Tuesday, July 14, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 14, 2020

● The Chronicle of Social Change takes an in-depth look at how two “Rising Voices For ‘Family Power’ Seek to Abolish The Child Welfare System.”

● I’ve previously written about how child welfare agencies play the “bonding card” – they take children needlessly then stall and stall and stall and then say: Well, too bad, the white middle-class foster parents are “the only family the child has ever known.”  Now, with the Indian Child Welfare Act under challenge in the courts, Prof. Matthew L.M. Fletcher, director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University, writes in High Country News about “How the ‘only family’ argument is used against Indigenous families.”

● Child welfare’s number one number cruncher, Prof. Robert Latham of the University of Miami Law School, examines the data on racial disparities in Florida child welfare – and also challenges the common excuses for such disparities. He writes:

We also know foster care is a system of inequity because, while there are lots of privileged people seeking to make it unavoidable for other families, they are not simultaneously demanding access to the system for their own kids. Families need community safety, good physical and mental health, social support, material wealth, and political power to create better lives. If you have that, you don’t need [The Florida Department of Children and Families]. Nobody calls DCF to put their child in foster care for a few days while they go on a business trip, and there is no Operation Varsity Blues for rich people trying to scam their kids into care. That’s because foster care is not a good thing.

● And Truthout has a transcript and video of a webinar called “Abolish Policing – Not Just the Police” which discusses the harm done by all sorts of police agencies, including child protective services.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Andrew Cuomo’s child welfare agency pits current foster youth against future foster youth

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

To help prevent some foster youth from becoming homeless, the state Office of Children and Family Services is using money meant to help keep children out of the system in the first place.

            Every year about 18,000 young people “age out” of foster care. Their own parents were taken from them, and that promised “forever family” never showed up.  It’s the last in a long line of traumas, injustices and betrayals inflicted upon them by child welfare systems in the name of “saving” them from their parents.  Other young people may depend on their parents for all sorts of support, from love to money, into their mid-20s or beyond.  Foster youth, who often need such help more than anyone, are on their own at age 21 – or sometimes, age 18.

            This comes on top of the trauma of being torn from their own parents in the first place – sometimes for good reason, but often not – then often separated from their brothers and sisters and moved from foster home to foster home.

            The assorted patchwork of aid programs for such youth is a tiny fraction of what we owe them.

            Now, add coronavirus to the mix: At a time when the best advice is to stay home, thousands of foster youth are being made homeless.

            At least nine states and Washington, D.C. have responded by saying foster youth can remain in care during the pandemic. But in New York, where individual counties and New York City run child welfare, the state had said to counties the same thing it’s said to foster youth: You’re on your own!

            Until now.

Now the state is telling the counties they need to help these youth – but to do that, the state is, in effect, stealing money from preventing another generation from ever entering foster care in the first place.

            The Chronicle of Social Change reports that

In a letter sent July 3, Sheila Poole, commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, advised county social services leaders that they are now required to identify young adults in foster care who have no identified permanency resources and who are either at risk of homelessness, applying for welfare benefits, or have significant unmet service needs.
“Youth who meet the above criteria must be affirmatively offered the option to remain in their current placement setting or other financial support for a setting of the young adult’s choice that is of equal or better safety and stability,” she wrote.

            This covers only a narrow subset of the youth who need help.  But even this is being paid for in part at the expense of helping families stay together.  To fund this extra assistance the state is allowing counties and New York City to use about $3 million in state aid originally intended to be used to meet the requirements of  a new federal law, the so-called Family First Prevention Services Act.

            Family First, is supposed to help curb the misuse and overuse of foster care in the first place. In fact, for a variety of reasons, it’s not likely to do very much of that – but that’s still the intent.  The $3 million in state aid is meant to help localities meet the requirements of the act.

That money is less than one-one-hundredth-of-one-percent of the state general fund portion of the New York State budget.  Surely a governor as brilliant as New York’s Andrew Cuomo can find, somewhere in that budget, even more than $3 million to spare. He should be able to find enough to fund more comprehensive proposals to help the current foster youth New York State has let down all these years, without stealing it from a program designed, however feebly, to reduce the number of youth the state will let down the same way in the future.

            One place to look: The $1 billion budget for the New York State Police. That agency could probably use a little defunding.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 7, 2020

● We begin with another reminder of the harm done by the “master narrative” about child abuse and COVID-19, this time from Diane Redleaf and Lenore Skenazy in the New York Daily News.  They write:

Calls to America’s child abuse hotlines have plunged by about 50% during the pandemic. Does this mean a tsunami of child abuse is happening behind doors?
No. It means that — hallelujah! — a tsunami of pointless, paranoid child abuse calls are no longer getting made. And that means millions of decent, loving families — a huge portion of them poor — are no longer opening the door to find a government official declaring, “I’m here to decide if you get to keep your kids.”

