Sunday, March 20, 2011

Not OK: CR’s double standards for measuring abuse in foster care

The group that so arrogantly calls itself Children’s Rights (CR) has put out a press release concerning a report it commissioned from an outside expert, John Goad, concerning foster care in Oklahoma.

The findings are indeed horrifying.  They suggest a pattern of willful blindness to widespread abuse in substitute care in Oklahoma, especially in group homes and institutions.

For some reason, one division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services investigates abuse in family foster homes while another, known as the Office of Client Advocacy (OCA) investigates it in group homes and institutions. 

That latter division, in particular, is the Keystone Kops of child welfare, according to the report.  According to CR’s press release, these “investigators”

do not specialize in child welfare or receive adequate training on how to investigate abuse or neglect. Investigations of harm in institutions and group homes “lack any sense of urgency, are haphazard, and superficial,” wrote Goad. “OCA’s failure to conduct even marginally adequate child protection investigations for this vulnerable population is far outside any reasonable standard.”

While it’s always good to have anyone point out the severe risk of abuse in foster care, as so often happens when it comes from CR, the press release leaves that strong, bitter aftertaste of hypocrisy.

That’s because there is not one word in CR’s lawsuit about the problem at the heart of so much abuse in foster care: Too much foster care.

Oklahoma takes away children at a rate 40 percent above the national average and more than double the rate in states widely recognized as, relatively speaking, models for keeping children safe.  The more children you take needlessly the greater the temptation to misuse and overuse group homes and institutions and lower standards for foster homes.  States like Oklahoma are begging for beds and beggars can’t be choosers.

So, having concluded that often Oklahoma foster care is hell, CR doesn’t lift a finger to keep more children out of hell in the first place.

But neither the revelations, nor the hypocrisy end there.


It seems that OCA is on a different computer system from the one that compiles data about everything else in Oklahoma child welfare.  So the abuse OCA does manage to find never gets into the statistics it shares with the public, or the statistics it is required to report to the federal government.

CR’s director, Marcia Lowry (or whoever wrote the quote in the press release for her) declared herself appalled:

“It is appalling to hear DHS rely on numbers it knows to be inaccurate at the same time it is completely ignoring the suffering of an entire group of children in its care.” 

That is indeed appalling.  It’s also appalling to see a group that claims defend these children apply one standard for measuring abuse in foster care in one state and another somewhere else.  Because in this case, CR’s hypocrisy extends all the way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, CR already has a settlement.  When the agreement first was reached in 2002, NCCPR pointed out in an op ed column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (available in the newspaper’s paid archive) that a key weakness in the settlement was the lack of independent monitoring.  We wrote:

It wasn’t that long ago that …[CR] alleged widespread falsification of case records in Milwaukee.  Yet now, CR proposes to rely on the alleged falsifiers to provide accurate information …

And sure enough, CR is doing just that.  The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare has examined itself and proclaimed that abuse in foster care is at an all-time low!   And what was CR’s response? No request for independent verification, much less the kind of study done in Oklahoma.  Instead, CR simply took the child welfare agency’s word for it and sang the agency’s praises.  According to the Journal Sentinel, CR attorney Eric Thompson declared that:

"The bureau has made tremendous progress transforming its child welfare system over the last several years improving the basic safety and well-being of the many vulnerable children in its care.”

What accounts for the difference?

Perhaps it’s because CR still is suing in Oklahoma, so they need ammunition.  In Milwaukee they’ve settled and need to show donors they’ve accomplished something.