Thursday, March 4, 2021

NCCPR in Youth Today: When the product is poor people’s kids, it’s always a bull market

            A new study from the Children’s Bureau in the federal Department of Health and Human Services reveals some shocking findings.  It turns out we now know exactly how to target intervention to rescue children from those awful parents.  Science now tells us that the worst parents, by far, are the parents of infants.  The most salvageable are the parents of 14-year-olds.  Given the nobility of child welfare practitioners, any other explanation is unthinkable. 

            Here’s how we know ...

Read the full column in Youth Today


Wednesday, March 3, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending March 3, 2021

● We begin with a “hidden gem” in federal law that could be of enormous benefit to families – if the federal Department of Health and Human Services chooses to use it: 

As Ruth White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare explains in The Imprint, normally, funds freed up under the so-called Family First Prevention Services Act can’t be used for what families need most to avoid having their children taken away – things such as housing assistance.  But in a time of national emergency – such as now – those restrictions can be waived if HHS chooses to do so.  The question now: Will state and local “child welfare” agencies seek such waivers and will HHS grant them? 

● How did “child welfare” get into this mess, anyway?  On the Parental Rights Foundation podcast, NYU Law Professor (and NCCPR president) Martin Guggenheim reviews the recent history of child welfare, how to fix it, and the role of high-quality family defense. 

● One reason we’re in this mess: The racism that permeates child welfare – and the fact that there is an entire “caucus of denial” that claims – seriously – that child welfare is the one and only field magically immune from racism.  I have a blog post about the latest such claim. 

● One place where the racism is particularly pronounced: Minnesota.  Kelis Houston of Village Arms talks to Rise magazine about the need to pass the Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act.  Says Houston: 

The child welfare system’s knee jerk reaction to anything they are uncomfortable with or just don’t understand in our community is to take our kids and place them in white foster homes, even when there are relatives available who are willing to care for them. 

● Still another place to find racism in child welfare: Some “curious” differences concerning where foster children wind up depending on how old they were when they were taken. I have a column about it in Youth Today.  Because, it turns out …

The Children’s Bureau data show, once again, that what [the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act] did was turn inner-city maternity wards into a version of Supermarket Sweep, with the babies as the prizes. It turned child welfare into the ultimate middle-class entitlement: Step right up, and take a poor person’s child for your very own. 

● Two columns this week discuss the need to legalize – childhood.  Lenore Skenazy writes in Reason about a mother arrested for leaving her children alone in their home – a room at a Motel 6 – because it was the only way she could work her night-shift job.  Showing far more understanding than local authorities, contributors to a GoFundMe campaign raised $165,000 so the family could move to a permanent home.  

And author Bridget Foley  writes in Newsweek about moving to Idaho in part because childhood is still legal:  

My husband and I had struggled for years in California, then Pennsylvania, and finally in Washington, to give our children what we believed to be normal developmental milestones. Everywhere we went, it seemed like small acts of childhood independence like waiting for a school bus, walking to school and riding a bike to a friend's house had been slowly phased out of normal life in every town we lived in prior to moving here. 

Both authors note that legislation to, in effect, legalize childhood is pending in South Carolina, Texas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and (just in case) Idaho.

Monday, March 1, 2021

It’s official! Racism is over in child welfare! (We know because a social work school dean says so)

via GIPHY

                Great news, everyone! It’s now official: Unlike every other aspect of American life, the child welfare system has eradicated racism!  Like the parrot in the famous Monty Python sketch when it comes to child welfare, racism is gone!  It is no more!  It has ceased to be! 

            How do we know? Because the dean of an actual school of social work says so.  Toward the conclusion of a power-point presentation aimed at social work students planning to work in child welfare, Richard Barth, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, sums things up this way:

We can celebrate our success in developing a CWS [child welfare system]* that does not result in evidence of biased outcomes. This has long been an aspiration of CWS and it appears that it is, largely, realized. 


            Let us now pause, sip some celebratory champagne and contemplate the sheer magnitude of this achievement. 

