Tuesday, January 26, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending January 26, 2021

● Last week’s round-up began with this photo at the site of a Martin Luther King Day rally against the oppression of families by New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services.  

 I noted at the time that I had not yet seen a story about the rally.  Here’s the story, from The Imprint.  Perhaps most notable are the comments of a supervisor for ACS. 

One rally attendee who has worked at ACS for more than a decade said that agency workers use parents’ fear of having their children taken away to gain their cooperation and get access to information for the investigation. 

“We take advantage of families’ ignorance,” said Robert, an assistant supervisor in Brooklyn, who asked to be identified only by his first name to avoid reprisal at work. “If I knock on your door and you won’t let me in, I’ll say you have a right to do that, but most of my co-workers paper over that fact to get their job done.” 

Robert argued that meaningful reform can only be achieved through policy changes, rather than through efforts like implicit bias training that focus on changing workers’ attitudes. For example, he said, if child protective investigators had to get a warrant from family court every time they wanted to enter a home, “that would bring the system to face a crisis of legitimacy and have the rebuilding of it to be a caring system and not a policing system.” 

● Whether it’s in the context of the police in blue uniforms or the family police, say the word “abolition” and people understandably worry about what should be done instead.  The writers and editors of Rise have some excellent answers in this column for the federal government’s Children’s Bureau Express.  The column serves another useful purpose: Multiple news organizations have debunked the false, racist myth that the lack of mostly white professionals constantly watching mostly nonwhite kids would lead to a “pandemic of child abuse.”  The Rise story helps explain why that didn’t happen, and why no one ever should have expected it to happen. 

In the same issue of Children’s Bureau Express: 

-- Jey Rajaraman, chief counsel for Legal Services of New Jersey, writes about why “Securing and Restoring the Family Is in the Child’s Best Interests.” 

She quotes a former foster youth who … 

… identified how not having the "perfect house" delayed reunification and that the agency would not financially assist her mother to locate a home for her and her siblings. Why can't state agencies provide direct funding for concrete services to assist in reunification? In New Jersey, statutes provide and fully empower the agency to assist with housing for parents and other needs to expedite reunification. However, this does not occur in practice because there is no shift to make securing the entire family a priority. 

-- David Kelly, special assistant to Jerry Milner, who ran the Children’s Bureau under the previous administration, writes about how the key to preventing the problem of children “aging out” of foster care is to prevent so many from ever aging in.  He writes:

 It's time to aggressively interrogate the option of aging out. It's time to examine deeply the root causes of how we reach the point where a young person's best or only option is to leave care for life on their own. It's time to interrogate how we've arrived at a place where programs such as Chafee [which helps support independent living programs for youth who age out] are needed in the first place.

 Rather than interrogate aging out, we've institutionalized it. …

 In our hubris, we have believed systems can do better for children than their own families can. In our myopia, parents are too often viewed as the problem. In our thoughts and actions, families are too often viewed as replaceable. … 

That we have a higher percentage of young people who age out than go to live permanently with other relatives is abhorrent; it is a tragedy. … We should incentivize family preservation, reunification, kinship care, and guardianship instead of adoption alone. 

To accept aging out as an unavoidable byproduct of the foster care industry is to perpetuate injustice. … To accept our failure to find permanence and connection for young people—after we have taken it from them and promised better—is unforgivable. 

Like all political appointees, Kelly’s boss, Milner, had to submit his resignation.  But the job of running the Children’s Bureau remains open – and if you’d like to see the Biden Administration bring back one of the most progressive leaders in the Bureau’s history, there’s a petition you can sign here. 

● Even when children are not taken from the home, or after a family has been reunified, child welfare systems make family problems worse by needlessly blacklisting parents on “central registers” of alleged child abusers based on little more than a caseworker’s guess.  The listing can bar the parents from employment in many jobs – often among the few jobs open to low- income families. 

As Saadiqa Kumanyika and Jamie Gullen of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia explain in The Imprint 

Blocking off the ability of parents and caregivers to access employment in high-growth fields only serves to hurt the very children the child abuse registry is supposed to protect in the first place. The child abuse registry thus exacerbates child poverty and places vulnerable families in even more precarious circumstances. 

They explain what the Biden Administration can do about it. 

● Sharon McDaniel, founder, president and CEO of A Second Chance, Inc. also has a child welfare agenda for the Biden Administration, one geared to finally coming to grips with the racism that has been a part of American child welfare since before there was even an America. 