● The other major consequence of COVID-19 is the rush by child welfare agency chiefs to issue blanket edicts cutting foster children off from in-person visits in order to pander to selfish foster parents. Isobel Whitcomb of Gizmodo takes a deep dive into the science demonstrating why this is enormously harmful to young children.

● You know how one of child welfare agencies’ favorite lies is the one about “we can’t take children on our own. A judge has to approve everything we do”?  In fact, they can take children on their own – or ask law enforcement to do it for them. The Arizona Republic reports on the harm done to children in one such case. The story also illustrates, again, the harm done to children when hospitals see child abuse whether it’s really there or not.

● Even when child protective services agencies do ask a judge first, the judge almost always hears only their side of the story.  Vivek Sankaran writes in the Chronicle of Social Change about how, as a result, thousands of times judges get it wrong.

● One way to curb such abuses is to provide high-quality legal representation to families from the moment an investigation begins in order to resolve the problem without going to court, or if the agency wants to remove the child, at least the judge will hear all sides.  One of the states that needs this kind of innovation most is Iowa, which has an obscenely high rate of removal. Now, Iowa is going to try it as a pilot program.

When Democrats fail:

● A lot of my fellow white liberals simply can’t get their heads around the fact that in Black communities child protective services agencies are viewed for what they really are: a police force. That helps explain why some of the most liberal Democrats in the United States Senate are supporting a wide-ranging coronavirus relief bill that not only does not defund the child abuse police, it actually includes up to $500 million more in federal support for CPS investigations.  I have a blog post on it.

When Republicans fail:

● In North Carolina, on a near party-line vote, Republicans passed a bill that would have made it easier to take newborns from their mothers and rush to terminate the children’s rights to their parents if the mothers used drugs, with no showing of harm to the child. It also would have curbed kinship care, in part by declaring stranger-care parents “non-relative kin” if they’ve managed to stall reunification for nine months.  Fortunately, the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, vetoed it.  An override vote is scheduled for today (July 18).

● The harm this kind of legislation does to families is well-documented in the recent report from the Movement for Family Power. Helen Redmond of Filter takes a close look at that report.  So does Mike Ludwig in Truthout.

● And in Washington State, Crosscut reports on an effort by the state child welfare agency (the same agency that is always ready to pander to selfish white foster parents) to evade the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Monday, July 6, 2020

UPDATED: Some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress want to spend up to $500 million MORE on policing Black communities – and they may not even know it

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are among the sponsors of a
"yuuuuge" coronavirus relief package that includes many good provisions - but
also up to $500 million more to police poor communities of color -
but of course it's not called policing.
This post has been updated to discuss the newly-released text of one of the alternatives to the bill cosponsored by Senators Warren and Sanders.
             In times like these, as we finally are forced to come face-to-face with what overpolicing does to impoverished communities of color, who in the world would want to spend even more money on such policing?

            Some of the most liberal members of Congress, that’s who.  People such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), along with 16 other Democratic senators(One of NCCPR’s founders, the late Elizabeth Vorenberg, was a longtime friend of Sen. Warren.)  

            Other Democrats are sponsoring a separate bill that is better. That bill apparently gives child protective services new money to spend on real prevention or on policing or on both.  Unfortunately, it's not hard to guess what most child protective services agencies will choose.

            This is happening because of a fundamental failure among my fellow white liberals: the failure to face up to the fact that child protective services agencies are a police force – and their power to oppress individual families, and entire communities of color, is as great, if not greater, than that of the police who wear blue uniforms.

CPS investigators have more power than police.  Effectively, they can enter homes and stripsearch children without a warrant. Say no, and they can come back with the police and even break down the door. Even when the entry is less drastic, the terror of the investigation is something a child may never forget.  More than half of Black children will endure such terror during their childhoods.  That’s best case. Worst case: the CPS caseworker takes away the children on-the-spot without so much as asking a judge first.

Almost always, the trauma is inflicted on all these children for nothing – the report was false.  In most remaining cases the alleged problem is neglect – which often means poverty.

As the Movement for Black Lives explains:

The child welfare, foster, and family court system (“the foster system”) is thus a major site of policing, control, and punishment of poor Black women, starting at conception. 

Many white liberals have been blind to this. They persist in thinking of CPS agencies as benevolent helpers.  In Black communities they know better. As Kendra Hurley wrote in Citylab:

Some parents living in neighborhoods with historically high rates of child welfare investigations say the dramatic dip in maltreatment reports [due to COVID-19]  feels more like the pollution lifting — a much-needed respite from the intense and relentless surveillance of low-income moms, and especially those who are black and Latinx. …
One parent told [family advocate Joyce McMillan]: “They’re not opening my refrigerator. They’re not opening my dresser drawers. They’re not strip-searching my children and they’re not asking me to take their clothes off for the camera, because that would be child pornography.”

            "Poor people are usually constantly inspected by all these agencies,” [one mother] said. “Now there is kind of a peacefulness.”

But this isn’t new. In a rare examination of this other police force in 2017, The New York Times documented case after case of bias in the system, calling foster care the new “Jane Crow.”

