Wednesday, June 16, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 15, 2021

 Before the news a reminder: The Columbia Journal of Race and Law symposium Strengthened Bonds: Abolishing the Child Welfare System and Re-Envisioning Child Well-Being starts tonight!  Registration is still open for this free virtual event. 

● We begin the news round-up with this stunning video – a documentary from Al Jazeera.


Building on the work of USA Today Network reporters, the program shows the enormous trauma inflicted on children as the Florida Department of Children and Families tears them from parents whose only crime is themselves to be survivors of domestic violence.  The program offers compelling evidence that there is nothing unusual about these cases - or wrongful removal in general. 

A former DCF lawyer is asked in what percentage of cases the removal of the child from her or his parents was “absolutely necessary to keep the children safe.” He replies:  “That’s probably 5-to-10% of the cases at most.”  In the wake of the foster-care panic started by the Miami Herald, “we were doing more to protect our jobs than to protect children at times.”  A former caseworker agrees, saying that removal is “widely misused.” 

● The problem might be even worse in Massachusetts – indeed, we know that state’s family policing agency is even more prone to tear apart families in general than its counterpart in Florida.  And when it comes to inflicting unspeakable trauma on children of domestic violence survivors, the Massachusetts family policing agency, through its prominent place on a commission studying mandatory reporting, is fighting tooth-and-nail to be sure it keeps the untrammeled power to do just that.  (Of course, they don’t want that power because they’re sadists – they have all sorts of ways of rationalizing what they do.  But that doesn’t help the children.)  I have a blog post about it. 

● If Massachusetts perfectly illustrates now not to study a problem in child welfare (and it does), Illinois just demonstrated how to do it right. Check out the state’s new commission on racial bias in child welfare. 

● Bad journalism has a lot to do with what’s gone wrong in Florida.  But some journalists have understood child welfare for a long time.  I’ve reposted a blog from 2011 about one of them – now that he’s just won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. 

On The Imprint podcast, David Kelly, former special assistant to Jerry Milner when Milner ran the federal government’s Children’s Bureau, talks about the need to repeal ASFA (because, among other things, the law is racist), the fact that another law, the so-called Family First Act not only isn’t the revolutionary change the child welfare establishment claims, it might actually make racial disparities worse, and the need to curb hidden foster care.  And before all of that, at about 21:30 in, he’s asked the question everyone in child welfare has wanted to ask him for about for years. :-) 

● June is Family Reunification Month (you did know that, right, what with all the articles celebrating reunified families?  Oh, right, child welfare much prefers to celebrate when families are permanently destroyed.)  In any event, the ABA Center on Children and the Law is celebrating “Reunification Heroes.” Here’s a profile of one of them, Jey Rajaraman, chief counsel and supervising attorney for the Family Representation Project at Legal Services of New Jersey. 

● When reunification is impossible – the family has been legally destroyed and the child adopted – it often still makes sense for the child to maintain contact with her or his birth parents.  A bill to make that a little easier has passed the New York State Legislature

● The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute sponsored a Congressional briefing on those revelations from The Marshall Project and NPR about state agencies effectively stealing government benefits from foster children. The recording is available here.  I particularly recommend the presentations of Ian Marx starting at 15:14 and Lexie Gruber-Perez at 40:40.

● The first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, has a reminder of the role child welfare played in the destruction of Native American lives and the attempt to destroy an entire culture. 

● I have long maintained that family policing systems are arbitrary, capricious and cruel, erring in all directions.  The fate of a child often depends on race and income, of course, but also where the family lives, whether there’s been a high-profile tragedy in the news, which caseworker shows up at the door and what mood s/he’s in.  

Or it may depend on whether the local judge believes “poor people have poor ways” – as one judge told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which looked closely at some regional differences in Missouri.  And Carolina Public Press took an in-depth look at the enormous variation in practice across North Carolina.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Pulitzer winner who understands child welfare

Lobby of the Los Angeles Times building in 2011 (Photo by Chris Eason)

On Friday, the board that administers journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prizes gave the award for editorial writing to Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times.  The award was for a series of editorials about criminal justice – including one noting the fact that decades later we’re still paying for our botched, racist response to crack cocaine. 

But over the years, Greene has also written with rare wisdom about child welfare, even when that meant subtly taking on his own newsroom. 

So by way of congratulating Mr. Greene, we reprint a post abut his work from ten years ago. At the time we concluded that his editorials about child welfare “should be required reading in every county office – and at every desk in the Times newsroom.”  

