Thursday, September 2, 2021

NCCPR in The Imprint: Graphic evidence that child welfare surveillance doesn’t work

There is a graphic making the rounds in child welfare that’s gotten a fair amount of attention lately. The graphic tracks the rate at which caseworkers “substantiated” various forms of child abuse and neglect allegations from 1990 to 2018. 

It was created by Prof. David Finkelhor and his colleagues at the University of New Hampshire. In 2020, it turned up in a conference presentation from Prevent Child Abuse America. Then Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago used it in a PowerPoint presentation of its own. And then John Kelly raised it with Chapin Hall Executive Director Bryan Samuels on The Imprint’s weekly podcast. 

You’ll probably find it striking too.

“I was wondering,” one advocate said to me upon seeing the graphic in Chapin Hall’s presentation, “does slide #7 look right to you?”

No, it doesn’t look right. Because it isn’t right. Some of the numbers in the slide aren’t real.

Read the full column, and compare the real numbers to the unreal numbers, in The Imprint.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 31, 2021

 ● Wow! Those child abuse numbers sure look scary - but then they would, when you double and triple the real numbers. NCCPR has the graphic evidence in this column for The Imprint

ProPublica Illinois has a follow-up to their investigation revealing that the state routinely fails to provide Spanish-speaking families with help in their own language – or even a caseworker who speaks Spanish.  As the story explains: 

Parents — many of them undocumented immigrants who are already reluctant to come into contact with or speak out against government agencies — can for months or years be assigned caseworkers who don’t speak their language, or face lengthy delays in accessing services in Spanish, all of which prolongs their separation from their children. 

The Philadelphia Citizen has a story about Family Finding – a program in which agencies move heaven and earth to find extended family for foster children so at least they don’t have to be placed with strangers.  The story also is a good object lesson in a common child welfare practice: taking an excellent program, diluting the model while keeping the name, and then claiming that “we already have” that program. 

The Imprint looks at the controversy over so-called “family enrichment centers” – can a family really be “enriched” when the center is run by the same agency that can take away the children?

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

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

 We begin with two great videos: 

● Prof. Dorothy Roberts talks to Kathleen Creamer of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia about “demystifying abolition:" 

● See also Prof. Roberts’ essay for the Summer issue of Dissent, which begins this way: 

Imagine if there were an arm of the state that sent government agents to invade Black people’s homes, kept them under intense and indefinite surveillance, regulated their daily lives, and forcibly separated their families, often permanently. The left would put toppling this regime high on its agenda, right? This racist structure exists in the United States today, and yet the left pays little attention to it. The child welfare system—the assemblage of public and private child protection agencies, foster care, and preventive services—is a crucial part of the carceral machinery in Black communities.

● And from Legal Services of New Jersey, an outstanding panel setting the record straight about substance use and child welfare. If you can't watch all of it, I recommend starting at 11:37 in with the eye-opening presentation from Prof. Tricia Stephens of the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College: 


● There’s good news for rocket scientists – they can stick to their day jobs!  That’s because, as I explain in Youth Today, fixing child welfare isn’t rocket science – mostly it’s a matter of giving poor people a little more money. 

● But because of our obsession with ignoring the confusion of poverty with neglect and our insistence that if you’re poor you must be mentally ill, family policing agencies insist on putting parents through “psychological evaluations” – which typically are at best meaningless and often far worse.  As family defender Emma Brown Bernstein writes for the Rethinking Foster Care blog: 

As a parent attorney for nine years, I have had the opportunity to review dozens and dozens of parental fitness and psychological evaluations, but I have never seen one that recommends that a child return home (even under any conditions) or that a parent have unsupervised visitation. Instead, I have seen evaluations missing key evaluative components, relying on incorrect information, or copying and pasting paragraphs with other individual’s information. 

I have also seen evaluations recommending parents lose weight, maintain housing for six months prior to unsupervised visitation, or obtain a GED or high school diploma. A “therapeutic” recommendation is often that parents “comply with their case plans” without the evaluator ever seeing those case plans. And I have seen the same evaluators marched into court over and over and over again to produce the same findings, give the same recommendations, and receive the same payment from the Department. When does this become just an “expert for hire”? 