One other problem with the child welfare surveillance state: It hasn’t stopped child abuse.

On the contrary, workers are so overloadded with false allegations and cases in which family poverty is confused with neglect that they have no time to investigate any case properly – and that is almost always the real reasons for the extremely rare horror stories that make headlines.  At the same time, if poor people need help, they must seek it from people mandated to turn them in to the child abuse police. That, of course, makes them reluctant so seek such help.

The child welfare surveillance state, with its take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare makes all children less safe.

What the bill would do

            Yet now, even as many on the Left say we should  “defund the police,” some of America’s most liberal senators are pushing the federal government to spend up to $500 million more on the child abuse police. The $500 million is part of a bill that also includes another $1 billion in child welfare spending that is problematic because of  the funding stream that must be tapped in order to get it.

            All of this money is a small part of a yuuuuge spending bill - $430 billion in all - to cope with the effects  the effects of COVID-19.  Of that amount, I,  and I suspect most other liberals, would probably favor the way the sponsors propose to spend at least $428.5 billion.  That’s because none of that money goes to furthering the overpolicing of poor communities.

            But up to $500 million would be spent, via the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), to “support child welfare workers in preventing, investigating, and treating child abuse and neglect …”  This $500 million is specifically targeted toward the child abuse police, the investigators who exercise the vast powers described above. The way they “treat” child abuse often is by tearing apart families or placing them under onerous, harmful surveillance.

            But that’s not the only problem. These funds are funneled through  the worst part of a bad law, Title I of CAPTA.  CAPTA was, literally, designed to avoid facing up to the issues of racial and class bias that permeate child welfare. 

              CAPTA codifies everything wrong with America’s approach to child welfare. CAPTA encourages the failed system of mandatory reporting. CAPTA encourages the use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates, a program that studies have found to be a failure, and which entrenches racial and class bias in child welfare. CAPTA encourages blacklists of alleged child abusers that are far too easy to get on and far too hard to get off – causing enormous additional hardships for impoverished families.

And CAPTA encourages laws and policies that terrorize pregnant women away from seeking prenatal care, and inflict needless foster care on children during precisely the time in their lives those need their families most – their infancy  (The Senate bill also includes another $1 billion via Title II of CAPTA, which has less onerous requirements.)

            That’s why groups such as Movement for Family Power call for repealing CAPTA

The only thing that has prevented CAPTA from having an even more devastating impact on communities of color is the simple fact that there is not much money in it, so there is not much incentive for states to knuckle under to its mandates.  But now, two of the most prominent liberals in the Senate propose to bulk up funding for an odious law that leaders of color want repealed.

How did this happen?

Neither Warren nor Sanders specializes in child welfare issues, and the child welfare component is a tiny part of a much larger spending bill.  And, as noted above, many on the Left – the white Left, at least, can’t get their heads around the idea that child protective services is a police force.  Odds are these senators’ staffers saw that the usual liberal child welfare establishment groups, like the Child Welfare League of America, are for it, so that was good enough for them.

But that is no longer good enough.  A predominantly white liberal child welfare establishment have built a system on a foundation of racial and class bias.  (They’ve had plenty of help from an assortment of white conservatives, such as Newt “bring back the orphanage” Gingrich, and Naomi Schaefer Riley, who crusades to tear apart more families from her perch at the American Enterprise Institute.)  No United States Senator should sign on to any child welfare legislation until they’ve actually listened to the communities upon which the full force of that legislation will be inflicted.

Better alternatives

In the short run, here’s what Sanders, Warren and the other Democrats who have co-sponsored this bill could do to genuinely protect vulnerable children:

● Take the $1.5 billion and move it out of CAPTA and into programs that ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty, such as increasing the amount allotted in the bill for child care and providing serious support for housing, which is barely mentioned in the current bill.

A good model can be found in legislation sponsored by two Republicans, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and  two conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) Their bill helps to provide what poor families really need in COVID-19  relief to keep kids safe from child abuse and out of foster care: Emergency housing aid, transportation and childcare.

● Four other Democrats also have a bill that would be better – though there’s a catch.  Actual language is not yet available, but it appears that a key provision of the bill would give child welfare agencies $2 billion they could spend either on good things – like transportation, housing and utility payments and/or further policing poor people of color, and destroying their families forever. That’s because this money also could be spent “to expand adoption promotion and support services, or to hire, train and support caseworkers to conduct safe in-person home and remote visits, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and technology.” [UPDATE, JULY 14, 2020: The bill language is now available and the news is pretty good.  For starters, none of the money is funneled through CAPTA.  And the bill says that states "shall expend significant portions of the funds" on a variety of child welfare services almost all of which range from harmless to beneficial, so relatively little would go to the policing functions of child welfare.  However, the bill puts very little emphasis on keeping families together and it implies that if children are placed in kinship foster care with relatives, somehow that is not foster care. It is.]

