Wednesday, July 27, 2022

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

● The Columbia Journal of Race and Law is out with a second set of papers from the Strengthened Bonds symposium.  I’ve only begun reading them, but I particularly want to call attention to this groundbreaking paper by Ashley Albert and Amy Mulzer.  But read it only if you are ready to reconsider everything you think you know about adoption. 

● NPR and The Marshall Project have a follow-up to their groundbreaking stories about family policing agencies swiping foster youth’s Social Security benefits.  And Cal Matters reports on California counties that continue this odious practice. 

● A doctor and a lawyer have some advice for people who may face a false allegation of child abuse.  But, as I explain in this blog post, it should have been called “The middle-class white person’s guide to dealing with a child abuse allegation.”

● Even when it works right, the vastly overhyped Family First Act won’t do much good.  But, as Mississippi Today reports, that state is managing to screw up what little opportunity there is. 

● In Arizona, KJZZ Public Radio reports on a lawsuit demanding the standard of proof be raised before someone is blacklisted in that state’s central registry of alleged child abusers. 

● Last week’s round-up reported on an innovative plan in some Wisconsin counties designed to help families with the housing they need to reunify with their children.  One of the counties voted it down

NBC News reports that two senators are launching an investigation of some of America’s largest residential McTreatment chains.  The good news: They’ve included one scandal-plagued nonprofit chain, Devereux. That’s important because too often reporters assume that if we could just get rid of the for-profit players everything would be fine.  The bad news: The investigation appears based on the implicit premise that, with enough regulation, residential treatment can be fixed.  But it can’t. 

● And finally: Pope Francis set an example for the entire North American family policing establishment this week by apologizing for one of that establishment’s worst sins.  Every one of the big, mainstream “child welfare” groups has so much to apologize for, not just in terms of what was done decades ago, but what they continue to do today.  But don’t expect them to follow the Pope’s example anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The middle-class white person’s guide to dealing with a child abuse allegation

The doctor will report you now.

That’s not what the recent article in the online publication Parent Map is called, of course. The actual title is “What do Do If You Are Mistakenly Accused of Child Abuse in a Hospital Emergency Room.”  But the authors should have made clear the advice only applies if the “You” in that headline is a white, middle-class person. 

Between them the co-authors, a doctor and a lawyer, have five sets of  “look-at-all-my advanced -degrees!” initials after their names.  It begins with what happened to one of the authors,  Katheryn Goldman, DMD, MPH, ABD: 

My 9-year-old daughter was jumping on her bed. She bounced off, and I wound up taking her to the emergency room. She got two small stitches under her eye. Just a week later, two of our sons were engaged in some rough horseplay. Oops! Off to the emergency room I went again. Thankfully, no stitches were needed on the 4-year-old’s head. Both times, we were treated by the same nurse in the same examining room! I could sense that she looked at me with a tad of justifiable suspicion. That’s why I made sure that in both instances the children told the nurse what had happened. I did not want to give the impression that the kids were being coached in any way. 

Oops?  Just – oops?  Would she call the suspicion “justifiable” were she, at this very moment, making sure the house was spotless in case of a surprise inspection from CPS – in between her mandatory “counseling” and “parent education” classes?  Would she feel that way were she fighting to get her child out of foster care?  Two trips to the E.R. in a week, and one required a child to get stitches?  How many impoverished Black parents could have that happen to their children without so much as a call to the family police? 

This article is not the worst of its kind.  One pediatrician / author has practically made a career out of writing this sort of essay. 

But at no point do Dr. Godman and her lawyer co-author, Daniel Pollack, MSW, JD, so much as acknowledge that the kid gloves, anyone-can-have-an-oops treatment is reserved for the white middle class. 

Then comes a claim that, for some hospitals, is demonstrably false.  They write: 

Simply because a child gets injured and is treated at an emergency room does not mean that Child Protection Services (CPS) will become involved. The hospital contacts CPS only when staff suspect maltreatment. 

But just two days after the Parent Map story was published, KFMB-TV in San Diego reported this story: 

A Marine Corps pilot and his wife are suing the County of San Diego after Child Welfare Services took their seven-month-old son from their home for more than a month after the boy head-butted his mother as he played after breastfeeding.  

According to the story, the hospital apparently didn’t believe the infant was abused but

submitted a hotline referral to the county as required when an infant is injured and admitted to the hospital.

