Tuesday, May 5, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 5, 2020

● Let’s begin with a challenge to the conventional wisdom about child welfare and COVID-19 that has revealed so much about unacknowledged bias in child welfare systems and newsrooms.  It’s from this excellent op-ed in the New York Daily News from four prominent family defenders. They write:

While the media seems wedded to a narrative that suggests more child abuse is occuring, that is not our experience, and we should not let an unsubstantiated narrative divert us from the reality that many children can return home safely and are harmed further by staying in the system. It’s time to evolve our thinking and lessen the pain and suffering of the families torn apart by this system. It is time to bring children home.

● Unfortunately, neither the New York City Administration for Children’s Services nor the private agencies that dominate foster care in the city is rising to the challenge.  Contrary to guidance from both ACS and the federal government, many private agencies are cutting off all in-person visits between children in foster care and their parents.  Uptown Radio has a very good story about it. And I have a blog post about private agencies that want their staff to be declared “essential workers” – but don’t want to actually do the essential work.

● Also in New York City: When the coronavirus crisis began I heard rumors that schools were actually calling in reports of  “educational neglect” when their children did not “show up” for online classes.  The online news site The City found out that’s actually been happening. In contrast, The New York Times reports on the sympathy, even praise that white, middle-class parents get when they give up on online classes for their kids.  I have a blog post about it, with links to both stories.

● Fortunately, a ruling by a New York appellate court, in a case that predated COVID-19, might help speed up the process of reunifying families. The Chronicle of Social Change has a story about it.

● All these stories about the value of high-quality legal representation reinforce the point made by Vivek Sankaran in this column: In child welfare cases, just any lawyer won’t do.

● Also from Prof. Sankaran and Prof.Christopher Church, in the SMU Law Review Forum:  Rethinking Foster Care: Why Our Current Approach to Child Welfare Has Failed.

Rise has a story on the value of this kind of representation in New Jersey – and why it’s especially important now.

Also in Rise, an interview with the head of the Children’s Bureau, Jerry Milner, and his Special Assistant, David Kelly on the right way to respond to COVID-19.

● For a classic example of the wrong way to respond, check out Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.

In other news:

● Of course we want to help kids cope with trauma. But as long as those administering a questionnaire to poor people about “adverse childhood experiences” also are mandatory child abuse reporters, it is unsafe for poor families to respond.  California is making poor families guinea pigs in a dangerous experiment. I have a column about it in Youth Today.

● The Department of Health and Human Services has issued an information memorandum to child welfare agencies and courts about how to make foster care what it should have been all along, “a support to families, not a substitute for parents.”

In the same issue of Children’s Bureau Express, attorney Kathleen Creamer writes about a client, Denise, and her daughter Autumn, whom she helped early in her career. The foster parents fought tooth and nail to terminate the mother’s parental rights.  They lost.  But then …

Understandably, Autumn's foster parents experienced tremendous grief and loss when Autumn went home to her mother. They reached out to Denise and asked if they could visit with Autumn, and Denise asked for my advice. On the one hand, these foster parents had been incredibly hostile to her for months on end and tried to take away forever the most precious thing in her life. On the other hand, Autumn loved them, and Denise didn't want to take any love away from her daughter.
In one of the most loving acts of grace and selflessness I've ever witnessed in my career, Denise decided to open the door to contact between Autumn and her foster parents. Years later, I heard from Denise and learned that the foster parents had become family. Autumn visited with them often, and a true and supportive friendship grew between Denise and the foster parents.
Somehow Denise knew what our system too often encourages us to ignore: there is no such thing as too many loving, supportive connections in a child's life. I think a lot about how often we ignore this truth and the costs to our families of doing so.

● And finally a very short blog post from Prof. Robert Latham about a case that ignores that lesson and aptly illustrates the contempt for families of some child welfare agencies, and some courts.