Wednesday, August 12, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 11, 2020

So much news this week, it’s hard to know where to start.  But let’s begin with some important new research:

 ● Prof. Kelly Fong effectively embedded with a child welfare agency, interviewing more than 100 caseworkers, family members and “mandatory reporters.” The result is a damning indictment of a system that fails even when everyone tries to do the right thing. I have a discussion of the study, with links to the full study, on this blog.

 ● Even as one major news organization after another has debunked the whole “pandemic of child abuse” myth, The New York Times bought into it. And instead of doing the story themselves they outsourced it to a reporter with a disturbing track record.  I have a blog post about it.

 ● Some in New Mexico want to double down on the failed approach the Times story advocates. I have a column in Youth Today about why that will backfire.

 ● Everything the Times doesn’t seem to understand is explained in this op-ed column for The Imprint by New York City family defenders. They write:

 In our view, those who call the police on Black people for “looking out of place” are motivated by the same thing that people who anticipate a child abuse pandemic due to a lack of white eyes on poor Black and brown children: racism.
White America is slowly beginning to understand the fear that Black people experience when confronted by the police. We know that this same fear exists for many Black and brown people about child welfare authorities, especially in low-income neighborhoods. 

● And in Illinois, Attorneys at the Shriver Center on Policy Law write in the Chicago Sun-Times about why Gov. J.B. Pritzker should expand his ambitious agenda for reforming juvenile justice to reform the system that does so much to fuel the failed juvenile justice system – the failed child welfare system.  They write:  

As in the juvenile legal system, Black families are disproportionately entangled in the foster system. The often racialized and biased assessments of what constitutes “good” or “bad” parenting explain why approximately 53% of Black children nationwide will experience an investigation for abuse or neglect by age 18, and why Black parents in Illinois are over-represented in these investigations.
It also explains why Black people statewide are 14% of the population while Black children make up 44% of the foster population. In Cook County, Black people are 24% of the population while Black children represent over 70% of the foster population. 

● The failings described in Prof. Fong’s study ultimately lead to the biggest failing of all: The anishment of parents from a child’s life – at least for the duration of her or his childhood.  That process has been accelerated by a vicious, racist federal law, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.  Like the infamous crime law and welfare law passed at about the same time, ASFA was animated by hatred of poor people – in particular poor women of color.

 Its provisions include a requirement that if a child has been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months, the state must petition for termination of parental rights – even if the child was wrongfully taken in the first place, and even if delays prolonging foster care were the agency’s own fault.  (There are, in fact, exceptions to this requirement, but since states often are enthusiastic about tearing apart poor families, those exceptions often are ignored.)

 The timelines apply even when it is impossible for parents to jump through all the required hoops because of, say, a pandemic.

 But now, as Michael Fitzgerald reports in The Imprint, Rep. Gwen Moore, (D-Wis.) has introduced a bill to suspend the timelines when there is a public health emergency and for one year after the emergency ends.

 Oddly, all those child welfare groups like the Children’s Defense Fund and the Child Welfare League of America that issued pious pronouncements supporting racial justice and proclaiming solidary with #BlackLivesMatter haven’t yet sent around the usual “sign-on letter” to support this bill.  Must be just a temporary oversight – right?

 ● Another bill is a lot more popular with these groups – because it spends more money on child welfare.  But at least this one doesn’t spend more on the policing functions of child welfare. In fact, unlike many other such bills, this one spends money in ways that might do some good.  The Imprint has a summary.

 ● Something else Prof. Fong’s study makes clear: You won’t fix the failures of child welfare just by firing those caseworkers who think it’s a good idea to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Professional Kidnapper” as happened in Arizona.  But, for the record, the Arizona Republic has an update on that story.

 ● Still another crucial failure of child welfare in coping with COVID-19: Cutting off all in-person visits between children in foster care and their parents. Many states now are beginning to allow some in-person visits, but it’s too little, too late.  Just ask former foster youth, as Legal Services of New Jersey did in this video: