Tuesday, April 28, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 28, 2020

● There’s a story in the news now about a foster care scandal that is so startling it’s worth starting the round-up with it, even though it has nothing to do with COVID-19.  The story, by Jackie Rehwald of the Springfield, (Missouri), News-Leader begins simply enough: “A Missouri mom says she is in an unfair battle with the state Children's Division as she tries to reunify with her children” and now the Children’s Division is moving to terminate parental rights.  So what’s so startling?  Well, there’s this: The foster mom is also the head of the Missouri Department of Social Services, which oversees the Children’s Division.  And that’s just the beginning …

Of course there’s also plenty related to coronavirus.

● When Big Pharma gets together with Big Foster, it’s never good for the kids: In California, Karen de Sa of the Chronicle of Social Change reports that “a special interest group with close ties to the pharmaceutical industry” is trying to use the pandemic to undermine highly-successful state legislation that curbed the misuse and overuse of powerful, sometimes dangerous psychiatric medications on foster children. The meds sometimes are used by group homes and institutions to keep the young people docile for the benefit of overloaded staff.  If it’s happening in California, what about other states?

● Every time I think a child welfare agency can’t sink lower in its response to COVID-19, another agency with the word “children” in its name steps up to take the worst-response-in-America challenge.  This week's candidate: The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families, where the director actually said this: “There are some things we’re finding with visits on video that are actually more positive than in-person visits.”  And, once again, that’s just the beginning.  I have a blog post on it and another about how the story that revealed the problems also reveals many of the failings in how news organizations cover child welfare.

● There are two excellent analyses and a data-filled blog post out on child welfare’s response to COVID-19.

--Prof. Jane Spinak of Columbia Law School analyzes the failures and urges child welfare agencies to take advantage of “an unexpected opportunity for systemic change.” Her analysis also challenges the fearmongering stories about how fewer mostly white, middle-class “eyes” on overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite children means their parents will unleash a “pandemic” of savagery against them.  Writes Spinak:

First, it is clear that the vast majority of reports do not result in state action because a child has been mistreated; there is a lot of noise in reporting. Hunches, vague suspicions, better-safe-than-sorry beliefs, passing the buck to someone else instead of figuring out how to be helpful, anonymous calls and instances of malicious false reporting still require state investigations that cost time and money.
Reducing those types of reports because children are not as casually observed will reduce unnecessary family disruption and trauma and will give investigators more time to scrutinize when children are actually in danger, usually of serious physical or sexual abuse.
Fewer reports based on unsubstantiated feelings and just passing the buck will also mean workers will have to do fewer in-person investigations, leaving them and the families they are investigating less exposed to COVID-19.

           The article is part of an e-book from the law school, available in full, or chapter-by-chapter, here.

-- Prof. Robert Latham, associate director, Children & Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law also has a degree in computer science.  He puts both skills to use in blog posts that pore over data about the Florida child welfare system.  So while everyone else has been speculating, his latest blog post is well worth reading in conjunction with Prof. Spinak’s article.  Latham examines actual data on key child welfare measures in the first month since COVID-19 changed everything. There are some useful insights at the conclusion of the post, but he begins with this caution:

A lot of people have been asking, hypothesizing, and, frankly, guessing about what effect a global pandemic and quarantine coupled with unprecedented levels of governmental and community response will have on child welfare measures. Anyone who claims certainty right now is selling something. We really don’t know.

--Child welfare agencies are responding just as badly in Australia – the same fearmongering about fewer calls to hotlines and the same wholesale bans on visits between foster children and their parents.  The Family Inclusion Network, which  advocates “for the rightful place of parents, family and community as key stakeholders when children are involved in the child protection system” has a report out on the consequences, with excellent recommendations for how authorities in Australia – and everywhere else – can do better.

● Of course, even when some agencies try to do better, others will undermine those efforts. In New York City, some private child welfare agencies are ignoring both federal guidance and policy from the City’s Administration for Children’s Services concerning visits.  As I note in this blog post, they want their staff to be deemed “essential workers” but they don’t want to do the essential work.

● Andrew Brown of the Texas Public Policy Foundation has an op-ed in The Hill about how the child welfare establishment wants to grab billions of dollars to make the system bigger instead of better. And here’s my take on they’re after.

● In last week’s round-up I noted that some divorced parents in custody disputes were trying to leverage COVID-19 to deny custody or visitation to their exes – because those exes are first responders.  Mike Hixenbaugh of NBC News reports on more such cases. I am aware of no court that has issued a blanket ban on visits when a child is moving between spouses – yet somehow child welfare agencies and court systems think it’s fine to impose such bans when middle-class foster parents want them in order to thwart visits from overwhelmingly poor birth parents.

● While all the fearmongering is about the supposed danger posed by birth parents, here’s a reminder from Hawaii about how sometimes the danger lies elsewhere.  And here are some data to put that story in context.

In other news:

● A New York Daily News editorial supports the state’s recent reforms to its blacklist of alleged child abusers – reforms won thanks to the efforts of family advocates and family defenders.

● The Chronicle of Social Change reports on that good change to the federal Child Welfare Policy Manual mentioned in last week’s round-up – the one that allows federal funds to be used to partially reimburse expenses for child and family defense teams – including social workers and parent advocates – not just the lawyers themselves.

● And finally: The website Healio reports on another threat to children’s lives. According to a new study, children in foster care are significantly more likely to die during their youth than children in the general population. The “child abuse pediatrician” who did the study took great pains to emphasize she was not claiming that foster care caused the increased mortality rate.  Heavans, no!  But we do know that foster children fare worse on a whole slew of other measures compared even to comparably maltreated children left in their own homes.