●Something else the federal government could do (but almost certainly won’t): cut off all grants to Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs.  Still another report, this time from Florida, adds to the mountain of evidence that these programs harm children. I have a post about it on this blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The clueless CASA program of Florida

A new report paints a picture of Florida's CASA program that is as detailed 
as it is damning. So there's a danger of not seeing the forest for the trees.

● A legislative audit confirms they have no evidence the program is doing any good; the data range from unreliable to nonexistent. 

 ● The audit reviewed the scholarship on CASA and found what anyone who looks objectively at the literature is likely to find.

● Lawyers surveyed found what you almost always find with CASA programs: a profound bias against families that harms the children such programs are intended to help.

● It all echoes a study of the same program done nearly two years ago which produced similarly dismal findings.

 In the closing days of 2020, the Florida Legislature’s equivalent of the federal Government Accountability Office issued a report on Florida’s CASA program. (In Florida, it’s called a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program, but it is, in fact, a CASA program.) 

 CASA is the program in which overwhelmingly white middle-class amateurs – volunteers whose only real “qualification” is their race and their class – march into the homes of overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite families to pass judgment upon those families. They recommend what hoops parents will have to jump through to have any hope that their children will get to live with them again.  They recommend if the parent/child bond should be legally severed forever.  Judges often are quick to rubber-stamp their advice.

 What could possibly go wrong? 

CASAs could play a useful role as mentors for foster children and in finding extended family members when children really can’t remain in their own homes.  But they should not be allowed to “investigate” families let alone tell courts whether or not to destroy them forever. 

The new report is particularly important because the Florida program
has sunk lower even than most other CASA programs in trying to justify its existence through a fear and smear campaign not only against families but against better alternatives.

The new report from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) is so damning in so many ways that there’s a risk of losing the forest for the trees.  Prof. Robert Latham, associate director of the University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic, has a detailed analysis of both on his excellent Florida child welfare blog. 

The forest

 The best view of the forest comes from the report’s survey of judges and lawyers.  The judges were generally fine with the program.  The lawyers, not so much. 

According to the report: 

[D]ependency attorneys expressed several concerns with the program. Concerns included …  GALs [remember, in Florida CASAs are called GALs] often reiterating [Department of Children and Families] recommendations; and lack of volunteer expertise.  Some also stated the program seems biased against and often delays reunification.  Attorneys and one judge expressed concern that volunteers’ personal experiences and biases may lead them to confound the safety of the parents’ home with what they think is a better home environment with a foster parent, resulting in more frequent recommendations for termination of parental rights. 

Many of these attorneys also reported issues with  GAL efficiency, including …
irrelevant court filings by the  GAL  (such as requests for parent to undergo a psychological evaluation when there is no history of mental health issues)…

Some attorneys would like more training on family reunification as the primary goal in dependency.  This could include increased awareness of the benefits of preserving the family,  consequences of terminating parental rights,   realities of foster care,   and difficulties faced by disadvantaged parents. Six of the attorneys also reported that volunteers need more training on what actions or options are legal within the dependency system. 

Notwithstanding its genteel, measured language, the OPPAGA report confirms once again what an increasing body of research has found - that, in the words of a comprehensive law review article, CASA is “an exercise of white supremacy.” 

The research shows that, compared to children not burdened with a CASA on the case, foster children with CASAs were: 

● Less likely to be reunified with their own parents.

● Less likely to find permanence in the form of guardianship by a relative.

● More likely to “age out” of foster care with no home at all. 

More “training” won’t fix it; the bias is baked in.  

As for representing children in court – CASAs don’t actually do that. A CASA’s mandate is to tell the court what the CASA thinks is “best” for the child. If the child disagrees, the child is effectively silenced. 

A far better approach is for the child to have a lawyer who advocates for what the child wants – not because that’s always best, but because the only way a judge can make a truly informed decision about what is best is if all parties have strong advocates making the case for their clients’ desired outcome. 

As for children who are too young to express a rational preference – or even too young to speak (a prime focus of the Florida program’s fearmongering) -- there’s actually a better option than CASAs for them, too, as is explained in this excellent article from Family Law Quarterly. 

This kind of representation has another advantage: It qualifies for 50 percent federal reimbursement for every eligible case (the formula is complicated, but on average somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of cases probably would be eligible). 

