Monday, January 2, 2012

Child welfare in America: Important stories from Iowa, Chicago, D.C. and Michigan

UPDATE, JANUARY 3: If you've had an experience with child protective services in IOWA, and are willing to share your story publicly, using your real name, the columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette whose work is discussed below invites you to post to this open thread on her Blog.

           The year 2011 ended with some excellent journalism about child welfare across the country.

            Last September, the Center for the Study of Social Policy issued a report on the racial bias that permeates child welfare in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  That’s no surprise.  Iowa tears apart families of all races at one of the highest rates in the nation, four times the rate of neighboring Illinois, when rates of child poverty are factored in.  (Of course it’s Illinois where independent monitors say the emphasis on family preservation has improved child safety.)

            Across the country, states with the highest rates of removal also typically are among those with the worst rates of racial bias. Iowa is a case in point; South Dakota is another.
            Now, Jennifer Hemmingsen, a columnist for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids is telling some of the stories behind the statistics.  There’s an overview here, then a story about a perfectly fit father denied custody of his child.   That’s followed by a story about how the man’s extended family was turned down as well.  The child was adopted by strangers. 

            The New York Times has a very good story from its news-gathering partner, the Chicago News Cooperative, about cases in which adoption is not always the happily-ever-after it’s cracked up to be – particularly when the state stops paying the adoptive parents. NCCPR predicted this would happen in 1997, when Congress passed the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act which reinforced the take-the-child-and-run mentality in much of American child welfare, and threw in bounties to states for adoptions – bounties the states can keep even when the adoption fails.  We have some context for the Times story, including what little is known about the extent of the problem on our website here.

            For an excellent overview of how American child welfare got into this mess, and some of the ways to fix it, check out this Blog at the Huffington Post from Prof. Matthew Fraidin of the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.

            Another law professor, Vivek Sankaran of the University of Michigan Child Advocacy Law Clinic wrote an excellent op ed column for the Detroit Free Press on the widespread confusion of poverty with “neglect” in Michigan – a problem made worse by the state’s dreadful settlement with the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights.”  Sadly, Oklahoma soon may be headed for a similar fate.