Turns out they know all the answers before they even ask the questions – so why bother?
The head of the trade association also says we should turn in our neighbors if we so much as hear yelling next door. That's far more likely to spread COVID-19 than it is to find actual child abuse.
Yes, COVID-19 is putting more stress
on everyone. But why do we rush to
assume that for poor people in general and poor Black people in particular the
only way they’ll cope with it is to beat up their children?
Right now this racist stereotype is more dangerous than ever: It’s being used by right-wingers such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to put children in vastly more danger – by rushing them back to school in the middle of a pandemic.
Decades of hype
Results of calls to child abuse "hotlines."(Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,"Child Maltreatment, 2018."
Detailed discussion here.)
So let’s stop right here: Imagine if a reporter wrote that curbs on stop-and-frisk policing make it “terrifyingly difficult to stop a crime wave.” The claim would be denounced for what it is: racist. So why are standards for journalism and for racial justice so easily abandoned as soon as someone whispers the words “child abuse” in our ears?
In fact, just as stop-and-frisk does
not reduce crime, research makes clear that the surveillance state approach to
child abuse – all those “watchful eyes”
calling child abuse hotlines to report anything and everything – has backfired
and made all
children less safe.
The advocacy center survey
But that’s not the real revelation in the story.
In fact, the story reveals, bias is baked into the training for child abuse pediatricians:
To be certified, child-abuse pediatricians must “understand the influence of caregiver characteristics,” such as young parental age and military service, on abuse risk, along with “family poverty” and “family race and ethnicity,” according to an American Board of Pediatrics’ examination guide for the specialty obtained by The Marshall Project.
An earlier story reflects the same mindset
When the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the United States … 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.
Among them is Dr. Lori Frasier, who heads the child-protection program at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center and is president of a national society of pediatricians specializing in child abuse prevention and treatment.
Frasier said she got input in recent days from 18 of her colleagues across the country and “no one has experienced the surge of abuse they were expecting.”
Some school districts have sought to train staff in how to spot potential signs of abuse virtually, in online classes or meetings. In some cases, children’s advocacy centers have tried to reach children in new ways, slipping messages into supply bags or into homework lessons.
How it hurts children
All of this hurts children in so many ways:
● It makes children more vulnerable to enormously traumatic needless investigations and stripsearches. One study found that this trauma will be inflicted on more than half of all Black children before they grow up.
● It makes children more vulnerable to being consigned to the chaos of foster care – an inherently devastating experience emotionally, often leading to devastating outcomes in later life, and one where the likelihood of abuse is shockingly high.
● It increases the risk of COVID-19,
not only by helping people like Ron DeSantis force schools to reopen, but also through
needless investigations in which caseworkers march through homes, interview
people at close quarters and poke through closets, cupboards and refrigerators
– and then move on to more homes to do the same.
None of this seemed to occur to Huizar when, in a similar story promoting her survey in Insider, she frantically urges us all to report our slightest suspicions – even hearing neighbors yelling at each other, Huizar says, should be enough to bring down the full weight of the child abuse police upon families who are almost always poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Declares Huizar:
"If you suspect that, turn it over to professionals who are absolutely able to suss out whether it's the normal pressures of COVID that's causing the yelling next door, or if it's something truly abusive and traumatic going on."
This is wrong on so many levels.
● For starters when you call a child abuse hotline, the person who comes to the door to check out the yelling probably won’t be much of a professional. More likely s/he’ll be essentially an amateur. In most states child protective services investigators (the child abuse police) need have only a bachelor’s degree in fields vaguely related to the work and a short training course.
● These professionals’ track record for racial bias and class bias has been documented over and over. And, as noted above, the same goes for the medical "professionals" who examine children who allegedly have been abused.
● Right now, in addition to all the other trauma inflicted on children by needless investigations, investigating a family just because a neighbor hears them yelling is more likely to spread COVID-19 than it is to reveal that a child is actually being beaten or tortured.
● And Huizar herself has said there is nothing to suss – she’s already made up her mind that every child not being seen by children’s advocacy centers due to the reduction in reporting has been abused. (She said it again in the Insider story.)
An endless loop of confirmation bias
Schmidt has not broken free of the
bubble of sources who confirm what she already thinks. What would she find if she went out into poor
communities? What if she spoke to
leaders of the Movement for Black Lives? They have a very
different take on the whole system, (Click on the link and
scroll down to “Foster care and child welfare”.) What if she consulted scholars such as Prof. Dorothy Roberts,
author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of
Child Welfare (and an NCCPR Board Member)? What if she spoke to
the authors of
this report from the Movement for Family Power? What if she reached out to the people
marching in the streets of New York City who think children would be safer
if the entire child welfare agency were abolished?
Kendra Hurley understood this when she reported her story for CityLab. This is some of what she found:
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.”