Tuesday, January 12, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending January 12, 2021

● The Daytona Beach News-Journal has an excellent editorial highlighting how Florida child welfare tears apart families, and traumatizes children, when a parent’s only “crime” was to have been, herself, a victim of domestic violence. Citing the excellent work of USA Today Network reporters in Florida, the editorial declares that 

– the system is too often “stacked against women who are abused,” treating them as if they were at fault for being beaten into unconsciousness or trapped by poverty in an abusive relationship. Their children are traumatized, torn away from their mothers when they most need their comfort. And in case after case, the USA Today reporters documented a system dead set against reunification  – even when records reflect that the children were never physically harmed. 

The editorial suggests that the Florida Department of Children and Families examine 

a random sample of child-abuse investigations that cite domestic violence as a leading cause and assigning an experienced team (preferably made up of people who don’t currently work for DCF) to review them. It should also look into allegations that assigned blame to victims of domestic violence and looked for any reason to take their children into foster care. 

The editorial said DCF Secretary Chad Poppell 

should be aware of the national research showing how badly children suffer when they are separated from their parents  – and be wholly committed to ensuring that doesn’t happen to parents who never abused or neglected their children. 

That also would be good advice to reporters at the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, whose fomenting of foster-care panic has done so much to create the problem.  

● There is a way to report on the question of child abuse and COVID-19 without descending into racially-biased fearmongering. In a story this week, the Arizona Republic shows how to do it right

Most notable are comments from a group that once was the foremost proponent of a “take the child and run” approach to child welfare in Arizona: 

Molly Dunn at the Arizona Children's Action Alliance said she's less worried about the drop in calls than she was in the spring.  “We don’t know what will happen when things get back to normal," said Dunn, director of child welfare and juvenile justice for the alliance. "But when I look at the research, I’m less concerned. The real threat is the economic stress that families are under." … 

"We don’t need to redouble (efforts) to detect child maltreatment, we need to redouble efforts to reduce the economic stressors that could lead to abuse or neglect," Dunn said. Programs such as eviction protection, improved unemployment benefits and help with necessities, such as food, could go a long way to reducing that stress, she said. 

Worries about the reduction in "eyes on the child" due to teachers not having physical contact with kids might be overblown, Dunn said. 

● NCCPR has updated our report on child welfare in Minnesota.  The bottom line: There’s been progress, but what constitutes progress in Minnesota still would be considered an obscene rate of tearing apart families in many other states. 

● Adapting an idea pioneered in New York City, The Imprint reports on how family defenders in Los Angeles now are hiring parent advocates to help families get through the system – and help children get home sooner, or not get taken away at all. 

● And for those who need still more evidence of racial bias in child welfare, check out this story from MDedge.  From the story: 

[A] 2018 systematic review found that Black and other non-White children were significantly more likely than White children to be evaluated with a skeletal survey. In one of the studies included, at a large urban academic center, Black and Latinx children with accidental fractures were 8.75 times more likely to undergo a skeletal survey than White children and 4.3 times more likely to be reported to child protective services. 

"And let me emphasize that these are children who were ultimately found to have accidental fractures," [Dr. Tiffani] Johnson said. 

Meanwhile, in an analysis of known cases of head trauma, researchers found that abuse was missed in 37% of White children, compared with 19% of non-White children.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending January 5, 2021

The Imprint has a story about key issues in child welfare and juvenile justice in 2020.  Here’s the part I hope they notice at the Biden transition team: 

Bluntly put, there are a lot of blue-leaning child welfare folks who hate Trump but love what they’ve seen from the U.S. Children’s Bureau during his tenure. Under the leadership of Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner and his right hand, David Kelly, the office has focused on advocating for a movement upstream toward maltreatment prevention and a reduction in the use of foster care. The duo also spearheaded an expansion of federal child welfare financing to help states pay for more, and better, legal representation for both children and parents involved in child welfare cases. 

There is a push by family preservation advocates to persuade the Biden transition team to keep Milner on to continue under the new leadership at Health and Human Services (HHS) … 

● Two weeks ago, I highlighted these stories from USA TODAY Network Florida about the swatch of destruction cut through families by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Now, a story of another such family. Elizabeth Brico writes in Filter about what the termination of her children’s rights to her has done to them: 

This could have been an opportunity to teach them about resilience, resolve and recovery. Instead, it has become a powerful lesson in self-loathing. The state chased permanency—but the only permanency achieved is the grief that now permeates all of our lives. 

● State laws that require hospitals to turn in to the family police (a more accurate term than child protective services) any pregnant women who allegedly has a substance use disorder do enormous harm to children needlessly taken from their parents at birth, and discourage women from seeking prenatal care.  Alexandria Kristensen-Cabrera, an M.D.-P.hD. student at the University of Minnesota, has a column in MinnPost supporting legislation to modify the law in Minnesota. 

● On the national level, Jessica Pryce, director of the Florida Institute for Child Welfare, and Amelia Franck Meyer, founder and CEO of Alia Innovations, write in The Imprint about what “building back better” would mean in child welfare.  “Instead of building a system that keeps children safe from their families,” they write, “it will be one based on keeping children safely with their families.” That will require “revolutionary action,” they write, but “We believe that the options of fixing what exists now (evolutionary change) and building a new way of work (revolutionary change) are not mutually exclusive.” 

Also in The Imprint, Prof. Vivek Sankaran writes about how child welfare can “smother” families 

…through our shaming and judgment. By piling needless requirements upon them. By expecting them to trust us even though we can’t make the time to develop authentic relationships with them. By not always fulfilling our commitments and legal obligations. 

● On The Imprint’s podcast, family defenders in Colorado talk about the devastation of families due to child welfare’s failed response to COVID-19, including a mad rush to terminate parental rights.  It starts at 17 minutes in, and see especially the results of a survey starting at 26 minutes in.  MedPage Today has an in-depth overview of the effects of COVID on child welfare.  And NCCPR has more in our report, Child Welfare’s Pandemic of Fear.