            After all, no one denies there is racism in the police. In fact, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police has admitted it and apologized. I’ll bet child welfare practitioners are really proud that they don’t have to admit any such thing!  And it’s not just police. 

            ● We know there is racism in medicine.

         ● We know there is racism in science.

            ● We know there is racism in journalism

            ● We know there is racism in academic publishing.

            ● We know there is racism in everything else in academia.

            ● We know there is racism in housing.

            ● We know there is racism in hiring.

● We know there is racism in who gets followed around by store security.

            ● We know there is racism in who can hail a cab.

             But if Barth is right, when it comes to the pandemic of American racism, child welfare, and only child welfare has achieved herd immunity! 

The caucus of denial

            Of course, there has long been a de facto “caucus of denial” in child welfare, a group that says the enormous disparities in who gets reported for child abuse, who gets substantiated, who gets taken away from their families and who does or does not get reunified are solely due to Black people supposedly being worse parents who are more prone to endangering their children to the point where systems dominated by a white power structure must rush in and save them.  


Not that that’s racist, you understand.  No, no.  They claim it’s just that all that historic racism and oppression made Black people more likely to be bad parents.  (In the world of the caucus of denial, the word “racism” almost always is preceded by the modifier historic – because, remember, it’s all in the past.)
 

Those who hold such views have good intentions; they really want to help children and families.  But it’s no wonder the system they have helped to build and now defend in order to do that has backfired.  The existence of this caucus of denial does, indeed, distinguish child welfare from other professional fields, but not in a good way. 

            How, then, does Barth get around the study after study after study that control for all other variables and still find that, even when all else is equal, children are more likely to be declared abused or neglected, and more likely to be torn from their families, if they are not white? Simple, he ignores them. As another slide explains: 

We did not address the usual questions of (1) the reasons for disproportionality in foster care or (2) whether [child protective services] delivers equitable decision-making regarding substantiation and placement—we believe that those have been well addressed in prior research. 

            So how do you conclude that racism has been eradicated in child welfare and ignore all those studies about biased decision-making?  By looking at much narrower questions, and extrapolating way beyond the evidence.  Thus, in the presentation and in a paper on which it is based,  Barth and his co-authors claim: 

            ● “Current research with adequate comparisons provides no robust evidence to support the idea that children have worse outcomes from CWS involvement.” [Emphasis added.] 

            ● The outcomes for Black children are no worse than the outcomes for white children, although “few studies focused on Black children.” 

            Could they possibly have set the bar any lower? 

            The first thing to understand here is that Barth & Co. are talking about “child welfare services,” a category that includes both foster care and services to families in their own homes.  Although child welfare services often exist largely to make the helpers feel good, some such services are genuinely helpful, such as the Homebuilders Intensive Family Preservation Services program and, where genuinely needed, the right kinds of drug treatment.  And a few, innovative systems actually provide concrete help to ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty. 

            Far fewer studies compare the outcomes for children placed in foster care to comparably-maltreated children left in their own homes.  But the findings from many of them are alarming.  Barth and his co-authors get around this by minimizing or ignoring studies that don’t come out the way they want them to. 

Even with all that, the best they can claim is: Well, after disrupting all these families lives, tearing the children from their loved ones, forcing them into foster care, and wasting billions of dollars that could have been used to help alleviate family poverty, you critics can’t prove that we actually made things worse! 

So let’s consider what that means. Consider a study of what is widely considered one of the finest, most elite foster care programs in America, run by Casey Family Programs.  That study found that among alumni of the program: 

● They had twice the level of PTSD of veterans of the first Gulf War.

● Only one in five was doing well in later life.

● The former foster children were three times more likely to be living in poverty –

and fifteen times less likely to have finished college.

● At least one-third were abused by a foster parent or another adult in a foster home. 

All of which raises one more question: If, in fact, the system really doesn’t do any harm anyway, are Barth and his coauthors equally sanguine about the children torn from their parents at the Mexican border by the Trump Administration?  

