Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Congratulations, Tampa Bay Times, you got just what you wanted (aside from the part where the child dies in foster care, of course).

“When in doubt, take the kid from abusive home,” said the headline on the Tampa Bay Times editorial on September 29.

“Take the kid,” the editorial begins.

That is once again the lesson from another death in Florida that could have been avoided if child welfare workers would have erred on the side of caution rather than on keeping a dysfunctional family together.

It is at least the second such editorial in the Times, which marches in lockstep with the Miami Herald – creating a near monopoly on child welfare reporting in Florida, and shutting out almost all dissent.

In fact, the Florida child welfare system already has been following the Times’ advice, with a vengeance. Statewide, removals of children from their homes are up 19 percent since March, 2014, when the Miami Herald ran its exercise in journalistic demagoguery Innnocents Lost. The number of children trapped in foster care on any given day is up 31 percent.

And even as that Times editorial was written, an infant named Kwon McGee was in the Tampa Bay area foster home where he would lose his life.

As far as I can tell his death has not even been covered by the Times.

From the story on the television station’s website:

It all started on July 29 when [the child’s mother, Shira] Sangamuang gave birth at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater and social workers began talking to her about where she would live after she left the hospital. Sangamuang was unemployed and broke and needed temporary shelter, but had plans to move to Connecticut with Kwon to live with her mother. 
Days later, those same social workers came to the Travelers Inn in Clearwater where Sangamuang was staying and demanded that she hand over Kwon. “She’s like, well two officers, two sheriffs came up and said, ‘look ma’am if you don’t give me your baby, I will arrest you and take you to jail and you will no longer have your baby,’” Sangamuang said. 
The baby ended up in the care of foster parents in Pasco County while Sangamuang tried to arrange for counseling and other directives ordered by a judge to get her child back.

OK, let’s stop there for a moment. Why was the mother forced to get counseling? What she needed was housing and a job.

Now, back to the story:

The child’s father, Ladell McGee, was away when Kwon was born and says he never had a chance to see his son.

The reason for that is, of course, that the son is dead.

Again, from the WFLA-TV story:

The family’s rough patch turned utterly tragic Oct. 24, when the foster parent reported putting Kwon down to sleep in an adult bed after a feeding and later found him unresponsive. 
[Eckerd Connects, the private agency that runs child welfare foster care in the county] says the foster parents failed to follow Eckerd’s baby safety checklist that says all infants should sleep in a crib with a firm mattress and tight-fitting sheets without other materials that might suffocate a baby. 
“Our guidelines weren’t followed in this particular case and that’s the tragedy here. We feel this death could have been prevented if the child had been put in a crib,” Tobin said. …

This death also could have been prevented had Eckerd Connects or the Florida Department of Children and Families or the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which does child abuse investigations in that county, simply said: Hey, wait a minute, all this mom needs is a rent subsidy and help to find a job – or simply some cash so she could move to Connecticut.

When anecdotes collide …

To conclude that this one case “proves” Florida is taking away too many children would be to make the same mistake as the Herald and the Times keep making – reaching sweeping conclusions based on horror stories.  When anecdotes collide, it’s time to look at the data.

What proves that Florida is taking away too many children is the fact that, when Florida took fewer children independent monitors found that child safety improved – a pattern that has been repeated across the country in the few places that have embraced safe, proven alternatives to foster care.

Rushing to “take the kid” is not erring on the side of caution – it is a profoundly reckless act.  Of course most children won’t pay the ultimate price, as Kwon McGee did. But they will pay a price.  The research is clear that in typical cases, even when there has been maltreatment – and there was none in this case – children left in their own homes typically fare better even than comparably maltreated children in foster care.

And while this child apparently died as a result of a tragic accident, study after study has found high rates of abuse in foster care – another reason not to throw children there just because their parents are poor.

So why did the caseworkers and the sheriff’s deputies ignore the research? Why did they so easily confuse poverty with “neglect” They probably were too terrified of being the subject of the next front page story in the Miami Herald or the next editorial in the Tampa Bay Times demanding they “take the kid.”

So they took the kid.

Now the kid is dead.