  ● If Democratic senators absolutely must put the money into programs that are part of the child welfare system, move the $1.5 billion out of CAPTA and into the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act – specifying that the new funding must go only to the family preservation and family reunification portions of that law.  [UPDATE: The bill discussed in the preceding paragraph does not go that far. It funnels the money through Title IV-B - which includes the Promoting Safe and Stable Families Act, but the funds also can go to adoption and hiring more caseworkers. And, as noted above, the description of services to be funded by that bill says little about family preservation.]

            ● Eliminate the accidental windfall for foster care created by earlier COVID-19 legislation. That legislation increased the percentage of Medicaid costs reimbursed to states by the federal government. That’s a good idea.  But whenever you change that formula for Medicaid it automatically changes the formula for foster care aid as well.  This new bill should roll back the foster care increase, while maintaining it for Medicaid

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 30, 2020

● So now, finally, can we put to rest the fear-and-smear narrative about a supposed “pandemic of child abuse”? The Associated Press reports:

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the United States in mid-March … many child-welfare experts warned of a likely surge of child abuse. Fifteen weeks later, the worries persist. Yet some experts on the front lines, including pediatricians who helped sound the alarm, say they have seen no evidence of a marked increase.

The story goes on to quote Dr. Jerry Milner, head of the federal Children’s Bureau, who says some of the early warnings

had “racist underpinnings” — unfairly stereotyping low-income parents of color as prone to abusive behavior.
 “To sound alarm bells, because teachers aren’t seeing kids every day, that parents are waiting to harm their kids — it’s an unfair depiction of so many parents out there doing the best under very tough circumstances,” he said.

● Or, as Joyce McMillan of New York’s Parent Legislative Action Network and Jessica Prince of the Bronx Defenders write in City Limits: The Press is Stoking Fears of a Phantom Child-Abuse Crisis.

● Unfortunately, child welfare agencies may yet wind up creating a spike in child abuse -  by engaging in all that fearmongering and turning friendly virtual visitors into spies – because the contagion of fear they are spreading risks driving families away from seeking help. I have a blog post about it.

There’s lots more about racial bias in child welfare:

Youth Today reports on the landmark report by Movement for Family Power on how the foster system has become the epicenter of America’s failed drug war, and the consequences which fall, of course, predominantly on poor families of color.

● It was thanks to Movement for Family Power that I learned about this excellent position paper that the Movement for Black Lives has issued on foster care and child welfare.

Injustice Watch examines Illinois’ unconscionable ban on in-person visits between foster children and their parents through a racial justice lens. 

As the story points out:

At a time when calls to defund the police have grown louder, some politicians and pundits have suggested replacing police officers with social workers in certain situations. Advocates say the child welfare system is a cautionary tale of a system replete with social workers that still disproportionately targets and harms Black families.
“Families and communities of color are criminalized [in the child welfare system] in much the same ways they are in the criminal system,” said Tanya Gassenheimer, a staff attorney for the Shriver Center on Poverty Law who works on child welfare issues. “It really is a one-for-one parallel.”

● One of the best ways to fight the denial of visits, and the other injustices of the child welfare system: High-quality family defense.  In the Chronicle of Social Change, three lawyers show how this kind of defense has helped limit the damage caused by child welfare’s failed response to COVID-19.

● Encouraging such defense was a key feature of an executive order on foster care issued by the White House last week. Notably, the order urges the provision of such defense even before a case first goes to court.  AP has the story and the Chronicle has an analysis.

● There are two more notable commentaries on racial bias in child welfare in the Chronicle of Social Change.  One from Jessica Pryce, director of the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, the other from Dr. Sharon L. McDaniel, founder and CEO of A Second Chance, Inc.

In other news …

●The Chronicle also has a story about a report that looked at institutionalization of children around the world and reached the obvious conclusion: Stop doing it.

● The reason to do that isn’t just to stop horror stories such as this one at still another institution managed by Sequel Youth and Family Services. (If that name seems vaguely familiar, this may be why.)  It’s because institutionalization itself is inherently a failure. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Yes, there IS a contagion that might lead to a spike in child abuse – and child welfare agencies are spreading it

Imagine you are a parent living in poverty for whom life can be a struggle even in the best of times.  Now, perhaps, you’ve lost your job because of COVID-19; or you’re an essential worker, like a grocery checkout clerk or Amazon warehouse employee. Your job barely pays enough to get by, and now you have to worry every day about contracting coronavirus.

An acquaintance calls or texts with an offer to give you a little free time by distracting your children with a videochat.  Or maybe a volunteer is willing to drop off food you can no longer afford – or don’t want to risk going to the store to buy.

Such simple kindnesses might be just what you need to manage the stress.

But do you dare accept such offers?

The answer should be a simple yes.  But nothing is simple when what Prof. Dorothy Roberts aptly calls the family regulation system gets involved.

Because all over the country, as part of the whole false – and racially biased - “pandemic-of-child-abuse” narrative, child protective services agencies are working to turn those friendly volunteers into spies.