● Although the Minnesota Legislature failed to pass the African American Family Preservation Act, Sylvia A. Harvey shows in this article for The Imprint why such legislation is needed. 

● What do General George Armstrong Custer and some high-powered 21st century law firms have in common? Nick Estes has the answer in a commentary for The Guardian. 

● His commentary is pegged to the excellent This Land podcast series about the real history behind challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act.  The first two episodes and transcripts, are available here. 

● And the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports on a rally for Syesha Mercado, the American Idol finalist who had her children taken for Parenting-While-Black.

Friday, August 20, 2021

NCCPR in Youth Today on why the rocket scientists can stick to their day jobs

A concept some of us have been pushing for decades has suddenly become a centerpiece of the child welfare debate: Family policing agencies routinely confuse poverty with neglect.  It follows, therefore, that an enormous amount of what we call “child maltreatment” can be solved through a two-step process.

1.     Find the poor people.

2.     Send money.

Research bears this out.  Or, as one speaker at a recent symposium put it “It’s not rocket science.”

That was challenged by another speaker at the same symposium: Michael Wald, professor emeritus of law at Stanford University. ...

Read the full column in Youth Today 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 18, 2021

● This first story falls into the category known as: Please drop everything and read it.  Kendra Hurley was one of the first journalists to question the “master narrative” about child abuse and COVID-19: The claim that, in the absence of ever-vigilant, mostly white middle-class “mandated reporters,” overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite parents would unleash a “pandemic of child abuse” upon their children. 

“But a group of mothers, attorneys, and other advocates who know the foster care system from the inside saw things differently,” Hurley writes in a just-published follow-up story for The New Republic.

They had long considered the system overzealous in its investigations of poor Black and brown families. So when child protective services began operating at a whisper of its former self, where others saw danger, these women saw opportunity. “I think this could be a test where the numbers end up showing that we don’t need the mandated reporter system at all,” Chris Gottlieb, co-director of the New York University School of Law Family Defense Clinic, told me for a CityLab article in June of 2020, when New York City’s child welfare agency reported a 51 percent decline in child abuse cases. 

Today, more than a year later, indicators suggest that in New York City, at least, the advocates were right. … 

[B]efore the number of reports plummeted in 2020, no one knew what might happen in the absence of mandated reporting: With a pared-down system, would more children be harmed? Now the data is coming in, and it shows “what we always knew” about mandated reporting, says Erin Miles Cloud, co-director and co-founder of the nonprofit Movement for Family Power: “Our kids are safe without it.” [Emphasis  added]

● But in the meantime, the whole “pandemic of child abuse” myth has done all sorts of harm to children.  Now, as pediatric ICUs fill with COVID-19 patients and kids are rushed back into classrooms – sometimes without masks and too young for vaccines – this NCCPR Blog post offers a reminder of how child welfare establishment fearmongering helped make things worse. 

● How can a family that wants help feel comfortable seeking that help if they know the helper is also a mandated reporter, and the place they go for help is run by the same agency that can take away the children?  Obviously, they can’t.  That’s why members of Rise protested at New York City Hall last week against a plan to expand “family enrichment centers” run by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.  And here’s what Rise wants don’t instead.

● After the mandated reporter phones in a report (a report that almost always is false or involves confusing poverty with “neglect”) there may follow an investigation and a listing of a parent in a “central registry of alleged child abusers.  The City University of New York Law Review has a comprehensive examination of the harm done by these registries – including the lack of due process and how needless listings drive families further into poverty.  The article includes a state-by-state summary of the widely-differing ways in which these registries work. 

● The Dallas Morning News has an impressive examination of the implications for Texas in that study which found astounding numbers of Black children in America’s largest counties will face the trauma of a child abuse investigation (again, almost always as a result of a false report). Equally impressive: The story was written by a student intern. 

