Friday, April 16, 2010

The Mass. Foster care Mclawsuit: Did CR even read its own legal papers?

OK, it's a rhetorical question. Somebody must have read them before they were filed. But here's why I ask:

I often cite studies showing that, in typical cases, children left in their own homes typically do better than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care. Understandably, some people are skeptical. After all, the studies deal in numbers; and they just don't seem to jibe with gut instinct. If only there were some concrete examples.

Well, here's an example. Adam was taken from his mother "at a very young age" on a charge of "neglect" – there is no further description of what his mother allegedly failed to do. But we know that by age 16 Adam had been:

Rushed into an adoption by a couple who brutally abused him.

Separated from his siblings.

Placed, at age 13 in a residential treatment center for sex offenders even though he was not a sex offender.

Brutally beaten by a group of teenagers allegedly organized into a "fight club" by a staffer at the RTC.

Repeatedly raped by another boy in the program. When he cried for help, Adam said, staff would turn up the volume of the television to drown out his cries.

Or how about the case of Seth?

He and his brothers were taken from their mother because their home was unsanitary, the mother had "mental health issues" and Seth allegedly had been left alone unsupervised when he was eight years old. (The length of time he was alone is not specified.) The children's mother was overwhelmed by the problems of three sons, all with learning disabilities. And Seth had been abused sexually, by a former boyfriend of the mother.

Instead of giving Seth's mother the help she needed to cope, Seth and his brothers were taken away. Seth immediately was institutionalized and the brothers were separated from each other. They're rarely allowed even to see each other. The child welfare agency moved quickly to terminate parental rights, but assigned Seth a goal of long term foster care. And that's all he's gotten, having been moved over and over from home to home.

And then there's Rakeem. He was taken from his parents "in large part due to educational neglect" – that's the allegation that the highly-respected Vera Institute of Justice says generally doesn't even belong in the child welfare system at all.

By now, Rakeem's education has suffered from at least as much neglect, probably more.

And that was just the beginning. He was separated from his siblings and rarely even gets to see them. From the moment of his removal he was treated like a criminal, placed in a foster home that was more like house arrest, then moved from placement to placement and ultimately institutionalized.

When the institution offered to provide transportation so Rakeem at least could have regular visits with his family the child welfare agency said no. Instead, they used visits as leverage, saying Rakeem couldn't have more until his "behavior" improved. Even the Child Welfare League of America says visits never should be used for reward and punishment. (And, as it happens, though not stated explicitly, it appears the cause of Rakeem's behavior problems was how much he missed his family.)


So, where do all these stories of needless removal come from? Where did I read about all these cases in which taking away the children made their lives far worse? Where did I find all these examples that make clear why the studies keep showing that, in typical cases, children do better when left in their own homes?

They all come from the same place: Adam, Seth and Rakeem are "named plaintiffs" in the lawsuit filed yesterday against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families by the group that so arrogantly calls itself Children's Rights.

These cases also help explain why Massachusetts takes away children at a rate nearly 50 percent above the national average.

(At the same time, another named plaintiff illustrates how, when you overload your system with children who don't belong in foster care, workers don't have time to make good decisions in any case: This child was the victim of severe physical abuse in her own home. There is no question removal was justified. And yes, that was the one case among the named plaintiffs in which DCF actually tried returning the child home.)

And yet, as usual with CR's lawsuits, the Complaint offers only deafening silence on the issue of wrongful removal. There is not one word about the problem of Massachusetts taking away children needlessly. Curbing such wrongful removal is nowhere listed among the demands for "relief" at the end of the Complaint. There is not one word suggesting that CR realizes that Adam, Seth and Rakeem probably could have remained safely in their own homes had their parents gotten the right kinds of help.

Similarly, in listing the causes for the high rate of abuse in Massachusetts foster care, the Complaint lists every possible cause except the obvious: When you take away too many children, you have no place to put them. That encourages lowering standards for foster parents, and willful blindness to abuse in foster care. Taking too many children also explains why, as the Complaint notes, DCF winds up doing things like placing an asthmatic foster child with smokers

Instead there is only the usual list of CR's obsessions and failed solutions: Hire lots more caseworkers, recruit more foster homes and, of course, give the foster parents a big pay raise. Such solutions will only siphon away scarce funds that should be used to help all the other Adams Seths and Rakeems in Massachusetts stay safely in their own homes.


And that's not the only way the stories of the named plaintiffs contradict the rest of the lawsuit.

From the moment he was removed from his home Rakeem begged to be placed with his grandmother. He mentioned it over and over – until his grandmother died, at which point DCF wouldn't even let Rakeem attend her funeral.

Yet, as noted in yesterday's post to this Blog, even as CR complains that DCF isn't doing enough to place children with relatives, CR also is seeking to put further barriers in the way of kinship care placements, bringing its obsession with "licensing" – the one that's done so much harm in Michigan – to Massachusetts.

But then, cognitive dissonance is nothing new at CR.

At about the same time CR was pressuring Tennessee to repeal a law that would have slightly curbed entries into foster care, CR's Executive Director, Marcia Lowry was telling the Philadelphia Daily News:

"I've been doing this work for a long time and represented thousands and thousands of foster children, both in class-action lawsuits and individually, and I have almost never seen a child, boy or girl, who has been in foster care for any length of time who has not been sexually abused in some way, whether it is child-on-child or not."

Back in 2003, Marcia warned Congress that

"… Congress should realize that far too many states … when they do, for example, raise their adoption numbers, are doing so by including many clearly inadequate families … along with the genuinely committed, loving families who want to make a home for these children, just to 'succeed' by boosting their numbers."

But that hasn't stopped her from including adoption quotas in some of her lawsuits.

Maybe it can be their new slogan: "'Children's Rights': Unencumbered by logic since 1995."