You know the rationale by now: The claim is that the only thing that keeps legions of nonwhite parents from unleashing savagery upon their children is ever-vigilant, mostly white, middle class professionals whose “eyes” are always on the kids.  Now that these “mandated reporters” aren’t around as much, one news story after another warns of a “pandemic of child abuse.”

The solution?  Turn every virtual visitor into a spy!  Apparently, it’s so easy to detect child abuse that anyone can do it. Indeed, some advocates in Pennsylvania say you should just report a family for child abuse whenever your “gut” tells you to.

In Philadelphia, which tears apart families at the highest rate among America’s biggest cities, the Department of Human Services is offering even more help to this new corps of Junior Child Abuse Police. As they put it in a tweet:

When schools are closed, ensuring the safety of our children is up to all of us. Consider a virtual check-in if you have any concerns about a child’s welfare. Here are some tips to identify signs of abuse or neglect, virtually.

There’s a link (which I am not including here) to an entire script full of leading questions to ask kids, even as the kids and their parents are suckered into thinking the amateur child abuse investigator is just being friendly. That’s followed immediately by the number to call in a report.

Still not sure? Don’t worry, news articles include all sorts of broad, vague lists of symptoms that could be child abuse or neglect – or any number of other things. One such list includes “Flinching or avoidance to being touched.”  That seems a bit out-of-date at the moment.

Topping it all off: Constant messaging intended to make the spies feel like heroes for turning families in based on their slightest suspicion. 

Scaring families away from help

Now, consider what we know about what happens when all those mostly white, middle-class “mandated reporters” are keeping their eyes glued on all those overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite kids:

It backfires.

Research tells us that it overloads the system with so many false allegations and trivial cases that workers have even less time to find children in real danger.

And perhaps most important in this context: It scares families under stress away from seeking help.

So consider the paradox: The “pandemic of child abuse” theory postulates that, in the absence of  middle-class white people watching them, poor people of color will break under the stress of coping with COVID-19 and take it out on their children.  It is reasonable to believe that in a small number of cases that could happen, though we also should consider that in poor neighborhoods, a lower profile for child protective services actually eases stress.

But in that small number of potential abuse cases, even as the stress rises, parents who have not, in fact, abused their children now have to ask: Is the offer of help genuine, or might it be a way to spy on us, jump to conclusions and turn us in to child protective services?

So families under stress might actually be driven away from the help they need to prevent stress from leading to child abuse.

If there is, in fact, a spike in child abuse, it might not be because of COVID-19.  It might be because of another contagion: Fear.  And that contagion is being spread by child abuse police agencies themselves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 23, 2020

● The Movement for Family Power has released an outstanding report at exactly the time it’s needed most. It’s called: Whatever they do, I’m her comfort, I’m her protector: How the foster system has become ground zero for the US drug war. They have video of a webinar discussing the report and the issues it raises on their Facebook page.

 ● MFP writes that "This report is in part a plea to the social justice community to embrace activism against the foster system as a core social justice cause of our time."  There are signs that this is starting to happen. Check out the New York Daily News story about this protest.

● The critique isn’t coming only from the Left. The right-leading Texas Public Policy Foundation just released Punished for Being Poor: The Relationship Between Poverty and Neglect in Texas.

● And for an urgent example of why the reforms recommended in both reports are needed, check out this story from Texas by Roxanna Asgarian for the Chronicle of Social Change.

● While the social justice community is starting to mobilize, the child welfare establishment continues to offer, at best, lip service. Although a New York Times headline said  “Calls for Racial Justice Touch Seemingly Every Aspect of American Life” I explain in this NCCPR Blog post why it should have said: Every Aspect But One.

● Last week’s week-in-review was devoted largely to how the racial justice reckoning had yet to reach the journalism of child welfare.  This week: Why the award for tone deafness goes to the public radio program Fresh Air.

● The Center for the Study of Social Policy is leading a new initiative that “works to create a society in which the forcible separation of children from their parents is no longer an acceptable intervention for families in need.” And while other child welfare organizations belong in a hypocrisy hall of fame, CSSP has a good track record on issues of child welfare and race. In the Chronicle of Social Change, leaders of the effort write:

The harm that results from [child protective services] intervention, and the families that are destroyed as a result, will only end through the abolition of the child welfare system as we know it and a fundamental reimagining of the meaning of child welfare – a reimagining that is fundamentally anti-racist.

● Also in the Chronicle, Prof. Vivek Sankaran, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School reminds us that With Child Welfare, Racism Is Hiding in The Discretion. He writes:

My first client as a family defense lawyer was a Black mother who left her 13-year-old in charge of 8- and 6-year-old siblings while she went to the dry cleaners.  In suburban America, we call this babysitting. In a predominately Black, public housing complex in Washington, D.C., this constituted neglect.
I still remember the terror in my client’s voice. “They are coming to take my babies.”
“They” weren’t the police. They were child protective services — an agency every bit as powerful and as susceptible to racism as the police. But we have yet to face up to the racism that destroys thousands of families of color every year.