California law does not require this - it's simply a hospital policy that makes every parent who brings in an infant with an injury automatically suspect.

Similarly, when Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reported City Councilmember David Oh as a potential child abuser after one of his children was injured as he taught the child martial arts, Oh says the hospital social worker explained that she “typically reports injuries children suffer in all sports.”

By the way, Councilmember Oh’s child was interviewed separately and told the social worker what happened – just like Dr. Goldman’s children.  But somehow, the result was different. 

And these are just the hospitals that will say it out loud. 

Remember, no doctor, nurse, or other mandated reporter will get in trouble for making a report that turns out to be false.  They can face huge penalties for failure to report if, later, it turns out there really was abuse.  So even in the absence of a formal policy that creates a huge incentive to report any injury, especially to the youngest children.

But not only does the Parent Map article mislead on this point, at no point does it mention the slew of studies showing that, where a report isn’t automatic, medical personnel are far more likely to call the family police if the family is not white.

Indeed, though the article claims that “Making a decision to contact child protective services is a difficult call for the vast majority of health-care providers” in fact, we’ve created incentives that make it way too easy – especially if the parent is not white and middle-class.

Now let’s consider some advice the authors offer concerning lawyers:

Even though things are happening fast in the ER, depending on the allegations, you may want to have an attorney present with you during any interviews with a CPS investigator.  Under many circumstances — but not all — you may be inclined to proactively grant CPS access to your child. While you may have the authority to deny that access in some states, such a denial may cast you in a negative light. This is a judgment call to quickly consult an attorney about. [Emphasis added.]

Is it really necessary to point out the problem with this advice?  Poor people generally don’t have a lawyer on speed dial.  And with extremely rare exceptions, the government isn’t going to provide one, either.  In some states, impoverished families have no right to a lawyer at all.  In the rest, except for a few pilot programs, they’re only guaranteed a lawyer after the family police have decided to haul the family into court.

Even then, it’s not the kind of lawyering the authors of the Parent Map article have in mind.

Scholars who worked on studies of more than 20 different family policing systems found that

attorneys  who  represent parents or children have very high caseloads, in some jurisdictions, as high as 300 cases per attorney. Parents and youth consistently reported quick interactions with their  attorneys, and many reported not knowing the name of their attorneys. Parents are routinely told  to plead and accept case plans as the quickest way to get children back home and end system involvement.

So let’s not kid ourselves.  Poor, nonwhite parents, the very parents most likely to be viewed with unwarranted suspicion in the ER, are also those least likely to be able to follow that nice advice about lawyers.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with giving advice that applies only to white middle-class families – provided it comes with a warning label.  The very fact that the authors saw no need to place such a label on their story, or even acknowledge that racial and class bias exist in the family policing system, is part of the reason we have such a system in the first place.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 19, 2022

● What – again???  Yes, another not-so-shocking study tells us that just a little more concrete help for poor people – in this case increasing SNAP benefits – reduces what family policing agencies call child abuse.  According to a story about the study in The Hill

States with more generous SNAP policies — and therefore more program participants — had fewer children involved in Child Protective Services (CPS) and foster care, according to the 14-year nationwide survey, published in JAMA Network Open on Wednesday. 

And here’s a review highlighting some of the many other studies reaching similar conclusions. 

● None of this will convince those who have built their entire careers (both in family policing agencies and in academia) on denying any such connection – or falling back on the: well, it’s not poverty alone defense.  But for the rest of us Nora McCarthy, co-founder of the Family Policy Project, offers some suggestions concerning what to do next. 

● If you’re relatively new to all of this, take 20 minutes to let Joyce McMillan of JMacForFamilies give you an overview of how the system really works in this podcast from Black Agenda Report: 

● If you’re a journalist relatively new to covering child welfare, please don’t repeat the mistake made by a reporter in Illinois who accepted without question the Illinois “Public Guardian’s” big little lie about who is in the system and why. 

● It’s always useful when family policing agencies admit they are trapping children in foster care solely because their parents can’t afford adequate housing.  They generally admit this when they are applying for grants.  The Wausau (Wis.) Pilot and Review reports on a case in point

● One member of Congress who understood the confusion of poverty with neglect before almost anyone was the late Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii.  She was the only Democrat to vote against the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act back in 1997.  She knew how much harm it would do.  I’ve reprinted her prescient speech against the bill in this blog post. 