That’s still true – and not just at the Los Angeles Times: 


Foster care in Los Angeles: Two solid editorials from the L.A. Times

There is a ritual of sorts at American newsrooms.  After a reporter does a big project or one or more front page stories filled with alleged revelations about government shortcomings, the editorial page is supposed to give the reporter a pat on the back.  The editorial congratulates the reporter for her or his enterprise and demands that government immediately do whatever the reporter wants it to do. 

But all through the years that Los Angeles Times reporter Garrett Therolf has been trying to foment hype and hysteria about child welfare in Los Angeles, the Times editorial board has refused to play along. 

For a long time the editorial page was simply silent on the issue.  Then it offered up its own careful, measured assessments which simply ignored Therolf’s pet theories. 

But this week, the editorial board went further.  Instead of giving Therolf a pat on the back, the editorial board administered a kick a little lower.  As Celeste Fremon explains in this excellent analysis on her Blog WitnessLA, the criticism of Therolf’s reporting was subtle – but unmistakable. 

Most of the editorial Sunday blasted the Board of Supervisors for defying the Bureau of State Audits and refusing to provide the Bureau with reports on child abuse fatalities.  That is all-too-typical of the bunker mentality that has characterized the Board and DCFS, and the Times does an excellent job of demolishing the Board’s flimsy excuses.  But a newspaper coming out for more openness in government is strictly dog-bites-man stuff.  The man-bites-dog part of the editorial is this extraordinary paragraph: 

All that said, the supervisors' actions may be comprehensible, even if indefensible. Child deaths from abuse and neglect are fraught with emotion and can result in sensational headlines, in newspapers like this one, to which supervisors feel compelled to respond. One more study of fatalities, such as the state audit demanded after the killing of Seth Ireland, steeps policymakers in a swamp of exceptional failures and worst cases. It makes it easy to forget that data show overwhelmingly that outcomes are better for children who stay in their homes — even with families struggling with poverty, even in neighborhoods with inadequate schools — than for those removed by well-meaning or backside-covering county agencies. It makes it easy to forget that the county's most effective and most economical response to children in trouble is to help their families with resources and programs to cope with their challenges. 

But the Times wasn’t done.  The next day the Times published another editorial blasting governments that react to high-profile tragedies by becoming, among other things, “too prone to snatch children from their homes and too unwilling or too clueless to help troubled families.” 

The editorial continues: 

High-profile cases of abuse at the hands of violent or addicted parents resulted in panic and waves of removals, supposedly in the interests of child safety. Abuse in foster homes led officials to send children the other way, back to their families. Instead of a ladder leading upward, child welfare programs seemed to operate like a pendulum, swinging back and forth depending on the latest outrage. 

Later the editorial condemns “policy changes spurred by child deaths rather than hard data.”  It continues: 

But progress is real. Studies that follow children who were kept with their families or placed with relatives show that they do better in school, have fewer run-ins with the law and have better prospects for the future than their counterparts removed to foster care. 

The editorial concludes by calling for the appointment of a permanent director for the county Department of Children and Family Services “who will stand up to the Supervisors and not allow them to make panic, rather than progress, the key factor in departmental decisionmaking.” 

On one point I think the second editorial is mistaken.  For reasons discussed in one of the first posts to this Blog, foster-care panics don’t work in reverse – that is, with very rare exceptions, deaths of children in foster care don’t prompt child welfare agencies to take away fewer children.  Indeed, as we discuss in our report on Los Angeles child welfare, when Viola Vanclief died in foster care in 2010, Therolf wrote his stories in ways that appear intended to make sure that death didn’t prompt calls to reduce foster care.  And in fact, during the months after Viola’s death entries into care were higher than during the same months the year before. 

Nevertheless, both editorials are almost entirely on the mark.  They should be required reading in every county office – and at every desk in the Times newsroom.

Monday, June 14, 2021

In Massachusetts, the “child welfare” agency regularly throws battered women – and, especially, their children – under the bus. Now they’re fighting to keep it that way

 Of all the tragedies inflicted on children by the nation’s family policing agencies (a more accurate term than “child welfare” agencies), few are worse than tearing a child away from a parent (usually a mother) whose only “crime” is to herself be a survivor of domestic violence.  