● Prof. Sankaran’s students won a big legal victory last week, as the Chronicle reports:

A Michigan parent on Thursday became the state’s first to successfully appeal a judge’s decision to remove a child into foster care, a ruling that the family’s advocates hailed as “an important first step” toward ensuring that judges don’t put families through the trauma of separation without showing sufficient cause.

Please let that part about “first to successfully appeal” sink in – and remember it the next time some foster care apologist hands you a line of bull about checks and balances and how “we can’t take children on our own, a judge has to approve everything we do.”

There were other legal victories over the past week:

● In Kentucky, the Northern Kentucky Tribune reports, a parent won a victory in an ongoing lawsuit challenging coerced “safety plans” in which parents are forced to surrender all their due process rights, and sign onerous “voluntary” agreements to submit to a cruel surveillance regime. If they don’t the state says it will take the children. It’s at least the second such case in Kentucky.

● And in western Pennsylvania, a similar suit is moving forward.

● Meanwhile, Rise reminds us that COVID-19 has not gone away, and issues another challenge to the racist narrative that suggests the absence of mandated reporters calling in anything and everything has unleashed a pandemic of child abuse.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Child welfare and race: The award for tone deafness goes to NPR’s Fresh Air

The acclaimed public radio program chose this moment – this moment – to showcase a white mom's narrative about the joys of transracial adoption.

             About a year ago, Late Night with Seth Myers produced a parody called White Savior: The Movie Trailer.  I’ve cued the video to the part that the producers of public radio’s Fresh Air need to see most (though there might be an ad first):

            They need to see that because, in what has to win some kind of award for tone deafness, Terry Gross and her producers at WHYY Public Radio, where Fresh Air is produced for NPR, chose this moment – this moment - to showcase a real-life white mother's narrative about the joys of transracial adoption.

            Here’s the description of the June 18 program on the NPR website:

“Blogger [name omitted]  talks about how raising two white biological daughters and two black adopted sons helped her understand white privilege.”

(I am not linking to it or naming the blogger because she’s plugging a book about her life raising these children, and I’d rather not help promote it. The transcript is easy to find online.)

            One of the Black children was adopted, as a baby, from foster care.

I guess there’s nothing like exercising white privilege to help you learn about it.  And who knew that the job of Black children was to teach their white adoptive parents?

            What follows is 37 minutes of humblebragging from this white adoptive parent about things like how her children absolutely do not have to be grateful to her, she hates savior narratives and she learned how much easier it is for a white person to buy shampoo. 

            I’m not going to go into detail because the issue here is not transracial adoption.*  Nor do I want to suggest that the blogger is not a fine parent who cares about racial justice. The problem isn’t the blogger. The problem is Fresh Air and the tone-deafness of its producers. 

As far as I can tell, in its decades on the air, Fresh Air has never taken a serious look at the harm the foster care system does to children of color – or any children for that matter.  In this moment when we may finally be coming to grips with racism in all walks of life, here are some of the things Fresh Air could have done – but didn’t:

            ● They could have interviewed Prof. Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, about the havoc child protective services – the child abuse police -- wreak not only in Black families but entire Black communities. (Prof. Roberts is a member of NCCPR’s volunteer Board of Directors.)

            ● They could have interviewed leaders of the Movement for Family Power about their calls to expand the narrative about defunding and abolition from police to include the child welfare system.

            ● They could have talked to people in communities of color across the country whose view of child protective services is vastly different from the narrative among the white professional elite – the way Kendra Hurley did for Citylab and Eli Hager did for The Marshall Project.

            ● They could have talked to Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg of The New York Times about their landmark 2017 story: “Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow’”

            Fresh Air did none of these things.

It is one more example of the extent to which the racial justice reckoning has yet to reach child welfare – or the journalism of child welfare.

            *- For the record, I am not opposed to adoption. I am not opposed to all adoption of Black children by white families – though some in the family preservation movement are.  But it is important to understand that almost no one would even consider transracial adoption necessary if:

            ● We stopped taking so many Black children needlessly in the first place.
            ● We fully embraced kinship guardianship, often a preferred approach to permanence for Black families.
            ● Agencies got serious about finding adoptive parents in Black communities.    

           Needless to say, none of that was discussed on Fresh Air. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Will the racial justice reckoning ever reach child welfare?

#BlackLivesMatter protesters march on New York City family courts, and the
city Saturday, in a demonstration organized by the Parent Legislative Action Network
(Photo by Joyce McMillan)

 The link to this story that appeared on the New York Times homepage on June 13 said: “Calls for Racial Justice Touch Seemingly Every Aspect of American Life.” It should have said: Every Aspect But One. 

Not only has the child welfare system, which needlessly separates countless Black families every year, been untouched, it continues to engage in racist behavior and messaging. Sometimes journalists have been its enablers.