The leap of logic about race 

Barth’s next great leap concerns race.  As noted above, Barth and his coauthors found few studies that directly compared outcomes for children placed in foster care to comparably-maltreated children left in their own homes – and, also as noted above, they sidestepped the massive studies showing that in typical cases the outcomes for the foster children were worse.  But among those few studies of outcomes for all children, even fewer actually tried to disaggregate the results based on race.  Yet based on these few studies, Barth and Co. conclude that the outcomes are no different for Black children. 

There are plenty of studies (not discussed by Barth) that show that Black children are
likely to stay in the system longer and are less likely to be reunited with their parents.  So what Barth really seems to be saying is that in spite of the fact that the system inflicts more foster care and longer foster care on Black children, they are so resilient that their outcomes are no worse than those for white kids.
 

I am willing to stipulate that the outcomes for youth in foster care tend to be rotten for all races.  So the fact that Black children are: 

● more likely to be placed in a system

● more likely to spend more time in a system

● and less likely to be reunified from a system that, best case, may not make things worse means we need to put the champagne away; there really is racial bias in child welfare after all. 

Equally revealing are the reasons Barth offers in his slide presentation for child welfare’s supposed amazing success. 

For starters, he appears to be in denial about the idea that the system is anything but helpful.  Consider this slide outlining an argument he seeks to challenge - in which, by the way, he dismisses the arguments of those who think there is a racism problem in child welfare as mere "assumptions": 


First, of course, the slide refers to “abused” children when, in fact, most of the time the accusation is neglect and that often means poverty.  But also notice how “coercive” is in quotation marks.  

That’s because the self-image of the child welfare field, cultivated by social work schools, is of friendly helpers who are merely bringing “services” to those in need.  In fact, child protective services is about as coercive as a system can get.  It is a police force that has more power than the police. Police can stop a Black child on the street, throw him against a wall and frisk him. Child protective services can march right into the home, stripsearch a Black child and walk out with him, consigning the child to the chaos of foster care. 

No, CPS workers don’t always do that; but neither do the cops. 

Perhaps we should pause for a moment to consider the implications of giving this vast, unchecked power to the same profession that includes so many who believe that profession has eradicated racism. 

Barth makes a similar error in another slide when he seeks to imply that Black children are taken away more often because they are more often victims of “confirmed” child “maltreatment.”  This claim is built on two weasel-words. 

“Confirmed” is not a legal term; it’s a term coined originally by those who have spent decades fomenting hype and hysteria about child abuse to make subjective guesses by caseworkers sound more definitive.  “Confirmed” does not mean a court found anyone guilty.  It doesn’t mean a neutral factfinder heard both sides.  “Confirmed” means only that a caseworker checked a box on a form stating s/he thinks it is at least slightly more likely than not that “maltreatment” occurred. 


The second weasel word is “maltreatment.”  Overwhelmingly “maltreatment” means neglect, which, as noted above, often means poverty.  Since Black people are more likely to be poor, if you confuse poverty with neglect and then call the neglect “maltreatment,” of course you’ll get the result cited by Barth.
 

What Barth really is offering here is the ultimate in circular reasoning: The results of subjective, biased caseworker guesses about “maltreatment” are used to “prove” there is no bias! 

Of course, having performed the miracle of eradicating racism from child welfare, Barth knows we mere mortals will want to know how they did it.  He offers two explanations. The first is the equivalent of the old “some of my best friends are …” line. Says Barth: 

“CWS has a diverse workforce.” 

That’s certainly true at the lowest levels – frontline caseworkers – in big cities.  But that’s also true of the police.  In Philadelphia 43% of police officers are nonwhite. In New York City 49% of police are nonwhite. In Chicago it’s 52%  and in Los Angeles it’s 55%  So by Barth’s logic, there’s no racism on big-city police forces either. 