● According to the Wisconsin Innocence Project, Dr. Barbara Knox "fled to Alaska" after leaving "a legacy of flawed shaken baby diagnoses in Wisconsin."  According to the Anchorage Daily News, Dr. Knox’s time in Alaska was “brief but calamitous.”  What state could possibly want to hire someone with a track record like that? Here’s a hint: This story is from Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell.  Oh, and the Anchorage Daily News has an update of its own

● Also in Florida (you'd already guessed, right?) WFTS-TV has another excellent story about extended families who were denied custody of their children in favor of strangers who sometimes had connections to the system – like the couple who work in that state’s notorious CASA program. 

● Still more evidence that when family police agencies say “We don’t remove children on our own – a judge has to approve everything we do” they’re lying.” Carolina Public Press reports on a county where the head of the family police agency signed custody orders herself. (In case anybody thinks this only happens in rural North Carolina, more than a decade ago WXYZ-TV exposed a similar appalling practice – in Detroit.  Also, recall how a longtime child welfare apparatchik recently fessed up.) 

● A Texas legislator who co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to narrow the state’s definition of “neglect” writes in the Dallas Morning News about how the change is making all children safer. 

● Sixto Cancel, founder and CEO of Think of Us, discusses his organization’s new Center for Lived Experience on The Imprint podcast.  He also shares findings from his organization’s participatory research, including some disturbing data about failed adoptions. 

● Among the children most vulnerable to being needlessly torn from their parents are those whose parents are disabled.  Two federal agencies condemned Massachusetts over this.  There have been similar problems in Oregon and Pennsylvania – and those are only the cases that made headlines.  Now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill that might help these children and families.  Here’s the bill text.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Illinois “Public Guardian’s” big little lie

● He smears all birth families with a claim that is – by definition – false.  

● It’s the same claim that appears in scores of news stories.  It would never be tolerated in a story about criminal justice.  Yet it almost never is challenged by journalists reporting on child welfare.

 A question for any journalists reading this: 

Suppose you were working on a story about the criminal justice system, and a prosecutor said: “By definition, anyone in jail is a criminal – they’re rapists and torturers and all sorts of other crooks.”  Wouldn’t you follow up with something like: “Wait a minute: Aren’t there plenty of people in jail just because they can’t make bail?  No court ever said they were guilty of anything – so why do you say they’re all criminals?” 

The same is true in cases alleging – and that’s the operative word – child abuse and neglect.  Children can be held in foster care for months before a court ever decides if the child was, in fact, abused or neglected.  (And, of course, overwhelmingly, the allegation is neglect and that often means simply that the family was poor.) 

Yet story after story after story about the “child welfare” system will include – unchallenged – statement’s such as this one, from the Cook County (metropolitan Chicago) “Public Guardian” Charles Golbert: 

“By definition, any child who is in [the Illinois ‘child welfare’ agency’s] care has been removed from the custody of their parents due to abuse or neglect or sex abuse, or torture or abandonment or being drug exposed,” Golbert said. 

No. By definition, Golbert’s statement is false. 

I’m not going to link to the story or name the reporter, because there’s no reason to pick on one well-meaning journalist for an error that is more the rule than the exception.  In fact, in all the times I’ve written to news organizations who have used this framing only one, Kaiser Health News, ever corrected it. 

The claim is particularly damaging now in Illinois.  The story in question is about the fact that foster youth are trapped in psychiatric hospitals and juvenile jails because the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has no place to put them.  The reason for that is a foster-care panic – a sharp sudden surge in the number of children torn from everyone they know and love in the wake of high-profile child abuse deaths. Such a panic has swept through the state, creating an artificial “shortage” of foster homes. 

So Golbert’s false statement is not trivial.  Journalism that accepts as fact the stereotyping of all families who lose children to foster care as rapists, torturers or hopeless addicts, wipes off the table the one and only option that can actually solve the crisis in Illinois, and similar crises across the country: Illinois needs to stop taking away so many families needlessly.  Illinois actually learned this lesson once; now it needs to learn it again.  

