Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Self-justifying claptrap from Texas CPS

As a work of fiction, it's not bad. As a report, the document released today by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services concerning the raid on the FLDS compound last April is nothing but self-justifying claptrap. Indeed it is frightening that the parent agency of Texas Child Protective Services apparently has learned nothing from all the harm it inflicted on hundreds of innocent children.

For starters, the report says that 12 children were abused by FLDS. In contrast, more than 400 children were abused by Texas CPS. The act of tearing these children from everyone they know and love was abusive in itself – some of these children probably never will recover from the trauma.

The abuse was compounded by the hideous conditions at the kiddie-Gitmo where the children and their mothers were interned during the first days after the raid. There is an Orwellian cast to the report's repeated claims about keeping the children safe, healthy and comfortable. These claims are directly contradicted by the only independent witnesses to the children's internment – 11 therapists contracted by the state itself. For anyone who has forgotten, those statements are available here.

In the case of the 263 other children Texas CPS claims were abused, that means that they were allowed to live in households where underage marriages allegedly took place. But that problem could have been solved by removing the alleged abusers. And, indeed, criminal prosecutions now are underway. As we said at the outset, there never was a need to take these children from their mothers and traumatize them through their needless internment. That is made clear by the fact that all of the FLDS children except one is home, and only 15 are even under state supervision. What happened? Mostly, the mothers took a couple of parenting classes. Surely that could have been accomplished without traumatizing all those children with needless foster care in the first place.

But even if one were to assume that every single one of the 275 children Texas CPS claimed were "abused" needed to be taken – a claim I would argue is preposterous – that brings the total to 275. That still leaves 174 children who, Texas CPS now effectively admits, were taken for no reason whatsoever.

In effect, Texas CPS has admitted to engaging in child abuse on a massive scale.

And there is no acknowledgement at all of the misleading statements CPS made throughout the children's ordeal. Remember when Texas CPS implied that there were massive amounts of physical abuse at the FLDS compound – all those claims about high numbers of broken bones? Buried in an appendix to the the report is the fact that not one case of physical abuse was substantiated – and 388 allegations of physical abuse were "ruled out" – meaning CPS actually found the families innocent.

CPS also continues to take its "expert witness" Dr. Bruce Perry, out of context. They still don't acknowledge that even Perry said the youngest children did not need to be separated from their mothers. Perry himself has a lot to account for. He stood silent throughout the ordeal he helped to start.

Perhaps worst of all, Texas CPS falls back on the same all-purpose excuse it used throughout the FLDS case – explaining that the procedures followed are what they always do. They're right about that. And, in fact, the procedures are standard in most of the rest of the country as well.

And that means, away from the public spotlight, thousands of Texas children, and children in most other states, must endure the same needless trauma, the same state-sanctioned child abuse, that was endured by the FLDS children – with nobody watching out for them, and nobody speaking up for them.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More families vindicated

    Out of more than 400 children torn from their families at the YFZ ranch in April, only 19 now remain under any kind of court supervision. Only one child has been returned to foster care.

    In every other case, the families are entirely free of oversight by Texas CPS. The only difference is all the harm done to the children by the ordeal CPS put them through – first by tearing them from everyone they knew and loved, then by interning them in dreadful conditions in a kiddie-Guantanamo, and then by scattering them around the state, until appellate courts intervened. Even if one believes some of these children really were abused, or really might be abused someday, it should be obvious by now that Texas' exercise in mass child confiscation did nothing to protect those children. It only left some of them traumatized – and highly unlikely to tell authorities if, at some time in the future, they really are abused.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

CASA strikes again

    In previous posts to this Blog, I've written about the serious problems with that most sacred cow of child welfare, the Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program. Now, it seems, CASA has struck again. In this story, KING-TV in Seattle, the city where CASA began, documents the enormous harm done to one child, needlessly taken from her grandparents, Doug and AnneMarie Stuth. In this post, all excerpts from the story are in italics.

    The child was born to the grandparents' 16-year-old daughter. The first time the child was taken, she was placed with the grandparents.

The grandparents raised the child for months and received glowing reports. One officer of the court wrote: "She's fortunate to have her grandparents as a safety net."

    The child was returned to her mother, then taken again. But this time, the child went into what should properly be called stranger care.

