Wednesday, November 3, 2021

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending November 2, 2021

● Anyone who knows Florida child welfare and Florida journalism knows that if a birth parent had two children taken from her because of abuse, then allegedly killed a third child who was allowed to stay in the home, the Miami Herald would be doing story after story blaming “family preservation” for the tragedy – and setting off another foster-care panic.  So, what did the Herald write when something remarkably similar happened in foster care?  Nothing, of course.  Fortunately, however, USA Today Network reporters in Florida did.   

● In an excellent statement supporting legislation to inform families of their rights when the family police knock at the door, the New York Civil Liberties Union writes: 

The parallels between the family regulation and criminal legal systems are hard to ignore. Both systems overwhelmingly impact Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and both effectively treat circumstances of poverty as offenses to be punished. Yet in critical ways, those subject to the family regulation system have even fewer protections than defendants in the criminal legal system. 

If you’ve read Nina Bernstein’s brilliant book, The Lost Children of Wilder (especially page 174) you’ll understand what I mean when I say this statement was nearly 50 years in the making. 

● Of course, even if you know your rights, it doesn’t help much if your own lawyer won’t fight for you.  In The Imprint Prof. Vivek Sankaran writes about such a case: 

Testifying in the case being heard, in which a family separation was on the table, the caseworker remarked, “No, I didn’t make reasonable efforts to reunify because the mother was homeless and was living in a room in a shelter.” 

When I heard the worker say that, I geared up for the heated inquiry that I thought would ensue. Why didn’t the worker make any efforts? … Did the law excuse her from making these efforts? Without even exploring these efforts, could we possibly say that separating the child from her mother was the only — and best -— course of action? My mind was spinning with the possibilities. 

But none of those questions were asked. Instead, the hearing simply went on. The caseworker’s attorney didn’t explore her client’s lack of reasonable efforts. The parent’s attorney asked a few unrelated questions, while the child’s attorney literally didn’t say a word. The judge simply moved on, but dutifully remembered to check the box that “reasonable efforts had been made, consistent with the circumstances.” He made this finding despite the fact that the worker had conceded that she had made no effort whatsoever. 

● In the New York Daily News, Washcarina Martinez Alonzo writes about how schools and the city’s family policing agency continue to harass families with bogus “educational neglect” reports like these: 

Take families like the Browns for example, who told their school in the Bronx that they had not yet received tablets for remote learning, only to find the Administration for Children’s Services at their front door hours later. Or the Gomez family in Queens, who told their school that multiple siblings were sharing a tablet during remote learning and that they were experiencing challenges learning in such a small apartment during the pandemic. They were surprised to find the police and ACS knocking on their door alleging that they, as parents, had failed to do their due diligence. 

● One useful step toward ending that kind of harassment would be to abolish mandatory reporting laws. The laws have backfired, driving families away from seeking help and overloading caseworkers.  Abolishing such laws was one of the topics at the recent UpEND Movement virtual conference.  You can see all the sessions here. 

● Until such laws are abolished, mandatory reporters can at least follow some sound, sensible advice concerning when they don’t have to report and what they can do instead.  Such advice can be found on Page 12 of this publication from the University of Minnesota.  

● In Oregon it looks as though the family policing system has finally attained – mediocrity.  It may now be tearing apart families at a rate equal to the national average instead of far above. But will Oregon’s Senator Soundbite try to undercut even this progress? I have a blog post about it. 

● On The Imprint podcast, journalist Rebecca Nagle discusses her findings about the campaign to destroy the Indian Child Welfare Act. 

● Although Texas media have run story after story about foster children forced to sleep in offices, they have avoided any discussion of the reason for that – the state tears apart so many families needlessly.  But now, The Imprint reports, there are two new state laws that might help a little. One allows parents to petition to have their children’s rights to them restored after they’ve been terminated, the other prohibits the state from terminating a child’s right to her or his parents solely because the same thing happened to a sibling. 

As the story explains: 

Cynthia Simons, a fellow at the Texas Center for Justice and Equity ...said ... “There are children languishing in foster care, going from home to home and sleeping in CPS offices — when they have a willing, able parent to take care of them." 

● And even as federal regulators cave in to the residential treatment industry and make it easier for states to get reimbursed for stashing kids in their institutions, still another such institution is revealed to be rife with abuse.