster care. 


Scholars from
Barbara Nelson to Mical Raz have documented that in order to get CAPTA passed in 1974, its sponsors had to misrepresent “child abuse” as having nothing to do with poverty and everything to do with personal failings of parents.  Yet now, Social Current seeks to co-opt the rhetoric of reform to support this awful law. 

Perhaps that’s because the only people who do benefit from CAPTA are agencies that investigate families, and agencies that provide often useless “preventive services” like “counseling” and “parent education” and/or warehouse children in foster care: In other words, members in good standing of “Social Current.”  

CAPTA isn’t the only part of Social Current’s agenda that belies Templeman’s rhetoric.  Social Current wants to blast a huge loophole into federal law to make it easier for states to use federal Medicaid funds on the worst option of all: institutionalizing children.  That’s about as far from “upstream” as you can get. 

This also is unsurprising given Templeman’s other hat: running a division of Social Current designed to implement recommendations from a federal advisory commission – a commission whose entire thrust was to vastly increase family policing

And that role brings us to Templeman’s other exercise in reputation laundering.  In a recent journal article she co-authored, she engages in a nearly Trumpian mischaracterization of the commission report, a misrepresentation reminiscent of how the aforementioned Bill Barr mischaracterized the Mueller report.  But unlike the situation with Barr, Templeman actually was executive director of the commission whose report she now misrepresents.  Compare for yourself: 

The actual report 

How Templeman spins the report 

NCCPR’s full analysis of the report 

But the mischaracterization of the commission report is just the beginning.  The thrust of the journal article is supposedly a critique of mandatory reporting laws – the same laws mandated by CAPTA.  The article admits that “mandatory reporting, as it stands, is not an evidence-based policy.”  It goes on to review the harm of these laws – though it understates that harm. 

When you have a regime of mandatory reporting for which there is no evidence of benefit and abundant evidence of harm the logical thing to do is simple: Abolish it. 

But Templeman and her coauthor do not propose abolishing mandatory reporting; they propose only “improving” it.  They don’t propose curbing current mandatory reporting laws in any way.  Instead, they appropriate the rhetoric of family policing abolitionist Joyce McMillan.  Over and over, without attribution, they use a version of McMillan’s phrase “turn mandatory reporters into mandatory supporters.” But they strip it of all meaning, co-opting it in service of an agenda that suggests little more than adding other phone numbers mandated reporters could call instead of "child protective services" - and, of course, that classic panacea – more training! 

There is not one recommendation in their paper that would in any way curb the power of the system.  And though they’ve stolen Joyce McMillan’s line, there is nothing in their proposal to make mandatory reporters mandatory supporters. 

What real change looks like 

If “Social Current” – or whatever it decides to call itself next - was serious about racial justice, if it was serious about ending the rampant confusion of poverty with neglect, if it was serious about ending a child welfare surveillance state that makes all vulnerable children less safe, they would endorse a due-process and finance reform agenda that includes at a minimum: 

High-quality defense counsel for all families at risk of being caught in the family police net.

● Real child welfare finance reform – not the tokenism of Family First.

● Repeal of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act – or at least strong backing for legislation proposed by Rep. Karen Bass that would curb its worst excesses.

● Repeal of CAPTA.

● Repeal – not “improvement” -- of mandatory child abuse reporting

But Social Current and the other groups we spotlight in this series will never go near an agenda like that. 

Because their real message is the same as it’s been for decades: Sure, fund “preventive services” as an add-on – that we get to run of course -- but we must continue to be judge, jury and sometimes family executioner for millions of children, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite.  We’ll just co-opt your rhetoric and hope you won’t notice. 

On Monday: One more example. 

Read all the posts in this series here.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

PART TWO OF FOUR: Reputation laundering in "child welfare": The Child Welfare League of America


CWLA co-opts the rhetoric of reform to promote the same old family policing agenda
 

The hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection have prompted a lot of talk about “reputation laundering” as former Trump Administration officials try to distance themselves from the president they served so faithfully – the most notable example: former Attorney General William Barr. 

