Wednesday, July 29, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 29, 2020

● I’ve been writing for many years about how federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds – money intended to help poor people become self-sufficient – is misused by states to fund child abuse investigations, foster care, and even subsidize adoptions by the middle class and the wealthy.  Now Stateline, the Pew Charitable Trusts news service, has a comprehensive investigation of how TANF has become a slush fund.  I have a blog post about it, highlighting the child welfare portions, with a link to the full story.

● Alan Detlaff, dean of the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston, and co-chair of the UpEND Movement writes in the Houston Chronicle about why the child welfare system is proof that social workers should not partner with police:

We only need to look at the child welfare system to see the harm that social workers cause Black families. Social workers over-surveil, over-police and over-remove Black children from their parents. Black children are overrepresented in foster care at a rate nearly double their proportion in the general population. We have known about this for decades and have been unable to resolve this.
We also know that separating children from their parents causes harm. As a nation, we’ve witnessed the harm and trauma that result when children are separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border. This same harm and trauma occur when children are forcibly separated from their parents by child protection authorities. And although those decisions are supposed to be made in the name of safety, they are often based on racial biases among child welfare caseworkers, many of whom are social workers. To be effective in resolving crises, we need to examine our own systems, and begin to train social workers to not only respond to crises, but to do so in a way that doesn’t perpetuate harmful, racist outcomes.

● Shanta Trivedi, clinical teaching fellow at Georgetown University Law Center writes for NBC Think about how police, like so many other “mandated reporters,” are too prone to report Black families to child welfare agencies when they confuse those families’ poverty with neglect. She writes:

 Common behaviors in white communities can lead to removal in minority neighborhoods, often because police are more likely to patrol there. …
Once embroiled in the child welfare system, there is bias throughout. Two studies in Texas demonstrated that even though Black families on average were given lower risk scores than white families when initially assessed on whether children could safely remain at home, they were 20 percent more likely to have their case opened for services, and 77 percent more likely to have their children removed instead of being provided with family-based safety services.

● In the Chronicle of Social Change Emma Williams writes about why the first step toward getting the public to see the “child welfare” system for what it really is, is to stop calling it the child welfare system, and start using a more accurate term: family regulation system.

● Notwithstanding the ugly behavior of some child welfare bureaucrats pandering to selfish foster parents, it is, in fact, often possible for foster children to get safe, in person visits with their parents.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has detailed guidelines concerning how, and when, it can be done.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Stateline exposes use of TANF as a child welfare slush fund

Billions of dollars that should be used to help poor people become self-sufficient are routinely diverted to fund child abuse investigations, foster care, and adoption. 

            For at least 14 years, I’ve been writing about how the federal welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children, has become a child welfare slush fund. 

            Billions of dollars that should be used to help poor people become self-sufficient are routinely diverted to fund child abuse investigations, foster care, and adoption.  Reporting requirements are vague and details are scarce, but we know this much: In 2016, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, of the $13.5 billion in federal funds spent each year on the child welfare system, (or as Prof. Dorothy Roberts more accurately calls it, the “family regulation system,”) 20 percent - $2.7 billion -- came from money that was supposed to help poor people to, among other things, keep their children out of the family regulation system.  I explained how the TANF child welfare slush fund works in detail for Youth Today in 2010 and again in 2016

Even without counting TANF, this year the federal government is expected to spend nearly $12 on foster care and adoption for every dollar spent on prevention and family preservation.  The gap has actually worsened from four years ago when it was “only” 10 to 1.  Now, add to the foster care / adoption / child protective services side of the ledger up to $2.7 billion* in TANF money that should have gone to impoverished families. As I noted in 2010, had Madonna decided to adopt a child from Michigan instead of Malawi, she would have been eligible for a subsidy – paid for with federal TANF funds.

            And now we know more. Stateline, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, has published an excellent investigative report by Jenni Bergal, all about the legal, but flagrantly immoral, diversion of TANF funds for all sorts of purposes.  (It’s amazing how many ways states can find to make poor people subsidize the rest of us.)  The practice is so despicable that it was denounced across the political spectrum, by scholars from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, to the American Enterprise Institute to the Heritage Foundation.

