Thursday, August 15, 2019

NCCPR in Youth Today: Want to Prevent Child Abuse? Behold the Transformative Power Of Cash

Half a century ago, as the Vietnam War still raged, President Nixon began bombing neighboring Cambodia — without bothering to mention it to Congress or the American people. After the New York Times found out about it, this became known as the “secret bombing” of Cambodia

But as Garry Trudeau pointed out in “Doonesbury” four years later, it wasn’t a secret to the Cambodians. “Secret bombings?” a Cambodian says. “Boy, there wasn’t any secret about them. Everyone here knew. I did. And my wife, she knew too! She was with me, and I remarked on them.”

I think of this whenever people in child welfare declare themselves shocked by something that everyone who has to deal with child protective services already knows. The latest case in point: a commentary for a medical journal by Dr. Katherine Campbell, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. The headline reads: “Prevention of Child Maltreatment as an Unexpected Benefit of Social Policies.”

 “Unexpected”? Not for those who are poor or ever have been poor. I suspect they’d say: “It’s not unexpected to us. We remarked on it.”

The commentary concerns a study that found that reports of what child protective services agencies deem “neglect” declined in states that took advantage of the option to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and increased in states that did not take advantage of this option.

Read the full column in Youth Today

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

NCCPR News and commentary round-up, week ending August 14, 2019

Lots of news this week, starting with two important court decisions.

● An appellate court in Washington State blasted the scandal-plagued Snohomish County CASA program – that’s the one a judge found engaged in “the blatant withholding and destruction of evidence … rampant, continuing lying …” and “pervasive and egregious” misconduct. 

The appellate court also blasted the Snohomish County Superior Court for making a fair termination of parental rights trial impossible – because court employees actually worked with the CASA program instead of remaining neutral.  Through it all, the National CASA Association has remained silent.  Do they actually approve of the Snohomish County CASA program’s actions?  Details on all of this, and a link to the decision, in this NCCPR Blog Post.

● A federal appellate court also brought good news last week: It upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Here’s the National Indian Child Welfare Association statement on the decision.

● In Youth Today, I review recent studies that all have one thing in common:  They demonstrate that, when it comes to reducing child abuse, there’s nothing like the transformative power of cash.  And, great news! In the same column, I reveal the apparently up-to-now secret way to target child abuse prevention without resorting to Big-Brother, privacy-invading predictive analytics!

● I have long argued that the so-called Family First act has been vastly overhyped. The funds can be used on only a few types of services and they have to meet criteria for being “evidence-based” that are vastly higher than the criteria for say, foster care or residential treatment (which have no real evidence base).  But now comes word that the federal government will be studying whether to allow funding under Family First for programs that follow the Homebuilders model for Intensive Family Preservation Services.  That alone would make Family First vastly more useful.  Here’s how Homebuilders works.  And here’s a summary of the impressive evidence base for it.

● In the Chronicle of Social Change, Vivek Sankaran writes about the need for judges to behave like – you know, judges, and enforce the law. He writes:

[T]hroughout my career, I’ve heard judges chide lawyers and parents when they emphasize the law. One frustrated judge said to a colleague, “I see you’re going down the statutory road again.” Another said to a parent, “I know there’s a legal right to ask for more visits. But if I gave it to you, then I’d have to give it to every parent.” A third said, “I know the law says that corporal punishment is allowed. But in my courtroom, this is what we do.”

And I would argue that, at its most extreme, this attitude helps explain what happened in Snohomish County (see first item above).

● Another Chronicle story looks at how “In Aftermath of Latest Child Death, L.A. Contends with Potential Foster Care Panic.”  I’ll have some thoughts on this one soon.

● In Talk Poverty Elizabeth Brico writes about how “State Laws Punish Pregnant People Just For Seeking Drug Treatment.” And of course, they also punish the children.  Ms. Brico cites an Amnesty International report documenting how such laws drive women away from treatment and away from prenatal care.

● When a parent who has lost a child to foster care – or is at risk of it – can get help from another parent who’s been through the same ordeal it can help prevent the placement, or shorten it, lessening the trauma for children.  So, Rise, a magazine written by parents who have been in this position, asks: Why aren’t more of them working in NYC? This is, of course, an excellent question for the rest of the country as well.