● Native American children also have been special targets of the family police.  Starting August 23, the This Land podcast series reveals the results of a year-long investigation into the systemic attacks against the one law that seeks to protect Native American children, the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Perhaps you read the stories about white celebrities who can brag on social media about things like not bathing their children. Last week, we highlighted Roxane Gay’s commentary noting that Black parents don’t have that luxury.  Now, BuzzFeed News reports, the system doesn’t even work that way for Black celebrities.  

● You’ve read the next two stories before – over and over and over again.  It’s that standard of investigative journalism exposing horrors at a “residential treatment center.”  This week’s examples come from Arkansas and Illinois.  Yet somehow the message still hasn’t sunk in: You can’t fix this with more inspections and “corrective action plans.” The problems are built into the model: Residential treatment itself is the problem.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Did child welfare fearmongering contribute to the increase in COVID among children?

 An eighth-grade girl died the morning of Saturday, Aug. 14, in Raleigh, Miss., mere hours after testing positive for COVID-19. Multiple sources told the Mississippi Free Press that the student had attended classes at the school most of the week, including Wednesday, before testing positive for COVID-19 at week’s end. Her health quickly declined afterward.

                                                          --Mississippi Free Press, Aug. 15, 2021

Just one week into the new school year, 5,599 students and 316 employees in Hillsborough County [Florida] are isolated or quarantined as COVID cases continue to rise.  That's equivalent to about 2.4 percent of the student population in the county.

                                                                --WFTS-TV, Tampa, Aug. 16, 2021

 The number of kids infected with Covid-19 is soaring as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads and schools reopen, pushing children's hospitals around the country to the brink. Tennessee’s health commissioner expects the state’s children’s hospitals to be full by the week’s end. Louisiana reached that point more than a week ago. And Arkansas’ only children’s hospital has just two ICU beds remaining.

 --Politico, Aug. 11, 2021

             Remember how some of America’s latter-day child savers told us we’ve got to get the kids back in school as soon as possible to protect them from a “pandemic of child abuse” at the hands of their own parents? 

            Remember how they said that as soon as the eyes of overwhelmingly middle-class disproportionately white professionals were averted from overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite children those children’s parents would unleash upon their children child abuse in pandemic proportions? 

            Remember the second wave of fearmongering, the one in which we were told that as soon as schools reopened, the children would come staggering back battered and bruised and we’d better brace ourselves for what one oft-quoted advocate said would be a “tsunami of suffering”?  (Actually, you don’t need a long memory for that one – that myth is still being spread.)  

            Remember how right-wing politicians exploited these fears to force schools to reopen and force children back into the classroom?  As this Blog noted almost exactly a year ago: 

            When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wanted the perfect excuse for opening schools, all he had to do was whisper the magic words: “child abuse.”  Or as a headline in the Orlando Sentinel put it: “DeSantis touts return to school to counter suspected rise in child abuse amid coronavirus.” 

            But, of course it wasn’t just the right wing.  

            Consider self-proclaimed liberal Prof. James Dwyer. 

            Dwyer’s contempt for impoverished families is breathtaking.  As we pointed out last year: 

In 2011, he called for the massive forced relocation of poor families. The penalty for not uprooting themselves and their children from “terrible” inner city neighborhoods and exiling themselves – if necessary to small towns and rural areas: government confiscation of the children. 

Dwyer blithely declares that most poor parents who live in “terrible place[s]” so do by choice, not because it’s all they can afford.  Most of the rest, he says, made the irresponsible choice to have children – “or to risk creating a child by having sex, despite knowing the child would live in a terrible place…” And besides, he writes, “a relatively high percentage of adults who live in the worst neighborhoods are marginal to begin with…” 

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when, in May, 2020, Dwyer suggested that child abuse in the home is so rampant that schools should never have closed at all.  He claimed “the shutdown decision arguably amounted to a prioritizing of the welfare of certain adults over the welfare of children."  By this he meant that children appeared less likely to get coronavirus or, he claimed, to transmit it. 

