Wednesday, August 19, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 18, 2020

● #StopTheClock Take one racist law, add a racist response to a pandemic and what do you get? A formula for family destruction. The law is the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), passed at the same time – and built on the same foundation of racial and class bias as the “welfare bill” and the “crime bill.”

Among its many odious provisions: With limited exceptions, states must move to terminate a child’s right to her or his parents (that’s what “termination of parental rights” really means) if a child has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. The requirement applies even if the child never should have been taken away and even if the time elapsed due to agency stalling and/or incompetence.

Now, child welfare’s poor response to the pandemic has drastically curbed in-person visits between foster children and their parents - considered essential for reunification – and, in many cases, cut off parents from the services they need to reunify. (Often the services do no good; they’re hoops families must jump through, but now even the hoops sometimes have been taken away.)  But the ASFA clock keeps ticking.

Rep. Gwen Moore, (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation to #StopTheClock during a public health emergency. Full details, including links to the bill text, an article from The Imprint, Rep. Moore’s interview with Rise and more are on this resource page from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.  For additional context see this article from New York University Law School Professor (and NCCPR President) Martin Guggenheim, and this resource from NCCPR.

● The harm of residential treatment.  It really is a coincidence: NCCPR’s column for The Imprint on why residential treatment should be abolished, because it’s not just a matter of a few “rotten apples” ran at the same time as the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed the horrors in one of the industry’s biggest “orchards,” the Devereux McTreatment chain.  That story included this remarkably revealing statement by a top official at Devereux concerning abuse in residential treatment:


I wrote about it in this Blog post.  The Inquirer has run the traditional follow-up story in which various government officials and agencies who should have realized how bad things were all along are now expressing their shock and outrage.

● On racism in child welfare. Just about everyone suddenly claims to have noticed that there is racism in the child welfare. A lot of them just put out statements drenched in hypocrisy that are belied by their actions. But there are some notable, impressive exceptions. One of them is Cathy Krebs who directs the American Bar Association Children’s Rights Litigation Committee. In The Imprint she writes:


It can be challenging and even painful to acknowledge that despite good intentions, our child welfare system often does more harm than good. Moreover, because investigating child abuse and neglect and protecting children should be a neutral goal, it is harder still to confront that our system is particularly destructive to Black children and families. …

Beyond the statistics, we often see evidence of systemic racism in our individual cases. It is evident every time we remove a Black child from a family when we know a similarly situated white family would not have their child removed. It is evident every time we place a Black child into congregate care rather than into a relative’s home for the sole reason that the system deems that home to be too small, as families of color and various cultures live in a wide variety of arrangements, as compared with the more typical white, suburban, American household. 

● More about racism in child welfare. Several others worth taking seriously have columns in the most recent issue of the federal government’s Children’s Bureau Express.  I haven’t yet read them all, but notable among those I’ve read are columns by the Bureau’s Associate Commissioner, Jerry Milner, and his Special Assistant David Kelly, the Birth Parent National Network, Bethany Christian Services (that one surprised me, but their comments condemning ASFA suggest they may be serious) Judy Meltzer, president of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, and Prof. Vivek Sankaran, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School who writes:

When a case enters the juvenile court, we proceed without recognizing the oppressive policies that contributed to the family's instability. We impose strict time limits on reunification even when we know that decades of systemic racism played a role in the family's predicament. We celebrate the destruction of families despite acknowledging that families in our system never got the support they deserve, both before and after they became involved with child welfare.

● And more … The racism in child welfare is aptly revealed in this Boston Globe story about school districts calling in child abuse reports against parents who couldn’t always get their students online for classes – but not all school districts, of course.  As Bianca Vázquez Toness reports:

 The trend was most common in high-poverty, predominantly Black and Latino school districts in Worcester, Springfield, Haverhill, and Lynn; advocates and lawyers reported few, if any, cases from wealthier communities.

 As with so much else, COVID-19 has highlighted and worsened, a pre-existing condition  Again, 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.”

 ● And still more … I got a lesson in how what Krebs calls “unnoticed, unresolved” racism permeates child welfare this week.

It began when some Oregon legislators made the preposterous claim that one in seven children is abused every year.  I wrote a blog post about it.  Then, I learned that the source of this claim was a misreading of a slipshod summary of a study. Then I discovered that, without ever intending to do so, the study authors included a definition of abuse tainted by racism. This particular study, a national survey, has been repeated over and over for decades. But I’d never noticed the racial bias problem before. Here’s the updated blog post.

● When “Florida Man” is the governor. The racist false narrative about how, now that mostly white, professional “eyes” aren’t on poor nonwhite kids, their parents will unleash a pandemic of child abuse – a narrative created and fueled largely by the political left (and amplified by credulous media) is now being used by at least one far-right politician, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to push his dangerous agenda of forcing schools in the state to reopen. I have a blog post about it.

● You can’t fight trauma with trauma. Karen de Sa, editor of The Imprint and reporter Nadra Nittle take an in-depth look at California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ attempt to fight trauma with trauma – inflicting an Adverse Childhood Experiences survey, and with it, the risk of getting caught in the web of child protective services, on millions of impoverished Californians.  That is not, of course, how the story puts it, it’s my interpretation, something I’ve written about before.

 But according to the story:

 [S]creening for adverse childhood experiences has been met with growing concern among health researchers and child welfare experts in the U.S. and abroad. While few doubt that severe stress in childhood can lead to ailments later in life, tools such as PEARLS used during doctors’ appointments are described in prominent scientific journals as inappropriate and unethical, oversimplifying human experience and straining doctor-patient trust. Critics also warn that answers on the forms could lead more families in low-income and Black and brown communities to become entangled with child welfare authorities. What’s more, physicians who aren’t familiar with trauma may inadvertently harm patients by the very nature of the questions, and their sensitivity.

 ● And finally … There is some better news from Minnesota, where the Black Civic Network has joined the fight to pass the African American Family Preservation Act.