Tuesday, March 30, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending March 30, 2021

● We begin with some very good reporting about some very bad ideas.  In Massachusetts, a state that already takes away children at a rate more than 60% above the national average, and despite the mass of evidence that mandatory reporting is a failure, a special commission is proposing to double down on that failure. 

Not only do they want to vastly expand who is a mandated reporter they want to make it easier to confuse poverty with neglect.  But CommonWealth Magazine didn’t do the usual story – find the worst “unreported” horror story and use it to cheer on the changes.  Instead, this story from reporter Shira Schoenberg looks at all sides – including all the reasons the plan could backfire. 

● Speaking of laws that backfire, America’s racial justice reckoning has led to calls to repeal the federal government’s worst child welfare law, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  Those calls have focused largely on one abominable feature of the law – timelines.  But in this column for Youth Today I discuss another part of the law that’s even worse. 

● ASFA and mandatory reporting both illustrate that in child welfare nothing succeeds like failure.  I have a column in the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call about the pernicious practice of predictive analytics spreading to another Pennsylvania county. 

● At last! Voices that have been effectively silenced by most Washington State media for decades are heard in this excellent story by Nina Shapiro of the Seattle Times. The story focuses on the confusion of poverty with neglect, and several initiatives aimed at curbing needless removal. 

One notable statistic from the story: 

“Poverty is the greatest predictor of whether you’re going to have a dependency case,” said Tara Urs, special counsel for civil police and practice at the King County Department of Public Defense. Of 962 cases filed in the county during 2019 and 2020 seeking to make a child a dependent of the state and possibly a placement in foster care, just five families were not entitled to a public defender because of indigency, according to her department’s records.

● In Reason, Lenore Skenazy wrote about a family turned-in to child protective services because a parent was seven minutes late picking up her son.  Her work led me to revisit a similar situation in Washington, D.C., where it is standard operating procedure to report some parents if they’re late picking up kids from afterschool programs. 

● In a system permeated with racial bias, what about the means used to decide what is, and isn’t, “evidence-based”? In The Imprint, three child welfare consultants write that the clearinghouse that has to give its seal of approval before a program can be funded under the Family First Act  

…does not apply or require a racial equity lens for approval. As a result, they are too often implemented through white normative standards, and rarely evaluated for efficacy in non-white populations. 

● And in Washington State, KING-TV and NBC News report that some prosecutors are having second thoughts about the “expert” they used in some child abuse cases, From the story

This winter, [Dr. Elizabeth] Woods left her position as the director of the child abuse intervention program at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, and last month she was removed from the small roster of doctors who provide expert medical reports to the state’s child welfare agency, hospital and state officials confirmed. Some area prosecutors have also been sending letters to defense lawyers disclosing that Woods’ credibility as an expert witness has been called into question. 

These changes follow a KING 5 and NBC News investigation from one year ago that revealed that Woods, 39, provided false information while testifying under oath about why she never received key training to become certified as a child abuse medical expert. The investigation also examined four cases in which child welfare workers took children from parents based on Woods’ reports — including some in which Woods misstated key facts, according to a review of records — despite contradictory opinions from other medical experts who said they saw no evidence of abuse.