Monday, October 29, 2018

The failure of residential treatment: An alternative weekly in Washington State asks the questions bigger media won’t

● The questions arise through the story of a 15-year-old boy who walked more than 100 miles in the middle of a Pacific Northwest winter to escape “residential treatment” – and return to his mother - where he is doing well.

 ● A county court commissioner put it best: "Until you can show me that those sorts of institutions work, why would we build another one?"

It's a long way from Spokane, Washington to Libby, Montana. 
But one 15-year-old boy walked most of the way - in the middle of winter -
in order to escape "residential treatment" and return to his mother.


Read the full story from the Spokane alternative weekly Inlander here.

In a previous post to this blog, I wrote about how Washington State’s practice of stashing away foster children in out-of-state institutions, including one where alleged verbal and physical abuse of the residents was exposed in a comprehensive report not by a big news organization but by an advocacy group, Disability Rights Washington.

But one reporter, Wilson Criscione of the Spokane-area alternative weekly Inlander, has done outstanding reporting on this issue; journalism that puts its larger counterparts to shame.  In fact, DRW first found out about Washington State’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind-we-don’t-care-we-don’t-have-to approach to these children thanks to a 2017 story by Criscione exposing problems at an in-state institution, the Excelsior Youth Center.

(And if you think “we-don’t-care-we-don’t-have-to” is a little harsh, check out the full DRW report, including the story of the Washington State caseworker who responded to an institutionalized out-of-state child’s plea to talk to him or her on the phone by replying: “my work phone is not working at the moment.”)

It was probably this paragraph in the Inlander story that prompted DRW to begin asking questions:

For some kids at Excelsior, their behavior only gets worse, and officials take the extreme step of shipping them out of state.
But the Inlander story does much more than reveal the way Washington State throws away foster youth.  It includes the views of those who challenge the entire “master narrative” crafted by the Washington State child welfare agency and the state’s major media: that there are some children for whom residential treatment is the only alternative, and that only children with the most severe problems are institutionalized.

It does all this by telling the story of Timothy Moore, a 15-year-old who escaped being shipped out of state by running away – back to the mother who never should have had to give him up in the first place.  It also tells the larger story of the failure of institutionalization in general and in Washington State in particular.

The story of Tim Moore

Tim Moore was born in Montana. He was  never beaten or tortured or starved by his mother, Lynnette Haines. Haines’ only crime was to, herself, be a victim of severe beatings by a man from whom she could not get away.  No, Montana did not take Tim away because of that.  But apparently no one helped her either. That left her no choice: At the end of 2013, in the hope it would stop him from getting hurt, Haines sent Tim to live with relatives in Washington State. He was 12-years-old.

But Tim says those relatives beat him with spoons, whipped him with barbed wire – and worse. (The relatives deny it.)

After Tim told a school counselor about being abused, Washington State caseworkers could have searched for Tim’s mother and pressed Montana authorities to provide the help she needed to escape an abusive boyfriend (if she had not escaped already).  Instead they put him in a foster home with strangers. 

But they don’t seem to have done much to help Tim, or the foster parents. Inlander reports that Tim was expelled from school “and therefore expelled from the home.”  A placement with an older sister didn’t work out.  But instead of thinking: Let’s provide Wraparound services to Tim and his sister so they can stay together, caseworkers decided that if they just institutionalized him at Excelsior the “more therapeutic setting” might make him well enough to live with his sister again.

At the institution, everything gets worse

But at Excelsior, everything got worse. Tim felt unsafe, and he felt no one cared about him so he started running away. He committed crimes to survive on the streets.  It happened with a lot of residents, Tim told Inlander. “They’re pretty much turning into criminals on the streets, because Excelsior’s not a good place for kids.”

Tim was jailed. When he was released, Excelsior – whose whole reason for being is supposedly to take in the children with the most severe problems – refused to take the 15-year-old back.  In other words, they were engaging in a common industry practice known as “creaming” – as in skimming the cream.  And unlike some states, which have what are called “no reject, no eject” requirements in their contracts with providers, Washington State apparently allows this.