An earlier report 

The OPPAGA report is not the first to point out the failures of the Florida CASA program.  Prof. Latham got there first. About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote about his large-scale analysis of Florida CASA program data. As I wrote at the time: 

The study found that, even after pouring $600 million in taxpayer funds into the program over 15 years, using the criteria the program itself uses to claim success, there actually is no evidence that the program does any good – and some limited evidence that it might be doing harm. … [Prof. Latham] is not a CASA-basher. On the contrary, he worked in the Florida GAL program, began his excellent blog with posts defending that program and, as recently as 2016, received the program’s Excellence in Advocacy award. 

But what started him wondering about the program’s effectiveness was the depths to which it has sunk to try to keep itself in business and prevent the establishment of a better way to represent children.  The “better way” part is my conclusion. Prof. Latham sees room for both. 

You can read all about that earlier study, and the ugly tactics the Florida CASA program uses to try to justify its existence in that 2019 post.  I particularly hope people will read about those tactics because, I suspect, they will be on display Monday when the director of the Florida CASA program, Alan Abramowitz, testifies before a legislative committee. 


He’ll be testifying about the OPPAGA report.  At the start of this post, I discussed the most important part – what the lawyers who actually have to work with the CASA amateurs found.  But there is more. 

Let’s start with the good news: 

Even as the program added lots more paid staff, it’s “serving” fewer children.  While lawmakers might see this as a waste of money, actually it’s a sound investment.  In fact, if the pattern were to continue, and the legislature lavished so much money on the program that they didn’t “serve” any children, this would significantly improve the lives of many of those children.

Now the bad news: 

The worst news is “the forest” – the confirmation of the profound bias against families.  But there’s also bad news about the trees: 

● The report spends a lot of time on the data the CASA program uses to justify its existence.  Prof. Latham discusses this in great detail so I’ll just boil it down: Florida CASA doesn’t have a clue about what Florida CASA does or does not accomplish. 

● What we do know, however, is that there is enormous variation within Florida concerning outcomes for children – a further indication of CASA bias.  While the data are so poor one can’t be certain, it appears that in one region, for example, 51 percent of cases with a CASA ended with reunification while in two other regions it was only 37 percent.  Nearly half of all cases in one region ended with children’s rights to their parents terminated and the children adopted; in another region it was 19 percent. 

In fact, the Florida CASA program seems to be so wrapped up in playing God that it even opposed legislation to create a foster children’s bill of rights – and they were very basic rights.  The program’s attitude seems to be: We decide if you have rights, we decide where you will live, we decide if you will ever live with your family again. Because only we know what’s “best.” 

The exception 

Of course, not every Florida CASA behaves that way. Consider one of the many heartbreaking cases documented by USA Today Network reporters involving children needlessly torn from parents whose only crime was to be, themselves, victims of domestic violence. In one such case, the CASA, Brooke Robertson, fought hard to keep the family of Marion Phillips together for as long as she could.  According to the story: 

The case still haunts Robertson, who grew up poor herself and said Marion’s five-year struggle highlights an uncomfortable truth for child welfare workers: Often, their job is weighing whether to take a child from a loving but flawed family and put them in the arms of wealthy strangers. 

“Yes, they would have sushi and hummus and trips to the museum, instead of Mountain Dew and wrestling matches,” Robertson said. But she couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if the state had given a fraction of the stipend they pay to foster parents – more than $400 per child per month – to Marion. 

Robertson imagined Marion with a fine apartment, a safe neighborhood, professional babysitters, after-school tutors, a car with room for the kids, a private attorney. 

“It will break your heart,” Robertson said. “It will break your brain.” 

But that kind of CASA doesn’t seem to be welcome in Florida. After she was off the case, she looked up the case in a child welfare database. 

For that, USA Today reports, she was forced to resign.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending January 19, 2021

I haven't seen a news story about this yet, but 
this billboard, at 125th St. and 2nd Ave. in New York,
the scene of a Martin Luther King Day protest led by
Joyce McMillan of JMacForFamilies, 
seems like a good way to start the week in review. 
UPDATE: Here's the story.

● Toward the start of the pandemic, several major news organizations challenged the racist myth that as soon as the eyes of overwhelmingly white middle-class professionals no longer were on overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite children, their parents would unleash upon those children a “pandemic of child abuse.”  Now, one of those organizations, the Associated Press has revisited the issue.  

