Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Child welfare solutions: Paging Captain Obvious

Two recent child welfare columns in the Chronicle of Social Change (the Fox News of child welfare) this publication make me wonder if Captain Obvious has taken early retirement.


Jim Kenny has posted a series of columns on the appalling problem of false allegations of child abuse and lack of due process – for foster parents.
He makes some good points. So good that I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting most of three paragraphs from one of his columns, exactly as they appeared originally – except for the deletion of a single word:

In an understandable attempt to protect a child from abuse and neglect, our child welfare systems have placed foster parents in a difficult position. To encourage reporting of child endangerment, anonymity is granted to the accuser. Minimal standards of proof are accepted. Hearsay is allowed. Often, what the case manager believes to be credible is enough to initiate some action. The child may be removed …

 As the most vulnerable party, the child’s well-being is the number one priority. Yet the child’s needs are not necessarily contrary to those of the foster parent. In fact, an unexamined precipitous separation of the child from his foster family may be harmful. In many ways, the child’s best interests and those of the foster family are tied together. …

 Foster parents deserve better treatment than the substantiation of unproven charges based upon hearsay. We can still protect the child while providing fosterparents with all the rights that our legal system guarantees.

When foster parents tell me about their ill-treatment I always say the same thing: The system really needs you. If that’s how they treat you, how do you think they treat the birth parents?

Think about that long enough, and you might start to do what former fosterparent Mary Callahan did – start questioning what child welfare agencies told her about the children they were placing with her.

And then you might want to reconsider whether all those children really need to be taken away at all. You might even consider reforms like providing all parents with “all the rights that our legal system guarantees.” Because it turns out, that’s the best way to protect children.


Marie Cohen has a different complaint. She thinks this is the wrong way to spend $31 million:

The $31 million budget proposal would address the issue [of foster parents finding child care for their foster children] by setting aside money for six-month emergency child care vouchers for foster parents caring for children ages 0 to 3 … Navigators would help foster parents negotiate the state’s byzantine subsidized child care system and help them avoid childcare gaps.

 Ridiculous! says Cohen. Instead, spend the money paying foster parents to stay home with the children.

You don’t suppose, if we all think really hard, we can come up with a third option for spending that $31 million in child care funds – such as helping birth parents find child care? You know, for those cases where the charge that led to removal of the children was “lack of supervision.”  Or the cases in which parents stayed home with the kids, lost their jobs, got evicted and lost their children for lack of housing? Or the cases in which all the stress of finding child care and housing and food and medical care and on and on and on led parents to lash out at their children?

And if you’re wondering if such an obvious alternative could be sufficiently “evidence-based,” consider this study of the amazing transformative power of something even simpler: cash. [UPDATE: And this study, too.]

Please, Captain Obvious, come back soon.