As America’s racial justice reckoning finally catches up with “child welfare” – or, as it should be called, family policing – the “child welfare establishment is engaged in its own campaign of reputation laundering.  Yet none of the recent trips to the reputation laundry from child welfare establishment groups includes support for any proposal that would reduce their power.  That’s how we know the real goal is to co-opt the rhetoric of change and put it to use maintaining the oppressive status quo.  Consider the first of three recent examples. 

The Child Welfare League of America 

Faced with demands to stop confusing poverty with neglect, end the misuse and overuse of foster care and purge the system of racial bias, longtime CWLA President Christine James-Brown declares: “The field is ready, hungry for this type of change.” 


But CWLA is “the field.”  CWLA could have had the system it claims to hunger for at any time because CWLA and its members have all the power.  CWLA’s agencies not only built the system we have now, they – and CWLA itself – spent decades fighting against the change for which Ms. James-Brown claims to hunger.  

● CWLA opposed real child welfare finance reform – not the tokenism of the Family First Act but the kind in which states would be free to take their vast foster-care entitlement funding as a flexible flat grant and use the money for better alternatives.  Even when the proposal was strictly voluntary -- an option for states that wanted it -- CWLA opposed it. 

● In fact CWLA went further, calling for a change in a complex funding formula that would have the effect of more than doubling federal foster care spending.  

● CWLA even opposed legislation that would stop member agencies from swiping foster youth’s social security benefits

But now they want us to believe that all along they’ve been hungry for change? 

In a 2006 publication, CWLA declared: 

It is often said that the nation’s foster care and child welfare system is ‘broken.’ In reality, it isn’t broken so much as it has never been fully supported and empowered to function effectively. 

Sixteen years later, they’ve tweaked the rhetoric, but it’s just old whine in new bottles.  In an echo of that claim from 2006, the chair of CWLA’s board of directors laments that “When something goes wrong, the system is described as ‘broken.'” 

How can you claim to be hungry for change in a system if you can’t even admit it’s broken?   CWLA is hungry only for what it’s always been hungry for: Power. 

What real change looks like 

If CWLA was serious about racial justice, if it was serious about ending the rampant confusion of poverty with neglect, if it was serious about ending a child welfare surveillance state that makes all vulnerable children less safe, they would endorse a due-process and finance reform agenda that includes at a minimum: 

High-quality defense counsel for all families at risk of being caught in the family police net.

● Real child welfare finance reform – not the tokenism of Family First.

● Repeal of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act – or at least strong backing for legislation proposed by Rep. Karen Bass that would curb its worst excesses.

● Repeal of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

● Repeal of mandatory child abuse reporting laws

But CWLA and the other groups we will spotlight over the next few days will never go near an agenda like that. 

Because their real message is the same as it’s been for decades: Sure, fund “preventive services” as an add-on – that we get to run of course -- but we must continue to be judge, jury and sometimes family executioner for millions of children, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite.  We’ll just co-opt your rhetoric and hope you won’t notice. 

Tomorrow: Our next example.

 Read all the posts in this series here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

PART ONE OF FOUR: “Child welfare” heads to the reputation laundry

The child welfare establishment co-opts the rhetoric of reform to promote the same old family policing agenda 

The hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection have prompted a lot of talk about “reputation laundering” as former Trump Administration officials try to distance themselves from the president they served so faithfully – the most notable example: former Attorney General William Barr. 

As America’s racial justice reckoning finally catches up with “child welfare” – or, as it should be called, family policing – the “child welfare establishment is engaged in its own campaign of reputation laundering.  Indeed, watching the child welfare establishment respond to the racial justice reckoning is almost like rereading George Orwell’s 1984 – in particular, the scenes in which party propagandists change their party line without skipping a beat: “We are at war with Eurasia.  We have always been at war with Eurasia.” 

The child welfare equivalent is: “We are anti-racist.  We have always been anti-racist.” Or: “Yes, poverty is confused with neglect. We’ve always known poverty was confused with neglect.  But we don’t confuse poverty with neglect.” 

But there is one key “tell” in all this – one element that makes clear that the rhetoric is, well, Orwellian. 