In this case, Excelsior’s exercise in creaming may have been the best thing that ever happened to Tim.  He was told he’d be sent to Iowa – probably to the place exposed in the DRW report. Instead he ran away. He found out his mother was living 160 miles away, in Libby, Montana. 

So he went home. He jumped out of a caseworker’s car and ran away.  He asked strangers for directions.  He hitchhiked part of the way, but mostly he walked, from Spokane, across the Idaho Panhandle, to Montana, in the middle of winter. He told Inlander he didn’t eat or sleep for three days. He drank water from gas station restroom faucets.

Three-and-a-half days later, Criscione writes,

he showed up on the doorstep of his mother's trailer at 3 am, in the rain, with holes in his shoes, blisters on his feet and tears running down his face.

And how did all that work out?  As of April, 2017, when the Inlander story was published:

Tim, now 16, lives about as normal a life as he could ask for with his mom in Montana. She bakes cookies when he gets home from school as his little brother plays with Play-Doh. In school, Haines says he's getting A's and B's, and he even corrected his math teacher in front of the class. He has sleepovers with friends, plays sports, and draws pictures that are hung on the fridge. When his mom hears him curse, she warns him about his language. He rolls his eyes and obeys.

One last attempt at state-sanctioned sabotage

But Washington State made one last attempt to sabotage all this.

Incredibly, the state still wanted to institutionalize Tim in Iowa.  Why? Because Haines had a “history” of “exposing” her children to domestic violence.

Of all the reasons to break up a family, witnessing domestic violence is among the very worst – for the children.  As one expert put it, for a child, tearing her or him from a parent whose only crime is to be a domestic violence victim is “tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.”  That’s why in one state, New York, it’s illegal, thanks to a class-action lawsuit. (NCCPR’s Vice President was co-counsel for plaintiffs.)

The solution in cases such as Tim’s is to remove the abuser.  No one helped Haines do that – but by the time Tim found his way back to her, she’d done it herself.

So, as Criscone writes:

[Juvenile Court Commissioner] Rachelle Anderson, presiding over the case, had to choose. Either Tim would be placed in Iowa, as the state recommended, or he'd be allowed to stay with his mom, where he was already doing well in school, did everything his mother asked, and had counseling appointments scheduled.

Fortunately she made the right choice.

All of which prompted Tim’s lawyer, Katie Maucione, to ask the obvious question.

"If a kid like Tim needs a … placement like Excelsior to be successful," she told Criscione,  "then how do we explain his successful and sudden streamlining right back into society?"

The failure of residential treatment

In fact, nobody needs a placement like Excelsior to be successful.  On the contrary, the evidence is overwhelming that such placement does no good and often reduces the chances of success.  Tim’s story offers a classic example of the failure of residential treatment – and why the excuses for continuing to use it don’t stand up for scrutiny.

The director of field operations for the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services at the time, Connie Lambert-Eckel told Inlander that “Excelsior is unique because of its location, its history and the nature of its facility in taking some of the most difficult-to-serve kids in the state.” (Lambert-Eckel has since been promoted.)

But Tim wasn’t really “difficult” until after he had experienced Excelsior. And he stopped being “difficult” as soon as he made his way back to his own mother.  And remember, Excelsior had actually kicked Tim out for supposedly being too difficult. 

So what Lambert-Eckel really is saying is: Excelsior is an easy place to dump kids.

And apparently the dumping can start early.  Inlander notes that that “a 10-year-old girl snuck out of Excelsior and was allegedly raped — twice — by a 13-year-old boy.”  Yes, Washington State is institutionalizing ten year olds.

Yet Lambert-Eckel’s only solution is to build more dumping grounds.  The child welfare agency wants more money, so it can pay the institutions even more than the over $90,000 per year per child that they get now. 

In the year since the Inlander story was published, the state legislature rearranged some deck chairs on its child welfare Titanic and created a separate agency for child welfare.

But in response to the DRW report the new agency offered only the same old same old: We want to pay “providers” more money so we can keep on institutionalizing children, but do it all in-state.

And what kind of results does this $90,000+ per year per child produce?