All of the trauma for a child is compounded if the removal was for this reason.  One expert called it “tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.”  He testified in a lawsuit that led to making the practice illegal in New York State. (NCCPR’s Vice President was co-counsel for plaintiffs.)  But, as I’ve often written before, in much of the country, family police agency policy on this issue boils down to “please pass the salt.”  That is certainly true in Massachusetts.  And the state family policing agency is fighting tooth and nail to keep things just the way they are. 

As with so much that’s wrong in child welfare, the harm begins with mandatory reporting.  A battered woman works up the courage to break free from her abuser, often for the sake of the children.  But almost anywhere she turns for help, the helper is a “mandated reporter.”   Whether that reporter thinks it’s a good idea or is just afraid to do otherwise, the reporter may well call the family police.  If you want to know what happens next,  please take two minutes – just two minutes – to listen to this excerpt from the testimony of Western Massachusetts Attorney Michelle Lucier before a commission studying mandatory reporting in that state:

 (If you want to hear more, a recording of her full testimony is at the end of this post.) 

Then, for additional context, please read the testimony from Jane Doe, Inc, the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.  That will give a full understanding of how widespread the problem is – and how it places both battered women and their children in danger by deterring them from reaching out for help.  National research confirms it. 

But at a Commission meeting this week, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) and its parent agency, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), responded to that searing testimony with what amounts nothing but contempt for the lives and safety of battered women and their children. 

They opposed even a revision in mandatory reporting laws so small that it would change almost nothing. 

As a commission document explains, the commission is debating recommending that 

persons who provide direct confidential services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking should be excluded from mandated reporting responsibility. The reasoning behind the proposed exclusion is to reduce the barriers, or perceived barriers, in the way of persons who may be seeking immediate physical safety. Persons who seek physical safety are likely to be seeking to improve the safety situation for their children. 

Now, stop and consider how small that change would be.  First, it does not stop anyone from reporting what they believe to be child abuse or neglect.  It says only that a small subset of mandatory reporters, those specially trained to deal specifically with battered women seeking safety are not required to turn those women in to the family police.  Instead, they can use their professional training and their professional judgment.

As Jane Doe, Inc. pointed out, this does not go nearly far enough, because survivors 

will likely encounter a mandated reporter in a range of additional contexts such as education, healthcare, or other settings. 

Yet even this tiny proposed change ran into fierce opposition from the representative on the Commission from DCF, Cristina Tedstone, and from EOHHS Katherine Ginnis.  (Ginnis’ comments throughout the commission meetings suggest someone even more virulently opposed to any curbing of the Massachusetts child welfare surveillance state than the commission chair, state Child Advocate Maria Mossaides – and that’s saying a lot.)  

Adding insult to what often are literal injuries, Ginnis and Tedstone suggested the problem of battered women terrified to come forward for fear of mandated reporters turning them in could be solved by – you probably guessed: more training! 

We should just add to the training for mandated reporters, Tedstone and Ginnis say, so they’ll know when to turn in a battered mother and when not to.  And we should train our investigators in when to take away children (after already traumatizing them with needless investigations) and when not to. 

Yes, training, training, training, training, training, training.  It’s all that the family police and those who want them to have unlimited power over families ever suggest in answer to every abuse these agencies inflict on children in the name of “saving” them.  Indeed, this was so predictable, I devoted a section of my own testimony to the commission to why this never works. 

To get a sense of how insulting this is, particularly to families of color, imagine if a special commission were convened to study police brutality in Massachusetts. Imagine if they said that all the problems could be solved if we just gave the police more training. Imagine if they claimed the problem isn’t, say, massive use of stop-and-frisk policing; we just need to give the police more training in whom to stop and how to frisk them.  People would immediately recognize it for what it was: a whitewash – in every sense of the term. 

Yet somehow, in Massachusetts, DCF, EOHHS, and the Office of Child Advocate seem to think they can get away with brushing aside the harm the family police routinely inflict on battered mothers and their children with bromides about training. Sadly, they may be right. 

The idea of training-as-panacea is particularly ludicrous in the context of domestic violence survivors coming forward. 

For starters, DCF doesn’t even admit it has a problem.  How can they train workers to do better when everything supposedly is fine now?  DCF brags about having “domestic violence specialists” on staff who caseworkers can consult right now.  But as the testimony from Jane Doe, Inc., Michelle Lucier and others makes clear – that’s not working. The problem is severe and ongoing. 

