By now I hope everyone concerned about child welfare has read the brilliant New York Times story “Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow.’” The story is filled with searing accounts of children harmed by needless removal from their parents, largely because those parents are poor.
As you think about the story please also think about this: The child welfare system in New York City actually is better than most. There has been a careful, steady decline in the number of children taken from their families – with no compromise of safety. In fact, in recent years, child safety has improved. (Full details are in our report on New York City child welfare.)
The decline is interrupted every few years by a foster-care panic; there is one going on in New York City right now. But even with the panic, New York City is likely to continue to take away children at a lower rate than most states and most big cities.
NCCPR compares the propensity of states, and of big cities, to take children from their homes by comparing entries into care to the number of impoverished children in the jurisdiction. So consider this:
● Children in Los Angeles are more than twice as likely to endure the kinds of tragedies inflicted on New York City children – L.A. tears apart families at more than double the rate of New York City.
● In Philadelphia these tragedies are three times as likely to occur as in New York City. That’s also true in the state of Oregon.
● Arizona? Four times as likely.
● In South Dakota, where appalling bias in child welfare was exposed by NPR? Also four times as likely. Same with Nebraska. North Dakota is even worse.
● Iowa? Five times as likely. Same with Indiana.
● Among the more amazing, and obnoxious responses to the Times story was a tweet from a bastion of unoriginal thinking known as the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota. The tweet referred to how the Times story described “The New York City practice of foster care as punishment” as though this were some isolated practice limited to the big city that would never be countenanced in wholesome, progressive Minnesota. But the rate of child removal in Minnesota is more than six times the rate of New York City.
● The only time people in Minnesota should brag is when comparing their state to Alaska or Vermont - where the rate of removal is about eight times the rate of New York City.
So the real question for child welfare officials in these states and many more is: When are you going to do something about your Jane Crow foster care systems?