Turning victims into criminals

From the Inlander story:

Michelle Ressa, a Spokane County court commissioner, suggests that group homes are more likely to call police for something that in a family setting would result in, for instance, a child being grounded. "I have seen examples of kids throwing food, and police being called," Ressa says. "I don't think that would happen with Mom and Dad. … "I haven't seen that what's happening at Excelsior is working for the majority of kids," Ressa says.

It’s not just Excelsior:

Local public defenders who represent these kids say they consistently notice their client's criminal history starting or getting worse once placed in a group home. Mike Elston, a Spokane County public defender, says he has four clients who are group home residents, and together, 90 percent of their pending charges come from incidents against the group home or its employees. For those clients, about half of their criminal history prior to those charges came from group homes.

And it’s not just Washington State.  Karen de Sa of the San Francisco Chronicle found the same thing happening at “shelters” in California.

In the Inlander story, one a public defender cut to the heart of the matter:

Brooke Foley, a Spokane County public defender representing juveniles, says the problem is that kids are put in these group homes, especially Excelsior, in the first place. "I think it's borderline negligence for the state to put them there, when they know this is happening," Foley says.

And how does the director of Excelsior explain the dismal results? It’s all the fault of the kids – or their parents – or maybe their foster parents; anyone but us.  As he explained to Inlander:

Whether or not it happens when they lived with you, or they lived with me, doesn't make you or me the reason they're making negative behavior choices Their choices are a result, again, from their disabilities. Their choices, again, are from their abuse and neglect histories. Their choices, again, are from the learned environment, which was not what we would call orthodox.

But even if that were true, the reason the state is paying places like Excelsior more than $90,000 per year per child is so they’ll actually fix those problems.

Or as Michelle Ressa told Inlander:

Until you can show me that those sorts of institutions work, why would we build another one?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Washington State threw away foster children in an out-of-state institution where, one youth says, you can be punished for trying to wipe away a tear

Clarinda Academy in Iowa, where, according to Disability Rights
Washington, Washington State foster children were verbally and
physically abused.  The big newspapers in both states never noticed.
(Photo from Disability Rights Washington) 

FIRST OF TWO PARTS (Read Part Two here)

● It went on for years while major media in two states were asleep.  It took an alt-weekly in Spokane and an advocacy group to raise the alarm.

● The advocacy group found that Washington State caseworkers knew what was happening – and did nothing.  One refused to even call a child pleading to talk because “my work phone is not working at the moment.”

● They found that Washington State may be violating state law, at least two federal laws, and the United States Constitution.

● The state’s child welfare agency’s clueless response: Spend more to stash children in in-state institutions.

Here’s what Washington State considers the best way to “treat” children who have been taken from their parents and are said to have behavior problems.

● Ship them more than a thousand miles from home.
● Isolate them in an institution run like a prison.
● Subject them to verbal and physical abuse.

Almost as bad as what Washington State has been doing to these children is the state’s response when the abuses were exposed: We’ll stop institutionalizing the children out-of-state – by spending more money to entice “providers” to institutionalize them in-state!

The state’s child protective services agency – and almost all of the media who finally caught up with the story -  missed the point: The problem isn’t that one particular out-of-state institution is abusive – the problem is that institutionalization is inherently abusive – and unnecessary.

The evidence is overwhelming that residential treatment is a failure  (You can read all about that evidence here).  The claims that there are some children for whom nothing else works don’t hold up to scrutiny.  On the contrary, residential treatment “works” only for child welfare agencies – they can stash the children out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Indeed, through an unusual chain of events, the exposure of what was being done to children at an out-of-state institution has its roots in a newspaper expose of failings at a similar institution right in Washington State.  But that expose didn’t come from one of the big players in Washington State journalism – it came from Inlander, a Spokane-area alternative weekly, and reporter Wilson Criscione.

What really works

What actually works for children is Wrapraround – which brings all the help a child needs directly into the child’s own home or a foster home.  This video provides an example of how it works:

But of course, all this was lost on Washington State media – except for Inlander. Instead, Washington State media accepted the state’s promises at face value and blamed the shipping of Washington State foster youth all over the country on what one online news site called “Washington’s long-festering and desperate shortage of foster homes and group homes for youth with behavioral and mental health challenges.”

