Sunday, May 4, 2008

Updated May 5: Tip of the iceberg?

Here’s, a brief item from the Salt Lake Tribune Sunday. Apparently unlike every newspaper in Texas, the Tribune did some basic checking on the Texas child welfare agency website:

A check of the Department of Family and Protective Services Web site shows some facilities now housing FLDS children have been written up for violations.
Kidz Harbor in Liverpool, for example, was cited in February for lack of supervision that allowed two children to engage in sexual activity. Also this year, Cal Farley failed to report bruises on a child and a critical injury; a staff member also ridiculed a child for not finishing a task.
Presbyterian Children's Homes & Services, which operates both foster homes and group shelters, was cited last year for foster parents who held inappropriate conversations in front of children; used discipline that included use of a belt and making a child stand on one foot in a closed closet; and failing to report a 17-year-old girl had run away.

Of course, some might argue this record really isn’t so bad; after all these are big places. But that ignores the basic fact that states do a horrible job of investigating abuse in substitute care.

Based on their own statistics, state child welfare agencies typically claim that fewer than one percent of foster children are abused in every given year. Yet one objective, well-researched study after another reports that 25 to 30 percent of foster children are abused in foster care – and those studies typically don’t cover one of the most common forms of abuse in foster care, foster children abusing each other. The record of group homes and institutions is even worse. The reason is obvious: When it comes to abuse in foster care, agencies have an enormous incentive to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and write no evil in the case file.

Texas is particularly notorious for ignoring abuse in its institutions, as a comprehensive report from the former State Comptroller makes clear.

And, of course, since the children have been taken not only from the YFZ ranch but also, in most cases, from their mothers, the record of abuse in Texas foster care should properly be compared with the number of allegations of abuse against the mothers of these children: Zero.

Yes, I know all the excuses for separating the children from their mothers. One advocate in Texas, someone who is the state’s leading proponent of the take-the-child-and-run approach and the Godsource for Texas media, has concocted a bizarre scenario in which the mothers and children might sneak back to the ranch. Never mind that the ranch probably is under surveillance and FLDS women are nothing if not conspicuous. In any event, the odds of that happening need to be compared to the odds that the children will be traumatized by the separation from their mothers and the odds of abuse in foster care itself. The sneak-back-to-the-ranch scenario is far less likely.

Then there’s the argument that the mothers worked to undermine the investigation. But it’s not as if the children are on the ranch at risk of abuse by the men at any time. It’s obvious that the courts are going to let CPS hold these children as long as it wants; so CPS can wait out any uncooperative mothers. Also, as I’ve noted before, this would not explain why even mothers of children barely over one year old have had those children taken from them. Memo to CPS: You can sometimes get an 18-mohth-old to talk, but usually you can’t get her to say much.

And finally, there’s the one about how the mothers “allowed” their children to be abused or, presumably, allowed the possibility that they might be abused years in the future. But that’s based on some remarkably arbitrary distinctions between abuser and abused. If a mother is under 18, CPS says she is herself a victim and, in fact, sometimes can live with her children. If the mother is 18 or over, CPS says she’s not a victim, she’s an abuser or at least guilty of failing to prevent abuse or failing to prevent possible future abuse, and her children suffer for it by being taken from her.

Similarly, mothers are apparently a danger to healthy children but not to sick ones. Again, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, When the last three FLDS children were released from the hospital, two of the children were punished for regaining their health by having their mother taken from them (the third is under a year old). As long as the children were in the hospital, their mother could stay with them.

In fact, the more that the allegations of Texas CPS turn out to be true, the more impossible it would be for the mothers to fight back, or even know that anything was wrong. So why punish their children in some bizarre attempt to take vengeance on their mothers?

There is a fair case to be made that some of the children were, in fact, in danger on the ranch. But more of them are in danger right now in Texas foster care.

And even the law guardians are getting restless

The harm to the children is becoming so obvious that even the “law guardians,” appointed not to actually represent children but to advocate for whatever they decide is best for them – and normally reliable rubber-stamps for any child welfare agency - are getting restless. And once again it’s the Salt Lake Tribune that has the story. According to today’s Tribune:

Vince Nowak, an Amarillo attorney, said he believes that hearing provided no justification for removing the five boys he represents from their homes. The boys, ages 12 to 15, are all healthy - and all homesick.
"They want to go home," Nowak said. "They feel they've been unjustly removed from their mothers."