Tuesday, December 22, 2020

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending December 22, 2020

Once again, one story stands out:

●Last week, when I urged people to read this outstanding story from Mother Jones about the horrors family police agencies (a more accurate term than child welfare agencies) inflict on families, I wrote: “As you read the story consider: The New York City system is better than most. So wherever you are, things probably are even worse.”

Case in point: Florida.  These stories from USA TODAY Network Florida are not easy to read.  That’s not because they aren’t beautifully written.  But they force us to face the anguish inflicted on children torn by family police agencies from mothers whose only crime was themselves being victims of abusive husbands/boyfriends.

In particular, consider whether you are ready to see this police bodycam video when a battered mother has her children taken, even after her domestic violence counselor assured her she’d done everything right and it wouldn’t happen.

“She was very afraid that day of the department,” [the counselor] recalled. “And I stood right here in this building and said, ‘You’ve done everything right. Don’t worry about the department. They’re not going to take your kids.’”

Here’s what happened next:

● Unfortunately, brilliant reporting such as this, and the Mother Jones story, remain the exception.  Most of the time, the biases and tropes that characterize the “crime beat” also characterize child welfare reporting – something first pointed out by the folks at Rise when they highlighted this story from NiemanLab called “Defund the Crime Beat.”

The story begins this way:

Let’s be honest: Crime coverage is terrible. It’s racist, classist, fear-based clickbait masking as journalism. It creates lasting harm for the communities that newsrooms are supposed to serve. …

I don’t think most child welfare coverage, even the worst of it, is clickbait. Most of it is produced with the best of intentions.  But that means it may be even harder for journalists to face up to the rest of the critique.  Much child welfare coverage is racist, classist and fear-based and creates lasting harm for the communities that newsrooms are supposed to serve. See for example the master narrative about child abuse and COVID-19.

● Another case in point: The lack of skepticism about predictive analytics in child welfare – particularly the Orwellian model in place in Pittsburgh.  But even had that system never embraced this dangerous fad, that system, one whose history I know particularly well, is a huge disappointment. Let’s put it this way. Once it was a national disgrace, then it became a national model.  But now it’s a disgrace again.

● The voices of families themselves can help counter false narratives. Rise has been elevating those voices for 15 years.  Rise Director Nora McCarthy and Training Director Jeannette Vega talk about the work of Rise, and the need to change the system on The Imprint’s weekly podcast.

● Two excellent stories bring to light the huge problem of “hidden foster care,” in which families are coerced into “voluntarily” placing children with relatives.  Even the minimal due process protections of out-in-the-open foster care don’t apply, and the placements are not even reported in official figures – so states can pretend to be reducing foster care when they’re actually sweeping it under the rug. 

Prof. Josh Gupta-Kagan, who coined the term “hidden foster care,” writes in The Imprint:

[H]idden foster care raises a set of concerns. Foremost is whether these children truly need to be separated from their parents. While parents nominally agree to hidden foster care, they do so following agency threats. …

To be clear, parents have the legal power to place their children with family members, and we should protect that power. But such decisions must be voluntary. When a state agency threatens parents and kin that children will be placed in stranger foster care unless a family member agrees to take them, voluntariness is seriously in question.

And Roxanna Asgarian has a story in The Appeal about how all this plays out in a state that appears to be among the worst offenders – Texas.

● Diane Redleaf writes in The Imprint about why the Biden Administration needs to prioritize ending child welfare’s longstanding confusion of poverty with neglect: 

We seem to have a pathological need to pathologize families, instead of helping them with their obvious needs. We have to get over this serious disorder, starting with a better diagnosis of our own problem.  

● Also in The Imprint: A story about how Los Angeles County child welfare’s poor response to COVID-19 has made a bad system even worse.