Get the many children who don’t need to be in foster care at all back home and Illinois will have plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for the relatively few children who really need them – and plenty of resources to provide in-home “Wraparound” services for what the story calls “high- needs youth.”  But that will never happen as long as every parent who loses a child to foster care is stereotyped as they are in this story, and so many others. 

The failure to challenge the Golbert quote – the fact that the reporter apparently considered it an obvious truth beyond questioning – isn’t the only failure in this story and many like it. 

Almost no one today would do an in-depth story about the criminal justice system and speak only to police, prosecutors and judges.  Of course, reporters doing that kind of story also would talk to the accused and to their lawyers.  Yet in the case of the story quoting Golbert and many, many others, it is common in child welfare to view parents as so sub-human they’re not even worth talking to.  

By definition, that is bad journalism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 12, 2022

● When workers for family policing agencies do awful things, they often can’t be successfully sued because of a doctrine known as “qualified immunity.”  Honolulu Civil Beat has a story about how the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has exercised sound judgment and common sense in applying this doctrine. 

● The same cannot be said for the Eighth Circuit, which effectively has given family police caseworkers a green light to retaliate against families who dare to fight back.  I have a blog post about it. 

● When you ask people at the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights” why their McLawsuits almost never deal with the issue of children needlessly torn from their homes, they claim (wrongly) that this can’t be addressed through class-action litigation.  One of their worst McLawsuit settlements is in Michigan.  Now, NBC News has exposed the massive, state-sanctioned neglect of foster youth’s education in that state.  As one such youth put it: 

“They take us away from our parents for things that they’re not doing, but then y’all not doing the things you’re supposed to do.  Who’s going to take us from you?” 

OK, “Children’s Rights,” this is an issue that involves young people already in foster care – yet your McLawsuit does nothing about this, either.  Perhaps potential funders should think about this. 

A Texas lawmaker explains why the state’s new more stringent definition of “neglect” makes all children safer.

Washington Post columnist Karen Attiah responds to those claiming the overturning of Roe v. Wade somehow is not a problem because, you know, foster care: 

But the foster system and adoption are far from panaceas. This is the United States, remember: Since slavery, we have had a long, racist history of Black women’s children being legally taken from them by White state systems.
Indeed, white supremacy believes it is right to force birth on Black women while also being far quicker to conclude that Black parents are incapable of taking care of their children. Black people are more likely to be accused of child abuse and neglect in Texas; Black children in Texas are taken away at higher rates by child protective services. Black children also remain longer in the foster care system than White children. Expect all that to worsen now.

● “I will listen with you, I will grieve with you, I will weep you with you and I will feel your pain,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as she began a “Healing Tour” to meet with Native American survivors of so-called “Boarding Schools” and their descendants.

Monday, July 11, 2022

“Child welfare” caseworkers don’t have a right to lie – but do they have what amounts to a right to retaliate against families who fight back? A federal appeals court leaves that door wide open

Perhaps you remember the case, from California, in which a caseworker claimed what amounted to a constitutional right to lie.  They argued that the judicial doctrine of qualified immunity meant they couldn’t be sued even if they lied to a court in order to get the court to approve removing a child from her mother. 

In what was aptly described as an “epic dis” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear they did not buy this.  In general, the Ninth Circuit has taken a careful, nuanced look at the issue of qualified immunity – which means that some government workers are immune from any lawsuit concerning their official actions unless those actions violate a “clearly established” constitutional right. 

But over in the Eighth Circuit, which covers Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas, it may be a different story.  No, they didn’t say caseworkers have a right to lie.  But they may well have what amounts to a right to retaliate against families who dare to fight back. 

A family in Missouri alleges that a circuit manager for the Missouri family police agency, called the Children’s Division, retaliated against them with a trumped-up neglect finding. She allegedly  retaliated after the family threatened to sue the county over the rape of their teenage son by a sheriff’s deputy.  They sued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.  As first noted on Eugene Volokh’s blog, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court and ruled that, even if the allegations in the suit are true, the circuit manager is immune from liability. 

The facts of the case 

In Scott County, in Southeast Missouri, on the Illinois border, Brandon Cook, then a deputy sheriff, knew the teenage son of one of his colleagues.  He allegedly groomed the boy through something called the Sherriff’s Explorer program and via the Grindr App. 

Then he raped the boy.  He was convicted of felony statutory sodomy. 

