Tuesday, November 27, 2018

There is a news story that Philadelphia’s child welfare agency desperately does not want the world to read. What do you think we should do about that?

● Let’s show Philadelphia DHS that silencing a whistleblower will backfire.

● This one isn’t just a child welfare issue, It’s also a First Amendment issue.

Last month the Legal Intelligencer began a series of stories about the horror show that is foster care in Philadelphia.  The first story, by reporter P.J. D'Annunzio, focused on the widespread problem of abuse in Philadelphia foster homes.  (The Legal Intelligencer will ask you to register to read it, but registration is free.)

The problem is so widespread that even one of the city’s foremost advocates of a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare, Frank Cervone, says the rate of such abuse is grossly understated in official figures (a problem I noted on this blog last week).

To its credit, and unlike many other such stories, this one also noted concerns about needless removal of children in Philadelphia - where the rate of removal is the second highest among America’s largest cities, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.

A grandmother’s story

The lead example in the story concerns a grandmother, Virginia McKale.  First, she was denied custody of her grandchildren by a judge who later would be removed from family court after a Legal Intelligencer investigation “detailing her history of due process violations.”

The younger child, who suffers from severe brain damage, was institutionalized. The older child, age 9, was moved five different times.  In the fourth of those placements he was raped by another child.  The story was careful to use pseudonyms to protect the children’s identifies.

“They know they’ve done wrong,” McKale told the Legal Intelligencer “and every time I turn around they’re trying to cover it up.”

McKale had no idea how right she was.

An agency with a shred of decency would have placed the children with their grandmother and surrounded the family with all the support they needed to heal from what the agency itself, and its private contractors, did to them.

Needless to say, that was not the response from the Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Instead,  DHS got a judge to issue two orders: First, a gag order, so McKale can’t tell anyone any more about what DHS and its contractors have done or are doing to her family. 

Even worse, they got an order rescinding unsupervised visits.  Now all visits must be under the supervision of the very agencies she’s criticized – so you can be sure McKale will be under a microscope as the visit supervisors search for excuses to cut off visits all together. At a minimum it will ratchet up the stress all around and make visits harder to schedule.  So in effect, Philadelphia is punishing a nine-year-old rape victim because his grandmother dared to speak out about how he was raped in foster care.

Here’s what we can do

But there is one thing we can do about this: Make the gag order backfire.

I almost never explicitly urge people to do anything on social media – partly because it angers the social media gods.  But this once, I think an exception is called for. 

The Legal Intelligencer published a story that the Philadelphia Department of Human Services desperately does not want the world to see.  So let’s do everything in our power to make sure as much of the world as possible sees it! 

In case you need more inspiration, here are a couple of other excerpts from the story.

A former DHS lawyer speaks out:

John Capaldi, a former city solicitor who represented DHS in the courtroom, said the system does not do enough to rehabilitate families, keeping children in foster care for longer than necessary.
Capaldi, now a dependency lawyer, said, “Taking children away from parents in a lot of cases is fracturing and maybe does more harm than good.” Many of these cases involve parents who struggle with substance abuse, but who are not abusive toward their children, Capaldi said.
“Yes, there are many instances where children need to be removed,” he continued, “but I’ve seen many cases where children are removed from parents who, if they were provided with better [substance abuse] treatment and care,” would have been motivated to get clean for their kids. …
Resources are not used wisely, especially in instances where children are removed from families with housing issues, Capaldi said. …  “There’s situations where the agency will take a family of four kids and split them up. It would make more sense to subsidize an apartment for [the] mom because it would cost less than to pay four foster parents.”

Wrongful removal and abuse in foster care

According to Danielle, whenever her 5-year-old daughter asked her foster mother for a drink of water, she was told to “drink your pee,” or sweat and spit. Her daughter suffered from trauma-induced bed wetting, which the foster mother chose to curb by dehydrating her.
Danielle, 33, of North Philadelphia, lost her three daughters and newborn son in February after she tested positive for marijuana. However, her children—who secretly funneled information about their living conditions to her by slipping letters in her purse during parental visits—said that the foster mother smoked marijuana incessantly in front of them.
Additionally, Danielle said the foster mother stole care packages meant for the children and confined the three girls, none of whom were older than 12, and infant boy to an empty room for hours each day. …
“My kids were tortured and this is something they’ll have to deal with for the rest of their lives,” Danielle said. “They should have been put with family.”

So, we know that the one thing DHS really cares about is not the children or the families – it’s not having its failings exposed to the world.

What should we do about that?