● Tomorrow many parts of the federal government will have new leadership.  But a lot of progressive advocates in child welfare hope the Biden Administration will keep one leader on the job: Jerry Milner, who ran the Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau.  This story from The Imprint explains why.  And if you agree, you can sign this petition. 

● Thanks to outstanding reporting by USA Today Network reporters, Florida journalism is beginning to come to grips with the foster-care panic that has swept though that state. But Florida lawmakers have not. 

● Speaking of failure in Florida, Robert Latham, associate director of the Children & Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami Law School has an in-depth analysis on his blog of a new report on the Florida CASA program.   

● Prof. Vivek Sankaran, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School argues that in helping children achieve permanency we need to aim for real permanency – relational permanency – instead of what amounts to paper permanency. He writes: 

As we embark on a new year within the child protection system, might we flip the script and adopt a new prevailing narrative – that we identify what relationships matter to the child, unequivocally support them, and then use our legal tools to allow the child to benefit from those relationships. Might we better serve families by refusing to permanently destroy relationships between children and their parents that are important to children? 

The Arizona Republic reports that Arizona’s family police agency (a more accurate term than child welfare agency) will be subject to two years of federal monitoring as a result of complaints that it did all sorts of awful things to families whose first language isn’t English. 

Among other things: The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) failed to provide documents about what parents had to do to get their kids back in a language the parents actually could read.  Also, according to Sylvia Herrera of the Barrio Defense Committee, which gathered many of the complaints cited by the Office of Civil Rights in the federal Department of Health and Human Services:

Parent aides, who supervise visits between parents and their children, would bar parents from talking to their children in Spanish, out of concern the parents might say something inappropriate that the aide could not understand … 

Herrera said she was heartened that the agreement requires the civil-rights office to monitor DCS' language services for the next two years. "However, it does not address the fact that hundreds of families were destroyed by DCS practices that lead to foster care and eventual adoption to non-relatives instead of family reunification," she said. 

No agreement, she said, can undo the harm that has already been caused because a family didn't get the help it needed to navigate the system.

No word on whether this means, from now on, “Professional Kidnapper” t-shirts will have to be translated.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Florida journalism begins to face up to foster-care panic; Florida lawmaklers do not.

USA Today Network stories also reveal how the Florida Department of Children and Families effectively has become a spouse abuser’s best friend. 


Confronted with the fact that his agency overlooked
horriffic abuse in foster care and routinely tears children
from the arms of battered mothers, Florida DCF Secretary
Chad Poppell offered, at best, a mea minima culpa.

                In 2014, bad journalism set off a foster-care panic in Florida.  A Miami Herald series, falsely scapegoated family preservation for child abuse deaths.  In fact, efforts to keep families together, led by two leaders of the state child welfare agency, Bob Butterworth and the late George Sheldon, had made children safer.

             The Florida Legislature responded predictably. It passed a bunch of laws encouraging even more needless removal of children from their homes, escalating the panic.

             In 2020, good journalism exposed the harm done to children by the Herald’s bad journalism.  USA Today Network Florida reporters demonstrated how the foster-care panic overloaded the system, prompting the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the assortment of privatized “lead agencies” that together mismanage Florida child welfare to turn a blind eye (to an even greater degree than before) to horrific abuse inflicted on children in foster care.

             Then the reporters published a series of stories about children needlessly torn from their mothers and consigned to the chaos of that same horrific system because the mothers were victims of domestic violence.

             Last week, some Florida legislators responded predictably – accepting at face value meaningless assurances from the current “leader” of Florida DCF, Chad Poppell.

So for starters, let’s review what Poppell and the legislature – as well as the Herald and its ally in pushing Florida to relentlessly tear apart families, the Tampa Bay Times – want swept under the rug.

The USA Today Network journalists found that the system

 …sent nearly 170 children to live in foster homes where the state had some evidence that abuse occurred. In 2016, two preschool girls said their Sarasota County foster father molested them. The state sent him 13 more children, stopping only when a third toddler reported that the 64-year-old had forced her to put his penis in her mouth. …

The number of children under 10 sent to live in group homes doubled between 2013 and 2017, adding to the cost of care and the danger to children. Some were sent to places such as the Mount Dora-based National Deaf Academy even after a whistleblower lawsuit was filed in Lake County claiming that staff had held children down, punched them in the stomach, spat on them and denied them medical care. …

 As caseloads rose, child welfare workers skipped home visits and parent training sessions because they could not keep up with required safety checks. They fabricated logs to make it appear as if the sessions took place. When caseworkers lied and omitted information from their reports, children got hurt, according to lawsuits and DCF inspector general reports. One IG report told of a child who was sexually assaulted after an investigations supervisor falsely claimed a hotline call had been successfully investigated and provisions had been made for the safety of the children involved.