● Also in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has on his desk a bill that could significantly ease the trauma for children who have lost their parents forever due to termination of parental rights.  The bill would allow judges to continue contact between these children and their parents if the judge is persuaded it’s in the child’s best interests. 

In the New York Daily News, Chris Gottlieb, co-director of the Family Defense Clinic at New York University School of Law, explains why the governor should sign the bill.  And family defense attorney Amy Mulzer has a letter to the editor about the bill in the Albany Times Union.

● Until it was surpassed in 2017 by Montana, Wyoming had the dubious distinction of child removal capital of America. (It’s still #2 in that regard.)  So it’s encouraging that the legislature in that state is considering a bill that would bolster family defense.  The story illustrates the importance of both the new study showing that high-quality family defense safely reduces foster care and the change in federal rules that allows some of the cost of such defense to be reimbursed with federal funds.

● I have a guest commentary in the Times of Northwest Indiana about how the latest McLawsuit filed by the latest group founded by Marcia Lowry, A Better Childhood, may well make that state’s dismal child welfare system even worse.

● And finally, though not related directly to child protective services, Vice News has a disturbing story about how the private adoption industry coerces parents into giving up their children.  The common denominator shared by these cases and those involving CPS is poverty. The Vice story cites a survey which found that “most women … put up their babies for adoption at least in part because of financial concerns.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A deafening silence from National CASA as an appellate court blasts a scandal-plagued CASA program in Washington State

● The court overturned the termination of a family’s parental rights, and ordered that the case start over.

● The court also ordered the CASA program, and the county Superior Court – which it called “a biased tribunal” -- cut off from any involvement in the case.

● But through it all, the National CASA Association has taken no public action against the program. Click on the audio to get a good sense of National CASA’s response:

To read all about the Snohomish County CASA Scandal, see these previous posts to this Blog.

UPDATE, AUGUST 18, 2019: The Everett Herald has an excellent story about the whole Snohomish County CASA scandal, with a clear step-by-step overview of what happened.

Of course court officials, who were instrumental in causing the problems and turned themselves into what an appellate court called a “biased tribunal” now claim they’ve fixed everything. In other words, the foxes have doubled the guard on the henhouse.

But the most striking part of the story is this: The Snohomish County Court system says that it “increased training [for CASAs] to, among other things, stress honesty, truthfulness and the correct way to handle documents.”

Now. one might be able to make a case that there is something complicated about handling documents.  But what does it say about the inherent nature of CASA that it can so corrupt the ethics of good people that they actually need training to know they’re supposed to be honest and truthful?

The problem with the scandal at the Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program in Snohomish County, Wash.,*  is that court decisions describe so much misconduct and it’s so awful that it’s hard to know where to begin. 

So perhaps it’s best to begin here: Everything discussed below is documented in the public record – not in assertions by parties, but in decisions by a judge; decisions that run to hundreds of pages.  And now, we can add three more judges and 29 more pages.

On Monday, an appellate court panel ruled unanimously that there was blatant bias, not just on the part of the CASA program but also the Snohomish County Superior Court (which, at one point actually declared itself and the CASA program effectively one-and-the-same).

The appellate court found so much bias that it threw out the termination of parental rights at the center of it all and ordered everyone back to square one.  They also ordered that square one, and everything else about the case, be located someplace other than Snohomish County.

The bias runs so deep, the appellate court found, that even bringing in a judge from another county isn’t good enough. They tried that, and that judge upheld the termination. But the appellate court found that the judge

heard oral argument on the motions in Snohomish County and relied on a record generated in that biased tribunal in making his decisions.  For that reason the orders [he] entered … do not escape the taint of bias and must be vacated.

It started with CASA

It all began with the CASA program.  So we should begin with a reminder, from a previous post, of what CASA is all about.

