Wednesday, June 16, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 15, 2021

 Before the news a reminder: The Columbia Journal of Race and Law symposium Strengthened Bonds: Abolishing the Child Welfare System and Re-Envisioning Child Well-Being starts tonight!  Registration is still open for this free virtual event. 

● We begin the news round-up with this stunning video – a documentary from Al Jazeera.


Building on the work of USA Today Network reporters, the program shows the enormous trauma inflicted on children as the Florida Department of Children and Families tears them from parents whose only crime is themselves to be survivors of domestic violence.  The program offers compelling evidence that there is nothing unusual about these cases - or wrongful removal in general. 

A former DCF lawyer is asked in what percentage of cases the removal of the child from her or his parents was “absolutely necessary to keep the children safe.” He replies:  “That’s probably 5-to-10% of the cases at most.”  In the wake of the foster-care panic started by the Miami Herald, “we were doing more to protect our jobs than to protect children at times.”  A former caseworker agrees, saying that removal is “widely misused.” 

● The problem might be even worse in Massachusetts – indeed, we know that state’s family policing agency is even more prone to tear apart families in general than its counterpart in Florida.  And when it comes to inflicting unspeakable trauma on children of domestic violence survivors, the Massachusetts family policing agency, through its prominent place on a commission studying mandatory reporting, is fighting tooth-and-nail to be sure it keeps the untrammeled power to do just that.  (Of course, they don’t want that power because they’re sadists – they have all sorts of ways of rationalizing what they do.  But that doesn’t help the children.)  I have a blog post about it. 

● If Massachusetts perfectly illustrates now not to study a problem in child welfare (and it does), Illinois just demonstrated how to do it right. Check out the state’s new commission on racial bias in child welfare. 

● Bad journalism has a lot to do with what’s gone wrong in Florida.  But some journalists have understood child welfare for a long time.  I’ve reposted a blog from 2011 about one of them – now that he’s just won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. 

On The Imprint podcast, David Kelly, former special assistant to Jerry Milner when Milner ran the federal government’s Children’s Bureau, talks about the need to repeal ASFA (because, among other things, the law is racist), the fact that another law, the so-called Family First Act not only isn’t the revolutionary change the child welfare establishment claims, it might actually make racial disparities worse, and the need to curb hidden foster care.  And before all of that, at about 21:30 in, he’s asked the question everyone in child welfare has wanted to ask him for about for years. :-) 

● June is Family Reunification Month (you did know that, right, what with all the articles celebrating reunified families?  Oh, right, child welfare much prefers to celebrate when families are permanently destroyed.)  In any event, the ABA Center on Children and the Law is celebrating “Reunification Heroes.” Here’s a profile of one of them, Jey Rajaraman, chief counsel and supervising attorney for the Family Representation Project at Legal Services of New Jersey. 

● When reunification is impossible – the family has been legally destroyed and the child adopted – it often still makes sense for the child to maintain contact with her or his birth parents.  A bill to make that a little easier has passed the New York State Legislature

● The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute sponsored a Congressional briefing on those revelations from The Marshall Project and NPR about state agencies effectively stealing government benefits from foster children. The recording is available here.  I particularly recommend the presentations of Ian Marx starting at 15:14 and Lexie Gruber-Perez at 40:40.

● The first Native American to serve as Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, has a reminder of the role child welfare played in the destruction of Native American lives and the attempt to destroy an entire culture. 

● I have long maintained that family policing systems are arbitrary, capricious and cruel, erring in all directions.  The fate of a child often depends on race and income, of course, but also where the family lives, whether there’s been a high-profile tragedy in the news, which caseworker shows up at the door and what mood s/he’s in.  

Or it may depend on whether the local judge believes “poor people have poor ways” – as one judge told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which looked closely at some regional differences in Missouri.  And Carolina Public Press took an in-depth look at the enormous variation in practice across North Carolina.