The boy’s parents notified the county they planned to sue for damages.  Ultimately there was a settlement.  But before the case could be settled, the family would have to endure even more.  The parents were accused of neglect. 

It’s not clear who called in the report, but it’s clear who investigated. Spring Cook,* circuit manager for the county office of the Children’s Division.  Cook arrived at the family home with two highway patrol troopers and someone from the local “Juvenile Office” – a bizarre fifth wheel, unique to Missouri, that sometimes runs its own parallel investigations in family policing cases – and which has a reputation for being even harder on families than the Children’s Division.   

According to a lawsuit filed by the family against Cook, because the Children’s Division and county sheriffs work so closely together, when an allegation involves a sheriff’s employee, it is customary for the investigation to be transferred to another county.  But Spring Cook allegedly refused to recuse herself.  She also allegedly told the father she would “get” his peace officer’s license, making it impossible for him to work in law enforcement. 

Cook “substantiated” neglect.  According to the district court ruling: 

On January 7, 2019, Cook made a preliminary finding under a preponderance of evidence standard of parental child neglect. Cook’s finding was based on the following three incidents: 

(1) Brandon Cook’s sexual abuse of the son; …

Let me interrupt right here to emphasize that one: Cook found that the parents were neglectful because someone else -- a law enforcement officer and colleague of the boy’s father -- raped the boy. 

Now, back to the court ruling: 

(2) the son’s Facebook messaging about sex and alleged sexual abuse by another adult, a local Tae Kwan Do instructor (“Instructor”); upon learning of the abuse, Plaintiff Father confronted the Instructor while Plaintiffs’ daughter and her friend were nearby in a car, the Instructor responded by assaulting Plaintiff Father; Plaintiff Father de-escalated the situation by not responding with physical force and retreating; Plaintiff Father did not report the assault; and (3) a benign, age-appropriate out-of-state date the minor son went on with his mother’s permission. 

Cook focused her findings of neglect on the fact that Plaintiffs allowed the minor son—who was sixteen at the time—usage of the internet on his iPhone, and permitted him to drive a vehicle across state lines to go on an age-appropriate date. 

The Juvenile Office, which, as noted above, has a reputation for being even harsher on families than the Children’s Division, disagreed.  So did the Highway Patrol. 

But that didn’t dissuade Cook.  Her decision to substantiate the neglect allegation meant that unless they successfully appealed, the parents would be listed on the state’s central register of alleged child abusers forever. That would bar the father from working in law enforcement and bar the mother from returning to her career as a teacher. 

The appeals 

The first level of appeal is to the circuit manager in the circuit where the allegation was substantiated.  In this case the circuit manager was Cook herself, who promptly upheld her own decision. 

The second level of appeal is to an administrative tribunal where the deck still is stacked against families, but at least they’re not hearing appeals of their own conduct.  That tribunal overturned the neglect finding and the family was cleared. 

But Cook allegedly wasn’t done.  Again, from the district court decision: 

Plaintiffs allege they were subject to an investigation by the FBI concerning “substantially similar charges” regarding their minor son in March 2020. Plaintiffs believe that two FBI agents visited Spring Cook’s office. One of the FBI agents then questioned Plaintiffs’ daughter at length about the minor son’s sexuality and sexual conduct.  Plaintiffs’ daughter was told that she was the only member of the family who was known by “the authorities” to be cooperative. The FBI never followed-up with any other family members, and eventually closed the investigation. Plaintiffs allege that Spring Cook contacted the FBI in frustration that the [administrative tribunal] did not substantiate her earlier allegation and/or in retaliation against Plaintiffs. 

So, just to review: 

● The Juvenile Office found no neglect.

● The Highway Patrol fund no neglect.

● The administrative hearing found no neglect.

● The FBI found no neglect. 

So the parents sued.  They cited multiple violations of their rights.  The district court, unfortunately, dismissed many of their claims.  But it upheld their right to sue on grounds that, if Spring Cook retaliated against the family for threatening to sue, she violated their First Amendment rights.  


Cook argued that even if the allegations against her were true, she was protected by the same immunity doctrine that the California workers attempted to invoke.   

The District Court saw the absurdity: 

The question, therefore, is whether a reasonable official might have believed that it was permissible to make findings of child neglect in retaliation for parents making claims against county officials related to the sexual abuse of their child. Under clear Eighth Circuit precedent, the answer is no. 