CASAs are minimally-trained amateurs, overwhelmingly white and middle-class, who are sent out to investigate overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite families. Then they recommend to the judge whether the children should be separated from those families, sometimes forever. Judges typically take the advice. 
The most comprehensive study ever done of the program, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that it does nothing to make children safer. The study also found that CASA prolongs foster care and reduces the chances children will be placed with relatives instead of strangers.
One CASA program saw no problem when a performer at a fundraiser dressed in blackface, another CASA program fell apart as soon as it had to confront issues of race. A law review article called CASA “an exercise of white supremacy.” 

And for many years, the Snohomish County program used a volunteer who would go on to write a vile screed about the parents he investigated (and another vile screed about Muslims). They are so awful Donald Trump would probably tweet them if he knew about them.

In the case at the center of the scandal, an African-American child was placed with a white foster family days after birth.  And it appears that, from day one, the CASA assigned to the case would do anything to keep it that way, including leaking confidential documents to the foster family.

Another CASA infiltrated a listserv for family defense attorneys to learn about their strategy. (“Infiltrated” isn’t my word; it’s from a decision by Judge Anita Farris, who presided over the case. Judge Farris was praised by the appellate court for acting with integrity throughout.)

But it didn’t stop there.  Judge Farris found that the CASA program conducted a campaign of threats and intimidation against the parents’ lawyers. 

And Judge Farris used another word – one she had not used in her entire judicial career until this case: Perjury.  Judge Farris ruled that  the program engaged in “the blatant withholding and destruction of evidence … rampant, continuing lying …” and “pervasive and egregious” misconduct.

The appellate court seemed particularly struck by the fact that CASA’s

entire hard copy file for this dependency mysteriously “disappeared” from the [CASA] Program’s possession during the post-trial proceedings regarding the [CASAs’] misconduct.

The appellate court decision only scratches the surface of the misconduct.  There is more detail, and links to Judge Ferris’s decisions in this previous post and this one. 

Thumb on the scales of justice

But it didn’t stop there.  The family wasn’t just up against a CASA program that engaged in what Judge Farris called “pervasive and egregious” misconduct. They were up against a court system that did everything it could to help the CASA program win this case, putting a giant thumb on the scales of justice.  Eventually, the Snohomish County Superior Court claimed that it and the CASA program were essentially one-and-the-same – and that forced Judge Farris to recuse herself. 

Somewhat oddly, she still ruled in favor of termination of parental rights, apparently concluding that even disregarding the CASA program’s behavior there was reason to do so. But the appellate court disagreed, finding that the behavior of the court system and the CASA program made a fair trial impossible.  But that was the only area of disagreement.  The appellate court did not dispute any of Judge Farris’ findings about CASA or the Snohomish County Superior Court.  On the contrary, citing precedent that “unchallenged findings are verities on appeal” the appellate judges wrote this:

Here, Judge Farris displayed no personal bias and attempted to conduct an unbiased proceeding. But the sticky wicket is that the tribunal in which A.H.’s dependency and termination proceedings took place was biased because of the involvement of superior court employees working against the parents in this case. … And Judge Farris entered many unchallenged findings of fact in her recusal order and memorandum decision…

All of this led the judges to rule, in effect, that the Snohomish County Superior Court,  by taking sides at all, let alone siding with a CASA program that Judge Farris found engaged in “pervasive and egregious” misconduct is, itself, so biased that it should not be allowed anywhere near this case.

The court ordered a new trial in another county, and the appointment of a new lawyer for the child.

Most media failed, too

All this, of course, challenges the master narrative of most Washington State media. They cling to the view that all parents who become enmeshed in the system are at best sick and at worst evil, and send the message that foster parents, CASAs etc. can do no wrong.  That explains why with the exception of some excellent reporting from Seattle television station KING, the scandal has been ignored. [UPDATE, AUGUST 18: As noted above, the Everett Herald has now done an excellent story.]

Even worse is the behavior of the National CASA Association. The Snohomish program describes itself as “an associated member of Washington State CASA and National CASA.”

So listen again to the functional equivalent of what we’ve heard from National CASA about this scandal:

So, does National CASA have a problem with one of its associated members behaving this way or not? 

What about the other cases?

What are the odds that a CASA program would engage in “pervasive and egregious” misconduct in only one case?  What are the odds that the court system would side with the CASA program and against a family in only one case?   What are the odds that a longtime volunteer who calls the parents he investigated “felons,” “junkies,” and  “dumb as dirt” may have made some, uh, erroneous recommendations that were accepted by judges?

