Monday, October 31, 2022

#CASAsoWhite: Our annual Halloween reminder to CASA: No, it’s not a good idea to raise money by holding a talent show with a blackface act. (And yes, one CASA chapter actually did that.)

 We suggest that the National office for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program use this item from The Daily Show as a training video

In 2018, responding to former Today Show anchor Megyn Kelly’s appalling attempt to justify blackface, (for which she has apologized) her colleague Craig Melvin noted that, as a CNN story put it, “this controversy is an opportunity to inform people — but said most people already knew how offensive blackface is.”

Most people, but apparently not one chapter of that most sacred cow in child welfare Court-Appointed Special Advocates.  Oh, they’ve learned in the years since they included a blackface act in a fundraiser, especially since they apparently eventually apologized – but that is just one example of the racial bias that plagues CASA.  And that, of course, raises fundamental questions about the role of CASA in deciding the fate of children who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately children of color.  Even more questions are raised by the latest study of CASA's effectiveness. And there's much more about CASA in NCCPR's presentation at the 2021 Kempe Center conference.

So every Halloween, I plan to reprint this post from 2017:  

This Halloween, The Daily Show offers a useful history lesson: The topic, why it’s a really bad idea for white people to dress up in blackface:

But the lesson isn’t just useful for Halloween. It’s also something that anyone involved with that most sacred cow of child welfare – Court-Appointed Special Advocates -- needs to know.

CASA is a program in which minimally trained volunteers, overwhelmingly white and middle-class, are assigned to families who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Then they tell judges if the children should be taken from those families, sometimes forever.   That, of course, raises problems of inherent bias.  But some CASA chapters have made their biases depressingly obvious.

Consider what happened nine years ago in Arkansas City, Kansas. To raise funds for the local CASA chapter, they held a talent competition. The winning act featured the mayor of Arkansas City – dressed in blackface.  The head of the local CASA chapter couldn’t understand why that was a problem.   "It wasn't black black," she said. "It was all really just tan." That’s only the beginning. All the awful details are here.

It would be one thing if this were just an isolated example of racial bias. But it’s not.

● There was the CASA chapter in Marin County, California, which fell apart when the state CASA association merely asked that they strive for more diversity among the volunteers.

● There was the appalling racist rant by someone who says he volunteered in a scandal-plagued Washington State CASA program for 20 years.

● There’s the fact that the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that CASA volunteers spend significantly less time on a case if the child to whom they are assigned is Black.

● And then there’s the question of whether the very structure of CASA makes it, in the words of a law review article, “an exercise of white supremacy.”

Showing the Daily Show video won’t solve all these problems; not even close. But it might help prevent the worst excesses of racial bias in CASA programs.

Originally published, Oct. 30, 2017

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 25, 2022

Before the news, a few words about two big virtual events:

NOVEMBER 2, 2:00 pm ET: Family Integrity and Justice Works kicks off a National Campaign to Address the Harms Caused by Adoption and Safe Families Act: Reimaging Permanency. 

Also:  Recordings of the panels at the upEND Movement convening last week are now available online.

And now the news – beginning with some good news: 

● The Family Justice Law Center plans to sue family policing agencies for needlessly traumatizing families in all sorts of ways, including violating their Fourth Amendment rights. The New York Times reports that the center’s founder, David Shalleck-Klein, just won the New York City equivalent of a “genius grant.” Congratulations to Mr. Shalleck-Klein – and to the headline writer at the Times, who got the headline exactly right. 

● A Native American child who never should have been taken in the first place.  A grandmother who waged a grueling fight for her – and the white stranger-care parents who tried to keep the child by playing the bonding card.  The grandmother won, but, The Imprint reports, the stranger-care parents are among those challenging the law that made the victory possible: The Indian Child Welfare Act. 

● Speaking of how white society treats Native Americans, Indian Country Today has a story about where Jesuit orders in the west allegedly dumped their “problem priests.” It’s where you think. 

● Speaking of the “bonding card,” should we take bets on when it will be played in connection with the horrifying case that is the subject of this story from the Associated Press? I have a blog post on key lessons from the case. 

● And speaking of horrifying, New York Magazine has a story about the harm allegedly caused by still another “child abuse pediatrician.” 

