Tuesday, May 4, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 4, 2021

Before the news, a note about an event this evening (Wednesday, May 5). It’s sponsored by the Network to Advance Abolitionist Social Work – and when you see who’s speaking, you won’t want to miss it. 

Now, the news: 

● During a virtual court hearing, a ten-year-old girl is asked where she wants to live. As Sylvia A. Harvey reports for Type Investigations and The Imprint she replies: “With my dad.” 

When [her lawyer] encourages her to elaborate, her eyes start to well. “Because. I really miss him.” Her dad’s lawyer asks her about their relationship. Does she feel safe with her dad and does he take good care of her? The girl sobs through her answer, one hand covering her mouth: “Yes.” 

Once her testimony is over, she is excused from juvenile court which, in Minnesota, is open to the public. She wipes away her tears, hits the red “leave meeting” button on her computer, and is off to her next class, PE. Her 13-year-old brother will testify next, offering the same emotional plea to remain with his dad. 

But these children, and so many others, risk having their rights to their parents terminated and losing their families forever, all because of the arbitrary, capricious and cruel timelines in a racist federal law, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  Harvey’s story documents the true human cost to children – made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Even some people who know ASFA does these horrible things still fret over repealing it because of one myth. NCCPR in The Imprint: We Don’t Need The Adoption and Safe Families Act to Shorten Foster Care Stays 

● A prime sponsor of ASFA was then-Senator Mike DeWine. Now he’s governor of Ohio, and his same attachment to a take-the-child-and-run mentality may have contributed to the death of a foster child, Ma’Khia Bryant.  Before a police officer pulled the trigger and killed her during a fight outside her foster home, M’Khia was taken from her grandmother – when the family’s poverty was confused with “neglect.”  I have a post about it on this blog.

Last week’s round-up led with the web version of an NPR / Marshall Project investigation into the common practice of “child welfare” agencies stealing money that rightfully belongs to foster children.  But it’s even more powerful when you hear it – from foster youth talking about how the theft cost them far more than money, to how getting the money back helped one former foster youth become a doctor to a video from the consulting firm Maximus bragging about helping states find – and take – the money for themselves.  The three-part radio series is available here, here and here. 

And again a reminder: As you listen, consider that the last time legislation was introduced in Congress to stop this theft, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Child Welfare League of America sided with the thieves, not the kids. 

● For decades, the only thing state lawmakers and blue-ribbon commissions could think to do about “child abuse” was to expand the child welfare surveillance state.  It sounded great in a press release, but it was a disaster for children, tearing apart families needlessly and leaving caseworkers less time to find children in real danger.  

Now, at last, some states are catching on. The Washington State Legislature has passed – nearly unanimously – legislation to narrow definitions of neglect and the scope of intervention by the family police.  As the Seattle Times reports: 

The bill changes what the state has to prove in the first stages of a case, before a full fact-finding hearing before a judge, from a “serious threat of substantial harm” to “imminent physical harm.” 

While a difference of only a few words, “the current statute says, look as far into the future as you want and consider any possible harm to the child,” Tara Urs, special counsel for civil policy and practice at the King County Department of Public Defense, explained in a recent interview. The words “imminent” and “physical,” she said, “would narrow the focus to this immediate situation.” 

The bill also prevents the state from removing children because of certain conditions in the home — including poverty, inadequate housing, a parent’s mental illness and substance use — unless there is a specific connection to such a danger. 

● An ambitious agenda from New York family advocates, announced at a news conference on Monday, includes Miranda rights for families, no drug testing of new and expecting mothers by hospitals without written informed consent and replacing anonymous reporting with confidential reporting.  As The Imprint reports: 

“There is no welfare or protection to be found in this system at all,” said Halimah Washington, a Bronx mother, activist and community coordinator for the parent advocacy group Rise who is among the supporters of the proposed legislation. “Every day, the family regulation system disrupts the lives of thousands of families, exposing them to the long-lasting harms and traumas of unyielding surveillance, monitoring, separation and dissolution.” 

You can read more about the broad range of support for these bills, and find a link to the news conference video in this press release from The Bronx Defenders.

● Other states also are moving in a better direction, passing what should be called “right to childhood” bills.  Lenore Skenazy writes about two of those bills in Reason. (And, in the days since the story was published, one of the bills, from Oklahoma, was signed into law.) 

● Of course not every state has gotten the message.  In Massachusetts, the state’s “Child Advocate” has been trying to drag the state full-speed backwards.  But the commission she has led – a better term would be misled – for nearly two years is having second thoughts.  The commission finally has published the public hearing testimony that may be leading to a change of some hearts and minds.  But they made things hard to find.  I have a guide in this blog post. 

Carolina Public Press reports that “hidden foster care” – using coerced “voluntary” placements to bypass even the minimal due process requirements of the family policing system to take children from their homes, is about to go on trial in North Carolina.  This blog post discusses the scandal in that state, and the whole issue of hidden foster care. 

KTRK-TV in Houston reports on still another case of racism in child welfare, this time against an Asian family. 

● Remember that judge in Colorado who resigned after being censured “for repeatedly using a racial slur and making insensitive comments to Black judicial employees regarding police brutality and systemic racism”?  Guess what kind of cases she handled. Two family defenders discuss the implications in the Denver Gazette. 

● And sometimes the things family police agencies due to families echo for decades.  Michelle Chan writes about one such case in the San Francisco Bay View.