There's a lot of news this week, but one story stands out:
● From Mother Jones, an x-ray of the soul of a child welfare agency – in this case, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). There is so much that is so important that I hesitate to pick out just one part – but I was particularly struck by the comments of a former caseworker, whom the reporter calls Sarah:
Once, when Sarah was having trouble finding the parent she was looking for, she saw a white woman standing outside the apartment building. She told the woman that she was with ACS and asked if she knew the elusive parent. “What’s ACS?” the woman asked. Sarah was astonished. “I never met one single Black family that asked me, ‘What’s ACS?’” she said. “There’s one group of people walking around not knowing that ACS exists, and there’s another group of people walking around living in fear of ACS.” …
Most of Sarah’s calls came from schools. When Sarah showed up to investigate a case, she would be greeted by a predominantly white panel of school authorities—the teacher, the guidance counselor, the vice principal, the principal. After many interviews, Sarah concluded that in most cases the problem was not with the parents, but the schools. …
As you read the story consider: The New York City system is better than most. So wherever you are, things probably are even worse.
● One of the big cities that’s worse -- much worse -- is Los Angeles, where children are taken away at well over double the rate in New York City; in fact, L.A. tears apart families at the second highest rate among America’s biggest cities. As a first step toward changing this, Black Lives Matter L.A. has launched a campaign to end partnerships between police and the Los Angeles family policing agency, the Department of Children and Family Services. You can read about it – and sign the petition – here.
● Mother Jones also has a story about the number of foster children forced to sleep in hotel rooms, offices and other makeshift accommodations. The story also notes similar problems in Oregon. But unlike Washington state media, which have a decades-long history of ignoring the state’s high rate of removal, Mother Jones made sure readers knew that’s an important part of the problem.
● All of these problems are, of course, compounded by child welfare’s failed response to COVID-19, something we address in our new report: Child Welfare’s Pandemic of Fear: How the false, racially-biased "master narrative" about COVID-19 and child abuse hurts children.
● The report includes a discussion of the real child abuse triggered by COVID-19 – child abuse inflicted by governments when they use COVID as an excuse to cut off all visits and delay reunification. MedPage Today has a story about the harm that kind of abuse has done to children.
● NCCPR also has an essay in the latest issue of the Administration for Children and Families Children’s Bureau Express: To Be Relentless for Children, We Must Be Relentless for Families.
● And see also excellent essays from NCCPR President Prof. Martin Guggenheim, University of Michigan Law School Prof. Vivek Sankaran, Child Welfare Advocate Lexie Gruber, Nico’Lee Biddle of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Sandy Santana, executive director of Children's Rights, Shrounda Selivanoff, director of public policy, Children's Home Society of Washington, Paul Vincent, former director of the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, consultant Chuck Price, Jeremy Kohomban, president and CEO of Children’s Village, retired state and tribal court judge William Thorne, and Children’s Bureau director Jerry Milner and his Special Assistant, David Kelly.
● When New York State passed a law suspending the statute of limitations so adults could sue over sexual abuse inflicted on them as children, legislators probably had in mind suits against churches and scout troops. But the Albany Times Union found that a lot of the suits have been filed against foster parents, group homes and residential treatment centers. That should be no surprise, because as the headline – quoting NCCPR – put it: “Predators go where the prey is.”
The most chilling part of the story may be the callous response from the head of the agency whose institution was the subject of several of the cases discussed in the story. I mention this because his agency is a nonprofit that has been around for nearly 200 years. That’s worth keeping in mind while reading The Imprint / San Francisco Chronicle investigation of a for-profit McTreatment chain – Sequel (yes, them again).
It’s not that having for-profit institutions is a good idea – it’s that, often, the nonprofits stink, too.
● Many of the problems worsened by COVID-19 have their roots in the failed system of “mandatory reporting,” put in place with no evidence it would work. Dr. Mical Raz has written a book about how we got into this mess and what should be done about it. She discusses her findings here.
● A critical solution to child welfare’s many failings is high-quality family defense, which has been shown to significantly reduce foster care with no compromise of safety. The sooner the lawyer gets involved, the better it works, as a program from Legal Services of New Jersey demonstrates. The program provides representation as soon as the child protective services agency finds family problems rooted in poverty that it can’t solve on its own. From the story:
Since the inauguration of its prevention work in 2018, LSNJ has received more than 200 referrals from across New Jersey and not one child involved in those cases has been removed. Accordingly, over 300 children have remained safely with their families and avoided the trauma of being separated.
Perhaps most notable – this success wasn’t a result of LSNJ having to fight the child protective services agency – in fact, it’s the agency that refers the cases to LSNJ lawyers in the first place. That mature approach is something lawmakers interested in following New Jersey’s lead should consider when they hear fearmongering from less forward-thinking child welfare agency leaders about how, somehow, legal representation supposedly will jeopardize children.
● And finally, the wonky part of the roundup: The Imprint has a new way of measuring family separation. I have a column discussing its potential, and its limits.