There’s also this about a psychiatrist in San Antonio contracted by the Texas family policing agency to treat foster youth. 

● If you’re wondering how easy it is to confuse poverty with neglect, check out this column from Lenore Skenazy in Reason about a bizarre policy in Maryland best described as a lot of bunk. 

NPR interviewed Julia Lurie of Mother Jones about her excellent story documenting how Massachusetts children sometimes have to wait weeks to be reunited after being wrongfully taken by the family police, entirely on their own authority, because that’s how long it takes for the “72-hour hearing” in which a judge first reviews the evidence.  Lurie cited issues that Massachusetts media almost always ignore: 

So you have a number of problems. One is the high rate of CPS involvement, again, particularly in the homes of Black or brown families. … 

And, concerning solutions: 

So child welfare experts that I've spoken to have pointed to a few changes. One is being much more judicious about removals to begin with and only removing kids from families that absolutely need to be removed. … 

● And speaking of things media sometimes miss: I have a blog post about how an attempt by the New York Times Opinion pages to expose the horrors of “residential treatment” may have backfired. 

● It’s not just the Times.  With rare exceptions, media are falling for the party line from the residential treatment industry that the only way to solve the problem of children trapped in makeshift placements is to expand RTCs and give them more money. But the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Virginia is showing that there’s a better way. 

● Are there ways to mitigate the harm of mandatory child abuse reporting laws, even while we're still stuck with them? In The Imprint, Nora McCarthy of the New York City Family Policy Project says yes - and has some specific suggestions.

● The Biden Administration has a plan to make it easier for pregnant women with substance use issues to get medication-assisted treatment.  But the plan does not address the problem of family police agencies and courts that refuse to allow such treatment and demand abstinence only – causing enormous needless trauma to infants torn from their mothers at birth. 

● And in Florida, Spectrum News 13 reports on the high turnover among family police caseworkers – including NCCPR’s perspective on what’s causing it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Three key failures undermine a New York Times exposé of the “troubled teen industry”

It’s part editorial, part documentary exposé: A brilliantly presented New York Times Opinion section column on the enormous harm done to children institutionalized in “residential treatment.” 

The commentary begins this way: 

It’s known as the troubled teen industry. Spread across the country, this array of boot camps, wilderness therapy programs, therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers is supposed to help children with mental health and behavioral issues, through a mix of therapy and tough love. 

In reality, it is harming many of the children it purports to be treating, because of … 

I’m stopping the excerpt in mid-sentence because it’s after the words “because of” that the column goes wrong – so wrong, in fact, that it may inadvertently bolster the prospects of the industry it exposés. 

OK, here’s the rest of the sentence: 

…archaic tactics, a lack of oversight and a focus on maximizing profit. 

All of that is true, of course.  But because this exposé, like almost every other, never looked any deeper, the result will be, at best, no significant change or at worst a strengthening of the system. 

There are two reasons for this.  First, for reasons I’ll get to, none of these problems is fixable without looking at the issue at the root of all of them – and exposés like this almost never do that.  And second: Even if you could fix all of those issues, even if there were intensive oversight, even if all the for-profit institutions were closed and even if the “archaic” practices ended, residential treatment still would do enormous harm. 

At one point the column declares: “not every program in this industry is bad.”  But that’s not true.  Yes, not every program is physically abusive, not every program uses “archaic practices,”  and some programs are run by people with good intentions. But every residential treatment program is bad – because residential treatment is inherently bad. 

And no wonder.  The whole concept is based on the idea that if you take children who supposedly have the most serious problems and put them in the same place just at the age when they are most vulnerable to peer pressure, somehow they’ll get better.  

Study after study confirms what should be obvious.  It doesn’t work.  Often it does enormous damage.  And there are far better options. 

But as long as journalists blind themselves to those better options, then the spiral of abuse-exposé-lawmaker declarations of shock and outrage-promises of reform-blue-ribbon commission/committee/task force–public hearings-new regulations-failure to enforce new regulations-abuse will never end.


The "residential treatment" spiral of failure

Now, let’s look at the failings in the Times editorial in detail

Failure 1: How children end up in these hellholes.  There are two ways, but the Times focuses almost exclusively on one: desperate parents who hand their children over to these places voluntarily. Or, as the column puts it: “The industry depends on desperate, often compassionate parents, some of whom fall for slick marketing.”  These are more likely to be the kinds of parents newspaper reporters and editors can identify with: white and middle-class.  

