● “Family Surveillance: A Future without Foster Care” was the title of an outstanding panel at a University of Pennsylvania Law School virtual symposium last week. As far as I know no video is yet available. But thanks to @lizar_tistry whom you can find on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/lizar_tistry there is this excellent summary:
|Illustration by @lizar_tistry|
● Among the topics: the failure of “mandatory reporting” laws. Millions of Americans are required to report their slightest suspicion of child abuse or neglect – and many of them have to take training courses. How bad are these courses? In Youth Today I wrote about how I took a mandatory reporter training course so you don’t have to! (unless, of course, you do). I found that
The course isn’t really training; it’s an exercise in propaganda and paranoia designed to encourage you to report based on little more than “feelings” or “gut instinct” and one of those broad, vague “signs” or “risk factors.” It exaggerates the expertise of those who will handle the report and repeatedly implies that while terrible harm can come from failing to report, nothing will go wrong if you report an innocent family by mistake.
● A recent memorandum from the federal Children’s Bureau declares that the value of preserving families “must be the compass that guides our path to achieving the permanency goals of reunification, adoption and guardianship so that the well-being of every child is also achieved.”
But, as Kathleen Creamer of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and Chris Gottlieb of the New York University School of Law Family Defense Clinic write in The Imprint, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act
…is like a magnet that sends the needle of a compass spinning and leads us in the wrong direction. Congress and the Biden administration now have the chance to remove the magnet and set child welfare back on the right course.
The column argues that if ASFA can’t be repealed outright, there are several specific steps Congress and the administration could take to mitigate the harm.
● Almost everyone pays lip service to the idea that current and former foster youth should have a meaningful role in creating policy. Often this is supposedly done through “Youth Advisory Boards.” In YCTeen, a member of several such boards, Gabrielle Rodriguez, describes how it really works much of the time:
[O]ne or two of us are brought in to report to those in power what other youth say they need, or to tell our own tales of abuse and woe. We are then thanked for our candor, applauded for our advocacy, and called “brave.” Then we’re sent out of the room so that the real decision-making can take place.
● I’ve previously noted the outstanding stories from USA Today Network Florida reporters on the needless removal of children from mothers whose only crime was to be victims of domestic violence. They’ve also reported on how overloading the system increased the risk of abuse in foster care. Could anyone possibly read those stories and think “Aha! The solution is to institutionalize more children!” Yep. NCCPR’s response is in the Fort Myers News-Press.
● There may be good news from New Mexico. Legislation has been introduced that would create a state version of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Another bill would be a first step toward improving legal representation for children and families.
● But there’s bad news from California where the state Department of Social Services made a bad hiring decision. I have a blog post about it.
● And finally, a story you’ve read before – over and over and over again. In fact, you’ve read it so often all you need to do is change the name. That’s not meant to criticize the excellent reporting in this St. Louis Post-Dispatch story. It’s just urgent to understand that such stories will appear, over and over and over, as long as we allow children to be institutionalized.
It’s also worth noting that the “residential treatment” centers at issue here are run by a nonprofit organization, formed by a merger of Boys and Girls Town of Missouri and another nonprofit institution that’s been around since 1832.
So no, you won’t finally fix this by getting the for-profit players out. Because, as I’ve discussed before, the fundamental problem with residential treatment is residential treatment.