Tuesday, October 1, 2019

News and commentary round-up, week ending Oct. 1, 2019

Having been away for most of September, I’m sure I missed a lot, but here are a few excellent recent stories – and one outstanding law review article.

● How many times are children taken from their parents each year? Officially, about 269,000. In reality it’s probably more than half a million.  That’s one of the important findings in a law review article by Prof. Josh Gupta-Kagan of the University of South Carolina School of Law, called America’s Hidden Foster Care System.  

By its very nature it’s hard to measure, but Prof. Gupta-Kagan has pulled together the available data and credibly estimates that the “hidden” system is about as big as the one we all know. In the hidden system children have even less protection from needless removal than in the system we know.  And the vastly overhyped Family First Act, which is supposed to prevent needless foster care, actually may make this problem worse.

Some of these concerns are not new.  I first wrote about what I called the foster care Twilight Zone in 2009.  And I discussed the problems in detail in this column for Youth Today in 2016.  But Prof. Gupta-Kagan has done an outstanding job of explaining the issue, adding new information about its scope, and recommending solutions.

● What happens when a profession not known for humility is granted enormous power by another profession steeped in secrecy with no accountability?  As the Houston Chronicle and NBC News reveal in their joint investigation, pretty much what you’d expect.  And, as noted in this previous post, child abuse pediatricians, whose failures are exposed in the story, are grasping for even more power – and demanding that their colleagues do less thinking.

● The previous round-up includes a link to a story by Delia Goncalves of WUSA-TV in Washington D.C. about how D.C. public schools sometimes call the child protective services agency to pick up children when parents are late to get them after school.  On Sept. 2, the station  broadcast a follow-up story, including NCCPR’s perspective.

● On the Rethinking Foster Care blog, Vivek Sankaran argues that the almost universally-invoked standard “best interests of the child” is profoundly dangerous because it is so subjective.  He writes: “…[c]hild welfare cases are really about who gets to decide what they think is best for a child. Before a parent is found to be unfit, they get to decide. While a child is in foster care, a court or a child welfare agency might get to decide. If a child has achieved permanency with an adoptive parent, or a guardian, they get to figure this out.”

And there are several important stories from New York:

● Whenever you think the child welfare system can’t get any uglier, someone turns over another rock and a whole new batch of ugly turns up.  Writing in The New York Times, Eli Hager of The Marshall Project exposes a law in New York State that allows child protective services agencies to take away the children of unwed fathers, even when there is not even an accusation that those fathers hurt their children.  The children can be taken away permanently if they are taken from their mothers, and the fathers don’t pay “child support” – or, as it should properly be called, ransom -- to the foster care agency holding the child. (And, even if the fathers could afford this, and even if it were a good idea, there isn’t even a mechanism to make the payments.) Eleven other states have similar laws.

City and State New York has a story about a bill that would enact modest reforms to New York’s central registry of alleged child abusers, and slightly raise the standard caseworkers must use before checking off the box on the form that can wrongly list someone on that registry.

● WNYC Public Radio has a story about bills before the New York City Council that attempt to reduce needless removal and racial bias in the City child welfare system.

● And the Chronicle of Social Change follows one case that illustrates the value of New York City’s system of high-quality defense counsel for families.