Wednesday, April 27, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 26, 2022

● I am proud to serve on a special committee of the Philadelphia City Council examining the child welfare system in that city.  We released our report last week.  There’s a story about the report in Billy Penn.  And, because many of the recommendations apply statewide, in the York Daily Record. My statement about the report is on this blog here.

● One of our recommendations is to abolish mandatory child abuse reporting – something that would be in line with decades of research showing that mandatory reporting backfires.  It’s one of the topics Prof. Dorothy Roberts discusses in The Regulatory Review.  She writes: 

Mandated reporting, therefore, drives many family caregivers from the very people who are most equipped to support them. It deters families from seeking needed assistance and weakens the capacity of teachers, doctors, and social service workers to nurture children’s well-being. Providing aid to families within a threatening and punitive system ruins the opportunity for schools, health care clinics, and social programs to be community-based resources where families can find non-coercive help with meeting their needs. 

● Prof. Roberts expands on that theme in the foreward for the new issue of Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly.  The issue is devoted to one of the two issues the family policing establishment least wants to talk about: the confusion of poverty with neglect. (I’ll be very disappointed if you can’t guess the other one – but here’s a hint.) 

Also in this issue: A mother and daughter write about being needlessly separated due to issues all rooted in family poverty. At one point, Hope VanSickle was jailed for writing bad checks to pay the bills.  Her daughter Diana writes:

During my mother’s incarceration, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit her. Those days were the absolute best days. I remember being able to see my mom would be the light of my entire week. Not to mention I think those visits are what got my mother through it all. My sister and I did not care that she was incarcerated, or that we were visiting her at a jail site, we just wanted to see her. If you asked me today if I remember anything about the jail I visited my mother at so many years ago, I simply could not answer because I was not wondering why I was at a jail at the age of 7. I was just excited to see my mother and that is all that mattered to us.

● When journalists publish a big project, it’s often accompanied by a “how we got the story” sidebar.  But the one that accompanied a major reporting project by The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica is different. It includes the reflections of a reporter who shows a rare willingness to grapple with ambiguity, complexity and nuance in covering child welfare. 

As Molly Parker writes: 

News stories about child welfare tend to stake out one of two positions: They take agencies like [the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services] to task for missing numerous and seemingly obvious red flags leading to a child’s death; or they draw attention to cases where children have been unnecessarily removed. Both of those situations are unfortunate, and deserving of attention. 

But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking: What does DCFS do about cases where departmental and parental shortcomings collide in a gray area? These types of cases, though exceedingly typical, don’t receive the public policy attention they deserve. 

And she adds: 

Having given birth to twins last year, I am awash with a fresh wave of empathy for struggling, tired, overwhelmed parents. I love my children dearly, but when you’re sleep deprived and inexperienced, some days are long and hard — especially when my children are sick and the crying feels ceaseless, or when I’m stressed about bills and work obligations I can’t always meet. I don’t know how I would manage without a husband, a village of family and friends, a supportive workplace and enough money to hire babysitters on occasion so I have room to breathe. 

So many of the parents I interviewed for this story have none of these luxuries. 

A Boston Globe expose reveals that, for hundreds of young people confined there, New Hampshire’s Youth Detention Center was 

a house of horrors. Rampant sexual abuse by staffers, beatings so severe they broke bones. Residents forced by staff to fight each other for food. Solitary confinement stays that stretched for months. The kind of violence that leaves lasting psychological damage, rippling through generations. 

It’s been that way for more than 150 years.  Indeed, the Globe reports, in the 1930s they even had their own version of waterboarding.  And for all that time, what is now the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families, and its various predecessors, which have been responsible for running the place, either were too stupid to know what was going on, or willfully ignorant. This seems to be a habit at DCYF.  DCYF is also the same agency that tears apart families at one of the highest rates in America.  Why in God’s name would anyone trust them with the power to do that?