But there is a second category: Children torn from their parents by family police agencies – often when family poverty is confused with “neglect” - and institutionalized over those parents’ objections.  Those children are far less likely to be white and middle-class.  But solving this problem, which the Times largely ignores, is key to solving everything else. 

Failure 2: Focusing almost exclusively on for-profit institutions.  Like so many other exposés,  this one focuses heavily on for-profit companies, who have an obvious incentive to maximize profits by cutting corners -- or worse.  That winds up leaving the false impression that if we just got the for-profit players out of the business everything would be fine. 

But the for-profit players are relatively new, while institutions that warehouse children have been revealed to be hellholes pretty much forever.  If eliminating the profit motive would solve the problem, then… 

● How does one explain what happened at the Glen Mills School, exposéd by the Philadelphia Inquirer?  

● How does one explain all the abuse exposéd, again by the Inquirer, at institutions run by the Devereux nonprofit McTreatment chain.  Devereux is where their own Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Leah Yaw said:  

“This is not an aberration that happens at Devereux because of some kind of lack of control or structure.  This is an industry-wide problem." 

How does one explain Maryville, a place supposedly so steeped in nonprofit goodness it was the subject of a gushy profile on 60 Minutes – and then, just seven years later, exposed as rife with abuse?  

● How does one explain MacLaren Hall, a house of horrors that had been run directly by Los Angeles County until it finally closed in 2003? 

● Or go back further to the seminal 1975 New York Daily News series “Big Money, Little Victims,” exposing how New York City’s network of private nonprofit agencies were deliberately prolonging foster care to keep the per-diem payments rolling in.  

Does adding an overt profit motive make things even worse? Probably.  But the notion that nonprofits are noble and selfless and behave accordingly reflects a surprising naïvete on the part of journalists. 

Perhaps I was spared these illusions by having worked in the original nonprofit sector of journalism – public broadcasting.  On at least two occasions, I watched while, during early morning pledge breaks at a station where I worked, the pitch person told children that if their parents didn’t send enough money, they might have to take away Sesame Street!  So let’s not kid ourselves: The will to survive can induce in nonprofits a form of greed that is as corrosive to common decency as the worst corporate behavior. 

Predators go where the prey is 

But there also is another reason why non-profit status makes little difference – a flaw built into the residential treatment model: Predators go where the prey is. 

So consider a “residential treatment center" (RTC): All those adolescents trapped behind closed doors in facilities that, if not locked, often are located in isolated, rural communities.  All those adolescents who’ve had all sorts of labels attached to them – labels that compromise their credibility if they come forward about abuse by staff.  For a predator, a residential treatment center is the ultimate target-rich environment. 

Here are a few cases in point

All that leads to the biggest failures of all: 

Failure 3: The idea that residential treatment is necessary – and fixable.  That idea is why much of the Times exposé is devoted to the problem of lax regulation and the need for more regulation.  So, the story includes this: 

“This nation’s residential child care system is broken — and without oversight, congregate care often becomes congregate abuse,” Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon told Times Opinion in a statement. He added that he’s working on “a bipartisan basis to write legislation that will protect children by reforming our congregate care system with adequate oversight and accountability.” The legislation is expected to be introduced this year. 

The first problem is the one noted at the outset. Even if you got rid of the overt abuse, residential treatment is inherently abusive. No matter how well-intended, institutionalizing children is abuse, period.  But also, no matter what regulations you pass, they’re almost never enforced.  Because everyone has an incentive to look the other way. 

Children wind up institutionalized because of a supposed shortage of foster homes. There is no shortage of foster homes, it is an artifact of tearing apart so many families needlessly.  Unfortunately, the Times seems also to have fallen for the residential treatment industry party line – the one that says these children are simply to difficult for a home setting.  The story notes that “Many kids have already been through foster care …” 

That, too, is bull.  When it comes to supposedly “high needs” cases, there is nothing an institution can do that can’t be done better, and at less cost, with Wraparound programs. 

But as long as the system operates on the false premise that there is a shortage of foster homes, residential treatment is a sellers’ market.  No matter what the regs say, the incentive to ignore them, and to ignore abuse, is enormous because, supposedly, there is no place else to put the kids.  And as long as residential treatment is scarfing up all the money, there will never be enough for better alternatives.  So those children who really need to be in foster homes will “fail” in those homes because Wraparound is not available, and the residential treatment industry will point to that failure to perpetuate its own existence. 

One can see this play out simply by looking at statistics concerning abuse in foster care.  Most states report that, in any even year, only about one percent of foster children are abused in any form of foster care.  Think about that for a moment.  What these agencies are saying is that if you gathered 100 former foster youth in a room and asked them: “During your final year in foster care how many of you were abused?” only one would raise her or his hand. 

If common sense isn’t reason enough to doubt that, consider that one study after another has found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of family foster homes – and the record of abuse by institutions is even worse. 

Why do official figures differ so much from the findings of independent scholars? Because when agencies investigate abuse in any form of substitute care they are, in effect, investigating themselves.  And, of course, if they find that yes, the child was abused, they have to move the child to another placement.  So there is an enormous incentive to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and write no evil in the case file.  And an enormous incentive not to enforce “tougher regulations” on residential treatment centers. 

Yes, these kinds of exposés might make some small changes around the edges. At least while the heat is
on, they may curb the worst excesses and maybe even force a couple of places to close. 

But for the industry as a whole, exposés that presuppose residential treatment is needed and  propose regulation as the answer actually can redound to their benefit.  Because their leaders know full well that as long as it’s a sellers’ market, most of them don’t really have anything to worry about 

Indeed, right now, Michigan is proposing to pump even more money into institutions and Colorado – which institutionalizes children at a rate 60% above the national average – is going to spend two years and nearly $100,000 on a “task force” to find out why children run away from these places! (Yes, really.)  Oh, and a voting member of the task force heads the trade association for the state’s residential treatment centers. In other words, a voting member of the task force is someone whose whole job is to fight to give RTCs more money and more power.  How is that different from, say, putting Donald Trump’s lawyer on the Jan. 6 Committee? 

None of this is necessary.  After you watch the searing videos about abuse in institutions in the New York Times column, watch this video about what really works: Wraparound.  Watch as Karl Dennis describes using Wraparound to safely keep at home a youth supposedly so difficult a county jail couldn’t handle him.


And then ask yourself: Why didn’t The New York Times tell me about this?

Monday, October 24, 2022

Lessons from some extraordinary investigative journalism by The Associated Press

During the final days of the Vietnam War, Americans grabbed hundreds of
Vietnamese "orphans" and flew them out of their country for adoption in the 
United States.  But many of them were not orphans.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press published an amazing piece of investigative reporting.  The headline is simple:  “Afghan couple accuse US Marine of abducting their baby” – and in some ways, the story is that simple.  But the telling is complex, and reporters Juliet Linderman, Clarie Galofaro and Martha Mendoza do it exceptionally well. 

Here’s how the story begins: 

The young Afghan couple raced to the airport in Kabul, clutching their baby girl close amid the chaotic withdrawal of American troops last year. 

The baby had been rescued two years earlier from the rubble of a U.S. military raid that killed her parents and five siblings. After months in a U.S. military hospital, she had gone to live with her cousin and his wife, this newlywed couple. Now, the family was bound for the United States for further medical treatment, with the aid of U.S. Marine Corps attorney Joshua Mast. 

When the exhausted Afghans arrived at the airport in Washington, D.C., in late August 2021, Mast pulled them out of the international arrivals line and led them to an inspecting officer, according to a lawsuit they filed last month. They were surprised when Mast presented an Afghan passport for the child, the couple said. But it was the last name printed on the document that stopped them cold: Mast. 

They didn’t know it, but they would soon lose their baby. 

This is a story about how one U.S. Marine became fiercely determined to bring home an Afghan war orphan, and praised it as an act of Christian faith to save her. Letters, emails and documents submitted in federal filings show that he used his status in the U.S. Armed Forces, appealed to high-ranking Trump administration officials and turned to small-town courts to adopt the baby, unbeknownst to the Afghan couple raising her 7,000 miles away. 