Wow. Long-festering and desperate.

But that is bull.  Like so many other states, Washington State doesn’t have too few foster parents, Washington State has too many foster children.

While not as bad as, say, neighboring Oregon, Washington State still takes away children at a rate 17 percent above the national average. The rate of removal in Washington State is more than 60 percent above states that are, relatively speaking, national models for keeping children safe by emphasizing safe, proven alternatives to tearing apart families in the first place.

How we know about the abuses

The reason we know about what is being done to children shipped to that jail-like institution has nothing to do with media in Washington State (again except for Inlander as I’ll explain in part two of this post).

The story was not “broken” by any big media organization in Washington State.  And it was not broken by any news organization in Iowa, even though the institution where all these abuses took place – Clarinda Academy - is in Iowa.  Indeed, in Iowa, coverage of this prison-like facility for children who often have committed no crime appears to have been confined largely to reporting the scores of games played by Clarinda’s sports teams.  (And no, the collapse of the newspaper industry is no excuse. That started around 2006. Clarinda opened in 1992.)

So we found out what Washington State has been doing to these children thanks to an advocacy group, Disability Rights Washington (DRW).  Federal law requires states to designate agencies such as DRW to serve as watchdogs for people with disabilities. And they got interested thanks to a story in Inlander.

After DRW did the actdual reporting, Washington State’s largest newspaper, The Seattle Times was reduced to writing a story based entirely on DRW’s findings.  And Iowa’s largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, was reduced to reprinting the Seattle Times story. [UPDATE, November 27, 2018: The Register has now caught up, though the story is fairly thin, with none of the power of DRWs report.]

It was DRW that actually sent investigators to Iowa to find out what was happening to the Washington State children at Clarinda Academy, part of a for-profit chain called Sequel. Among the findings in their comprehensive report:

● Youths were lured into “voluntarily” going to Clarinda by false claims about the place. One foster youth who loves music was told there was a choir – and a swimming pool.  But there was no pool.  And there was no choir. In fact, she wound up in a dorm where young people were not even allowed to sing.

● The no-singing rule is one example of the prison-like rigidity to every aspect of daily life.  Others include having to move from place to place lined up single file, being barred from talking to the opposite gender, almost never being allowed off the facility grounds and severe restrictions on phone calls to friends and families.  Some dorms add on restrictions such as no leaning on walls, no talking during meals, no walking on grass, and no going to the bathroom without permission.

● There is a coercive, almost Orwellian system of exploiting peer pressure to keep the young people in line, complete with “hundreds, if not thousands” of unwritten “norms” the youth have to follow.  (Clarinda officials told DRW their system was modeled on an institution in Pennsylvania, Glen Mills. But even DRW may not know that Glen Mills itself has been the subject of controversy over its discipline practices).

● When peer pressure wasn’t enough, DRW found that Clarinda misused and overused painful physical “restraints”  DRW reports that every student they spoke to “reported that restraints they experienced were physically painful and frequently resulted in back, shoulder, and neck pain for several days or weeks.” 

Restraints were used at Clarinda when residents dared to move or clench their hands during a verbal intervention.  Restraints were used on a student because the student scratched his or her leg.  At Clarinda, one foster youth told Inlander, you can even endure physical restraint if you “raise your hand to wipe a tear.”

● One reason Clarinda could do this is that Iowa’s laws limiting the use of restraints on children are far more lax than those in Washington State. (Perhaps Iowa media should find out why that’s the case.)  Clarinda residents repeatedly described methods of restraint that are illegal in Washington State but perfectly o.k. in Iowa. 

From the Disability Rights Washington report on Clarinda Academy

● To the extent that there may be a problem with past criminal behavior, the problem may rest more with the staff than the residents.  According to DRW “over a third of the twenty-six staff who had participated in restraining Washington youth had convictions for criminal driving offenses or illegal use of alcohol and controlled substances.”

The report also found that the Washington State caseworkers for these Washington State children knew about it – and apparently took no action. 