But even if training worked in other contexts, it wouldn’t help here.  When it comes to
battered women coming forward, the key issue is fear – they’re afraid to tell someone who is a mandated reporter.  Do Tedstone, Ginnis and Mossaids seriously think that will change if someone posts a notice somewhere that says: “Don’t worry, that mandated reporter you’re thinking of talking to was required to take a new, improved training module – so they might not turn you in after all!”?

And, of course, DCF and EOHHS’s faith in training reeks of hypocrisy.  The recommendation they oppose says only that people who really do have specialized training in dealing with these issues should be allowed to use that training and exercise their own judgment. 

The opposition from DCF and EOHHS and, it appears, from Mossaides does not automatically mean the proposal will be voted down.  But none of the Commissioners at the meeting this week spoke in favor of it.* 

In the end, all of these issues will be in the hands of the Massachusetts Legislature.  The lawmakers will have to decide whether DCF should continue to have free reign to throw battered women and their children under the bus. 

So I hope they will listen to all of what Michelle Lucier had to say, read Jane Doe Inc.’s full testimony, and go through the rest of the public hearing testimony, which overwhelmingly opposed the approach that has dominated commission deliberations.  They can start here:


*-In contrast, it was encouraging to hear some opposition expressed to another Commission proposal – inserting into state law a definition of child “neglect” that omits any statement that poverty is not neglect.  Such a statement exists in current DCF regulations. Granted, the fact that Massachusetts regularly tears apart families at a rate 60% above the national average makes clear that no one is really paying attention to the poverty-is-not-neglect caveat, but that’s no reason to make things even worse.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 9, 2021

● What does it mean when everyone you might turn to for help also is a “mandated reporter,” required to turn you in to child protective services if they have any suspicion of child abuse – or if they’re simply afraid not to make a report?  Research shows what you’d expect – it discourages people from seeking help.  One mother talks about it in Rise, writing: 

Being scared of the child welfare system has an impact on almost everything I do. Every move I make has to be given careful thought—what doctors I go to and what I tell a doctor or therapist. 

● As leaders of Rise explain in The Imprint, this also explains why community groups – not child protective services agencies themselves – should be running “preventive services.” 

● High school students also know how family policing systems really work.  Check out the video some of them made:

● Three members of Congress are calling on the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and the HHS Civil Rights Division to investigate “the events leading up to the tragic death of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant…” who was shot by a police officer outside her foster home.  A press release from one of those calling for the investigation, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) specifically notes that “Ohio children are placed in the foster care system at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average.”  (FYI: When you factor in rates of child poverty Ohio is even worse – and Franklin County, where Ma’Khia was in foster care, probably is far worse than the state average.) 

● Three national experts on kinship foster care zero-in on a key turning point that contributed to Ma’Khia’s death: her removal from her grandmother.  In The Imprint, they write: 

Bryant’s grandmother wasn’t unfit to care for her kin; rather, she was underserved by the child welfare system and then blamed when this underinvestment caused her to lose her housing. 

● After years of ignoring, or impeding, racial justice in child welfare, the group calling itself “Children’s Rights” now claims it’s “driving” the conversation about that very issue.  I have a blog post about how, in fact, others are at the wheel.  CR only just climbed into the backseat. 

● The head of the family regulation agency in Washington State, Ross Hunter, has come up with the perfect bureaucratic response to KING-TV Seattle’s investigative report documenting how his caseworkers and supervisors are forcing some foster children to sleep in cars – and worse – as punishment: pretend it’s not happening.  Fortunately, KING-TV reports in a follow-up story, several lawmakers and others in the state are not buying it.  

And here, from the follow-up story, is a reminder of what Hunter claims isn’t happening: 

The KING 5 investigation, which was based on a review of local and state records and interviews with foster youth and more than two dozen current and former DCYF employees, revealed agency supervisors instructed social workers to make youth sleep in uncomfortable places — like in social workers’ cars, on DCYF office floors and on plastic chairs and cots in office lobbies — when they refused to accept a placement at a foster home or group home. Some social workers said their bosses encouraged them to use other psychological tactics to make the youth even more miserable, like blasting the air conditioning, rolling down the windows or keeping the youth awake all night.

● The Omaha World Herald reports on a Nebraska state legislator who heard those NPR/Marshall Project stories about “child welfare” agencies using a legal loophole to effectively steal foster children’s money. The legislator has introduced a bill do stop it, and the World Herald has condemned the practice in an editorial

● And finally, from Indian Country Today

The world was shocked to hear about the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British, Columbia Canada. 