The Stuths were devastated. The child's daycare providers gave them heartbreaking reports. "(They tell me) that she cries for me," Doug Stuth said. "You have no idea (how hard it is)."
    Why the difference? One reason, it seems, was CASA.

    A court-appointed advocate for the baby wrote the Stuths were selfish, hyper-critical, and were derailing their daughter's parenting efforts. One example cited over and over in legal papers: They gave the child a pacifier, or binky, which was against the young mom's wishes. "You would not believe how many times that darn binky was brought up in court and in paperwork over the stupid binky!" AnneMarie Stuth said.
    It wasn't just the CASA. Everyone was piling on – making all sorts of allegations that the television station easily disproved. Why?

The Stuths think they were flagged as trouble-makers because they complained, a lot, about what was happening. They even called their senator, Pam Roach, who rattled cages in Olympia over the case.

    That's a good bet.

    But the CASA played a particularly troubling role:

Roach lobbied to get the Stuths visits with their granddaughter. They'd been told by the child's court advocate there was a court order forbidding them to see her. But we've found there was no such court order. They should have been allowed to see her all along.

To see how the child responded when she finally got to see her grandparents again, take a look at the video on the KING-TV website, and consider what would have happened had the CASA gotten her or his way.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Did some Michigan private agencies urge the state to violate federal law?

    The previous item on this Blog, originally posted in April, 2006, dealt with a campaign by some of Michigan's private child welfare agencies to undermine not only efforts to keep children in their own homes, but even efforts to keep them in their own communities. The agencies traipsed up to Lansing to tell a legislative committee that the children would be better off if they were sent far from everyone they knew and loved because then they'd be in "better neighborhoods" with "better schools."

    They made these claims in the course of opposing the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Family to Family initiative. (The Casey Foundation also helps to fund NCCPR, though they are not funding our current efforts in Michigan.)

    The previous post outlined the flaws in this logic, starting with the fact that this is exactly how American child welfare has operated for more than 150 years – and things haven't turned out too well.

    But, it turns out there is another problem with what the private agencies wanted: It might be illegal.

    This came to my attention when I read the results of a "casereading" conducted in connection with the lawsuit that the group which so arrogantly calls itself "Children's Rights" brought against the Michigan child welfare system. The authors of the casereading point out that "Federal law requires that children be placed in close proximity to their parents (42 U.S.C. 675[5][A]) to facilitate visitation and reunification."

    In other words, the feds know that if a child must be taken from her or his home, it is far better for that child at least to be able to see those parents, or to be able to see extended family, or be able to live near their friends and classmates and, yes, not have to change schools with all the disruption that causes. Common sense and 150 years of history say that as well. In fact, it's so obvious that, as the casereading points out, even the national trade association for child welfare agencies, the Child Welfare League Of America, feels compelled to say that "placement with foster families who live outside of the child's community should be avoided."

So who wouldn't say that?

    Well, it turns out the legislative testimony against keeping children in their own communities was coordinated by an outfit called the Association of Accredited Child and Family Agencies, based in Birmingham, Mi. The Association has no website I could find, but its president at the time of the hearing was John Schmidt. At the time Schmidt also was president of the Methodist Children's Home – a residential treatment center; in other words, an orphanage. (Schmidt still might run the place, their website doesn't say who's in charge). Institutionalization in a residential treatment center is both among the most expensive forms of "care" and among the worst for children. For details, see NCCPR's review of the literature and summary of better alternatives. But the people who run RTCs tend to be very good at rationalization; they convince themselves all that research just can't be right. So of course they're going to be threatened by alternatives that are both better for children and cost less. And clearly, if you run an institution that is "situated on 70 acres of beautifully wooded land and rolling open spaces" it's not right near where the families of most of the children institutionalized there actually live.

    The Methodist Home website and brochure say the agency also offers foster care and adoption services. They say nothing about services to keep families together.

    I'm not suggesting that anyone who testified at that hearing knew they were recommending a course of action that might be illegal. I didn't know myself until recently. But Michigan legislators need to know. They also need to check on the likely penalty for enacting a policy that deliberately avoids placing children close to their families. My guess is it's the penalty state lawmakers fear most: loss of federal money.

    So if the fact that the private agency recommendations would devastate children isn't enough reason for lawmakers to ignore them, the fact that it might further harm Michigan's budget certainly should be.