No Washington State child at Clarinda was visited by her or his Washington State caseworker.  They contract with Iowa workers instead.  According to the DRW report:

Despite numerous statements that Clarinda Academy uses restraints “all the time” as a “consequence” for breaking the rules, “to be on safe side,” or even “for no reason,” Children’s Administration case notes do not document any follow up by Washington social workers to talk with or visit the youth who had reported abusive restraints. DRW found no other evidence that reports by contracted social workers resulted in any action by Washington State to determine whether Clarinda Academy improperly uses restraints in violation of Washington’s own standards …

(Now that the DRW report is public, the state child welfare agency finally is making such visits.)

One telling example of caseworker callousness: When a Washington State caseworker was specifically asked in an email to please call a Clarinda student who  “is having a hard time with restraints and wants to talk about it” the worker replied: “Unfotunately, my work phone is not working at the moment.”

DRW summed it all up this way:

The documentation DRW obtained demonstrates that Washington and Clarinda Academy are both failing to protect against the use of restraints for coercion or punishment for not following expectations. The Academy’s vague policy, generic crisis plans, inconsistent training, and tolerance for various staff misconduct - including tolerance for inappropriate restraints - create a fertile breeding ground for improper practices that would violate both Iowa and Washington rules. 

Making trauma worse

An expert who reviewed the records for DRW, Dr. Gauri Goel, found that being warehoused at Clarinda may have worsened whatever problems the youths had to begin with.  Their treatment at Clarinda “can be potentially harmful to the child over time … the treatment they are receiving is likely to be ineffective and potentially counterproductive in attending to their trauma-related needs.”

The problems are further compounded by being sent so far from home.  “They are being distanced from those who may be able to provide them with a sense of safety and security both within the here-and-now and as potential future caretakers,” Dr. Goel said.

DRW argues that what Washington State does to these children may violate Washington State law, at least two federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the U.S. Constitution.

Now that DRW has exposed what should have been exposed by big news organizations,  Washington State has offered up a depressingly predictable response.

Now, suddenly the agency realizes it really should send caseworkers to meet with the children it’s essentially thrown away out of state.  They’re promising to get all the children “into other situations” by the end of January.

But “other” doesn’t necessarily mean better.  Remember that foster youth who was lured to Clarinda by false promises of a pool and a choir? She’s still institutionalized, but now she’s even farther away in South Carolina.  Perhaps saddest of all, she’s been persuaded that somehow this was her fault and she has to plead with the very people who did this to her.  So, Inlander reports,

"They think I'm going to go back and be a monster in Washington," she says. "All I struggled with was self-harm."
She says she's overcome that and is not letting that define her anymore. She says all she wants to do is graduate school, go to college and help homeless people. She herself wants to be home.
"I want to be there. I can't spend another Christmas Day at placement," she says. "I just can't."

But blaming the victims is Washington State’s entire rationale. 

So the state says the children placed out of state usually have “complex behavioral health challenges that require 24-hour care not feasible in individual foster homes or have other challenging therapeutic needs.”

Again, that’s 100 percent Grade A bull----.  When these children really need to be out of their own homes, family foster homes can work – provided the foster parents are given the intensive help they need – 24 hours a day if necessary.  That’s how Wraparound works.

And if you get the children who don’t need to be in foster care back into their own homes, there will be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for the children who really need to be taken away, provided the state gives the foster parents the intensive support they may need.

But instead of bolstering Wraparound the state proposes to increase pay rates to get more providers to be willing to institutionalize children in Washington State.  (They already pay more than $90,000 per year per child.)

But institutions do not become magically better because they’re in Washington State.  Granted, the rules on restraints are better than those in Iowa, but given how lackadaisical the child welfare agency seems to be, it’s hard to believe much is done to enforce even that. And better rules on restraints doesn’t alter the fact that residential treatment doesn’t work and often does harm.

Indeed, the entire chain of events leading to DRW’s expose actually began with a cover story in Inlander – and much of that story focused on serious problems at a residential treatment center right in Washington State.

That story in part two.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

UPDATED: #CASAsoWhite: A Halloween reminder to CASA: No, it’s not a good idea to raise money by holding a talent show with a blackface act. (And yes, one CASA chapter actually did that.)

