Sunday, May 8, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 8, 2022

● You know how family policing agencies say they never, ever take children away or keep them in foster care on their own?  Remember how they say: “a judge has to approve everything we do”?  Apparently, there’s an exception: If the judge orders a child returned to a mother who had never abused or neglected that child, but the family police just don’t feel like it.  Oh, and then they lie under oath about who’s responsible. 

All that is according to a judge in Kentucky. The Louisville Courier Journal reports that the judge held the state family police agency in contempt – and urged authorities look into criminal sanctions against agency employees she says lied under oath.  She also filed a complaint with the Kentucky Bar Association against the agency’s lawyer. 

In other news:

● WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, continues its excellent reporting on the harm done to children and families by hidden foster care in that state. 

● Prof. Dorothy Roberts and members of Rise discuss Prof. Roberts’ new book, Torn Apart at Revolution Books: 

Rise has more about the event here.

● Two lawsuits deal with the harm done to children when hospitals rush to judgment. 

--In Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports, a hospital confused a Black child’s birthmark with a bruise.  According to the lawsuit, without even minimal investigation, the hospital rushed to call in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  DCFS is in full foster-care panic mode – which helps explain why they promptly inflicted a so-called “safety plan” – actually a form of hidden foster care -- on the family. 

--According to a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, a hospital reported  to family police authorities a mother who had just given birth for allegedly using methamphetamine – after a single drug test that can’t distinguish between meth and the mother’s Vyvanse – a legally prescribed amphetamine.  The Allentown Morning Call describes the trauma inflicted on this family – and others.  The story is one more illustration of the harm done by the so-called “plan of safe care” provision of an odious federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

● At last: Some skepticism from local media about Pittsburgh’s use of what amounts to computerized racial profiling in family policing. For more context, see this AP story

WHYY Public Radio reports on a hearing held by the Philadelphia City Council Special Committee on Child Separations in which the commissioner of the city’s family policing agency responded to the committee’s report.  Here’s some context on that report.

● And, as The Appeal puts it in this story: “A judge finally called bs on ‘shaken baby syndrome.’”

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 3, 2022

BuzzFeed News examines the enormous harm to families when parents are wrongly placed on “central registries” of alleged child abusers. A listing can shut parents out from the very jobs most often open to low-income workers, driving their families further into the poverty that often is confused with “neglect” in the first place.  And, because of who is disproportionately likely to be included in these registries, the story is aptly titled “The Black List.” 

● At last, a big, mainstream news organization that wasn’t suckered by the hype spewing forth from the evangelists for using “predictive analytics” in family policing: Much of that dangerous hype has come from Pittsburgh, where proponents hand-picked the people who would review their plans.  But look what the Associated Press found when, at last, there was a truly independent evaluation: 

According to new research from a Carnegie Mellon University team obtained exclusively by AP, Allegheny’s algorithm in its first years of operation showed a pattern of flagging a disproportionate number of Black children for a “mandatory” neglect investigation, when compared with white children. The independent researchers, who received data from the county, also found that social workers disagreed with the risk scores the algorithm produced about one-third of the time. 

The story reveals something else; the character of Erin Dalton, who led the push for using this kind of computerized racial profiling in Pittsburgh and now runs the family policing agency there.  Her response to the potential for error boils down to: So what? Or as she told AP: 

“If it goes into court, then there’s attorneys on both sides and a judge,” Dalton said. “They have evidence, right?” 

The Imprint has a big story about Prof. Dorothy Roberts and her decades of work exposing the racial bias that permeates family policing – work that continued in April with the publication of her new book, Torn Apart. 

● Here Prof. Roberts discusses her book, and racism in child welfare with Marc Lamont Hill 

And here with Ali Velshi on MSNBC:

● Velshi refers to Prof. Roberts’ article in The Nation on the real lessons for family policing from COVID-19: No, there was no “pandemic of child abuse” – on the contrary, children did better when family policing agencies were forced to step back and mutual aid organizations stepped up. You can read that story here. 

● It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some “child welfare” agency announcing an initiative that supposedly will make family policing kinder and gentler.  But none of them takes account of “the tattletale factor.” I have a blog post about it. 

● In Hawaii, a state legislator is urging that state’s family police agency to stop stealing foster youth’s Social Security benefits, a practice exposed last year by The Marshall Project and NPR.

● In Massachusetts, children in family policing proceedings already get a lawyer charged with advocating for what the child wants – not because that’s always what should happen, but because judges can’t make informed decisions unless everyone has a zealous advocate for their point of view.  But now, the governor wants to spend $50 million adding a fifth wheel to the process – a guardian ad litem (GAL) whose job would be to act on his or her own adult whims and prejudices and, quite possibly, fight against the child’s wishes if they don’t match those whims and prejudices.  In other words, something a lot like the quintessence of racial and class bias in child welfare, Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).  CommonWealth Magazine has an excellent commentary on why the GAL proposal would make the state’s atrocious system even worse. 

The motivation for this terrible idea is a horror story – the disappearance of 7-year-old Harmony Montgomery.  But it was Massachusetts’ fanaticism about tearing apart families that made that tragedy more likely in the first place.  So, of course, leave it to the governor and his human services leadership team to propose doubling down on their failed approach.  In my own commentary for CommonWealth Magazine last month, I suggested some alternatives. 

● In the Albany Times Union, Madelyn Freundlich, policy research consultant for the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York writes in support of legislation that would replace anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse and neglect with confidential reporting.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The tattletale factor in “child welfare”

It’s why all those plans for kinder, gentler family policing won’t do much good – and might even backfire.  Connecticut is a case in point. 

It seems like a week doesn’t go by without some “child welfare” agency announcing an initiative that supposedly will make family policing kinder and gentler.  