            Here are the highlights specific to child welfare:

            Let’s start with Arizona, where at least eight caseworkers, almost the entire investigative staff of one child protective services office, dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Professional Kidnapper.” The workers were fired, but only because they were dumb enough to literally wear their sentiments on their sleeves.  The numbers back up the words – Arizona tears apart families at a rate nearly 50 percent above the national average – but no one else has been fired for it.

            Now we know the extent to which poor people in Arizona are subsidizing having their children “professionally kidnapped.”  According to Stateline:

In Arizona, nearly two-thirds of the $334 million in federal and state TANF spending in 2018 went to its child welfare system to deal with abused or neglected children, foster care and other services. Just 12.5% went to cash assistance and 2% to work-related activities and support, according to [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] data.
That decision — made by the legislature — angers Democratic state Rep. Mitzi Epstein, who said child welfare programs should be funded through general revenue, not TANF dollars.

Now, let’s pause to consider that for a moment. Remember all those hype-filled stories about how the so-called Family First Act would be a revolutionary change for the better because sooooooo much new funding would be available to help poor people keep their families together?  Don’t believe the hype.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that over the next ten years, for the entire country, the amount of money formerly reserved for foster care that states actually will use under Family First to help impoverished families keep their children out of the family regulation system will average only $130 million per year.

                                                                                                  Map from

 But Arizona alone is diverting more than $200 million in federal TANF money from impoverished families to “professional kidnappers” and the foster care system every year.

Elsewhere, even some child welfare agency administrators are upset. From the story:

Marketa Garner Walters, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, said in an interview with Stateline that she would like to see her state distribute TANF money differently and stop using it to pay for programs such as child abuse investigations and a homeless initiative.  “But all these programs have a legislative champion,” she said.

It’s similar in Georgia, a state whose horrific approach to TANF was first exposed by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones more than a decade ago.  As she wrote at the time:

Some states have used surplus TANF money to expand child care, job training, and transportation to help recipients find jobs. But Georgia didn’t use the bulk of its money for those programs—instead, it cut spending on child care and put the money into child protective services in the wake of a lawsuit against the state over the mistreatment of children in foster care. 
Needless to say, the lawsuit in question – the one which wound up taking money away from impoverished families to help fund child abuse investigations and foster care – was one of the McLawsuits brought by the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights.”

So, let’s see what’s changed since 2009. Again, from Stateline:

[W]hile Georgia invests only 2% of its state and federal TANF dollars on work, education and training activities, it spends 43% on the child welfare system, …  
“State policy makers have been supportive of child welfare services as a safety net for children and families,”[Georgia Department of Human Services Spokesperson Patrice] Meadows wrote in an email, “but in general our policy makers are not big supporters of high levels of cash assistance.”

Unless the cash goes to middle-class foster or adoptive parents, of course.

*-A case can be made that not all TANF spending on child welfare is wrong. Some money goes to help grandparents and other relatives providing kinship foster care. These grandparents can’t be paid like stranger-care parents unless, like the middle-class strangers, they can meet all sorts of hypertechnical licensing requirements geared more to middle-class creature comforts than to health or safety.  But in most cases there is a better solution: Streamline the licensing requirements and then help poor people to meet them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 21, 2020

● Apparently, it was the must-have fashion accessory at the Prescott office of the Arizona Department of Child Services: T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Professional Kidnapper.” So many staff wore them, the Arizona Republic reports, that when word finally got out and they were fired, the office was left with only one investigator.  All of which raises one obvious question: How many other child protective services caseworkers – the child abuse police – all over America share the sentiment but aren’t dumb enough to put it on a T-shirt?

Indeed, the rate of removal in Yavapai County, Arizona, which includes Prescott, though obscenely high, is actually only a little higher than metropolitan Phoenix and lower than the rate in metropolitan Tucson, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.  And while the rate of removal in Yavapai County is more than 60 percent above the national average, again when rates of child poverty are factored in, the average rates of removal in 14 states are even higher. But no one’s been fired in Tucson, or all those other states - presumably because they make better fashion choices.

