Tuesday, August 25, 2020

NCCPR News and commentary round-up, week ending August 25, 2020

● We start with the call to action from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.  Under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), with some limited exceptions states are required to petition courts to terminate children’s rights to their parents (that’s what termination of parental rights really means) if the children have been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months. This applies even if the children never should have been taken, and even if the time in foster care was prolonged due to agency failure.

That’s bad enough for children in normal times. Now, COVID-19 has placed new barriers in front of these children, often denying them in-person visits that are crucial for reunification, and denying families the services to which they are entitled in order to meet requirements imposed on them by agencies themselves. (Often the services are little more than hoops to jump through, but now even the hoops have been moved farther away.)

That’s why Rep. Gwen Moore, (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation to suspend the ASFA timelines in a time of public health crisis – such as now. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has more information about the bill.  And the Shriver Center on Poverty Law has a call to action. Click here to see how you can support the #StopTheClock bill.

There’s been a lot written over the past year about a medical specialty called “child abuse pediatrics” and the disconcerting habit of some of the specialists to see child abuse whether it’s there or not.  But now Stephanie Clifford, the author of the landmark New York Times story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow” adds a whole new dimension.

Writing for The Atlantic and The Marshall Project, she zeros in on potential conflicts due to the fact that child abuse pediatricians often get part of their salary from child protective services agencies.  And she looks closely at how racial and class bias are effectively baked in to the model. She writes:

 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.

Doctors overdiagnose abuse in children they perceive as being lower-income or nonwhite. In a 2017 study, researchers gave child-abuse pediatricians cases of potential abuse with certain socioeconomic cues about the victims’ families, such as unemployed caregivers. When researchers reversed those cues—for example, by telling the doctors the caregivers were professionals—they found that diagnostic decisions changed in 40 percent of cases. A 2002 study showed that hospitals are more likely to report Black, Hispanic, and Native children for potentially abusive fractures, while other studies show that lower social class leads to more screening for abuse.

See also the excellent reporting on this topic from NBC News and the Houston Chronicle including this story about a hospital in Wisconsin where even other doctors are afraid to take their children if their children suffer an accidental injury.

● The same mindset that plagues child abuse pediatrics plagues so-called “children’s advocacy centers” where children sometimes are taken for what is supposed to be an objective determination of whether abuse actually took place.

But the head of their own trade association effectively declared that every child they are not seeing this year because of fewer referrals during the pandemic was, in fact, abused.  Again these are children the centers didn’t see – but somehow they just know every one of them was an abuse victim.  

She also urges people to call child protective services if they hear their neighbors yelling.  That’s far more likely to spread COVID-19 than to actually find there’s a child beater, torturer or rapist next door.  I have a blog post about all this, and the Washington Post’s shameful coverage of it.

● In the Boston Globe, Bianca Vázquez Toness reports on school districts harassing families with “educational neglect” reports when they couldn’t get their children online for classes. I have a blog post on it, with a link to the full story. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Schools often read into situations involving children of color, imagining “something bad happening where there is nothing,” said Elizabeth McIntyre, attorney with the School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project at Greater Boston Legal Services. One client she represented, a Black mother who worked as a hairdresser, was reported to DCF when she didn’t answer phone calls from the school when her child was having an emotional crisis. They called her three times within a 30-minute period, McIntyre said. “If she were a white parent who worked at a big law firm downtown ... the district would not file a [report].”

Now, the COVID-19 crisis and school closings have given schools new ways to surveil and punish parents, said Leon Smith, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice. That’s happening both through the close attention to online absenteeism and video conferencing that allows teachers to see inside a family’s home.

Schools aren’t calling DCF “in the suburbs, where kids are blowing off their online schooling,” he said. “It’s happening in communities of color.”

● This also has been a problem in New York City, where there was another protest against the city’s child welfare agency over the weekend.  News12 The Bronx reported on it.

● Lenore Skenazy writes in Reason about a recent court decision in a Kentucky – in a case that never should have required a court decision. She writes: 

Good news, parents: If you let your kids wait in the car for less than 10 minutes on a cool day—doors locked and fan on—a caseworker and sheriff are actually not allowed to come to your home, threaten to take your children away, and strip search the kids.

 These very basic rights were just vindicated the hard way: by a Kentucky mom in federal court.

And finally ...

● Earlier this month I wrote about a fearmongering story in The New York Times, the theme of which boiled down to: Oh my God! Children are being horribly abused because selfish caseworkers and their evil union have cut back on in-person visits, thereby preventing the same level of intrusion into the homes of overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite kids as occurred before COVID-19.

This week CBS8 in San Diego broadcast a story about a caseworker who did exactly what the Times story demanded – Well, actually it was a story about a memorial vigil for the caseworker.