This is an updated version of a post that originally appeared on Giving Tuesday in 2018.
Of all the journalists who have covered child welfare, few are more keen on pushing a take-the-child-and-run approach than former Los Angeles Times reporter Garrett Therolf. The issues with Therolf’s work at the Times were so serious that even someone who used to be an ideological soulmate found serious problems in story after story. The crescendo of criticism was such that LA Observed, a Los Angeles news site that closely tracks area media, took notice.
Then, just as he was leaving the Times, Therolf demeaned the work of Black scholars while cheerleading for those who insist that child welfare is magically immune from racial bias.
So, on this Giving Tuesday, who better to turn to for a testament to the power and influence of NCCPR – right?
Not that he offered such a testament on purpose, of course. I’m sure he didn’t even realize it.
In November, 2018, Therolf was able to get a sugar-coated version of his L.A. Times-style reporting into a national magazine. (I’m not going to link to it, but you can use the quote below to Google it if you are so inclined.) After noting how horror stories about deaths of children “known to the system” can drive increases in foster care, he discusses one of the very few cases in which it worked in reverse:
Logan Marr, a 5-year-old girl from Maine [had] been removed from her home by the state’s grossly interventionist child-protective-services agency. In a gruesome twist, Logan was placed in the custody of a former caseworker, who disciplined her by gagging her with duct tape and leaving her in the basement, where she died.
The case became the subject of a PBS documentary, and media attention made Logan a symbol of child-protective services’ overreach. The pendulum swung, and the United States saw a nearly 25 percent drop in the number of children in foster care from 2002 to 2012. [Emphasis added.]
Therolf never mentions which organization drew all that media attention to the case of Logan Marr. He probably doesn’t know. It was, of course, NCCPR. We’re the ones who told producers for Frontline about the case. That's one reason why you’ll find an NCCPR op-ed on Frontline’s website for the programs.
It was NCCPR that focused the discussion of this case, in Maine and nationally, on the fact that Logan was taken because her family poverty was confused with neglect. And it was NCCPR that shifted the focus from the usual calls for tougher licensing standards and more visits to foster homes to the real issue: Maine was taking away far too many children. There’s a detailed discussion of what we did and how we did it here.
Some caveats: We didn’t do it alone. It wouldn’t have been possible without activists in Maine led by a fed-up foster parent. Although one probably shouldn’t say this in a fundraising pitch, the attention we drew to the case of Logan Marr was not solely responsible for that big drop in foster care. But it helped. Something else we probably shouldn't say in a fundraising pitch: It's also true that, now that NCCPR has more limited resources, there's been backsliding in Maine child welfare. But even now, it's a better system than it would have been had there been no NCCPR.
NCCPR has changed the very language of the child welfare debate. We put phrases such as “foster-care panic,” and “confusing poverty with neglect” into the child welfare lexicon. We were first to understand and bring to wide attention the implications of research showing that one-third of all children, and more than half of Black children will be forced to endure a child abuse investigation – almost always due to a false report – before they turn 18.
Nationally, this year, we have led the fight to counter the pernicious, racist false narrative about COVID-19 supposedly leading to a “pandemic of child abuse.” We helped reporters for national news organizations write stories setting the record straight.
In Philadelphia we’ve made that city’s high rate of child removal such a big issue that it is referenced in almost every news story about the system – and NCCPR’s director has been named to a special committee of the Philadelphia City Council to advise the Council on what to do about it.
As the family preservation movement has grown, and as more and more advocates have realized the importance of changing child welfare systems by changing public perceptions, NCCPR has become a key resource for other advocates, providing the data and studies to back up what they see every day on the frontlines.
We never charge for this technical assistance - because the organizations fighting this fight at the grassroots level need every penny they have to keep up that fight. But that, of course, is why we need donations from those who can afford to give.
There’s more about our successes across the country here – including testimonials from child welfare leaders and journalists who actually like our work.
And best of all, we do it on a shoestring. Now that the entire staff (that’s me) is volunteer, all we need is a few thousand dollars a year for things like the phone bill, office supplies, purchasing overpriced studies (like the one that led to this) from scholarly journals, and – ideally – some travel to meet with journalists and local advocates, once travel is possible again. But the very fact that we need so little makes it easy for people to assume someone else will do it. Unfortunately, if everyone thinks someone else will make those few donations ...
There are a lot of places well worth your support on this Giving Tuesday – but very few where a small donation can get so much done.
Thank you for your support.