At a legislative committee meeting on Jan. 12, Poppell offered up what can best be called a mea minima culpa

 “I won’t belabor the point, the quality of the work was poor,  We did a bad job,” he said, adding “DCF shouldn’t be finding out about these things in the newspaper.”

 But he neglected to mention that he had done everything he could to prevent his own agency, or anyone else, from finding out.  As the USA Today story notes:

DCF and the nonprofit agencies in charge of foster care repeatedly tried to prevent USA TODAY from obtaining information about foster parents and the allegations against them. They would not provide a list of parent names and demanded $50,000 for search and copy fees for disciplinary records. In reaction to one USA TODAY records request, DCF officials pressed legislators to pass a law making foster parent names secret from the public – an effort that ultimately failed.

Taking children from battered mothers

As I’ll discuss in more detail below, the legislative committee barely touched the issue of abuse in foster care.  And when it comes to the issue of the harm done to children taken from battered mothers, they don’t seem to have said a word. 

So let’s review what the journalists found.  Here’s how one of the stories begins: 

Her memory of the midnight attack was muddled, but her battered body bore the story. 

Purple bruises peppered her arms, legs and chest. Blood dried on her busted lip. Dark, swollen skin circled her bloodshot right eye. Hospital scans confirmed her ex-boyfriend’s attack had inflicted internal trauma too. 

Now, hours later, he was in jail and Leah Gunion was home again. Concussion-weary and tender, she tucked her toddler back into bed and sat down to nurse her infant son. An 8 a.m. knock at the door disrupted her first moment of peace. 

A woman waited at the threshold. Her polo shirt bore the insignia of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Thinking she was there to help, Leah let her in. 

For the next six weeks, Leah would battle the state for custody of her children, though DCF investigators never suggested that she injured her kids. They didn’t accuse her of using drugs or failing to provide for her boys’ basic needs. 

But she had lost consciousness from being beaten and strangled, briefly leaving her children unsupervised. They ordered Leah to never be alone with her children, or risk losing them. 

Ultimately her children were indeed taken away.  It happened right after a domestic violence counselor assured the mother it wouldn’t: 

 “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.’” 

Because a police officer with a bodycam was there to provide backup, we can see what happened next:


Does Poppell know the research?

             Poppell tried to dismiss the cases as isolated while at the same time justifying tearing children from the arms of battered mothers on grounds that the children had been emotionally abused.          

But research shows that while witnessing domestic violence can harm children, emotionally, taking children from nonoffending parents harms those children far more.  One expert called it “tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.”  That’s why in one state, New York, as a result of a class-action lawsuit, the practice is illegal.  (NCCPR’s vice president was co-counsel for plaintiffs in that lawsuit.)  In Florida, in contrast, DCF’s approach can be summed up as: please pass the salt. 

            As the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote in an editorial. 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. 

            One reason the emotional trauma is so great in these situations: Children assume they must have done something terribly wrong and now they are being punished.  The Florida stories illustrate just that.  Leah Gunion’s children ultimately were returned, but ... 

Her toddler, whom DCF and police had picked up from day care, asked what he’d done wrong. “He thinks he was arrested,” Leah said, something she’d previously told him happens only to bad boys. 

            As for the claim that such cases are isolated, here’s what the USA Today Network reporters found: 

[I]n defiance of widely accepted best practices, Florida aggressively removes children from parents – most of them mothers – who have been battered by an intimate partner, a USA TODAY investigation found. … While other states have moved away from that approach, DCF cited domestic violence as the reason it removed more than 3,500 children from biological parents in 2018, an increase of nearly 1,400 from 2013. It is the primary reason for 25% of removals this year. … 

USA TODAY identified 22 domestic violence victims who were willing to share their stories and provide case documents that normally are hidden from public view. … Taken together, their experiences reveal a system stacked against women who are abused. Caseworkers and judges treat them like criminals on probation, even when their children have not been physically harmed, and impose a level of scrutiny that many parents could not pass. Any failing can be used against them to remove their children or delay reunification. 