Academic social work is notably less diverse.  In 2016, fewer than one-third of full-time social work professors were from “historically underrepresented groups” according to the Council on Social Work education.  And those who seem most prominent in child welfare’s caucus of denial have long been almost exclusively white.  So either Black professionals and academicians in the field don’t understand the research, or they know something Prof. Barth does not. 

Talk, talk talk 

Barth’s other explanation for child welfare’s astounding success is that “CWS has been in conversation about race equity for 50 years.”  There are several problems with this:  

● Talking about a problem doesn’t solve it – particularly when racism is the reason the system in question was created in the first place. 

● Though the first effort to start the conversation dates back to 1972, little attention was paid until 30 years later, with the publication of Prof. Dorothy Roberts’ landmark book, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare.  Even then, as another social work school dean, Alan Detlaff, and his co-authors explain in the very article that got Barth so upset, talking about racism in child welfare made the field so uncomfortable that the caucus of denial managed to sidetrack the issue until demands for racial justice became impossible to ignore in 2020. 

If Barth really does believe that 50 years of endless social work conferences have solved the racism problem, presumably he can pinpoint exactly when that happened.  Presumably, it wasn’t 49 years ago – even child welfare couldn’t have wiped out racism in a single year!  But the “caucus of denial” has been around for awhile, so apparently it didn’t just happen yesterday, either. 

So, Prof. Barth: When did it happen?  When was the last vestige of racism eradicated from child welfare?  December 20, 1987?  March 11, 1992?  November 10, 2004?  February 25, 2014?  Tell us the date so we can make it a national holiday and use it as an example for all those other, less enlightened professions! 

While he doesn’t say exactly when it happened, Barth does go on to say that child welfare has been so successful that “Additional diversity training of the CWS workforce may not be needed.” 

Though there is debate over the effectiveness of such training, the evidence of the need is overwhelming.  But don’t wait until the caseworkers are on the job. 

Clearly, it needs to begin in the social work schools. 

*-In the presentation CWS seems to be used interchangeably to stand for Child Welfare System and Child Welfare Services

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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

 ● To begin, let’s go to the videotape.  I know: No one wants to watch a video of another webinar.  But please make an exception for this panel featuring family advocacy allstars Prof. Dorothy Roberts, Joyce McMillan, Erin Miles Cloud and Kathleen Creamer: 


● I’ve often told reporters that one sure way to know people who work in “child welfare” systems are being disingenuous is if they claim there is due process for families. They know it’s not true – and so do judges.  Prof. Vivek Sankaran offers an excellent reality check in this column for The Imprint. He writes that due process is “an illusory concept.” 

In courts across the country, parents still never get an attorney to represent them until far into a case, after key decisions have already been made about a child’s placement in foster care. 

Outside of major cities, even when parents get an attorney, the attorney is likely to be underpaid and overworked, and lack any specialty knowledge of the child welfare system. In many jurisdictions, a law student can graduate law school, pass the bar exam and get listed on a roster of attorneys able to get appointments in foster care cases, without receiving any training whatsoever in child welfare law. As a result, the quality of lawyering in this field is abysmal, with key issues rarely being raised by attorneys who have spent little time with their clients.  

Given this reality, the fact that a parent had a lawyer tells us very little about whether he was able to access justice. ...

● And speaking of reality checks, Marco Poggio of Law360 has an outstanding in-depth look at how the “child welfare” system really works in New York City – and family advocates’ legislative agenda to help change it.  Joyce McMillan has a petition calling for more far-reaching change.  (ICYMI: Here’s more about McMillan.)  And I have a blog post about another example of the city “child welfare” agency screwing up an “educational neglect” case. 

● When linking to stories from New York, I always warn that “wherever you are it’s probably worse.” Case in point: Massachusetts, which tears apart families at well over triple the rate of New York City.  And while much attention has focused on the system’s bias against Black families, a story from Shira Schoenberg of CommonWealth Magazine documents how Massachusetts leads the nation in bias against Latinx families.  