The key to the harm that family policing – a more accurate term than “child welfare” -- does to children is the enormous power of the family police.  Even the minimal due process protections in criminal justice are effectively null and void in “child welfare.”  A police officer in a blue uniform can stop a Black youth, throw him against a wall and frisk him.  The family police can march right into a Black child’s home, stripsearch him, and walk out with him.  (In both cases, they can do it to white people, too, but in both cases, of course, it’s far more likely if you’re Black.)  

Yet none of the recent exercises in reputation laundering from child welfare establishment groups includes support for any proposal that would reduce their power.  That’s how we know the real goal is to co-opt the rhetoric of change and put it to use maintaining the oppressive status quo.  

Over the next few days we will present three examples of big mainstream child welfare groups that have made recent trips to the reputation laundry. 

Not one of these huge organizations has embraced any change that would actually diminish the police power of “child welfare.”  Not one has truly embraced reforms that would bolster due process for families.  

What real change looks like 

If these organizations were serious about racial justice, if they were serious about ending the rampant confusion of poverty with neglect, if they were serious about ending a child welfare surveillance state that makes all vulnerable children less safe, they would endorse a due-process and finance reform agenda that includes at a minimum: 

High-quality defense counsel for all families at risk of being caught in the family police net.

● Real child welfare finance reform – not the tokenism of Family First.

● Repeal of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act – or at least strong backing for legislation proposed by Rep. Karen Bass that would curb its worst excesses.

● Repeal of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

● Repeal of mandatory child abuse reporting laws

But the groups we will spotlight over the next few days will never go near an agenda like that. 

Because their real message is the same as it’s been for decades: Sure, fund “preventive services” as an add-on – that we get to run of course -- but we must continue to be judge, jury and sometimes family executioner for millions of children, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite.  We’ll just co-opt your rhetoric and hope you won’t notice. 

TOMORROW: OUR FIRST CASE IN POINT

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 20, 2022

The week-in-review post is a day early because, for the rest of the week I'll be publishing a series of posts about various family policing establishment groups'  recent attempts at reputation laundering.

● To the long ugly litany of family destruction at the hands of Florida’s family police add another revelation: allegations of blatant conflict-of-interest.  WFTS-TV reports on a federal lawsuit in which: 

dozens of relatives across four families accused employees within the state’s foster care system of fabricating evidence, hiding and withholding key information, creating false abuse allegations, or ignoring state and federal family laws so the system workers could keep children from being placed with biological relatives and, instead, place them with system-connected people seeking children of their own. [Emphasis added.] 

As one relative said of one of the children taken: 

“She’s a black child, raised in a white household and she’s going to find out that she was stolen and stolen from an excellent family,“ said great-aunt Leigh Crutch about the Williams’ daughter. 

“The system is a lie, that’s what it is,” the baby’s mom said. 

● It’s particularly hard for children in Florida to fight back for themselves.  Last month, we wrote about efforts by the Massachusetts “Child Advocate” to effectively silence children in court by denying them a lawyer who would advocate for the outcome they want.  In Florida, most children don’t have that right – and the state’s CASA program is fighting to make sure it stays that way. Even some foster parents can’t stomach it. 

● And before we leave Florida: we have a blog post about how, thanks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Another journalist discovers the “secret bombing” of families by CPS – when the shrapnel reaches into the white middle-class

● “Upstream.” It’s the latest buzzword in child welfare.  But as Nora McCarthy, co-founder of the Family Policy Project, explains in The Imprint, if it’s not done right, “upstream” can have a downside. 

● The upEND Movement has a new publication: Help is NOT on the Way: How Family Policing Perpetuates State Directed Terror. And upEND’s co-director, Alan Detlaff, dean of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston, writes about the complicity of the social work profession and the need to End Carceral Social Work. 

The Imprint reports on a pioneering program in Washington State to keep newborns with their mothers – by providing legal help to the mothers so the family police don’t confiscate the infants at birth. 

● The Hechinger Report has a story about still another study telling us that “Easing the stress of poverty can bring down rates of child abuse and neglect.” 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Another journalist discovers the “secret bombing” of families by CPS – when the shrapnel reaches into the white middle-class

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his wife, and some friends.

A Washington Post columnist is horrified – and rightly so. 