For many Indigenous people, however, the most shocking element of the story is not the discovery of the graves but the fact that it’s taken so long for non-Natives to acknowledge the grim details of this long-ignored history of Indian boarding and residential schools, a story that is part of both U.S. and Canadian history.

 As the story notes, the U.S. is well behind Canada both in acknowledging what was done to Native children in what were the “residential treatment centers” of their time (a time that lasted well into the 20th Century) and in doing anything about it.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Soaring rhetoric, tepid recommendations: A new report suggests a child welfare establishment group fighting with itself

The real leaders of the movement for racial justice in child welfare
 need allies, not backseat drivers. (Image from

After years of ignoring, or impeding, racial justice in child welfare, the group calling itself “Children’s Rights” now claims it’s “driving” the conversation about that very issue. 

No, CR. You just climbed into the backseat.

 In a story about a new report on racism in child welfare from the group that calls itself Children’s Rights, The Imprint includes a question I posed:  Is this a sincere effort to change, or just a callous ploy to raise money?

The lead author of the report, attorney (and relatively new hire at CR) Shereen White had a good answer: 

“The answer will live in our work, whether it’s the recommendations we lay out in our report, or the actions we take in the future." 

The rhetoric in the report is terrific (regular readers of this blog might even find a phrase or two that’s familiar).  But the recommendations don’t live up to that rhetoric.  The report declares that “radical change at the front end of the child welfare system is … a moral and civil rights imperative…” but none of the recommendations involves radical change.  

● The report quotes others who want to repeal the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act, a racist law that has done enormous damage to children of color – but is silent on whether CR will support such efforts, or even support more modest changes to ASFA.   

● The report acknowledges that another awful federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act “strengthened the child welfare surveillance state” (see what I mean about familiar phrases)?  Yet it is silent about the need to repeal or even amend CAPTA.  

● And while radical change means abolishing mandatory reporting – because it doesn’t work – and actually endangers children -  the report calls for only tiny changes to mandatory reporting.  

● The report discusses narrowing neglect laws. Yes, we should do that.  I first suggested that in a book I wrote in 1990.  But what I came to realize is that this does almost no good unless there is someone to enforce it (as is discussed below, the report does seem to recognize this much).  This is illustrated, by accident, when the report cites as a model the neglect definition in Iowa – but Iowa tears apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation. 

● Yes, we should require states to make “active efforts” to keep families together, not just reasonable efforts. But how does CR propose to enforce it, when even the requirement in current federal law to make “reasonable efforts” is not enforced?  Indeed, in Michigan judges admitted they lied and checked a box on a form stating reasonable efforts had been made even when the judges themselves didn’t believe it.  But though, CR has a lawsuit settlement in Michigan, discussed in detail below, that settlement is silent on this issue. 

The recommendations in the report are not bad; three are genuinely useful, most notably providing high-quality family defense – which would help do things such as enforce a narrower definition of neglect.  That means CR is going farther than all those other child welfare establishment groups who are just posting #blacklivesmatter statements on their websites and hoping the whole thing will blow over. And just having an establishment group using the rhetoric of real change may help.  

But many of CR’s significant recommendations, such as high-quality family defense, originated with other organizations, and that’s important for reasons I’ll discuss below in the section on CR’s marketing. 

So, by Ms. White’s criterion, whether this report represents real change or a marketing ploy all comes down to the actions CR takes in the future.  Those actions should involve undoing some of the damage they’ve done in the past. 

Throughout its history, Children’s Rights has occasionally been a force for good – often by accident. More often it’s brought McLawsuits that lead to settlements that make systems bigger without making them better.  In some cases, they have made systems worse. 

In Michigan, for example, as we explain in our publication The Children Wronged by Children’s Rights. 

Instead of requiring Michigan to do [cut caseloads] by controlling needless removal of children and bolstering programs to keep children out of foster care, the settlement allowed Michigan to slash its already meager funding of prevention and family preservation in order to fund a child abuse investigator/foster care worker hiring binge. And that’s exactly what the state did. 

The state also cut basic assistance to poor families – and said it wasn’t a problem because, thanks to the settlement, they also were hiring more child abuse investigators. 

The Michigan settlement also imposed strict new requirements forcing any relative who
wants to provide kinship foster care to meet the same rigid, hypertechnical licensing requirements as middle-class strangers.  Those requirements revolve more around middle-class creature comforts than health and safety.  And since relatives of poor children taken from their homes tend to be poor themselves, they often can’t meet them.  In many cases, relatives had to stop caring for children already in kinship care. 