            Defenders of the fearmongering might say what Dwyer and others said in 2020 was excusable because it was before the emergence of the Delta variant – who could have known what would happen?  In fact, the evidence about COVID and children was always more ambiguous than those crusading to reopen schools claimed.  As we noted in that earlier post: 

            What is unclear is which adults [Dwyer] means.  We do know that the research on the extent to which children transmit coronavirus is mixed.  We also know that in New York City alone 63 public school employees died of coronavirus before schools there were shut down.  Presumably some of them left children behind – some of them might even have been good parents.  And Dwyer makes no reference to a COVID-related disease that does, indeed, attack children – and might have attacked many more had schools not been closed. 

            Even now, we don’t know how hard children will be hit by the Delta variant.  As Politico put it: 

Doctors and scientists say there is not enough evidence to determine whether Delta causes children to become sicker than earlier Covid variants did. … Still, there is growing concern among health professionals that more children are showing up in worse condition than at any previous point during the pandemic. 

            And some children who had mild initial infections are experiencing long COVID. 

We do know, however that the “pandemic of child abuse” claims turned out to be false – and that it was clear from the start that there was no merit to them, because, in fact, the kind of horrors we think of when we hear the words “child abuse” are extremely rare.  

Now, enough children have returned to school, and there is more than enough other evidence, to show that (surprise!) Black and Brown parents are not monsters who will turn on their children as soon as white professionals aren’t looking.  Even the head of New York City’s family policing agency (a more accurate term than child welfare agency) has confirmed that the fearmongers were wrong. 

            Yet the myth won’t die.  Out of 14 child welfare stories summarized in an email we received yesterday (Aug. 16) two promoted the myth about COVID and child abuse.  Hardly a day goes by without at least one such story – even as the real danger of forcing children back into classrooms becomes more apparent. 

            So it’s about time the fearmongers took a good hard look at what they’ve done.  We are now witnessing a rush back into the classroom. In some cases, school districts won’t, or are not allowed to, require masks.  And children under 12 can’t be vaccinated.  How much did the scare stories about child abuse contribute to all this? 

            For many children, there may yet be a tsunami of suffering – but not for the reasons America’s child welfare establishment predicted.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 10, 2021

We begin with legislation – enacted …

● Perhaps you assumed it already happens: Of course, if children are torn from an impoverished parent’s arms the parent at least gets a lawyer, right?  Not necessarily.  In some states, it’s at the whim of the judge.  But that’s no longer true in Minnesota.  And the Minnesota law has some good language about when that lawyer should be appointed. 

Vivek Sankaran writes that we should celebrate this victory while being mindful of how much more needs to be done to provide any semblance of justice for families: 

“If your sister lost her children to the foster care system, would you be okay if she had to wait nearly three weeks for a court hearing? If your brother was assigned a lawyer who could make more money working a few hours at a fast food chain, would that feel like justice? If your aunt had an attorney who had to advocate for her without actually receiving the evidence the other side was relying on, would you think she got a fair shake?” 

… and proposed 

● A Texas lawmaker is trying to curb and track the pernicious practice of hidden foster care.  

● A bill introduced in Congress seeks to curb the needless destruction of families when mothers are in prison – by encouraging alternatives to imprisoning mothers. 

● Of course, there’s still the matter of the horrible laws on the books, such as the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  Check out the video of this teach-in on the harm done by that law:


● Have you heard about the white celebrities who’ve been bragging on social media about how rarely they bathe their children? Roxanne Gay has.  And she makes a crucial point: 

If a Black parent made the statements celebrities have made lately about bathing and their children, they would soon receive a visit from Child Protective Services. This is not hyperbole; it happens, regularly and disproportionately.

● Last December, we linked to an Albany Times Union story about what happened when New York State passed a law suspending the statute of limitations so adults could sue over sexual abuse inflicted on them as children.  What happened was a lot of the suits were filed against foster parents, group homes and institutions.  Another such suit has been filed, this time in Buffalo.  

● And in case anyone seriously thinks things have gotten better, here’s a more recent example, involving what happened to an infant when authorities in Las Vegas refused to place him with his grandmother.