    There are other notable findings in the casereading but one stands out:

A key factor in cushioning the blow of removal from everyone loving and familiar is keeping children in stable placements; that is, stopping them from bouncing from foster home to foster home. According to the case reading, a child is far more likely to have only one foster care placement if it's an unlicensed placement with a relative – instead of a licensed placement with a stranger. Yet, as is documented elsewhere on this Blog, the very group that brought the lawsuit and sought the casereading, the one that pompously pronounces itself the arbiter of "Children's Rights," included in its settlement a provision likely to severely undermine kinship care in Michigan.

    Perhaps the people at CR simply didn't notice the findings in their own casereading. If they'd care to go back and look, they're on page 24.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Michigan: When the mask slips

 This post originally appeared on this blog on April 30, 2006; before the Blog moved to Blogspot and became searchable. I'm posting it again, with some minor updating, because I've learned a little more about the events described, but I want to recap those events before I add an update in a future post:
Every once in awhile, the mask slips, and a state or locality's child welfare establishment reveals its ugly side.  In Michigan the racial and class bias, and the naked self-interest, that permeate child welfare came out into the open at a public hearing this week.
According to an AP story, a parade of officials from private foster care agencies effectively made the case that children should be torn away from their parents, and everyone else they know, forever, just because those families are poor.  They claimed the children are simply better off among middle class strangers than with their own impoverished families.
No, they didn't quite say take children just because they're poor, and they didn't quite say never let them go home.  But that is the only logical conclusion if one is to believe the arguments they offered for opposing the Family to Family program, which seeks to reduce the number of children taken from their parents and place those who must be taken with friends and relatives in their own neighborhoods.  (Family to Family is an initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which also helps to fund NCCPR. The Casey Foundation does not fund NCCPR's 2008 work in Michigan).
The basic argument the private agencies presented is that children are better off in foster care with total strangers in a swank suburb than with grandma or grandpa, an aunt and uncle, or a trusted friend in their own neighborhood.  That's because there is less crime and there are better schools in the suburbs.
But if that argument applies to children whose poverty has been confused with neglect so child protective services stepped in, why doesn't it also apply to every other impoverished child?  Why should "neglected" children be the only ones to gain benefits from suburban schools that are said to be so enormous they outweigh the love of a family?  Why not just confiscate all impoverished children? And if, in fact, these benefits are so huge, then it's hard to see how these same private agencies can really mean it when they say, with straight faces, "we really do try our best to reunify these families whenever possible."  After all, why would they want to pursue such reunification when that would doom the children to returning to a poor neighborhood?
In case the problems in suggesting that material comfort and even good schools are more important than love aren't obvious, consider:
--We've been doing it the way the agencies want for 150 years.  The very first foster care program, Charles Loring Brace's 19th Century "orphan trains" were based on precisely the theory that the Michigan agency chiefs offered the legislature: The dreadful influences of poor big-city neighborhoods can only be overcome by shipping the children of the immigrant poor off to farms in the south and Midwest.  Only it didn't work too well.  Many of the children were not orphans at all; they were taken from parents for the same reason children are taken today: The parents – typically Catholic immigrants -- were poor and despised. Many of the children wound up treated little better than slaves. 
-- It doesn't work well now, either – does it?  The system of taking impoverished children from everyone loving and familiar and throwing them in with middle-class strangers is the system we have now.  And, according to a recent comprehensive study of foster care "alumni" here's what that's given us:
--Alumni with twice the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of Gulf War veterans.
--Alumni who report that one-third of them were abused by a foster parent or another adult in a foster home.  (In contrast, the rate of abuse in kinship homes is lower than in what should be called "stranger care.")
--Alumni of whom it could be said that only 20 percent were "doing well."  (NCCPR's full analysis of this study, and the URL for the study itself, are available here: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/cfpanalysis.doc )
One of the main reasons foster care is such a failure is the emotional devastation to a child when he loses not just mom and dad but also his aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends, neighbors, teachers and classmates.  For a young enough child it's an experience akin to a kidnapping.  And in many cases, the odds are excellent that as soon as the child gets used to his new surroundings, she or he will be forced to move again, compounding the trauma.  What good is a "better" school if a child has to keep moving from one such school to another?
And why in the world do the private child welfare agencies of Michigan insist children are better off by continuing to throw them into a system that churns out walking wounded four times out of five?
--In contrast, consider the record of Family to Family.  According to the wire service story the chairman of the legislative committee "wants to see more data about [Family to Family's] effectiveness."
He could start here: http://www.unc.edu/~lynnu/f2feval.htm with a comprehensive outside evaluation of the program done by the University of North Carolina.  That evaluation found that  "[F]ewer children entered out of home care and those who had to be removed from their homes were placed in less restrictive forms of care."
Here are some of the other highlights:
While conventional foster parent "recruiting campaigns" are failing all over the country, Family to Family sites often succeed in recruiting foster parents in the children's own neighborhoods.  And instead of the hostility that often characterizes relationships between birth parents and foster parents, many foster parents embraced the Family to Family approach of working with and mentoring birth parents.
In addition:
-- With more foster families available, fewer children had to be institutionalized.
-- Increased use of relatives as foster parents also opened up a new option for permanency, as more relatives agreed to be permanent guardians of children who could not be reunited with their birth parents.
-- At most sites, there was a significant reduction in the number of placements children had to endure.  At one site, the number of children in care between one and two years who endured three or more placements was cut by more than 25 percent.  In another county, it was cut by more than 50 percent. 
-- Perhaps most significant: Because Family to Family succeeded in keeping more children safely in their own homes, the children who were removed had more serious problems.  Nevertheless, there was no increase in the "recidivism" rate – the number of children returned home who re-enter care – at any Family to Family site.  And in some sites, the recidivism rate went down.
That indicates that all of the other improvements in children's lives were accomplished while making children safer.
If legislators, or anyone else, want still more information about the benefits of placing children with relatives instead of strangers – including the fact that such placements tend to be safer - - they can check out the report from the University of Illinois Children and Family Research Center available here: http://www.fosteringresults.org/results/reports/pewreports_10-13-04_alreadyhome.pdf