So this seems like a particularly good time for a reminder of just how much tragedy is caused by workers who take the destruction of families as some kind of joke:

● In The Nation, Sylvia Harvey tells the heartbreaking story of the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of families needlessly destroyed by the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act through the story of one such family.

● In Filter, Elizabeth Brico writes about another family under siege because of ASFA: her own.

● Still another story, this one from Wesley Muller in the Louisiana Illuminator calls into question the dominant – and frankly racially biased – master narrative about child abuse and COVID-19, the one about how, when white people aren’t looking Black parents will unleash a “pandemic of child abuse” upon their children.  Add that to the excellent stories challenging this narrative in Bloomberg Citylab, The Marshall Project and the Associated Press

● In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times goes beyond a controversial court decision in a single high-profile case. It poses questions about the functioning of child welfare that are almost never asked in Los Angeles. From the editorial:

County child welfare departments are indeed police of a sort, possessing the stunning governmental power to take children from their parents even without court orders. Without doubt they remove kids disproportionately from Black and Latino families. For all their good intentions, and the good intentions of a citizenry that demands more aggressive child protection, critics say that child welfare agencies operate from a racially and culturally ignorant perspective that sees poverty as child abuse. Beware calls to defund police in favor of funding social welfare agencies, they argue, when those agencies are also steeped in a racist and harm-causing framework. Their proposed solutions can be too extreme, but their argument is interesting and warrants serious debate.

● The editorial cites the work of NCCPR Board Member Prof. Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the recent report from the Movement for Family Power. Prof. Roberts and MFP co-director Lisa Sangoi discuss Black Families Matter: Ending Family Regulation Systems in this podcast.

● The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law sponsored an excellent webinar, “A Conversation about the Manifestation of White Supremacy in the Institution of Child Welfare.” Since I don’t imagine everyone will have time to watch all of it, I’ve cued the video to the presentation of Clinical Consultant Maleeka Jihad.  She discusses the racist underpinnings of the system’s constant attempt to describe social justice problems as mental health problems – and how this dates all the way back to efforts to justify slavery.

● Unfortunately, too many political leaders don’t get the basic fact that in child welfare the caseworkers are the police.  This misunderstanding can be seen in part of one of the proposals to pour money into child welfare in response to COVID-19. As I note in this Blog post, that proposal could have an unusual side effect.

● Call it the new, improved audit of Oregon child welfare. Unlike a previous audit by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, this one zeros in on the problem driving all the others: Oregon’s obscene rate of tearing apart families.  I have an op-ed about it in the Salem Statesman Journal and I discuss it in more detail in a blog post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Would a Senate bill (accidentally) end child abuse investigations in some states and counties?

Probably not. But the bill reveals how little lawmakers know about how child welfare really works.

            Last week I updated a previous post to this Blog concerning various proposed federal legislation to provide more money to child welfare in response to COVID-19. The update concerned a bill for which the full text was only recently released.  It’s called the “Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act” and it’s sponsored by four Democratic Senators.

The update dealt with how governments would be allowed to spend $2 billion in additional federal funds.

But there’s another intriguing provision of the bill. It’s called “Requirement for De-escalation Strategies Relating to Interactions With Law Enforcement Authorities.” It requires governments to

(A) develop and implement de-escalation strategies to—
(i) reduce unnecessary interactions with law enforcement authorities for children, youth, and families coming to the attention of child welfare agencies and for children and youth in foster care; …
(iii) ensure that any involvement of law enforcement authorities in child abuse or neglect investigations, child welfare interventions, placement incidents, or court or administrative proceedings involving children or youth in foster care, is not coercive or intended to intimidate … 

But there’s a problem: There are places in the United States where law enforcement is in charge of all child abuse investigations.  In Nebraska, law enforcement performs initial investigations and decides whether or not to remove children.  That also is the case in six Florida counties.

