Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Washington State tries the Gitmo approach to child welfare

KING-TV in Seattle recently reported on something one wouldn’t expect even from a child welfare agency.    

Washington State foster children have spent thousands of nights in hotel rooms and offices. (Unfortunately, that’s not the unexpected part.)  But what happens when, often for good reason,  foster children don’t want to go to an office, or to some cruddy group home where the agency wants to force them to spend the night?  See for yourself:

 KING-TV found 

… a years-long pattern of Washington child protection workers dangling basic necessities like a safe, warm place to sleep as a way to get certain “hard to place” foster children to behave or follow orders. … The investigation … uncovered a DCYF culture where “punitive” actions toward some children and teens without placements are not only condoned but encouraged by some department leaders. … 

DCYF managers withheld hotel beds from some foster kids, and they instructed social workers to make the foster youth uncomfortable with inadequate sleeping arrangements, like in cars without blankets and in state offices without beds. This occurred when the kids acted out or refused to go to a placement at a foster home or group home, … 

And here’s where we get to the matter of what might be a reasonable topic for an international human rights inquiry: 

Four people, who claimed they supervised foster kids overnight in cars and offices, said their managers encouraged them to use psychological tactics to make the youth miserable. They say they were told to do things like blast air conditioning or turn off the heat to make the youth intentionally cold. … Three workers said they were instructed not to allow youth to fall asleep throughout the night. [Emphasis added.] 

Though the story doesn’t mention it, sleep deprivation is commonly defined as torture – the CIA used it on prisoners at Guantanamo. 

This still leaves a few questions. 

Why did some of these children resist going where DCYF wanted to put them? From the story:

Taylor Campbell, a 20-year-old woman in Washington state’s extended foster care program, said as a teenager, she turned down many placements where she didn’t feel comfortable — including one home where she said she was inappropriately touched during a prior stay. 

“The state, they take kids from people that do those things. And then to force a child to openly go through a home like that, that was just the turning point for me and I felt I was lost,” said Campbell, who became a ward of the state at age 15. 

She’s not alone in that assessment. 

“Bouncing around from hotel rooms to cars, not having a stable placement — it made these kids’ behaviors worse,” [a caseworker] said. “I feel like the system is hurting these kids more. It’s way worse than some of the scenarios they have come from.” …

 “It pisses me off that a parent can have their kid taken away for the same thing that we are putting them through,” said a current female after-hours social worker based in Kent, who agreed to speak to KING 5 only under the condition of anonymity. “It’s not healthy. It’s not productive. It’s not safe for the employees. It’s not safe for the kids.” 

Why does this constant moving from placement to placement happen? For starters, and this is one place the story was mistaken, it’s not because of a “shortage” of foster parents.  It’s because Washington State routinely tears apart families at a rate above the national average, even when rates of child poverty are factored in. (The lead in to the story, in which all of the children are described has having been "rescued from dangerous or neglectful homes, also is incorrect. More often they were needlessly taken when family poverty was confused with "neglect.")

Why are frontline workers allegedly required by their superiors to do these horrible things to children? That should be a question for DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter.  But perhaps the answer is rooted in the mentality revealed by the way Hunter himself responded to COVID-19  - one of the worst such responses in the nation. That response suggested a contempt for parents.  But the behavior KING-TV has revealed in his agency raises questions about how Hunter really feels about the kids.