The Michigan agencies' case is built on a foundation of false stereotypes, both about the birth parents who lose their children to foster care and the neighborhoods those parents live in.  They counted on the legislators to conjure up a picture of sadistic brutes who beat, torture and rape their children.  But such cases make up only a tiny fraction of workers' caseloads.  As is documented in detail in NCCPR's Issue Papers, far more common are cases in which a family's poverty is confused with neglect.
As for the neighborhoods, the portrait from the agencies is what one might expect not from people who genuinely care about what's best for children, but rather from someone whose only source of information is local television news, with its endless parade of crime scenes and "perp walks."
But – and it shouldn't really be necessary to point this out – even in the most crime-plagued neighborhood, most people don't commit crimes.  Even in neighborhoods where drug dealers congregate on the corner, most parents are doing everything they can to keep their children away from that corner.  Even the poorest communities have neighborhood associations, community-based social service agencies and churches that can form the foundation for helping child protective services keep children safe without forcing them to leave everyone they know and love.  The problem is, child protective services agencies have often been clueless about what these groups are and where to find them, and the community groups have been too suspicious, often with good reason, to work with CPS.

Bridging these barriers is what initiatives like Family to Family are all about.
Of course, it would be wonderful if poor children could stay with their birth parents, be surrounded by supportive extended family and neighbors and live in upper-middle-class suburban neighborhoods if they so chose.  If the Michigan Legislature would like to initiate a program to build more affordable housing in the suburbs, I think that would be a great idea.
But it is obscene to suggest that the only way a poor child should get to go to a "good" school is by trading in his family for the privilege.
This isn't really about the children at all.  This is about agencies that typically are paid for every day they hold a child in foster care.  If Family to Family proceeds, they'll get fewer children – because more of them will remain safely in their own homes.  Family to Family also is about reducing the use of group homes and institutions – again, threatening the survival of these agencies, which rake in huge per diem payments for warehousing children.
In addition, private agencies typically oversee a far lower percentage of kinship care homes than stranger-care homes; in other words, when it comes to kin care, the private agencies get a smaller piece of the action.

What happened at that hearing in Michigan is more evidence that the biggest addiction problem in child welfare is not substance-abusing parents, though that problem is serious and real.  The biggest addiction problem in child welfare is great big, prestigious, mainstream private child welfare agencies with blue chip boards of directors that are addicted to their per diem payments for holding children in foster care.
And they are putting their addiction ahead of the children. 

More in a future post.