CR settlements also threw up barriers to kinship care in Rhode Island and Wisconsin. And in Georgia, Mother Jones reports, the state did what Michigan did: "cut spending on child care and put the money into child protective services in the wake of a lawsuit against the state over the mistreatment of children in foster care." 

Show us the lawsuits 

So, had CR, at the same time as it released the report said that they were writing to the Governor of, say, Michigan and asking to reopen their settlement to conform to the principles CR now claims to espouse, that would have been impressive.  But they didn’t. 

And while the report suggests strategies for future lawsuits aimed at curbing needless removal of children from their homes, CR did not actually announce such a suit. 

Indeed, the report seems to reveal an organization at war with itself. 

In one of those preface-type “letters” almost nobody reads, CR’s executive director, Sandy Santana seemed to maybe, possibly sort-of apologize: 

“For Children’s Rights, writing about the history of Black experiences in the child welfare system has led us to critically reflect on our own history in child-focused civil rights litigation.  We recognize that in the past our overarching belief that no child should grow up in the foster care system blinded us to the ways in which our legal cases, and the reforms they delivered, did not always support the preservation of Black families.”
 But the very last paragraph of the report itself seems to say: Pay no attention to what Sandy Santana said at the beginning. The report closes by setting up a straw man: 

At the same time, Children’s Rights will not stop fighting to protect the rights of children and families already in the system. These children and families can never be forgotten or effectively viewed as casualties of a changing child welfare system, even as advocates successfully drive radical transformation, and ultimately abolition, of that system. 

No one has ever said CR shouldn’t protect the rights of children in the system.  What we have said is that much of their litigation makes things worse, because they have ignored the entire issue of wrongful removal.  Furthermore, though they say “These children and families can never be forgotten …” for decades CR’s litigation – the very litigation that closing paragraph defends – has forgotten families.

 Backseat driving … 

The reason I raised the issue of whether the whole thing is a fundraising ploy is because, whether intended or not, the marketing of the report comes across like an effort to bigfoot smaller organizations that have actually led this fight at a time when racial justice is an attractive cause for foundations. 

Even before releasing the report, CR started fundraising off it.  In a fundraising email, CR claims to be “driving a national conversation about the urgent need to end unjust government intervention in the lives of Black children and families.” [Emphasis added.] 

No. That conversation is being driven by, among others, Dorothy Roberts, and Joyce McMillan, and Movement for Family Power, and Rise and DCFS-Give Us Back Our Children,  and  #ReimagineChildSafety and the UpEnd Movement and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, and Isuroon, and Kelis Houston and Vivek Sankaran, and Victoria Copeland, and Angela Olivia Burton, and Judge Ernestine Gray, and J. Khadijah Abdurahman and Maleeka (MJ) Jihad and Angeline Montauban and Jessica Pryce and Tehra Coles and Shanta Trivedi and Kelley Fong and providers of high-quality family defense all over the country.  It also was driven by groups that didn’t survive, even as CR raked in money at glitzy celebrity fundraisers, groups such as the Child Welfare Organizing Project, People United for Children and Concerned Citizens for Family Preservation, and so many other groups and individuals who were fighting this fight when CR was on the sidelines – or impeding it. 

The closest CR came to acknowledging any of this was having Prof. Trivedi speak at an event launching the report.  

In fact, if you really want to meet the drivers of the conversation, check out the presentations at next week’s Strengthened Bonds virtual conference commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Prof. Roberts’ book: Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare.  CR isn’t among them. 

Driving the conversation? No. Children’s Rights just climbed into the backseat.  

…and a meaningless “pledge” 

Similarly, in another email, CR asks people to sign something called “The Children’s Rights Pledge” in which you pledge to “disrupt institutional racism” in child welfare by – well, uh, by naming it.  If that doesn’t seem like much, take a closer look. The “pledge” is just a way to harvest email addresses for future fundraising pitches.  

The agenda CR released in its new report would have been an impressive, progressive agenda – in 1995. The people who are really driving this conversation are way ahead of this. 

So, how will we know that change at CR is real? 

● If they call for repealing ASFA and fight for it.  If the former head of the Children’s Bureau, Jerry Milner can do it – and he did - why can’t CR? 

● If they call for repealing CAPTA. 

● If they apologize, without reservation, for their own past role in at best ignoring at worst perpetuating the harm they now decry. 