It's also a story about a few other things: 

● A colleague of the reporters who broke this story called it “unbelievable.”  But it’s anything but.  It’s in a long, ugly American tradition that dates at least to 1852 when Charles Loring Brace, a Protestant minister who feared and loathed Catholic immigrants whom he deemed genetically inferior, started loading their children onto so-called “orphan trains” and shipping them into what amounted to indentured servitude in the south and Midwest.  The name notwithstanding, many of the children were not orphans. 

In 1975, during another time of hasty retreat, Americans grabbed hundreds of Vietnamese babies and loaded them onto what amounted to orphan trains with wings. The babies were flown to America (except for one plane which crashed, killing hundreds) where they were adopted by U.S. couples.  But again, many were not orphans. 

● Much of the current litigation is taking place in a small town court in Virginia – in proceedings so secret the court clerk will neither confirm nor deny that they exist.  Read to the end and see why this story once again illustrates why every state should join those that already open these proceedings to press and public.  While this particular case does not involve foster care, it’s an indication of how prevalent open courts really are that at least 40% of foster children live in states where court hearings are open – and none of the fears of opponents has come to pass.  There’s more about open courts in NCCPR’s Due Process Agenda. 

● Shall we take bets on how long it takes before the Marine in question and his lawyers try to play the bonding card?  You know, the argument that goes: It doesn’t matter how we got her, we’ve had her for a year so we’re bonded!  You’re not going to take her away now, are you?  

When I wrote about this for Youth Today, I concluded with a hypothetical question: “If I kidnap your child when he’s a toddler, flee to Brazil, take really good care of him and come back five years later — can I keep him?”

Read the full AP story here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 18, 2022

Drop everything and read this one, too: In the second part of their series, ProPublica and NBC News examine how the family police decided that, for all their constant blather about “children’s rights,” those rights do not include the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.  They document the trauma this inflicts on children and how, almost always, the family police find nothing.  The reports to child abuse hotlines that triggered the investigations were false.  My favorite quote is the one in the graphic above.  And for those who missed it: Part one, about the enormous harm of mandatory reporting, is here.

● The ProPublica story focused on New York City.  Of course, the city’s family policing agency offered up all the usual excuses.  But one of the leading scholars of the Fourth Amendment and family policing, Prof. Tarek Ismail of the City University of New York School of Law, rebutted them in this column for the New York Daily News. 

The American Prospect joins the journalistic chorus reporting on the confusion of poverty with neglect.  From the story: 

Appalling cases of beating or rape of children are a major political motivation behind child protective services (CPS) and their habit of “child separation,” or taking kids from their families and placing them into foster or group homes. But in reality, a large and growing majority of child abuse is simple neglect, which can be greatly ameliorated with the welfare state; and CPS actions are themselves often abusive. 

The story is called “Slash Child Abuse With One Simple Trick: Cash 

The New York Times takes a close look at President Biden’s proposed budget for “child welfare” in particular his proposal to increase federal reimbursement if a child is placed with relatives – kinship foster care – and decrease reimbursement if a child is forced into a group home or institution. 

The story also mentions, in passing, another intriguing part of the proposal: A first effort to entice states to count how many children they force into “hidden foster care.” 

But the story itself shows why none of this is enough.  At the end, it’s revealed that the grandparents taking care of the children at the center of the story would no longer need to be kinship foster parents at all – if the children’s father could just get housing sufficient to meet the demands of the family police. 

● A comment in a webinar chat from Charity Tolliver of Race Forward perfectly summed up a keynote presentation at the upEND Movement virtual convening last week: “Joyce McMillan moderating a conversation with Angela Davis while Dorothy Roberts is dropping history in the chat with Erin Miles Cloud is an absolute dream.”  The recording doesn’t seem to be available yet, but you can read about the event in this story from The Imprint. 

Another story in The Imprint is a reminder of the stakes as the Indian Child Welfare Act goes before the Supreme Court next month: 

The law was passed to counteract centuries of attempts at cultural genocide through forced boarding school attendance, excessive removals into foster care and adoption into non-Native homes. 

● Another county in Wisconsin has signed up for an innovative program to provide housing for families when that is all that is preventing them from reuniting with children trapped in foster care. 

