Saturday, April 2, 2016

Child abuse commission: Surge? What surge? Michael Petit runs from his own rhetoric

Graphic by Murdocke23
The so-called Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities is gone. But the dysfunction that characterized its work – and made it resemble perfectly the child welfare system it studied – lives on.

First the commission chair, David Sanders, attempted to defend its work in the Chronicle of Social Change.  In the process, he dismissed the scathing dissent written by Cook County Judge Patricia Martin, the presiding judge of the Court’s Child Protection Division.  So Judge Martin wrote a response to Sanders’ column. 

In that response, she criticized the Commission’s signature recommendation, known for most of its history at the Commission as “the surge.”  At this Commission meeting alone, it was called a “surge” at least 45 times. As we explain in our own report on the Commission’s many failures, this recommendation calls for encouraging or requiring (it’s not clear which) states to go back and review every child abuse fatality over the past five years looking for common “risk factors.”

Then a “multi-disciplinary team” would be sent out into the field to re-investigate any open case that allegedly had even one such risk factor – thereby re-traumatizing the children who’d already been investigated - and probably leading to many more children being needlessly removed from their homes.

The surge is a wonderful name for this recommendation, since it conjures up images of police actions and people forcing their way into other people’s homes.  (Some Commissioners actually wanted to call it an “accelerant” – apparently not realizing that this term is commonly used for something that spreads an arson fire.) 

Realizing the problems with this kind of blunt and accurate terminology, the Commission instructed staff to find some way to put lipstick on a pig – i.e. find a euphemism. They came up with “retrospective review.” That’s why the word “surge” does not appear in the Commission’s final report. 

The Commission split over how to pay for this.  One group called for recommending the expenditure of $1 billion in federal funds.  At that same Commission meeting, one member of this group, Michael Petit, referred to this as a “down payment.”

After Judge Martin wrote her column, Petit submitted a column of his own.  He began a part of his critique by writing that “Martin states that our recommended review of cases (incorrectly characterized as a ‘surge’)…” thus leaving the impression that Judge Martin somehow made up the term herself.

Then Petit claims that   “Commissioner Martin mischaracterizes the need for funding reform as a “down payment.”  But Mike, you’re the one who used that term in the first place.

It says a lot about just how bad the Commission recommendations are that Petit has to run away from any language that describes them honestly.

What next, Mike?  Are you going to deny telling a Congressional Committee in 2011 that the states that do the best job preventing and responding to child abuse are the ones with “smaller, whiter populations”?