There is no action government can take against a family that is more coercive than tearing it apart and consigning the children to the chaos of foster care. The threat of such action is pretty intimidating.  And almost all interaction between child abuse investigators and families is unnecessary since at least 80 percent of all reports they investigate – and probably far more – are false. 

So if federal law were to prohibit law enforcement from doing anything unnecessary, coercive or intimidating during a child abuse investigation, law enforcement could no longer lead child abuse investigations.

Of course even if such a bill became law – and it almost certainly won’t – the investigations wouldn’t really stop. At most, they would be transferred back to state or local child protective services agencies.  But Florida’s record suggests that would make no difference.

In Florida the change was made with the hope that it would lead to more children being taken from their families. The theory was that hardnosed cops wouldn’t be “fooled” by those awful parents who could sucker bleeding heart caseworkers.

In fact, when the transition was pending I heard such hopes – or fears, depending on who was expressing them -- and I said at the time nothing would really change.  At this time Florida was in the midst of one of its periodic foster-care panics. Workers already were rushing to tear apart families needlessly; turning over the job to people who might have some concept of things like “evidence” wasn’t going to make things worse.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve checked, as far as I know that turned out to be correct. I know of no pattern showing that counties where sheriffs do the investigating are more likely to take away children than areas where the responsibility remains with the Florida Department of Children and Families.  They’re equally awful.

That’s something sponsors of this bill, and all those rushing to suggest that money saved from defunding the police should be plowed into social work, need to understand. In child welfare, the caseworkers are the police.  They exercise the ultimate coercive power over another human being and they have more leeway to do it than the police who wear blue uniforms.

Consider another example from Florida: When law enforcement wanted to sneak into a home to do a search for marijuana plants but couldn’t get a warrant, they pretended to be DCF caseworkers because they knew the family wouldn’t dare keep them out!

As Professor Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a member of NCCPR's Board of Directors has written:

            I am concerned by recommendations to transfer money, resources and authority from the police to health and human services agencies that handle child protective services (CPS). These proposals ignore how the misnamed “child welfare” system, like the misnamed “criminal justice” system, is designed to regulate and punish black and other marginalized people. It could be more accurately referred to as the “family regulation system.”

            What we really need are laws that force CPS agencies to de-escalate their own attacks on families – attacks that often destroy children in order to “save” them.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Oregon’s new, improved child welfare audit

This time, they noticed the elephant in the room.
Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno gets it ...
Call it the new, improved audit.  Two years after issuing an audit that only fueled the take-the-child-and-run mentality in Oregon child welfare, the office of the Secretary of State (led by a new Secretary of State, Bev Clarno) tried again, and came much closer to getting it right.

Most important, the new audit devotes a whole section to the elephant in the room: Oregon’s extreme outlier status when it comes to taking away children – and it notes the research showing how harmful this is to those children.  I have a commentary about the new audit in the Salem Statesman Journal.
Think of this as a supplement, since there are a few points for which there was not room in the column:

The demise of “differential response”

● Workers lamented supposedly not being able to provide help unless there is “a safety threat.” That’s not quite correct. Workers themselves decide if there is a safety threat; the bigger problem, noted throughout the audit, is the fact that the services don’t exist or they’re the wrong kind of services, as is discussed below.

But it is true that Oregon briefly had a better way to reach families before a crisis – a way that more than two dozen studies have found to be safe and effective: Differential response (DR). To its credit, the audit takes note of the fact that Oregon once had this option – and notes its demise.  What it does not say is that DR was the victim of a political hit job led by Oregon media’s Godsource for all things child welfare, State Sen. Sara Gelser.

Gelser was the major force behind legislation that killed Oregon’s “differential response” initiative. She moved ahead either without waiting for or simply ignoring the final results of a comprehensive independent evaluation. (The evaluation is dated June, 2017, her bill killing DR passed in early July of that year.) According to that evaluation:

[O]ur analyses find no evidence that DR undermines the safety of children in Oregon. [Emphasis in original.] 
The evaluation found that families receiving a differential response intervention were significantly less likely to have another substantiated report of child abuse than a matched comparison group of families who got a traditional Oregon child protective services investigation.