We suggest that the National office for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program use this item from The Daily Show as a training video

UPDATE: October 25, 2018: News accounts this morning suggest that NBC is demonstrating the right way to respond to trafficking in racial stereotypes. The so-called Chronicle of Social Change - the Fox News of child welfare still doesn't get it.

UPDATE, October 24, 2018: Responding to Today Show anchor Megyn Kelly’s appalling attempt to justify blackface, (for which she has apologized) her colleague Craig Melvin noted that, as a CNN story put it, “this controversy is an opportunity to inform people — but said most people already knew how offensive blackface is.”

Most people, but apparently not one chapter of that most sacred cow in child welfare Court-Appointed Special Advocates.  Oh, they’ve probably learned in the years since they included a blackface act in a fundraiser, especially since they apparently eventually apologized – but that is just one example of the racial bias that plagues CASA.  And that, of course, raises fundamental questions about the role of CASA in deciding the fate of children who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately children of color. 

So I’m reprinting our blog post on this topic from last Halloween:  

This Halloween, The Daily Show offers a useful history lesson: The topic, why it’s a really bad idea for white people to dress up in blackface:

But the lesson isn’t just useful for Halloween. It’s also something that anyone involved with that most sacred cow of child welfare – Court-Appointed Special Advocates -- needs to know.

CASA is a program in which minimally trained volunteers, overwhelmingly white and middle-class, are assigned to families who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Then they tell judges if the children should be taken from those families, sometimes forever.   That, of course, raises problems of inherent bias.  But some CASA chapters have made their biases depressingly obvious.

Consider what happened nine years ago in Arkansas City, Kansas. To raise funds for the local CASA chapter, they held a talent competition. The winning act featured the mayor of Arkansas City – dressed in blackface.  The head of the local CASA chapter couldn’t understand why that was a problem.   "It wasn't black black," she said. "It was all really just tan." That’s only the beginning. All the awful details are here.

It would be one thing if this were just an isolated example of racial bias. But it’s not.

● There was the CASA chapter in Marin County, California, which fell apart when the state CASA association merely asked that they strive for more diversity among the volunteers.

● There was the appalling racist rant by someone who says he volunteered in a scandal-plagued Washington State CASA program for 20 years.

● There’s the fact that the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that CASA volunteers spend significantly less time on a case if the child to whom they are assigned is Black.

● And then there’s the question of whether the very structure of CASA makes it, in the words of a law review article, “anexercise of white supremacy.”

Showing the Daily Show video won’t solve all these problems; not even close. But it might help prevent the worst excesses of racial bias in CASA programs.

Originally published, Oct. 30, 2017

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

After more than a year, Chronicle of Social Change says a column that bullied an impoverished Black mother with a vicious, vile racial stereotype was “unfortunate.” How very Fox News of them.

It’s been more than a year since the Fox News of child welfare – the so-called Chronicle of Social Change – published a column that bullied an impoverished Black mother by using a vile racial stereotype about sneakers.

Chronicle publisher Daniel Heimpel not only ran the column, he promoted it on his personal Twitter feed.

The Chronicle refused to publish my response, so I published it on this Blog.  The Los Angeles online news site WitnessLA also published it.

Heimpel remained silent.  He even let the same columnist write for him again (that column did not contain any racial stereotypes).

Now, more than a year later, Heimpel finally admits there was a problem with the column that dredged up the racial stereotype.  In a tweet, he declares that the column “was unfortunate. We should have corrected it and will.”  (The tweet said a bit more; I’ll get to that below.)


No, Daniel.  A column that bullies someone who is among society’s least powerful, and uses a crude racial stereotype to do it is shameful.  It is repugnant.  It is reprehensible.  It is far worse than merely “unfortunate.”

And why has it taken you more than a year even to label it "unfortunate"? 

A “correction” is not enough

A “correction” was good enough when that same columnist, again writing about race, falsely claimed that the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare had “quietly suspended its work.”  (Even then, the Chronicle didn’t check the false claim before publishing it, and knew the claim was false for weeks before finally correcting it.)