So it’s worth remembering again how Robert Latham of the University of Miami School of Law summed it all up: “The child welfare system has nothing to say about anti-Black state violence because the child removal system engages in it daily.”

The most obvious example is one I’ve alluded to before: One agency after another issues dire warnings about what often is called a “pandemic” or “epidemic” of child abuse now supposedly underway because schools are closed and teachers and other “mandated reporters” are not calling in reports to child abuse hotlines.

Of course there is reason for concern that a tiny fraction of parents will respond to the stress of COVID-19 by lashing out. But 97 percent of calls to child abuse hotlines are false reports or cases of “neglect” which often means poverty.  

It should be obvious that it is racist to assume that the moment mostly white, middle class “eyes” are averted form overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite children their parents will unleash savagery upon them in pandemic proportions.  Endless calls to ratchet up the child welfare surveillance state only drive families away from seeking help and overload child protective services workers, so they have even less time to find children in real danger.

The reduction in surveillance is viewed differently in communities of color. As Kendra Hurley writes in Citylab:

Some parents living in neighborhoods with historically high rates of child welfare investigations say the dramatic dip in maltreatment reports feels more like the pollution lifting — a much-needed respite from the intense and relentless surveillance of low-income moms, and especially those who are black and Latinx.”…
“One parent told [family advocate Joyce McMillan]: “They’re not opening my refrigerator. They’re not opening my dresser drawers. They’re not strip-searching my children and they’re not asking me to take their clothes off for the camera, because that would be child pornography.”

"Poor people are usually constantly inspected by all these agencies,” [one mother] said. “Now there is kind of a peacefulness.”

As Emma Ketteringham of the Bronx Defenders told Hager:

We have a child welfare system that is particularly, extremely sensitive to the media, so we should be very sure of narratives before we put them out there.

Child welfare, and a large chunk of American journalism, would do well to consider the words of David Kelly, special assistant to the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau in the Department of Health and Human Services:

“If confined to telling binary stories of heroes and villains, an objective view may reverse the roles. Who is the hero, the parent doing the best they can under circumstances more difficult than most of us will ever know or experience, or the folks writing about the likelihood they will fail or actually seek to harm their children?”

But that is only the tip of the iceberg.  Consider the other ways in which child welfare seeks to set itself apart from racial justice:

Defund the child abuse police? Child welfare establshment says: No way!

The Times story notes that

The flood of corporate statements denouncing racism “feels like a series of mea culpas written by the press folks and run by the top black folks” inside each organization, said Dream Hampton, a writer and filmmaker.

It also reprints a tweet from Prof. Crystal Fleming, author of How to be Less Stupid About Race:

In other words, in other fields no one is fooled.  No one should be fooled by the similar statements coming from the child welfare establishment.  Because none of those groups is willing to put real money where its press releases are.

A key component of the racial justice movement is defunding police; that is, transferring large parts of police budgets into better alternatives such as education, housing, and public health. Not only have there been no similar calls from the child welfare establishment, they actually have teamed up with several liberal Democrats in Congress to try to use COVID-19 as an excuse to increase funding for the child abuse police – child protective services investigations -- by up to $500 million.

Just as harmful: They propose funneling the money through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, an odious law deliberately crafted to avoid issues of race and class in child welfare.  To get their share of this additional $500 million states would have to comply with racist provisions of CAPTA, most notably the so- called “Plan of Safe Care” provisions, which target substance using mothers and drive them away from prenatal care.

Apparently, to the child welfare establishment, forcing more than half of all African-American children to endure the trauma of a child abuse investigation – almost always needlessly – just isn’t enough.

In contrast, in the Senate it took two Republicans and two conservative Democrats to propose spending $800 million on what families actually need to prevent what the system calls child abuse: aid for things like housing, transportation and child care.

The proposal to put more federal dollars into child abuse policing is in keeping with a long, ugly  tradition of mainstream child welfare groups opposing real child welfare finance reform.

They successfully blocked a proposal to allow – not require, just allow – states to take the money they now receive through the huge, open-ended foster-care “entitlement” known as Title IV-E as a flexible flat grant that could be used both for foster care and for better alternatives.  Then they tried to block something even more modest: state-by-state waivers. And when they couldn’t block waivers they tried to undermine waivers through regulations.

Radical finance reform

What’s really needed is much more radical finance reform. The federal government should stop paying for foster care, period.  Not only should the open-ended entitlement be converted to a flexible grant, over several years states should be required to transfer the proportion of that grant used for foster care to better alternatives.  No, that doesn’t mean there would be no money for foster care. It just means that the state and local governments that put children in foster care would have to pick up the tab themselves.

Real finance reform also means ending the obscene practice of paying bounties to states for every finalized adoption over a baseline number, a practice that encourages a mad rush to needlessly terminate parental rights, as was well documented more than a decade ago.

The bounties are part of another racist law that needs to be repealed, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  In addition to the bounties, ASFA demands that, with certain exceptions, states presume parents unfit and move to terminate their  children’s right to any relationship with them based solely on how long a child has been in foster care – even if the child never needed to be in foster care at all, and/or is still there because of the agency’s failures. 