What is to be done about all those other cases?

*-Although it has always been a CASA program, for many years it called itself a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem (VGAL) program.  It’s the same thing, and the program has long been an associated member of National CASA.  It now calls itself a CASA program, but the appellate court decision still uses VGAL.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

NCCPR in Times of Northwest Indiana: The last thing Indiana child welfare needs is another McLawsuit

Three months ago, NWI Times reporter Giles Bruce documented the problem at the heart of Indiana’s child welfare failure: The state routinely confuses poverty with “neglect.” That in turn leads to Indiana tearing apart families needlessly at one of the highest rates in America.

Unfortunately, it appears that Marcia Lowry never read Bruce’s story, because she’s brought a lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Child Services that ignores this issue. As a result, the lawsuit could end up making Indiana child welfare even worse. It’s not that DCS doesn’t deserve to be sued — but this isn’t the way to do it.

And for more about the failure of these suits, and links to data cited in the commentary, see NCCPR’s publication, The children wronged by “Children’s Rights” (and by “A Better Childhood,” too).

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

News and commentary round-up, week ending August 7, 2019

● I missed this excellent story from Youth Today about the value of high-quality family representation in New York when it ran in June.

In this story for Reason attorney Diane Redleaf describes how so-called “child abuse pediatricians” can traumatize families by jumping to the conclusion that even the slightest bruise on a child must be abuse. She also discusses proposed federal legislation that would make everything worse.  “If these bills become law,” she writes, “any parent who has a baby with a bruise—regardless of whether it's from a medical condition, or even from learning to crawl—could get entangled in a months-long battle to maintain custody.” 

As you read the story, try to imagine what would have happened had the family Redleaf profiles been poor.

● At least 40 percent of America’s foster children live in states where court hearings in child welfare cases are open. But reporters rarely show up.  The Arizona Republic rectified that, at least for the moment, in a big way. They sent 12 reporters who try to observe every child welfare court hearing in the state’s largest juvenile court on one day.  Here’s the result.

The New York Times has a story about an important piece of children’s rights legislation now on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.  It would preserve the right of adopted children to maintain contact with their birth parents after termination of parental rights – if a judge ruled it was in the children’s best interests.  Naturally, the commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, David Hansell, and much of the state’s child welfare establishment is against it.

Voices for Children in Nebraska has a good data snapshot concerning racial disparities at the very beginning of the child welfare process in that state: who gets called in to the hotline.  There’s a story about it in the Lincoln Journal Star:  And the full report is here  

● In an interview with NPR concerning family separation at the Mexican border, an ACLU lawyer says: "Can you imagine how many Americans would lose their children if [a minor offense] was a basis for taking away your child?"

Actually, yes – something I discuss in this post to this blog.

Of course, if you’re poor you already know this.  The New York Times has a case in point in this story.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Attn: ACLU: Child Protective Services does the “unimaginable” every day. When are you going to do something about it?

To it's credit, the ACLU is fighting for the rights of immigrant children to stay with their families.  But for decades, at the national level, when it comes to protecting the civil liberties of American children threatened with needless foster care, the ACLU has been AWOL. 

Sure, we're still tearing apart families at the border,
says Acting Homeland Security Secretary
Kevin McAleenan. But don't worry, he says:
“This is in the interest of the child.”

To its credit, the American Civil Liberties Union has been a leader in efforts to stop the Trump Administration from tearing apart families at the Mexican border.  Last week, the ACLU revealed that at least 900 children have been torn from their parents in spite of a court-order banning the practice.

How are they doing it?  In the name of “child safety” of course.  Or as acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan put it: “This is in the interest of the child.”

The separations are allowed when remaining with a parent truly would endanger the child.  So here’s what Trump is doing, according to ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt, in an interview with NPR:

They’re separating [families] for the most minor crimes possible, traffic offenses, in one case a nonviolent theft for $5, disorderly conduct – just shocking, … [It’s] family separation by another name under the guise of supposedly protecting children from dangerous parents …
Can you imagine how many Americans would lose their children if a traffic offense or a disorderly conduct or a misdemeanor theft offense was a basis for taking away your child? 