● There is also profound bias against Native American families. That’s why there’s an Indian Child Welfare Act to try to counteract some of that bias.  In The Navajo Times, Colleen Keane explains why ICWA is so important, and why New Mexico lawmakers have proposed a state version of this landmark law.  From her story: 

“I remember running into the open arms of my new family. Because of the (federal) Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Joseph Talachy, governor of Pojoaque Pueblo, at a Senate committee hearing on a state ICWA, “I was raised in a beneficial home.” If he hadn’t been placed at Pojoaque, Talachy said he would have lost connection to his family, culture and the Tewa language. 

Before the federal law was passed in 1978, Ambrose Ashley, 71, and his seven brothers, members of the Navajo Nation, didn’t have this critical protection. When their mom had trouble caring for them alone after their dad died, they were abruptly removed from their home and cut off from their family, clan relations, culture and language.  He was 5 1/2 years old.

 “They took my brothers and I in the middle of the night,” Ashley said. “It was a night-time kidnapping.”

 Ashley and his younger brothers went to a non-Native home on the east side of town. The older brothers were placed at a mission home on the other side of town.  “It was traumatic,” he said. “The family was split up. We became strangers to each other.  It left me feeling empty inside, invisible (on the outside,)” he added. 

● When it comes to tearing apart families of all races, Nevada is nearly as bad as Massachusetts. That’s brought together a bipartisan group of legislators to try to legalize – childhood.  But let them tell you, in this column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal: 

Maybe we look like complete opposites. One of us is a gay, Black and a Democratic mom of one from Clark County. And one of us is a white, Republican and a mom of eight — grandmother of 20 — from Northern Nevada. But we are thrilled to be working together because we are in heated agreement when it comes to this: 

Kids have the right to some reasonable independence. And parents have the right to give it to them without being charged with neglect. Now we are supporting a bill that makes this truth into law. 

Nevada’s so-called “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill narrows the definition of child neglect so it doesn’t include simply letting kids engage in normal childhood activities.

 

● Worst of all, though, is Montana, the foster-care capital of America.  A bill to take a small step toward ending that dubious distinction has been introduced in the state legislature.  It would replace anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse and neglect with confidential reporting.  

● The Drug Policy Alliance has an outstanding report online about Uprooting the Drug War.  Here’s the section on what child welfare’s response to drug use has done to children. 

● And finally, let’s take a moment to celebrate.  In May, 2000, three former foster youth wrote an op-ed column for The San Diego Union-Tribune pleading with county officials not to go ahead with plans to open a brand new, state-of-the-art – orphanage.  Yes, really.  They didn’t listen. They claimed there was no choice.  When the place opened in 2001, I wrote this in a letter to the Union-Tribune reporter who covered the opening: 

Unfortunately, the debate has been reduced to foster care versus orphanages – a lose-lose proposition.  Meanwhile, the safest most humane option – not taking away so many children in the first place – has been swept off the table.  But if San Diego County ever got serious about getting the children who don’t need to be in foster care back home, there would be plenty of room in safe, stable foster homes for the children in real danger. 

Not that I’d ever say “I told you so” but 20 years almost to the day after the orphanage opened, Morgan Cook of the Union-Tribune reports, it will close.  Here’s why: 

Laws passed in the last 10 years and “policy established through lawsuits” have shifted requirements for keeping children safe with families — their own or foster families, according to a planning document provided by county Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher’s office. The changes have greatly reduced the number of San Diego County children in foster care. 

In 2002, for example, there were more than 6,600 children in the local foster-care system. Earlier this month, the number was 2,150. 

Imagine what would happen if everybody tried that.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Just another day at NYC “child welfare” agency: Harass a family, pass the buck

           


John Tomasi, a 14-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, got a pretty good report card from Cobble Hill High School in Brooklyn last fall.  According to the New York Post: 

His physical-education teacher twice gave John the highest grade: “ME” for “exceeds standards.”  His algebra teacher cited “progress toward … understanding the connection between proportional relationships, lines, and linear equations,” among other skills. 

