Monday, September 12, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: How Marcia Lowry helped make Michigan’s poor families even poorer

Not since Newt Gingrich suggested throwing poor people’s children into orphanages has anyone stated the connection between plunging families deeper into poverty and taking away their children more bluntly than a spokeswoman for the Governor of Michigan did last week.

The comments are in a New York Times story about the impact of state budget cuts on the poorest families.  According to the story:

Here in Michigan, more than 11,000 families received letters last week notifying them that in October they will lose the cash assistance they have been provided for years. Next year, people who lose their jobs here will receive fewer weeks of state unemployment benefits, and those making little enough to qualify for the state’s earned income tax credit will see a far smaller benefit from it.

But don’t worry, says a spokeswoman for the Governor -- just look what we’ve done instead:

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican in his first term, said his efforts had focused on creating an economic climate in the state for more and better jobs, while also protecting and even enhancing core safety-net services like Medicaid, she said.  Ms. Wurfel added that the state had, for instance, hired hundreds of new child welfare workers. [Emphasis added.]

So you see, there’s really no problem at all.  When the parents can’t afford food, clothing or shelter for the kids, Michigan’s newly-hired child abuse investigators will be ready and waiting to take the kids away!

The version of the story on the Times website included a link to this press release about the hiring.  The release also touted a claim that  Michigan is doing even more to speed up the process of getting those children it takes away adopted.

What the Times story doesn’t mention, and the reporter almost certainly didn’t know, is the role of one person in helping to plunge more Michigan families deeper into poverty, despair, and the possible loss of their children: Marcia Lowry.

Marcia is the founder and executive director of the group that so arrogantly calls itself Children’s Rights (CR).  It was their dreadful settlement of a class-action lawsuit that calls for the child abuse investigator / foster care worker hiring binge.

Yes, that’s the same settlement that has led to the expulsion of at least 1,500 children in kinship foster care from the homes of their grandparents and other relatives because those relatives couldn’t comply with ten single-spaced pages of hypertechnical licensing requirements.

Did Marcia demand that the hiring binge be financed by slashing benefits for poor people?  Of course not.  The problem is, her settlement did nothing to prevent it.  The settlement included no provision requiring the state to maintain its already meager level of help for poor families.  The settlement did not even include a “maintenance of effort” provision requiring the state to maintain programs specifically targeted at child abuse prevention and family preservation.  So those were cut back, too.

Marcia Lowry is not an idiot.  She had to know that a state in desperate financial straits would finance her settlement by taking the money from those least able to fight back.

Apparently, she just didn’t care.

The Marcia Lowry who demonstrated she once understood the value of families, even poor families, is long gone.  As I wrote on this Blog two years ago:

More than 20 years ago, Marcia brought to a Congressional hearing the lead plaintiff in one of her class-action lawsuits – a 12-year-old named Boyd, forced to endure five years in foster care just because his mother lacked adequate housing. At the time Marcia was crusading to enforce a 1980 law requiring "reasonable efforts" to keep families together.

''Boyd's mother had a difficulty, not a very serious difficulty, but it took her five years to get her children back,'' Marcia testified, according to a New York Times story. ''There was never any question of abuse with this family. These are children who are supposed to be protected by this very fine legislation. But reasonable efforts were not made in this case or in thousands of cases.''

And then the Times quoted Boyd: ''They took almost five years away from my life," he said, "and I'm only 12.''…

I have no doubt that, were a child like Boyd to show up at CR's offices today, their reaction would boil down to: "Go 'way kid, ya bother me."

Back when she brought Boyd to testify before Congress, Marcia’s organization was a project of the American Civil Liberties Union.  But that didn’t last.  Marcia told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that she left the ACLU in part because too much of what the ACLU did was tied to a “liberal agenda.”  Leaving the ACLU also may have made her more appealing to Carl Icahn, the corporate raider who once chaired her Board of Directors.

Marcia likes to say that she doesn’t know how to fix poverty, but she knows how to fix foster care.  In fact, notwithstanding the disgusting love fest in federal court in July, Marcia has made Michigan foster care worse.   Entries into foster care are increasing – and that doesn’t even include all the children already in foster care with grandparents who were kicked out of those homes and placed with strangers.

And now, once again, she is helping to make poverty worse, too.

So while Marcia hobnobs with celebrities at CR’s next glitzy fundraiser, thousands more Michigan families will be trying to figure out how to put food on the table, and keep those newly-hired child abuse investigators away from the door.