Actually, yes. I can imagine it.  In fact, no imagination is required.  Because tens of thousands of children are torn from everyone they know and love for far less every year by U.S. child protective services agencies.  And all the while, the national ACLU has stood silent.

Some state affiliates get what the national office does not

There are state affiliates of the ACLU that get this, notably Illinois, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania (where the legal director is a member of NCCPR’s volunteer Board of Directors).

But for decades, at the national level, when it comes to protecting the civil liberties of children threatened with needless foster care, the ACLU has been AWOL.  

NCCPR’s founder, the late Betty Vorenberg, resigned from the National Board of the ACLU because of its longstanding failure to lift a finger to deal with the massive infringements of civil liberties perpetrated routinely by child protective services agencies – using the same rationale now being used by the Trump Administration at the border. 

Full details on the ACLU’s failure are in this earlier post.  But for the benefit of Mr. Gelernt and anyone else at the ACLU who genuinely doesn’t know how CPS agencies work, here are a few examples:

● When panhandling is a crime, it is no worse an offense than a traffic ticket or minor theft or disorderly conduct.  This man had his children taken away because of it. 

● Being homeless or living in substandard housing is not a crime.  But these children in Texas were thrown into foster care because of it.  So was this child in Philadelphia.  And this child in New York.  (And did you know, ACLU, that multiple studies have found that 30 percent of America’s foster children could be home right now if their families had decent housing?)

● Not realizing that your small child had wandered out of the house while you took a bath is not a crime. But if you’re poor it’s reason enough to throw your child into foster care.

As one lawyer told The New York Times: “In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s ‘Oh, my God’” — a story to tell later, he said. “In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.”  The lawyer does not work for the ACLU.

● In some places smoking marijuana is a crime.  But no more serious than the ones Mr. Gelernt described.  Yet that, too is reason enough to consign a child to the chaos of foster care. Even drinking marijuana tea to ease the pain of labor can lead to a child being confiscated at birth.

You may not be aware of all this, ACLU. But poor people know all about it. As a New York Times story from just last week makes clear, it’s a fear they live with every day.

I’m glad the ACLU is fighting for the rights of children taken from their parents by the Border Patrol.  But the tragedy is every bit as real when it is inflicted by child protective services. (The fact that CPS agencies usually mean well is no comfort to the children – they shed the same sorts of tears as the children taken at the border, for the same reasons).  

So, ACLU, When are you going to do something about it?

For more on the extent to which American child welfare systems trample on civil liberties, see NCCPR's Due Process Agenda, "Civil Liberties Without Exception."

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

News and commentary round-up, week ending July 31, 2019

● The first story this week actually was published eight years ago. It’s a New York Times story about families investigated – or worse – by child protective services agencies because a parent smokes marijuana. I’m linking to it now because the New York City Council cited the story when it passed a resolution last week that “calls upon the New York City Administration for Children’s Services to implement a policy finding that a person’s mere possession or use of marijuana does not by itself create an imminent risk of harm to a child, warranting the child’s removal." 

The Council passed another resolution “calling on the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation requiring the New York State Department of Health to create clear and fair regulations for hospitals on drug testing those who are pregnant or giving birth, including informing patients of their rights before any discussion of drug use or drug testing.”

● Another awful institution has had its license suspended, this time in Montana.  But it took an investigative series by the Missoulian and a change in state law to do it. 

According to the Missoulian, once the state health department finally was given the authority to do something about it, the agency “received multiple reports of students being ‘hit, kicked, body-slammed and spit on,’ DPHHS Deputy Director Laura Smith said Tuesday, just hours after the children’s removal. Reports included assault by staff members and “excessive discipline,” including 15- to 20-mile walks in harsh weather conditions on remote roads with inappropriate shoes at night.

● I have a follow up to last week’s post about the school district that threatened to report children to child protective services – and put them at risk of foster care – if their parents didn’t pay school lunch debts. This one focuses on how, just as with family separations at the border, the child welfare establishment is desperate to avoid tough questions about its own behavior.