There’s the longstanding “differential response” in which, in cases deemed less serious, caseworkers are sent out to do a supposedly family-friendly “assessment” and offer voluntary help, instead of an investigation with the accompanying risk of onerous surveillance.  On the one hand, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned that this leads to needless net-widening. On the other hand, another in a long line of studies suggests it may reduce foster care entries. 

Then there are “family resource centers” – drop-in centers, in which families can stop by and get help, including the concrete help families really need. 

But for these and similar interventions there is one huge catch:  Call it the tattletale factor.  

All of these alternatives are either run by the family police themselves or contracted out to agencies whose workers are mandatory reporters of “child abuse” and “child neglect.” At worst, this can wind up widening the net of needless intervention into families.  At best, this creates a deterrent to families coming forward to seek help because they never know if the “helper” will feel compelled to call the family police.  Prof. Kelley Fong, who’s done extensive research on this issue, summed it up in an article for Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly: 

“Seeking help is no easy decision when those in a position to assist are also potential tattletales.” 

The tattletale factor persists because no state or locality creating these plans has taken the one step necessary to make them work: surrendering some of their vast, untrammeled power to intervene in the lives of families. 

And that brings me to something included in Connecticut’s plan for how to use funds under the federal Family First Act.  Here’s how The Imprint describes the plan: 

The state is planning to support a community-based organization that will help steer some reports away from its surveillance-oriented hotline, known as the Careline. 

Funding for this venture — described wonkily in the Family First plan as a Care Management Entity (CME) — has already been included in the state’s budget negotiations this year, and department leadership are confident it will secure about $1.5 million for this venture. 

“We want to go further upstream and serve families without having them become known to us … and really do prevention in a more robust way other than cases accepted,” said DCF Deputy Commissioner of Operations Michael Williams. 

The idea is that reports of concern that do not rise to the level of abuse or neglect would come to the CME from schools or child care centers, law enforcement officials or the community. Parents could also come directly in search of help. 

The effort is probably sincere.  It may have been inspired by Prof. Fong’s research, some of which was done in Connecticut.  And when it comes to reducing needless foster care, over the past decade or so, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families has shown some real leadership and done better than other states (although using the Orwellian term “Careline” to describe the number you call to reach the family police does not inspire confidence). 

But the closer one looks at the fine print, the less there is to Connecticut’s plan. 

For starters, the claim that this entity will “serve families without having them become known to us”
isn’t quite accurate.  Under the plan, mandated reporters will keep right on calling the policing line (no way I’m calling it “Careline”).  Then, if the family police decide the report doesn’t rise to a level that needs investigation, the reporter will be told to call the CME instead. 

So this means that a second entity will, in fact, go out and knock on a family’s door in situations where that does not happen now, thus reinforcing fears that Family First opens the door to making needless intervention into families worse. 

And while it’s true that, in theory, this new entity is only there to help, there’s another catch: According to the plan “CME staff are mandated reporters and if they hear something that meets the statutory criteria of abuse or neglect, they will refer to the [family police].”  Why, then, should families be less afraid of the CME than they are of any other mandated reporter? 

Prof. Fong describes parents forced constantly to weigh whether to reach out for help and, if they do, what they dare not say to “helping” professionals: 

In communities highly exposed to [child protective services], the specter of CPS accompanies families to doctors’ visits, to parent-teacher conferences, to homeless shelters, to therapy

Appointments … Parents in need face a no-win situation: close off opportunities for support or open themselves up to the risk of state scrutiny and family separation. 

Connecticut’s plan doesn’t change this. 

A far better approach would be a plan that said: “We will seek legislation exempting CME staff from mandatory reporting requirements.”  That doesn’t mean they’d be prohibited from reporting, only that they’d be free to exercise their professional judgment without fear.  But that would require the family policing agency to relinquish some of its power. 

A good plan also would have included a provision allowing “mandated reporters” to fulfill their legal obligations by calling this new entity instead of calling the family police.  But that, too, would require the family policing agency to give up some of its power. 

The fact that this proposal is part of Connecticut’s plan to implement the so-called Family First Act creates additional problems.  Family First will only help states pay for a service if the service is provided for families where children are, using the law’s own Orwellian term, “candidates” for foster care.  That creates even more entanglement with the family police.  As the proposal itself says: 

…the CME will be expected to conduct an assessment protocol for all families coming through the CME. This will include 1) an evaluation of safety; if there is a safety concern the CME will make a call to the Careline for further evaluation, and 2) an assessment of risks, strengths, and needs to inform case planning, and service matching… 

So how can this be purely voluntary, if the family must allow all that “risk assessment”? Will a family that says: “no, thank you, we’re not interested” automatically become higher risk?  And how does all this constitute serving families “without having them become known to us”? 

At best, this seems no different from differential response, at worst is it simply subcontracting child abuse investigations by another name? 

Why entangle this with Family First at all?  Surely the richest state in America could come up with the $1.5 million needed for the CME without federal reimbursement. [UPDATE: I now understand the state is, in fact, going to come up with that $1.5 million without Family First.] As for Family First eligible services, with the strings that attach to them, savings from reduced foster care would cover the costs of any services the CME might arrange. 

A better approach would be to take the money the state would spend on the CMEs and give it to community-based community-run service providers, no strings attached, and let them figure out how to reach out to families and help them – in other words, what happened in New York City, not by design but by way of COVID-19.  But that would require the family police agency to relinquish some of its power. 

Short of that, there is one thing that would make this plan far more reassuring: If the mandate for the CME included immediately linking the family to high-quality interdisciplinary legal representation

But that would require the family police agency to – well, you know.