            It’s a remarkable achievement – considering that John was never enrolled in the public school.  He was on the honor roll at a parochial school, where he had a perfect attendance record for both online and in-person classes.  A mix-up at John’s middle school led Cobble Hill to believe John was enrolled there.  (That doesn’t explain the report cards, however.) 

            It would be funny, if not for the fact that even as they churned out report cards about his progress, Cobble Hill did notice his absence.   You know where this is going, right? Instead of calling the family to find out what was going on, they rushed to call in a report of “educational neglect.”  And New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services rushed to investigate “suspected child abuse or maltreatment.”  According to the story: 

“On Nov. 5, I got a knock on my door at 5 p.m. from an ACS worker stating that my son has not been attending Cobble Hill High School,” John’s mom, Margaret Tomasi, told The Post. “It was very traumatizing and shocking.” …

The ACS investigator asked John’s parents if they used drugs, were ever arrested, been on welfare, or had a history of domestic violence. The worker asked many personal questions, including what religion they practiced, and looked inside their kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and freezer to check for sufficient food. 

The investigator asked John to lift his shirt, pull up his pant legs, and remove his socks to look for bruises or other injuries. 

            Now let us consider all the screw-ups, by the school, but especially by ACS. 

● As we have noted before, “educational neglect” is a category that is routinely abused by school systems, usually when parents are fighting to get their children a better education. Most recently, it’s been used in New York City and elsewhere to harass poor families who can’t get their kids online for class.  (Rich parents get a free pass.)  


More than a decade ago, the highly-respected Vera Institute of Justice issued a report arguing that educational neglect either shouldn’t be a child protective services issue at all, or, if it must exist, it should be handled through an approach known as “differential response.” 

● Since educational neglect is in state law, ACS might argue that it had no choice but to send out a caseworker to traumatize the family.  This is not clear.  The story says the school “alerted” ACS.  If, in fact, they contacted ACS directly then the agency had discretion.  

More likely, however, the school called the state child abuse hotline which “screened in” the report and sent it on to ACS.  At that point, ACS had to do something – though it could have done what the Vera Institute report suggested all those years ago and used “differential response,” which does not involve a traumatic investigation or any threat that a child might be taken away. 

● Once the worker was at the door and was told that John was, in fact, enrolled in another school, that should have put everything on hold until the next day, when the school could (and did) confirm it.  Instead, the worker marched full speed ahead, poking and prying into the most intimate aspects of the family’s life – none of which had anything to do with the actual complaint – and partially stripsearching the teenage boy. (And, by the way, ACS: Why is a family’s religion ever any of your business?) 

 In the process, of course, the worker wasted time that could have been spent finding a child in real danger.  The worker also put everyone at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, especially given that this happened in New York City in November. 

● The city Department of Education acknowledged that before calling a child abuse hotline school staff “should first make multiple attempts to contact a family.”  But we’ve also seen story after story about schools failing to do that, while ACS does nothing about it.  

Why aren’t ACS and the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) demanding that schools stop harassing families, and wasting caseworkers’ time this way?  Why isn’t OCFS, which runs the state hotline, insisting that schools document their attempts to contact families before “screening-in” such calls, and otherwise raising the standard for accepting them – as the Vera Institute report recommended in 2009?  Why isn’t ACS investigating school employees who make such calls to see if they constitute malicious false reports? 

We know why.  It’s because the current system allows ACS to do the one thing it does as well – or better – than any other child welfare agency in America: Blame someone else whenever something goes wrong.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 16, 2021

The online news site THE CITY reports that even as the head of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services was proclaiming his agency’s commitment to racial justice in child welfare in a self-serving op-ed column, his agency was retaliating against one of the city’s foremost advocates for racial justice in child welfare.  And yet, somehow, poor people of color are supposed to trust the agency if they reach out for help. 

● Bad as things are in New York City, they’re more than twice as bad in Los Angeles. In this powerful edition of Julian Castro’s Our America podcast, La Mikia Castillo and Yahniie Bridges share their stories of the harm done by the foster care system. They also discuss the #Blacklivesmatter - Los Angeles #ReimagineChildSafety campaign. 