In what is, in many ways, a very good commentary, Post opinion columnist Alyssa Rosenberg pulled it all together: from Tucker Carlson’s suggestion that family policing agencies (aka “child protective services”) investigate parents who make their children wear masks (which never happened) to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott unleashing the family police against transgender kids and their parents (which did happen) to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ threat to unleash the family police on parents who take their kids to drag shows (which might happen). 

She ties all these examples together and, rightly, condemns how some on the far right are exploiting the vast power of the family police, doing enormous harm to children in the process. 

But two crucial pieces are missing.  One I’ve cited before: the fact that this vast powerful apparatus now exploited by the Right was largely created and remains largely supported by the Left. 

So Rosenberg warns that 

Even conservative parents who regard drag performers with horror should be wary of hurling themselves down this slickest of slippery slopes. 


But there is no comparable admonition to my fellow liberals – something about how when you build a system that runs roughshod over due process in the name of “child protection,” when you abandon everything you claim to believe in about civil liberties as soon as someone whispers the words “child abuse” in your ears, you’ve already hurled a whole lot of people – mostly poor and nonwhite – down “the slickest of slippery slopes.” 

And that brings me to the second problem with Rosenberg’s column: The tone of surprise; the idea that somehow these abuses are something new.  But, as I noted in this column for The Imprint, they’re only new if you’re white and middle-class. 

That’s why, as I’ve noted before on this blog, whenever I read columns like Rosenberg’s I think of some Doonesbury cartoons from 1973.  They concerned what Americans came to call the “secret bombing” of Cambodia.  But, as Garry Trudeau pointed out, it wasn’t a secret to the Cambodians.  

Now, white middle-class journalists are discovering the “secret” power of child protective services and how easily it is abused.  But if you’re not white and you’re not middle-class, there’s nothing secret about it at all. 

In fact Black and Native American advocates and scholars have been trying to tell white middle-class journalists about it for decades.  Prof. Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania, a member of NCCPR’s Board of Directors, just wrote a book called Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families--and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World.  But that’s her second book on the topic.  The first, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare was published 20 years ago.  Scholarly work documenting the class bias in “child welfare” and the confusion of poverty with “neglect” goes back at least to the 1970s. 

But until very recently, with rare exceptions, the response in American newsrooms has ranged from indifference to hostility.  Just last year Report for America fellows wrote more than 10,000 words about foster care in West Virginia, which tears apart families at one of the highest rates in America.  But not one of those words came from a birth parent whose child was torn from her or a lawyer for such a parent.  Such parents, overwhelmingly poor, were simply deemed too subhuman even to speak to. 

Or consider the entire false narrative about how COVID would lead to a “pandemic of child abuse” – a narrative suggesting that as soon as overwhelmingly middle-class disproportionately white “mandated reporters” were forced to avert their eyes, overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite parents would unleash terror against their own children.  That narrative spread right in the middle of what was supposed to be a racial justice reckoning.  As the authors of a study debunking that narrative point out, one of the worst offenders was The New York Times.  The Washington Post was no better (though in fairness, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Post newsroom lately, it’s that it’s not a monolith :-)) 

And now we have Rosenberg’s column.  Consider the examples she cites concerning other family police excesses: 

People have called CPS on parents for letting children play alone in the backyard, for the sin of being a recovering addict whose child was born with a rare medical condition, even for urging a hungry child to learn how to use a can opener. 

All of these are among those very rare cases in which the long arm of CPS reached into the white middle-class or, at the least, cases with which white middle-class reporters, and their readers, easily can identify. (And, even in these kinds of cases, the white middle-class families almost always get far more benevolent treatment than their nonwhite counterparts.) 

Like so many other reporters before her, there is no indication that, as she condemned the abuses of Abbott and DeSantis, Rosenberg stopped to think: “If this is how they can treat white, middle-class families …” 

Rosenberg concludes that 

to whip up false moral panics over drag queens or covid caution — to subject parents and children to investigation as a form of gleeful political point-scoring — is outrageous. 

She’s right.  But here’s what else is outrageous: to not even mention that these same agencies of unchecked government power have been turned against poor and nonwhite families in the same way pretty much forever.