Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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

 ● To begin, let’s go to the videotape.  I know: No one wants to watch a video of another webinar.  But please make an exception for this panel featuring family advocacy allstars Prof. Dorothy Roberts, Joyce McMillan, Erin Miles Cloud and Kathleen Creamer: 

● I’ve often told reporters that one sure way to know people who work in “child welfare” systems are being disingenuous is if they claim there is due process for families. They know it’s not true – and so do judges.  Prof. Vivek Sankaran offers an excellent reality check in this column for The Imprint. He writes that due process is “an illusory concept.” 

In courts across the country, parents still never get an attorney to represent them until far into a case, after key decisions have already been made about a child’s placement in foster care. 

Outside of major cities, even when parents get an attorney, the attorney is likely to be underpaid and overworked, and lack any specialty knowledge of the child welfare system. In many jurisdictions, a law student can graduate law school, pass the bar exam and get listed on a roster of attorneys able to get appointments in foster care cases, without receiving any training whatsoever in child welfare law. As a result, the quality of lawyering in this field is abysmal, with key issues rarely being raised by attorneys who have spent little time with their clients.  

Given this reality, the fact that a parent had a lawyer tells us very little about whether he was able to access justice. ...

● And speaking of reality checks, Marco Poggio of Law360 has an outstanding in-depth look at how the “child welfare” system really works in New York City – and family advocates’ legislative agenda to help change it.  Joyce McMillan has a petition calling for more far-reaching change.  (ICYMI: Here’s more about McMillan.)  And I have a blog post about another example of the city “child welfare” agency screwing up an “educational neglect” case. 

● When linking to stories from New York, I always warn that “wherever you are it’s probably worse.” Case in point: Massachusetts, which tears apart families at well over triple the rate of New York City.  And while much attention has focused on the system’s bias against Black families, a story from Shira Schoenberg of CommonWealth Magazine documents how Massachusetts leads the nation in bias against Latinx families.  

● There is also profound bias against Native American families. That’s why there’s an Indian Child Welfare Act to try to counteract some of that bias.  In The Navajo Times, Colleen Keane explains why ICWA is so important, and why New Mexico lawmakers have proposed a state version of this landmark law.  From her story: 

“I remember running into the open arms of my new family. Because of the (federal) Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Joseph Talachy, governor of Pojoaque Pueblo, at a Senate committee hearing on a state ICWA, “I was raised in a beneficial home.” If he hadn’t been placed at Pojoaque, Talachy said he would have lost connection to his family, culture and the Tewa language. 

Before the federal law was passed in 1978, Ambrose Ashley, 71, and his seven brothers, members of the Navajo Nation, didn’t have this critical protection. When their mom had trouble caring for them alone after their dad died, they were abruptly removed from their home and cut off from their family, clan relations, culture and language.  He was 5 1/2 years old.

 “They took my brothers and I in the middle of the night,” Ashley said. “It was a night-time kidnapping.”

 Ashley and his younger brothers went to a non-Native home on the east side of town. The older brothers were placed at a mission home on the other side of town.  “It was traumatic,” he said. “The family was split up. We became strangers to each other.  It left me feeling empty inside, invisible (on the outside,)” he added. 

● When it comes to tearing apart families of all races, Nevada is nearly as bad as Massachusetts. That’s brought together a bipartisan group of legislators to try to legalize – childhood.  But let them tell you, in this column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal: 

Maybe we look like complete opposites. One of us is a gay, Black and a Democratic mom of one from Clark County. And one of us is a white, Republican and a mom of eight — grandmother of 20 — from Northern Nevada. But we are thrilled to be working together because we are in heated agreement when it comes to this: 

Kids have the right to some reasonable independence. And parents have the right to give it to them without being charged with neglect. Now we are supporting a bill that makes this truth into law. 

Nevada’s so-called “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill narrows the definition of child neglect so it doesn’t include simply letting kids engage in normal childhood activities.


● Worst of all, though, is Montana, the foster-care capital of America.  A bill to take a small step toward ending that dubious distinction has been introduced in the state legislature.  It would replace anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse and neglect with confidential reporting.  

● The Drug Policy Alliance has an outstanding report online about Uprooting the Drug War.  Here’s the section on what child welfare’s response to drug use has done to children. 

● And finally, let’s take a moment to celebrate.  In May, 2000, three former foster youth wrote an op-ed column for The San Diego Union-Tribune pleading with county officials not to go ahead with plans to open a brand new, state-of-the-art – orphanage.  Yes, really.  They didn’t listen. They claimed there was no choice.  When the place opened in 2001, I wrote this in a letter to the Union-Tribune reporter who covered the opening: 

Unfortunately, the debate has been reduced to foster care versus orphanages – a lose-lose proposition.  Meanwhile, the safest most humane option – not taking away so many children in the first place – has been swept off the table.  But if San Diego County ever got serious about getting the children who don’t need to be in foster care back home, there would be plenty of room in safe, stable foster homes for the children in real danger. 

Not that I’d ever say “I told you so” but 20 years almost to the day after the orphanage opened, Morgan Cook of the Union-Tribune reports, it will close.  Here’s why: 

Laws passed in the last 10 years and “policy established through lawsuits” have shifted requirements for keeping children safe with families — their own or foster families, according to a planning document provided by county Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher’s office. The changes have greatly reduced the number of San Diego County children in foster care. 

In 2002, for example, there were more than 6,600 children in the local foster-care system. Earlier this month, the number was 2,150. 

Imagine what would happen if everybody tried that.