● If they put their lawsuits where their rhetoric is and sue to stop needless removal of children. 

● If they seek to reopen their most harmful settlements. 

● If they leave the driving to those who have earned a place at the wheel.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 1, 2021

● Leaders of the #ReimagineChildSafety campaign, working with Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles on a social media campaign to explain to Los Angeles – and the rest of America – how “child welfare” really works, discussed the campaign on KPFK Radio’s Move The Crowd. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the link.) You can follow the campaign at @DontTakeOurKids  And here’s another of the excellent videos that are part of the campaign. 

● Remember the racist myth about how COVID-19 supposedly was going to lead to a “pandemic of child abuse”?   Not only did that not happen, it led one institution to realize kids were better off if it closed it’s entire “residential treatment” program.  I have a blog post about it

This Texas Observer story begins with two cases in the same court on the same day. Almost identical circumstances.  But in one case Texas CPS says: Let the family stay together; in the other they recommend foster care.  You’ll never guess the difference! – OK, yes, you will.  But you may still be surprised to find that the problem in Texas may be worst in the liberal bastion of metropolitan Austin.

● In The Imprint, Vivek Sankaran reflects on the key turning point in the life of Ma’Khia Bryant – the crucial child welfare system blunder that ultimately contributed to her death outside her foster home. 

The Imprint also reports on the departure of one of the most important child welfare reformers in the federal government.

And finally, 

● The next truly great book about the “child welfare” system will be published on October 4. Here’s a preview in the form of a tweet thread from the author.  Here’s where you can pre-order.  And here’s where you can get ready by reading (or re-reading) the masterpiece from 20 years ago that set the standard for everything that would follow, and sets the stage for this new story.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Child welfare in Upstate New York: Another “unintended abolition”

If there’s one thing we “know” about child abuse and COVID-19 it’s that the very worst cases have skyrocketed, right?  After all, that’s what all those fearmongering news accounts have been telling us almost since the start of the pandemic. 

And of course, since these are the children most hurt, they absolutely have to go into residential treatment – because, well, we don’t want them with their horrible parents – and foster homes just can’t handle them, right?  That’s why, although residential treatment providers really, truly regret it, we simply have to institutionalize some children, don’t we? 

Actually, no. 

In fact, the pandemic has taught precisely the opposite lesson.  Says who? Says a residential treatment center that’s going to stop providing residential treatment. Because it’s not necessary after all. 

It’s happening at the Children’s Home of Jefferson County, in Upstate New York.  Like so many such places, it began as an orphanage – in 1859 - and then rebranded as a “residential treatment center” a century later – notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that residential treatment doesn’t work

But unlike so many other such places, CHJC faced up to the evidence. And, even more remarkable, the pandemic helped them do it. 

“COVID taught us that kids and families can do much better if we work with them inside of their environment, rather than putting them in our environment,” the center’s director, Karen Richmond told WWNY-TV

At the same time, the story explains: 

the pandemic also resulted in new operational practices at all levels. With court closures, youth learning remotely, and services being provided virtually, there was a significantly reduced need for residential care. 

As a result, overall state trends of youth placed at the residential level of care also significantly decreased, allowing the home to identify alternative treatment options. 

In fact, instead of dozens of children institutionalized at CHJC, there are now only four.  Which shows, once again, that all the talk of how for “some” children only institutionalization works turned out to be so much b.s.  

And notice that line about how providing services remotely reduced the “need” for residential care.  This is still one more giveaway that the real purpose of institutionalizing children has been for the convenience of the institution.  Pile them up in one place, and all those “helpers” don’t have to run around from foster home to foster home and school to school. 

With COVID, that became unnecessary, in fact, it became impossible.  And, lo and behold, providing the services in the home, even remotely, turned out to work better. 

As for COVID supposedly putting children in more danger – the closing of this residential treatment program is further evidence that this, too, is largely b.s.  On the contrary, COVID allowed CHJC to discover that children do better when help is provided to children and families together.  Again, from the story: 

The COVID-19 pandemic changed previously long-term espoused child welfare beliefs and practices. Officials say one of its benefits was allowing youth and families, with support from children’s home service providers, to be successful in home-based settings. 

Or as Richmond put it: “You can’t fix the child if you don’t support the family.” 

This is not the first success due to unintended abolition, of course.  Prof. Anna Arons of New York University School of Law has shown how, when New York City’s family police agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, was forced to step back and community-run mutual aid organizations stepped up, children were safer. 