Perhaps worst of all, Florida DCF effectively has become a spouse abuser’s best friend: 

Worried their children could be taken again, eight mothers say they’re now afraid to call 911 if they’re in danger. Four mothers told USA TODAY they believe their children were abused or medically neglected in a foster home. 

“The thing I regret most is that I ever called 911,” said a Martin County mother of two whose sons spent eight months in foster care after she reported to police that her boyfriend hit her and threatened her with a gun. “But I could also have been killed that night. Which one do you pick?”


The Florida Legislature responds – NOT! 

On Jan. 12, Poppell spoke at a meeting of the Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs.  He admitted that DCF had wrongly dismissed a large proportion of the allegations of sexual abuse in foster care – now that the journalists had overcome DCF’s own efforts to hide the problem.  He promised the agency will look more carefully in the future. 

But he implied that the official figure of 92 children with such allegations in fiscal year 2020 is accurate.  In fact, study after study shows that there is abuse in one-quarter to one-third of family foster homes, and the rate of abuse in group homes and institutions is even worse. 

Having just admitted that his investigations of abuse in foster care are sloppy and miss a lot of such abuse, Poppell then went on to claim that abuse in foster care had declined since 2007.  I trust the problem with that claim is obvious. 

As for the foster-care panic, Poppell claimed, of course, that all those children were taken to keep them safe.  But, as always happens with foster-care panics, it backfired.  Independent monitors found that the one time child safety really improved in Florida was when Butterworth and Sheldon were running DCF and doing more to keep families together. 

By overloading the system, the foster-care panic didn’t just make foster care less safe, it also made it harder for caseworkers to find the relatively few children in real danger. 

But safety wasn’t the real reason for taking away all those children.  That was made clear by Poppell himself – inadvertently – when he pointed out that the number of children torn from their families has returned to about where it was before the panic.  

But why? If all those children were so unsafe they needed to be taken away in 2014, why not now? 

      There are two possible explanations for the rise and fall in entries into Florida foster care: 

1.              1. By amazing coincidence, child abuse in Florida spiked at precisely the same moment the Herald was publishing its stories, and then it magically declined again. 

2.              2. Thousands of children were needlessly torn from everyone they know and love, consigned to the chaos of foster care, suffered emotional trauma akin to that suffered by children torn from their families at the Mexican border and, in some cases were horribly abused in foster care itself – all so Florida DCF could appease the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.

             So, which is more likely? 

1,280 “great things” per child? 

Speaking of unlikely, Poppell also declared that “a million great things happen in this system every day.” 

I did the math.  On average, 781 children come to the attention of DCF every day – that’s the number of children who are investigated as alleged victims of child abuse and neglect.  So if Poppell is right, his agency is so magnificent that it does an average of 1,280 great things for each one of those children!  Kinda makes you wonder why the outcomes for children who go through the system are so rotten, doesn’t it? 

And yet, instead of holding Poppell to account for any of this, his token initiatives about abuse in foster care reportedly were “well-received.” Another news account said “For the most part, the Senate committee members appeared pleased with Poppell’s responses.” 

Of course they were.  Poppell simply ignored the problem at the root of all the others – taking away too many children.  That’s the problem for which the legislature is complicit. 

The chair of the committee State Sen. Lauren Book had earlier written that “The USA Today investigative series will serve as a blueprint for me to follow in examining these issues.”  

But if she, or any other committee member, so much as uttered a word at the hearing about what was being done to the children of battered women, no news account mentioned it. 

So if you’re really going to use those stories as your guide, Sen. Book,  

● Will you introduce legislation to make it illegal to tear a child from the arms of mothers whose only crime is to, themselves, be the victims of domestic violence? 

● Will you demand that DCF stop taking away so many families needlessly, often when family poverty is confused with neglect? 

● Will you demand that DCF return to the reforms initiated under Butterworth and Sheldon, reforms shown by independent monitors to make children safer? 

● Will you demand that Florida create a program of high-quality interdisciplinary family representation like the one in New York City that has spared so many children the trauma of prolonged needless foster care, with no compromise of safety? 

● Will you at least demand that DCF follow this sound advice from the News-Journal and start 

...[examining] 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.

          And one more thing: Will you demand that Florida child welfare do what you say you are going to do and use the USA Today series as a blueprint – instead of taking its cues from the Miami Herald?

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.