● Ever notice how, when confronted by the system’s many failings, foster care apologists always say everything will be fixed with more “training.”  That’s hard to believe in any event, but especially when you see what the training is like.  As I discuss in Youth Today, I took a child abuse mandated reporter training course – so you don’t have to! (Unless, of course, you do.) 

● Remember how @lizar_tistry whom you can find on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/lizar_tistry summed up the  “Family Surveillance: A Future without Foster Care” panel at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in a cartoon?   Now, she’s followed up with a summary of the Q and A:

 

Graphic by @lizar_tistry

Three important stories/columns from The Imprint: 

● Jerry Milner, former leader of the Children’s Bureau in the federal Department of Health and Human Services, reflects on the Bureau’s accomplishments over the past four years (which are so significant a lot of us still hope the Biden Administration will have the good sense to bring him back).  He also writes about what still needs to be done

The new administration must fully acknowledge and address social and racial injustice in child welfare. The glaring inequities in child welfare are not a matter of opinion – they are a matter of fact. I knew it when I carried a caseload and it is clearer now than ever before. 

It is glaring that Black children are twice as likely to enter foster care as white children, and Indigenous children are almost three times more likely. Poor children of all backgrounds are at particular risk of entering foster care due to the effects of poverty, over surveillance and lack of voice. 

There is no justice in these facts. We must take a hard look at the harsh termination provisions in federal law under the Adoption and Safe Families Act, state definitions of neglect and mandatory reporting laws. … 

There must be a commitment to disentangling poverty and neglect. Over half of the children who enter foster care do so solely because of neglect, not abuse, and most of what we call neglect is rooted in poverty. … A closely related need is to pay for civil legal representation for families in matters such as housing, loss of access to services and keeping utilities running before vital, unattended needs lead to hotline calls. In the long run, it is cheaper financially and much more humane. 

Funding must match the direction of change. If we pay for foster care and adoption – and that is what we mostly pay for – we will get more of both. … If we pay for preventing abuse and neglect, and for family preservation, that’s what we will get. 

● Minnesota, which long has torn apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation, is considering expanding a parent mentor program that has shown some promise in helping to improve the state’s dismal performance. 

● As Nora McCarthy, the founder of Rise, the magazine written by parents caught up in child welfare systems, steps back, The Imprint looks at the organization’s impressive accomplishments

● And finally, every time we may think the child welfare system has run out of ways to build in racial bias, something else turns up: Check out this story on bias in hair follicle tests.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

NCCPR in Youth Today: I took a ‘mandated reporter’ training course on child abuse, so you don't have to! (Unless, of course, you do.)

It was a tough year. Perhaps at some point your child became more aggressive or more anxious or more mistrustful or more prone to seek attention — or more withdrawn or more passive or too compliant. Maybe he flinches easily and avoids being touched. Maybe he just doesn’t get along with his peers. Maybe he feels very tired. Maybe he depends too much on adults. Or maybe he’s just not acting his age.

 How about you? Are you socially isolated? Are you physically disabled? Emotionally challenged? Are you more stressed and anxious? Are you more frustrated or impatient? Does your mood change suddenly? Are you impulsive? Do you have issues with authority? Are you feeling emotionally insecure? Do you lack organizational skills? 

I don’t mean to get personal. In fact, it’s hard to imagine any adult or child who hasn’t experienced at least one of these things over the past year — even if you don’t include “avoids being touched” and “socially isolated.” I only ask because in at least one state, Pennsylvania, even one of these “signs” or “risk factors” is enough to put you on the radar to possibly be reported to ChildLine, the state’s child abuse hotline, as a child abuser. 

Every one of these “signs” and “risk factors” is included in a training course for professionals in Pennsylvania who are “mandated reporters” of child abuse. In Pennsylvania, as in many states, that’s almost anyone with regular contact with children — including the very people you might reach out to for help if you or you or your child really is experiencing these problems. 

Read the full column in Youth Today