But the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  They concluded that families have no “clearly established” right to be free from retaliation by the family police if they exercise their First Amendment rights.  So, they ruled, Cook’s actions in investigating the family and substantiating the neglect allegation are protected by qualified immunity.

As for her decision to rubber-stamp her own conclusions when the family appealed – for that, they said, she’s covered by another judicial doctrine invoked less often: absolute immunity! 

In the absence of relief in the federal courts, states should provide a means of redress (unless of course they really want the family police to be free to retaliate against families.  The Missouri Legislature (and its counterparts in the rest of the Eighth Circuit – Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas) should pass laws stating clearly that initiating and/or substantiating a child abuse allegation as an act of retaliation is a violation of a family’s rights and any such family has grounds to sue in state courts. 

There also are some key questions for Missouri officials: 

● Has any agency of Missouri state government looked into the allegations made by the parents in this case?  If so, what were the findings? 

● Are there any plans to change policies concerning actual or perceived conflict of interest – such as requiring that complaints against people with whom a given Children’s Division office works closely be handled by a different office?           

*-Although the lawsuit notes at one point that “Defendant Cook and the minor son’s abuser share a last name” there is no allegation that they are related.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

“Whose family values do we stand for?”: Remembering Rep. Patsy Mink’s courageous stand against ASFA

Ever since the awful day 25 years ago when what would become the Adoption and Safe Families Act passed the House of Representatives, I’ve known that only one Democrat – Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii – was wise and courageous enough to vote against it.  (A handful of Republicans opposed it, mostly on states’ rights grounds.) 

But only after a tweet from former New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein pointed me to Ben Proudfoot’s wonderful Times “op-doc” mini documentary about Rep. Mink, recounted by her daughter, Wendy, was I inspired to look up exactly what she said. 

So think of what follows as a “guest blog.”  I’m reprinting below her remarks, in full.  

As you read them remember, in 1997 there was no organized opposition to ASFA, just a few of us voices in the wilderness.  And ASFA wasn’t a right-wing plot. The big liberal “child welfare” groups, the Child Welfare League of America, the one that now calls itself “Social Current” and the Children’s Defense Fund, among others, were just fine with it.  And, their efforts at reputation laundering notwithstanding, judging by their current silence concerning efforts to repeal ASFA, apparently they still are.  

Patsy Mink was just smarter than all of them. 

From the documentary, I learned how Rep. Mink’s parents faced anti-Japanese racism in World War II – and how Rep. Mink’s political opponents said she was a bad mother for running for Congress instead of baking cookies for her daughter. 

Maybe that’s why she understood what almost no one else did at that time. Maybe that’s why she said this in 1997.  And what she said then is why we need to repeal ASFA now. 

From the Congressional Record, April 30, 1997.

Mrs. MINK of Hawaii. 

I rise in opposition to the enactment of H.R. 867 because I object to the removal of the safeguards which now protect the rights of parents whose children have been placed in foster care. 

I agree that we all can recite a litany of cases of children who have been abused, and neglected by parents and for whom expedited adoption is fully justified. 

Still since the enactment of the most punitive bill ever to pass Congress in the name of welfare reform, we all know that there will be parents who will lose their cash benefits and be unable to feed and house their small children. State child welfare agencies will move to take custody of these unfortunate children because the parents no longer have any funds to provide for them and are not able to find work. Because of the welfare law children will undoubtedly be found living in abandoned car bodies, and other unhealthful conditions without running water or heat or cooking facilities. Under these circumstances, as predictable, State child welfare agencies will be compelled to move these children from their parents and place them in foster homes. 

Poverty, I do not believe is a justifiable reason for terminating parental rights over their children. The temporary best interests of the child may be to move him or her into a foster home. 

But, I do not believe, that move justifies the national Government to establish adoption as a penalty due to poverty of the parents. If conditions of adoption exist, it should be left to the States to make these determinations. A Congress that has repeatedly argued States rights should not abandon that principle and enact legislation whose title in section 3 provides: States required to initiate or join proceedings to terminate parental rights for certain children in foster care, entering foster care after October 1, 1997. 

The committee report states, ‘‘in the case of children under age of 10 who have been in foster care at least 18 of the past 24 months, the bill requires States to move toward terminating parental rights under most circumstances.’’ 

