Wednesday, November 27, 2019

NCCPR News and commentary round-up, week ending November 26, 2019

● Have you heard about the judge in child welfare cases who actually follows the law? The child welfare establishment is throwing a fit.  The Washington Post wrote about the judge. I have a blog post about her, with a link to the Post story.

● I’ve written before about hidden foster care – a massive, parallel system of child removal in which parents are coerced into “voluntarily” giving up their children to relatives with no court hearings or due process protection of any kind. (The threat: Do this “voluntarily” or we’ll throw the children into foster care with strangers.)  In many places, this is standard operating procedure and no one in “the system” bats an eye.  But things have been different in North Carolina.  After the Associated Press exposed the practice in one county, the state took over the system in that county.  Days after the AP report, a judge found the practice unconstitutional. She also found that the coerced “voluntary” agreements were “the product of both actual and constructive fraud …”  Now there’s a civil lawsuit, and the possibility of criminal charges against county child welfare officials.

We know all this because of some outstanding reporting by Kate Martin of the nonprofit news site Carolina Public Press.  This story outlines the scope of the problem. Then came stories about missing meeting minutes, massive document shredding, an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation, delays in state action, allegations of falsification of records, allegations of lying under oath, and on and on.  You can find those stories here and here.

But they leave one question unanswered: Why haven’t the abuses of hidden foster care prompted the same aggressive response anywhere else?

● On the Rethinking Foster Care blog, Georgia attorney Emma Brown-Bernstein writes about a case in which a homeless mother made the terrible mistake of asking the state child protective services agency for help to find housing.  Instead, Brown-Bernstein writes, the child was removed “because his family was homeless and no one could help the family obtain housing. That’s it.”  A trial court rubber-stamped the removal, but the state Court of Appeals unanimously overturned it. “This choice cannot be the only one we have,” Brown-Bernstein writes. “Sending children to foster care because their parents cannot find a house not only undermines families but, as the Court of Appeals reminded us … also runs afoul of the law.”

As you read about this one case, it’s also worth remembering: Multiple studies find that 30 percent of America’s foster children could be home right now if the families had decent housing.

● Two stories have nothing to do with child welfare – and everything to do with child welfare: WNYC Public Radio’s On The Media, has an excellent interview with Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction – about how, in field after field, supposedly objective algorithms turn out to be biased.  Guess who’s on the losing end every time.  And it’s hard to imagine anything that could be easier to keep free of bias than determining creditworthiness.  It should be a matter of pretty basic math. Yet somehow, the algorithm Apple and Goldman Sachs came up with to set credit limits on their fancy new credit card wound up allegedly discriminating against women.

All of which is all the more reason to be worried when a child welfare agency starts trying to use predictive analytics algorithms to figure out things that are vastly more complicated – such as predicting who supposedly is likely to abuse a child.  In Allegheny County, Pa., they’re about to start trying to slap risk scores on every baby at birth.  In Talk Poverty, Elizabeth Brico has a story about how they’re doing it.  And I have a blog post about it here.

● In New York State, both the city Administration for Children’s Services and the state agency that oversees it were doing their usual song and dance before a state legislative committee: Of course we want fewer children in foster care, they say, just give us more money to inflict more “counseling” and “parent education” on families as we keep them under our thumb and everything will be fine.  But, as this story in the Chronicle of Social Change makes clear, there are signs lawmakers aren’t buying it anymore. They understand the real solution is giving families the tools to fight back from the moment agencies such as ACS enter their lives.

As Emma Ketteringham of The Bronx Defenders told legislators:

When you’re hungry, and you don’t know where you are going to sleep, and your children were taken in the middle of the night — therapy’s not going to fix the situation … We have to back up and really explore how we respond to families that struggle … because of poverty and because of structural racism.