So now, all we need is for all the other “residential treatment centers” that constantly cry wolf when anyone tries to curb their longstanding dominance of “child welfare” to have crises of conscience, actually put the children first, and remake themselves in the way this one institution in Upstate New York is doing. 

Don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 24, 2021

A coalition of organizations, working with Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles has launched a week-long social media campaign to explain how the family regulation system really works.  Each day there are new Twitter threads and a video.  Here’s one of the videos. You can follow the whole campaign at @DontTakeOurKids 

What the death of George Floyd did to awaken America to the racism in policing, the death of Ma’Khia Bryant, killed by police outside her foster home, may be doing to awaken Ameerican to the racism in family policing – a.k.a. the “child welfare” system.  It is the theme of an extraordinary amount of very good commentary this week.

 ● In her “Unpack This” video for The Root, Felice Leon talks to Prof. Dorothy Roberts, author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, (and a member of the NCCPR Board of Directors) about how the system has been rooted in racism, all the way back to slavery. 

The Imprint is publishing a series of essays, in prose and poetry, from those with lived experience, about the meaning of Ms. Bryant’s life – and death – in foster care.  

In one essay, Dominique Freeman writes 

Ma’Khia Bryant, like many other Black girls in foster care, is placed under the control of a system designed to protect, honor and shelter them, but does the exact opposite at an alarming rate. It inflicts physical and psychological harm, which can ultimately lead to death. 

In another, Angela Braxton writes: 

Even if we do figure out a way to navigate the system to bring our children home, there’s always another hoop we have to jump through as our children languish in care, being further traumatized with each new home or placement, being constantly reminded that their birth mother isn’t “good enough,” beating our Black children down mentally, physically and emotionally until they too believe they are not “good enough” or white enough to be worth anything. Reinforcing this by the words that “you’re a lost cause, you’ll be just like your parents,” told by those who were chosen to better care for them. 

● And in USA Today, leaders of the Juvenile Law Center, which, up to now, has not been particularly active on curbing needless removal of children to foster care, discuss how, as the headline puts it, “Cop killing of teen shows how child welfare, police derail young Black and brown lives.” 

In other news: 

● The issue of racism in child welfare took on new relevance in Colorado after a judge in child welfare cases resigned under pressure after her racist comments became public.  But what about all the other comments from all the other judges that no one ever hears – especially in most states, where child welfare court hearings are closed to press and public?  Colorado’s “Child Protection Ombudsman,” Stephanie Villafuerte writes about this for the Colorado Sun. 

● Villafuerte is unusual in her deep understanding that family regulation systems (a more accurate term than “child welfare”) err in all directions.  Far more common are “Child Advocates” like the one in Massachusetts, who is on a crusade to make that state’s child welfare surveillance state even bigger and more oppressive.  I have another blog post about how she’s doing it

● One of the ways she does it is to point to the fact that the Massachusetts family regulation agency has set up one-stop drop-in centers where families can go for help.  Lots of systems are trying to hide their coercive nature behind such centers.  It’s not that such places do no good, it’s that as long as they are run by agencies with the power to take away children – instead of by and for the communities most affected – people will be afraid to use them.  That’s why when New York City’s family regulation agency announced an expansion of such centers, the parents who write and edit Rise weren’t buying it.  Rise has a better approach. 

● One better approach is as simple as providing impoverished families with a little more money, or the equivalent.  Still more evidence for this comes from a new study showing that simply providing greater access to benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – or what used to be called foodstamps) is enough to reduce what family regulation agencies call “neglect.” 

● Those great stories from NPR and The Marshall Project about states effectively stealing money that rightfully belongs to foster children are getting results.  The Las Vegas Sun called on Nevada officials to end the practice.  And legislation to stop it has been introduced in Nebraska. 

● What happens to foster children who don’t want to go to some cruddy night to night group home placement?  According to KING-TV Seattle, this: 

Four people, who claimed they supervised foster kids overnight in cars and offices, said their managers encouraged them to use psychological tactics to make the youth miserable. They say they were told to do things like blast air conditioning or turn off the heat to make the youth intentionally cold. … Three workers said they were instructed not to allow youth to fall asleep throughout the night. [Emphasis added.] 

As I note in a blog post, though the story doesn’t mention it, sleep deprivation is commonly defined as torture – the CIA used it on prisoners at Guantanamo.

● And the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports on questions about still another of those “child abuse pediatricians.”