Sunday, July 19, 2009

“Children’s rights”: All tweet, no action?

The group that so arrogantly calls itself "Children's Rights" (CR) has taken to sending out "tweets" on Twitter that portray the organization as actually interested in keeping families together – something that is very much at odds with the group's record in many parts of the country. In the process, the organization's double standards are showing. And now they've made a promise on which they have yet to deliver.

It started July 1, when CR praised the Illinois Branch of the ACLU – which has a much more progressive consent decree than anything CR ever would come up with – for going to court to prevent draconian budget cuts to that state's child welfare programs. CR tweeted:

"Just saw that our friends at @aclu have convinced a judge to order Illinois not to cut critical child welfare services!"

The next day CR bragged about doing something similar itself – in Connecticut:

"Just posted more details about our efforts to save a vital pre-foster-care program in Connecticut on the CR Blog"

But of course this raised one obvious question: What about Michigan? There, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the director of the state's Department of Human Services, Ismael Ahmed, have initiated two rounds of slash-and-burn budget cuts, one proposed for next year, the other already in effect.

That's not because of the state's budget crisis. Rather, they're using the savings to fund big rate increases for powerful private agencies that institutionalize children, and to fund a child abuse investigator / foster care caseworker hiring binge – apparently the only option they could think of to meet the terms of CR's own Michigan lawsuit settlement.

In fact, all that hiring is not required to meet the settlement terms – the settlement calls for reducing caseloads, by and large it doesn't say how to do it. So Michigan could, in fact, reduce foster care caseloads by spending more on safe, proven programs to keep children out of foster care. But that is beyond the imagination of DHS or CR.

Even worse, CR neglected to include a "maintenance of effort" provision in its settlement. In other words, though the cuts clearly violate the spirit of the settlement and the statement of principles in the settlement, there is no explicit prohibition barring Michigan from funding the settlement by cutting other programs to help the same children. So Michigan went about slashing prevention and family preservation to fund increases in foster care and institutionalization – an apt reflection of both DHS' and CR's real priorities.

But with CR starting to claim it cares about family preservation in other states, we wondered…

NCCPR is on Twitter. So CR's professed interest in family preservation prompted us to tweet back:

"Group calling itself Children's Rights fights child welfare cuts in CT, but what about Michigan?"

In a two-tweet response to our pressure, CR replied:

"And we're really not happy to see Michigan -- where we're involved in a massive reform effort -- cutting prevention"

"We'll have more on the Michigan situation in the coming days/weeks. Stay tuned..."

Nearly three weeks later: Nothing.

No marching back into court to help Michigan children the way CR claims to be helping Connecticut children. No news conferences from the oh-so-PR-savvy CR in Detroit and Lansing denouncing budget cuts. Not even a press release expressing outrage.

In fact, as far as I can tell there hasn't been a peep – or a tweet – from CR.

This isn't the only time CR has failed to tweet and deliver.

Another tweet led readers to this excellent op ed column by Prof. Vivek Sankaran of the University of Michigan Law School, concerning the appalling lack of adequate defense counsel for birth families. CR tweeted:

"shameful: Michigan family torn apart as a parent is denied access to legal representation."

Nice of them to say. But what about action? What's really shameful is the fact that the Michigan settlement doesn't have a word about improving legal representation for families caught in the child protective services web. As far as I know, neither does any CR settlement.

So once again CR is making its priorities clear.

As for CR's suggestion they actually might try to do something about the Michigan cuts: It's not as if there's a lot of time. The first round of budget cuts already has taken effect. So isn't it time for CR to show it's more than all tweet, no action?