Tuesday, March 29, 2011

UPDATED, 7:15PM ET: Foster care in Texas: CR's latest McLawsuit won't help


While it may have come as a surprise to some in the state, readers of this Blog have known for nearly a year that the next target for a McLawsuit from the group that so arrogantly calls itself Children’s Rights would be Texas. 

The Texas child welfare system is every bit as bad as CR says it is in its Complaint.   Indeed, we cited many of the same problems in our own report on Texas child welfare in 2005.  And, as always, CR has good intentions. But, of course, the lawsuit won’t solve the problems, and might even make the Texas system worse.  

That’s because, as always, CR ignores the elephant in the room: the urgent need to reduce the number of children taken from their parents needlessly in the first place.  CR actually has thwarted efforts to reduce wrongful removal in other states, including Georgia Tennessee, and, most recently, Oklahoma.

And its recent settlements actually are worse than those it negotiated in previous years.  Most notorious is Michigan, where the settlement has made the child welfare system worse.  Among other things, the settlement has led to the expulsion of nearly 1,800 children from the homes of grandparents and other relatives.   It’s also led to a foster care worker / child abuse investigator hiring binge – funded by cutting prevention and family preservation.

Texas tried that back in 2005.  The result: The same lousy system, only bigger.  More hiring only works when it’s part of a comprehensive reform plan that emphasizes safe, proven programs to keep families together. 

As always with a CR suit, there is a deafening silence on the issue of keeping children safely out of foster care in the first place.

That is all the more astounding in light of what happened to some of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

In the case of A.M., for example, (Complaint, p. 15) all the horrors she endured in foster care began when she was taken from her mother, not because the mother abused or neglected her, but because the witnessed domestic violence – a fight among her mother and the mother’s current and former boyfriends.

But while witnessing domestic violence can be harmful to children, tearing them away from their mothers is far, far worse.  That was documented in detail in a class-action lawsuit that banned the practice of taking away children in these cases in New York City.  The section of the judge’s decision summarizing the research, with a link to the full decision, is on our website here. (Of course this lawsuit was not brought by CR.  My organization’s volunteer vice president was co-counsel for the plaintiffs.)

One expert called taking away a child under these circumstances “tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.”  In Texas, it seems, as in much of the country, the policy in these cases boils down to “please pass the salt” – and this lawsuit does absolutely nothing about it.

Read the Complaint to see all of the horrors that befell A.M. after she was needlessly removed – including, by the way, repeatedly witnessing domestic violence in one of her foster homes.  Only unlike in the home or her own mother, in the foster home, A.M. was abused as well.

CR proposes to do nothing about this – even as the Houston Chronicle is reporting on how a judge blasted Texas CPS for an egregious case of wrongful removal and misleading the court, and the Dallas Morning News has a huge story (behind its paywall) about the harm done to families by the state’s central registry of alleged child abusers.

Fighting the lawsuit also is the wrong answer.  While someone quoted in the Dallas Morning News story about the lawsuit was wrong in claiming CR has never lost, (and the News reporter never checked) they rarely lose.  But they don’t really win either.  They settle.  And the hyperbureaucratic, hypertechnical settlements often drag on for years, sometimes decades with little improvement and, as noted above, sometimes the settlements make things worse.

The other problem with the people at CR is their love of bureaucracy.  More forms!  More paperwork!  More training manuals! Move more boxes around on tables of organization!  A columnist in Connecticut reported that CR’s settlement there (which hasn’t fixed that system in 20 years) included creation of training manuals including one specifying that classrooms where training takes place have wastebaskets.   The people at CR are like the clerk you least want to see when you finally make it to the front of the line at the DMV.

So the only hope for Texas children is if the state is smart enough to hold out for a better settlement than usually is negotiated with CR – one that emphasizes safe, proven alternatives to taking away children.

Such settlements turned Illinois and Alabama into, relatively speaking, national models for keeping children safe.  (Another volunteer NCCPR Board member was co-counsel for plaintiffs in the Alabama suit).  There are many posts about CR and its failures on NCCPR’s Child Welfare Blog.  They’re grouped here  And there’s an overview of CR’s failed approach on our second report on Michigan child welfare.  See the section called “The children wronged by Children’s Rights” starting on page 30.


A few other notes from the lawsuit Complaint:

● Buried at the very end is something that should scare every grandparent in Texas who is serving as a kinship foster parent: CR wants the court to force all such grandparents, and other relatives, to become licensed.  That, of course, is exactly what caused the disaster in Michigan.

● In spite of the facts concerning one of their own named plaintiffs, A.M., CR refuses to acknowledge that any foster child anywhere in Texas was wrongfully removed.  The Complaint falsely claims that all Texas foster children were abused or neglected.  According to the Complaint, the children “have been doubly traumatized: first by the abuse and neglect that brought them into foster care, and second by their treatment at the hands of their state custodians.”  Abuse in foster care is referred to as “further maltreatment” and “further trauma.”

That is a betrayal of A.M. and all the other Texas children who were abused and neglected only by “their state custodians.”

● CR also makes clear its priorities for what should happen to children after they are removed.  The word “reunification” appears seven times in the Complaint.  The word “adoption” appears 47 times, and gets its own subsection.