Gelser’s media free ride has included constant demands that everyone else be held accountable. When will Sen. Gelser be held accountable for all she’s done to make Oregon’s bad child welfare system even worse?

Racial bias

● The audit takes the first steps toward examining the racial bias that permeates child welfare in a state where Black children are in foster care at double their rate in the general population, and Native American children are in foster care at five times their rate in the general population.

In poor communities and communities of color, workers for agencies such as the Oregon Department of Human Services are not seen as friendly helpers – they are seen for what they are, a police force; a force that actually has more power than the police who wear blue uniforms.  With Portland now an epicenter of #BlackLivesMatter protests, this seems like a good time to finally take a close look at Oregon’s child abuse police, too.

...Oregon State Sen. Sara Gelser does not.
It’s also a good time to recall that, though nationwide more than half of all Black children will  be forced to endure a child abuse investigation before they turn 18 – almost always needlessly – Sen. Gelser first came to prominence by claiming, wrongly, that Oregon wasn’t investigating enough families.

Now Gelser is crusading against the Sequel chain of Residential McTreatment Centers.  She is absolutely right about the horrors exposed at Sequel facilities. But states ship kids to places like this because they claim they don’t have enough foster homes. In most cases, definitely including Oregon, the “shortage” of foster homes is artificial – caused by the state taking away too many children in the first place.

Yes, like most people involved with child welfare, Sen. Gelser has good intentions. But by demanding even more needless investigations into overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite families, fueling hype and hysteria about child abuse, and killing off differential response, Gelser shares responsibility for creating conditions that get children sent to Sequel facilities in the first place.

The right kind of help

● It’s not just a matter of services, it’s a matter of the right kind of services.  On page 12, the audit gives three case examples of times DHS did manage to provide intensive services to families. Twice the services were successful, the third time they were not.  

In the case where the services didn’t work there was a heavy emphasis on “help” designed primarily to make the helpers feel good – the ubiquitous “mentoring” and “mental health services.” The success stories revealed an emphasis on concrete help – in particular health insurance and cash, and drug treatment where parent and child could stay together.  In these cases the cost of the help also was significantly less.

Spend smarter

● Speaking of cost, take it from a tax and spend liberal – DHS does not need more money, it needs to spend smarter. The audit has some eye-popping figures concerning how much more DHS has been spending in recent years – and most of the money is state funds, which means it could have been spent on smart alternatives to foster care.  There is no indication that’s what happened. So the additional spending didn’t change the dismal results.

Even before these big increases, in 2016 (the most recent year for which comparative data are available) Oregon spent proportionately on child welfare at one of the highest rates in America.

So Oregon could do a lot simply by spending smarter.  Yet now that the federal government is giving states the chance to do this – albeit in only a very limited way – via the so-called Family First Act, DHS apparently lacks either the courage or the competence to do much with it.  What may be the single most useful program Family First can fund is the Homebuilders Intensive Family Preservation Services program. But the audit makes a point of noting that this program doesn’t exist in Oregon. The audit also reports (p.6) that DHS plans to make only “limited changes initially…”

            Oregon’s children need so much more.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

NCCPR in Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal on the new, improved audit of Oregon child welfare.

To the credit of Oregon's current Secretary of State, Bev Clarno,
her office is now paying attention to what her predecessor ignored.

From NCCPR’s commentary in the Salem Statesman Journal:

Anyone who fears that government agencies never learn should be reassured by what’s happened at the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

Two years ago, that office issued a scathing audit of Oregon child welfare that managed to ignore the most important cause of its failure: Oregon’s obscene, decades-old-record of tearing apart families needlessly at rates well above the national average.

The 2018 audit devotes exactly one sentence to this. And the lead auditor told Oregon Public Broadcasting she didn’t know if Oregon consigning children to the chaos of foster care at such a high rate made Oregon “worse or better” than other states.

Two years later, they know.

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