Prior to the enactment of the welfare reform this bill might have been supportable. But in combination with the welfare reform bill enacted last August 1996, I find that circumstances of poverty and lack of work, could not under H.R. 867 become the sole basis for the termination of parental rights. This offends my fundamental beliefs about the inherent rights of parents and the inalienable rights of children to the love and protection of their natural parents which should not be terminated except when there is serious debilitating circumstances such as drug abuse, physical brutality, torture, and sexual abuse. 

Reading the bill and committee report provides no assurance that the rights of poor parents are protected. 

It is easy enough to state that adoption will be in the best interests of the child, who will have a better home to live in and a higher quality material environment than the one from which they came. This however ignores that basic undifferentiable family value of the love of a parent. 

I cannot vote for a bill that takes welfare reform one step closer to the final penalty of poverty: The loss of one’s children by edict of the Government. 

First you take their money away. Then you force them into desperate conditions of poverty. Then you deem them unfit to raise their children and you remove them from the home and place them in foster homes. Then after 18 months you put the children up for adoption. 

Whose family values do we stand for?

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending July 5, 2022

● Responding to investigative reporting by NPR, the federal government has told states they no longer have to make parents pay ransom to get their children back from foster care.  (They don’t call it ransom, of course, but when someone takes away your child and makes you pay money to get the child back, anything else is a euphemism). 

Federal law has always been more flexible about this than states let on.  But this at least takes away states’ excuse for this abominable practice. 

● Responding to another NPR investigation, done with The Marshall Project, Washington D.C. is the latest place considering legislation to stop swiping Social Security benefits from foster youth.  

(Hey, wouldn’t it be great if, finally, we could at least get the family police to stop stealing money from children and parents?) 

● April Lee, Director of Client Voice for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, cuts through the b.s. and explains how family policing really works on CLS’ How is That Legal? Podcast.  And The Philadelphia Inquirer has a story about the podcast series. 

● In Kentucky, Tiffany Prater, a registered nurse – certified maternal newborn nursing, also cut through the b.s. in a column for the Lexington Herald-Leader demanding transparency from a supremely closed system: 

We don’t see the large number of excellent families who have been reported to CPS and chose not to tell anyone because of fear of being judged. Referrals are made for many reasons and parents are guilty until proven innocent. … We do not see the large number of families denied rights and case plans, given no steps to work to get their children back. We don’t see or feel a child’s body crumble in fear when they’re ripped away from their parents; when there were other ways a situation could be handled. 

● Someone else cut through the b.s. about family policing last week as well – but he did it by accident.  I have a blog post about it. 

● "It was a false report that broke apart my family,” writes Kenyon Lee Whitman in The Imprint.  And that’s one reason why high-quality family defense is in the best interests of children.  

● In San Diego, KFMB-TV reports: 

A Marine Corps pilot and his wife are suing the County of San Diego after Child Welfare Services took their seven-month-old son from their home for more than a month after the boy head-butted his mother as he played after breastfeeding.  The couple also says that while their infant son was in custody, county workers conducted invasive medical examinations against their objections. 

The infant was first institutionalized at the county’s parking place shelter, then placed with strangers – all while relatives were available. 

The hospital apparently didn’t believe the infant was abused but “submitted a Hotline Referral to the County as required when an infant is injured and admitted to the hospital.” 

State law does not require this - it's simply a hospital policy that makes every parent who brings in an infant with an injury automatically suspect - and every such infant at greater risk of needless foster care.

● And in Kansas, which has no place to put children because it tears them from their parents at one of the highest rates in the nation, this happened.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Bow down before “the arbiters of child safety”!!! (If you ever want to see your children again.)

A longtime "child welfare" establishment apparatchik says the quiet part out loud 

Most of the time, the columns that longtime “child welfare” establishment apparatchik Paul DiLorenzo, writes for The Imprint, are just dull regurgitations of establishment talking points. But his most recent column is, in its own way, fascinating. 

For decades, in hundreds of news stories, when confronted with the needless removal of a child, the family police (a more accurate term than “child welfare”) have said some version of “We don’t decide whether to remove children.  A judge has to approve everything we do.”  