In contrast, the column that used the stereotype needs more than a “correction” -- whatever that means.  (Does it mean only a small edit to the column which was fully public for weeks but now is behind a paywall?)  It demands a full-throated, unqualified prominent public apology, in front of the paywall on your home page.  Not one of those “Yes, but…” non apology-apologies; the real thing.

Now, about that “whataboutism”?

In his tweet, right after conceding that the vile column was “unfortunate,” Heimpel offers up a classic example of a rhetorical tactic known as “whataboutism” – defined here, perfectly, by John Oliver.

So Heimpel follows his way-too-little way-too-late comment about the column he published and promoted with this: “But you Richard distort the truth habitually. What a lot for you to have chosen.

Fortunately, we live in the age of hyperlinks. Assuming there is at least agreement that the underlying documents are genuine, it’s easy for readers to decide for themselves if an argument is truthful.

So, when I say that Heimpel has dismissed the idea that there is a serious racial bias problem in child welfare as a “panic” – readers can click this link to the article where he said it, do a word search for “panic” and decide for themselves.

When I say Heimpel has analogized the spread of family preservation to cancer, readers can click on the same link and search for the word “metastasized.”

And when I say that Heimpel coauthored an op-ed attacking an approach to child welfare known as “differential response” by using a horror story case that did not involve differential response – there’s a link for that, too.

One footnote: My back-and-forth with Heimpel on Twitter actually began when I tweeted that the next time anyone at the Chronicle was tempted to publish a column like the one discussed here, they should instead call the toll-free number in a satirical New York Times opinion video.  I repeated that suggestion on this blog last night.

So congratulations 1-844-WYT-FEAR. Looks like you’re already getting results!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Who ya gonna call? For child welfare’s “caucus of denial” there’s now a different kind of “hotline”

The New York Times published a satirical video on its opinion pages yesterday that, on the surface, has nothing at all to do with child welfare.

But actually, it has everything to do with child welfare.

The video offers a number people can call – 1-844-WYT-FEAR as an alternative to calling 911 when African-Americans are simply going about their daily lives doing things that are nobody else’s damn business:

The Times supplements the video with links to “39 known instances just this year when someone called the police to complain about black people doing everyday activities.”

Parenting is also an everyday activity.  And the data are clear: You are more likely to be falsely accused of child abuse if you are Parenting While Black.  It’s especially true if you’re also poor, as documented by the Times in its story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow.” But you don’t have to be poor to be accused of child abuse for Parenting While Black. Just ask Shaun King.

But here’s what makes the cancer of racial bias even more malignant in child welfare than in other fields.  In most of those other fields almost everyone at least admits there’s a problem – at a minimum, those calling themselves liberals will admit there’s a problem.

But in child welfare, there’s an entire “caucus of denial” – mostly self-proclaimed liberals, who insist that they are simply so much better than their counterparts in any other line of work that there is no racial bias in child welfare.

How pervasive is this liberal blindspot? Consider:

● In what other field could a white man tell a Congressional committee that the places that are most successful are those that have “smaller, whiter populations” and still be an influential figure in the debate? 

● In what other field would it be acceptable to hold a fundraiser featuring a blackface act?

Now consider how all that denial stacks up against common sense.  The Times just documented 39 separate elements of day-to-day life in which people of color are victims of racism.  But somehow, in some way, the denial caucus says, child welfare is the magic exception!

Excuses at the ready

Sure, the denial caucus says, people of color – especially African-Americans and Native Americans -- are more likely than white people to be called in to child abuse hotlines, more likely to have the calls accepted for investigation, more likely to have the allegations “substantiated” (which can mean only that a caseworker guesses it’s slightly more likely than not that the allegation is true) – and, of course, more likely to have their children consigned to the chaos of foster care.

But the denial caucus has excuses at the ready. Their favorite is: It’s not race, it’s poverty!  I actually rather like that one.  For decades the child welfare establishment denied taking away children because of poverty.  But they’ll actually cop to class bias to avoid facing up to racial bias.

In fact, it’s both.  There is indeed rampant class bias in child welfare and that results in the widespread confusion of poverty with neglect.  But there also is racial bias over and above the class bias – as is documented by study after study.