Just as harmful is the mentality enshrined by the law: the racist dogwhistling Big Lie of  American child welfare, that child removal equals child safety and that child safety and family preservation are opposites.In fact, family preservation is the safer option for the overwhelming majority of children the overwhelming majority of the time.

It’s no wonder ASFA led to a surge in foster care placements and an increase in the number of children “aging out” of foster care with no real home at all.

ASFA was one of a trilogy of racist bills passed during the mid-1990s.  But while the other two, the crime bill and the so-called welfare “reform” bill, have been called out for their underlying racial and class bias, child welfare has remained willfully blind to the fact that ASFA used the same myths and stereotypes to target the same population: poor women, especially poor women of color.

Jobs not on the line

In a section headed “Jobs on the line,” the Times story discusses the many people forced to resign  because they “made offensive statements.”  But in child welfare, you can make such statements and worse, act in ways that do enormous harm to families of color, and not only will you not have to resign, you might even get promoted.

Consider this offensive statement:

            “There are some things we’re finding with visits on video that are actually more positive than in-person visits.”

            That offensive statement came from Ross Hunter, secretary of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families.  He was attempting to justify a cruel, blanket ban on in-person visits between foster children and their parents, something that is not necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.

            But in a state where Black and mixed-race children are in foster care at twice their rate in the general population, and Native American children are in foster care at five times their rate in the general population, Hunter appears to have issued the ban to appease a bunch of appallingly selfish, white foster parents – like those who signed an online petition, which reads in part:

They say what about the bio parents who will miss [their children]? I say to this. [sic] They are the ones who made the choices which in turn lead [sic] to losing their children in the first place. They should not be worried about missing visits at this time.

            I know of  no calls in Washington State for Hunter to resign.    

UPDATE: The statement about visits isn't even the worst thing Hunter's said. He just outdid himself.

One month ago, the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog broke the story of Hunter's agency warehousing children who tested positive for COVID-19 in an office building.  Now that the Seattle Times has finally caught up, we know Hunter's response.

First, here's what some family defenders said:

Tara Urs, special counsel for civil practice and policy for the King County Department of Public Defense ... said its use amounted to “warehousing children in an office building,” sending a message to kids that no home will take them.
Already marginalized, exposed to COVID-19 and put at such a site, “it has to be terrifying for them,” said S. Annie Chung, a lawyer who represents youth separated from their parents.

But Hunter saw it differently: 

“It’s not palatial, but it’s a reasonable alternative for two weeks” — one not unlike the confined spaces millions of people are stuck in, Hunter said. “This is the challenge of the pandemic.”
       Illinois, where Black children are in foster care at triple their rate in the population, has the same blanket visitation ban.  The Shriver Center on Poverty Law has been leading efforts to get it overturned.  On June 12, they tweeted:

For Black lives to matter, Black families must also matter. For close to 3 months, @IllinoisDCFS has kept over 11,000 parents, children, and siblings apart, many of whom are Black. This is unacceptable. #LiftTheBanIL

That prompted a response from a deputy communications director for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, which concluded:

To claim @IllinoisDCFS does not care about black families is frankly disgusting.

No. What is "frankly disgusting" is when a p.r. person for a white governor lectures a Black-led group fighting for racial justice about what they should say - while distorting what they actually said. 

I know of no calls from Illinois for the p.r. guy to resign.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services now claims it will begin a slow, grudging resumption of in-person visits, starting on June 26. [UPDATE, JUNE 24: But as the Shriver Center explains, it's not nearly enough.]

Nor has anyone I know of demanded the resignation of the California district attorney who declared that “For the most vulnerable people in our community ‘shelter-in-place’ is the same as putting them in a cage with a violent gorilla.”

Failing up

And then there is the case of Cynthia Figueroa, former commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services.  She has repeatedly tweeted support for #BlackLivesMatter, even posting a selfie as she took part in a march.

But during her tenure – and for long before – Philadelphia DHS tore apart familiesat the highest rate among America’s biggest cities, even when rates of child poverty are factored in. , More than 85 percent of those families are nonwhite, When confronted, the agency’s response was misdirection and obfuscation. Only now has DHS finally admitted what it sought to obscure for so long.

But that’s only the beginning. Not only does Philadelphia also ban all in-person visits, Philadelphia DHS falsely blamed federal guidance for the ban. Federal guidance is precisely the opposite.  And now, DHS has published a guide that effectively urges people to turn virtual visits into ways to spy on families.

Yes, I did say Figueroa is a former commissioner. But that’s not because she was forced to resign. On the contrary, she keeps failing up. Mayor Jim Kenney promoted her to a deputy major job. She still oversees DHS.

And then Kenney gave Figueroa new job: Chairing what the Philadelphia Inquirer says will be “a steering committee to help the city move toward reconciliation with residents.”

The reckoning is a long way from reaching child welfare.