Sunday, July 31, 2011

Foster care in Texas: A CASA rubs salt in families’ wounds

This paragraph in this post concerning a CASA chapter in Kansas contains language some people may find offensive.  I certainly hope so.

            Though the overwhelming majority of volunteers in the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program have only the best of intentions, there are times when  the arrogance, the insensitivity, and the sheer cruelty of some CASAs boggles the mind.
            ●There was the CASA in Indiana, a state which, year after year sees the number of children torn from their families escalate and which tears apart families at a rate well above the national average, who insists that

CASA seems to be the counter-balance against a social service system hell-bent on keeping children with their very inadequate families--or putting them into a foster care system where their childhoods will be wasted while their parents “get their acts together."

            But then this CASA doesn’t need facts, because

I can safely and humbly say that there is no one I have ever known who is more familiar than I, on a personal and professional level, with the needs of children who live in families who struggle to rear them.

            I wonder what she says when she’s not being humble?

            ●Then there’s the CASA chapter in Kansas which raised money through an annual Men in Tights drag queen contest.  In 2008, a local mayor won after  dressing up as a woman he named "Smellishis Poon." The "surname" is, in the words of a story in the paid archive of the Arkansas City Traveler, "graphic slang for a female private part." So is the name the mayor chose for his back-up dancers. They were called the "Red Hot Puntangs." Oh, and one more thing: The mayor did his act made up in blackface.

            ●And now there’s Alicia Cardenas, director of the CASA chapter that serves Brownsville, Texas.  She was interviewed in a Brownsville Herald story about a succession of tragic deaths of children in the area.  But these were not children who were beaten, or tortured or starved. 

            So far, charges have been filed in only one of the cases, involving a child left in a hot van.  But even in these cases, a study found that parents were far more likely to be prosecuted if they were poor.

            Another case involved a two-year-old who, the county sheriff says, was “momentarily” out of the mother’s sight when he ingested gasoline from a tube attached to the gas tank of a lawnmower.  A third involved a 13-year-old who broke his neck while jumping and sliding on an inflatable swimming pool.

            Perhaps saddest of all is the death of eight-year-old Anay Alamillo.  Here’s how the Herald told the story today:

Anay, a smart, ambitious girl, died May 31 when she stepped on a live wire in her backyard and was electrocuted. She reportedly was wet from swimming in a neighbor’s pool.

Her family is dealing with more than their grief — they said Child Protective Services is requiring them to fix several things with their trailer if they want to continue living there.

Alamillo said they cannot afford the repairs, so he, his wife and three children have been living with family members for more than a month now.  “They told us they would help us ask for emergency housing, but we haven’t heard from them again,” he said.

He describes his late daughter with reverence.  “She knew more things than us. I was surprised at how she expressed herself, her ideas,” Alamillo said.

No charges have been filed in the case.

If the behavior of Texas CPS sounds familiar, it is, of course, because of the recent case in Houston, where no harm at all had come to any of the children, but, instead of helping with housing, the agency tore apart the family.

The Herald sought responses to the deaths from a number of officials.  The most compassionate was the sheriff.  The cruelest was Ms. Cardenas, from CASA.  I'm sure even she is well-motivated; truly believing that what she does helps children.  But that didn't stop her from offering up a heaping helping of salt to rub in the families’ wounds, including a litany of horror stories utterly unrelated to the deaths that were the subject of the story.

After acknowledging that “Accidents do happen.  I’m not blaming the parents or saying it’s their fault,” Cardenas turns around and says that too many parents “lack common sense.” 

It’s downhill from there.  The Herald story continues:

“Should they not have children? Well, that’s not for us to say. We live in a great country where we’re full of rights,” she said.  … Cardenas urged parents to live up to their responsibilities. Otherwise, parents owe it to their children to ask for help from organizations like CASA, she said. “…[P]ride needs to be set aside if you really care.”

After all, look at how helpful CPS was to the Alamillo family.

And then, a final twist of the knife for all those grieving families:

“We want the children to be reunified with their parents. But, sometimes the parents — honestly — don’t care,” she said. “It’s sad, but true. People become infuriated with my statements, but it’s the truth.”

As is discussed in detail on one of the most popular pages on the NCCPR website, the largest, most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that CASA prolongs needless foster care and reinforces the racial and class biases of the child welfare system.  According to the trade journal Youth Today, CASA’s efforts to spin the findings “can border on duplicity.”

Given what’s gone on in Indiana, Kansas, and Texas, that should come as no surprise.