The uglier claim is that, well, yes, there used to be racism in America -- and that made African- Americans and Native Americans bad parents.  So we’re really, truly sorry about all that past racism, but we’re just going to have to take away huge numbers of children of color.

But here again, the research shows otherwise.  Give caseworkers identical hypotheticals except for the race of the family and they will rate the child at higher risk if s/he is Black.  Or look what happened when the child welfare agency in Nassau County, New York, required workers to present cases of children they wanted to remove but leave out information that identified the race of the family and the neighborhood where the family lived: Removals of Black children declined substantially.

Help is on the way!

There is no cure for child welfare’s deep denial, but now at least there is help:

Next time you see a Black child whose family is living in makeshift housing, or who wandered out of the house without her mother knowing about it, or who is eight-years-old and selling water in front of her own apartment building (an actual example on the Times’ list) or a Black mother who is smoking marijuana to keep food down so she can gain weight during pregnancy, or a Black man babysitting white children (another actual case on the Times list) don’t call the child abuse hotline or the police.  Instead, call 1-844-WYT-FEAR!

This post has been updated to delete references that are now out of date.

Monday, October 15, 2018

That screaming you hear is the sound of foster-care panic

“Just like he screamed when he was taken from me, he screams like that now, when I even leave the room.”
                   --Amanda Weber, whose 14-month-old son was taken needlessly and held in foster care for three months.

Amanda Weber’s son, Zayvion, was ten months old when he was taken from his mother because of a false allegation of “medical neglect” after the boy became sick.

As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

After three months of separation, Morrison County Judge Leonard A. Weiler ruled in August that … there was no evidence that the boy’s mother had medically neglected the child as the county alleged.

said that [a] nurse provided "disinformation" about the boy's condition to a Morrison County child protection worker who filed the petition which led to an emergency intervention and taking of the child.

What happened to Zayvion is close to the minimum amount of harm a child will endure when wrongfully torn from his parents.  He was not abused in foster care, but after spending nearly one fifth of his life so far without his mother he still bears the emotional scars – you can hear it when he screams.

This could have happened anywhere at any time.  But it is more likely to happen in Minnesota than in most states – and more likely to happen now in Minnesota than in even the recent past.

As I wrote for the online news site MinnPost earlier this year:

In 2016, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, Minnesota took away children at the sixth highest rate in the country, even when rates of child poverty are factored in. Minnesota took away children at a rate more than double the national average. It took away children at more than triple the rate of states that have been cited repeatedly as national models for keeping children safe.
No, this is not because of opioids or any other drug plague. Minnesota has been an outlier since at least 1999 and probably far longer.

Minnesota also has a particularly appalling record when it comes to racial bias.  Native American children represent less than two percent of the state’s children – but one-quarter of the state’s foster children, the worst such record in America.

What could make all of this worse?  A foster-care panic, of course.  And that’s just what Minnesota got starting in 2014 thanks in part to the Star Tribune.

Last month, in a long post to this blog I described how the Miami Herald set off a foster-care panic in Florida, undermined reforms and plunged the entire system into chaos – leaving all children less safe. 

In 2014 a Star Tribune reporter said he wanted to write stories like the Herald stories. So he did – built around the death of Eric Dean, a child “known to the system.” And his work produced exactly the same results – a foster-care panic that has made all children less safe.  In fact, you could just read the Florida post, substitute “Star Tribune” for Miami Herald and you’d have an excellent idea of what’s happened in Minnesota.

Or as I wrote in MinnPost, after the Star Tribune stories

The governor promptly named the obligatory task force. Incredibly, the task force concluded that a state which for nearly two decades was among the most extreme in tearing apart families was not extreme enough. The result was predictable: foster-care panic – a sharp, sudden spike in children torn from their homes.

If anything, the effects are worse in Minnesota than in Florida because Minnesota started out with such a high rate of removal in the first place.

And Minnesota illustrates that no, the problem isn’t lack of funding.  As of 2014, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, Minnesota spent on child welfare at a rate above the national average – far above when rates of child poverty are factored in.

As happens whenever there is a foster care panic, the system now is even more overloaded than it was before, so workers have even less time to find children in real danger.  And many more children are screaming for the parents who were taken away from them.