Everyone in family policing knows that’s bullshit.  Everyone knows it bears no resemblance to the facts on the ground. But it took Paul DiLorenzo to admit that the system really does have absolute power to surveil families and tear them apart.  And DiLorenzo goes further.  He demands that the system fight to keep its hands at the throats of these overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite families.  In a paragraph otherwise notable only for its self-pity, DiLorenzo writes: 

After four decades of service in child welfare, I thought I had read and heard just about every disparaging thing possible from the external critics of our work. Mostly, we’ve sucked it up, quietly tolerating everyone’s fair and unfair observations. We’ve paid dearly for not doing our jobs well. In that whole time however, we have remained the arbiters of child safety, even as others tried to demean us, treating our profession like a thrift store clearance bin. It would never be wise for us to let go of our grip. [Emphasis added.] 

It’s curious that the worst analogy DiLorenzo can come up with for his noble profession is to a place where poor people sometimes have to buy their clothes.  Also: "We've paid dearly for not doing our jobs well"?  No. Children and families have paid dearly for "child welfare" not doing its job well. But most important: 

You heard the man!  We decide your family’s fate!  And don’t think for a second we’ll let anyone take away our power! 

Almost every week there is another example of how children are harmed by this enormous power Examples like this.  And this.  And most recently this. 

DiLorenzo’s refreshing candor comes toward the end of a column that, at first, looked like it would be just another example of the Big Lie of American “child welfare” – the false claim that child removal equals child safety and child safety and family preservation are opposites that need to be balanced.  According to the Big Lie, if you don’t want to surveil and tear apart families in massive numbers you must care more about “parents’ rights” than children’s safety.  As always this ignores the mountain of evidence concerning the emotional trauma of foster care, the high rate of abuse in foster care itself, and how overloading the system with false reports and poverty cases steals time from finding the relatively few children in real danger. 

Oblivious to all of this, oblivious to the harm of using a Fox News-style caricature of social justice, and oblivious to how offensive it is for a fundamentally racist system to paraphrase a statement widely associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., DiLorenzo begins this way: 

The arc of best intentions in child welfare appears to be bending away from child safety. Our fresh obsessions include rebalancing the scales of social justice and assuring we do no harm to parents. 

Oh, wait.  It’s not just social justice that upsets DiLorenzo.  He also writes: 

Should our desire for balancing the scales of justice trump good practice for child safety? 

So, is DiLorenzo saying the only way children can be safe is if the system is unjust?  

The trigger 

DiLorenzo appears to have been triggered by a story in The Imprint about the failure of legislation in Minnesota that would turn a current recommendation that, during abuse investigations, children be interviewed separately from their parents (as already apparently happens in the vast majority of cases) into a mandate 100% of the time.  Citing a story in The Imprint, he writes: 

I was reminded of [the arc allegedly bending the wrong way] as I reviewed the current debate in Minnesota on whether children should be interviewed alone or in the presence of parents following the allegation of serious physical or sexual abuse. 

But DiLorenzo misrepresents the position of the bill’s opponents. 

No one in the story suggests that children be interviewed in the presence of their parents when the allegation is “serious physical or sexual abuse.”  Rather, while giving extensive attention to those who share DiLorenzo’s view, the careful, finely-nuanced story also quotes those who believe there is a need for discretion in some low-risk cases.  As the story explains: 

In low-risk cases, [Prof. Joanna Woolman of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law] advised, separate interviews could create unnecessary friction between families and social workers. 

“It automatically puts the agency and parents in an untrusting adversarial relationship from day one,” Woolman said. “Surprises like this, when there aren’t serious safety concerns, have the opposite effect of helping to keep kids safe. Parents are scared the state is going to take their kids and when there’s no trust, it’s very difficult to establish the type of partnership needed to address the family’s needs.” 

Later in his column, DiLorenzo offers up an even more extreme misrepresentation, claiming that “some people want to eliminate individual interviews” [emphasis added].  In fact, no one in the Imprint story suggests any such thing. 

And, by the way, current policy in Minnesota has not prevented the state from tearing apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation, and having one of the worst records in America for racial bias in family policing. 

All of this illustrates that yes, just as Paul DiLorenzo says, the family police are the arbiters of what happens to families.  It also illustrates why we must keep fighting to force them to let go of their grip. 

And “rebalancing the scales of social justice” damn well should be an obsession – because it makes children safer.