And finally … 

● If you’ve ever wondered why it is that independent studies reveal vastly more abuse in foster care than family policing agencies admit to in official figures, this story from the Lima (Ohio) News, will help explain it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 11, 2022

DROP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS ONE: NBC News and ProPublica have just published a massive, in-depth report on the enormous harm of mandatory child abuse reporting laws. 

The story uses as a case study Pennsylvania, and the expansion of mandatory reporting following the scandal surrounding former Penn State football coach and foster parent Jerry Sandusky.  According to the story: 

A flood of unfounded reports followed, overwhelming state and local child protection agencies. The vast expansion of the child protection dragnet ensnared tens of thousands of innocent parents, disproportionately affecting families of color living in poverty. While the unintended and costly consequences are clear, there’s no proof that the reforms have prevented the most serious abuse cases, an NBC News and ProPublica investigation found. 

Instead, data and child welfare experts suggest the changes may have done the opposite.

And don't miss part two, exposing the enormous harm done to children and families by needless investigations - and how the family police trample on children's Fourth Amendment rights. 

The 74 reports that in New York City alone “…between August 2019 and January 2022, city school employees made over 13,750 false alarm reports to the state child abuse hotline.” The story goes on to explain why that actually understates the problem.  As for the notion that the problem can be fixed with “more training” here’s what one school social worker said her training was like: 

[T]he training sessions she has attended have begun by projecting the names and pictures of young people who have died by parental abuse, the social worker said, a tactic she considers “fear mongering.” 

And see also The 74’s interview with Darcey Merritt, associate professor of social work at New York University, discussing why CPS should stand for Child Poverty Surveillance. 

● While other news organizations run stories about children trapped in makeshift placements suggesting that the answer is to institutionalize more of them, the Nevada Current reports on the real solution: institutionalizing fewer of them.  (They got a little help from the U.S. Department of Justice.) 

● One of the things that happens to children when they’re institutionalized is they are often doped up on potent, sometimes dangerous psychiatric medication.  The New York Times recently sought to reassure us that, when it comes to foster children, that problem had been curbed.  But, as The Imprint reports, that’s sure not the case in Indiana. 

● Texas caseworkers quit and sign an amicus brief admitting that they’ve been taking away children and placing them in a system “riddled with actual abuse.” But why didn’t they speak up before? What changed? I have a column in Youth Today on how those Texas caseworkers give us a lesson in whose lives matter.

● The White House has issued what it calls a “Blueprint for an Artificial Intelligence Bill of Rights.”  The Associated Press reports that the document may have been influenced in part by concerns over the use of predictive analytics in child welfare – particularly the algorithm in Allegheny County, Pa., that once was the subject of so many news organization puff pieces.  Unfortunately, the document is only advisory. 

● Interesting things can happen when what used to be a garden party for the “child welfare” establishment starts inviting in some skunks.  I have a blog post about a remarkable outbreak of white fragility on the part of some garden partiers. 

● While the state’s “child advocate” and a lawmaker with a poor track record on these issues send the state careening full-speed backwards, one group in Maine is pushing back.  Spectrum News reports on real solutions offered by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. 

● Last week I highlighted a law review article by Prof. Tarek Ismail of the City University of New York School of Law, that builds a path through the thicket of confusion about family policing and the Fourth Amendment – and charts a way forward.  Another new article, from Prof. Anna Arons of New York University, builds on that analysis, linking the whole mess to the whole “problem-solving court” mentality of the family police judicial branch. 

● A drug test is not a parenting test – even when it’s accurate.  But in Utah, the family police don’t seem to care if it’s accurate or not.  KSL-TV has a follow-up to its investigative report on false positive drug tests.  

Rewire News reports on why “Post-‘Roe,’ Abortion Bans Will Increase the Separation of Black and Brown Families.”  And Dorothy Roberts has more on that theme on this Truthout podcast. 

● I’ve previously highlighted stories about an innovative plan in some Wisconsin counties designed to help families with the housing they need to reunify with their children and how one of the counties voted it down. But now, the plan may be revived, with some modifications.

And finally …

An essay in Salon documents how a 529-year-old papal decree contributed to the massive oppression and abuse of indigenous children in Canada at Catholic-run “boarding schools,” and calls on Pope Francis to repeal it.  Only a portion of the essay is about child welfare – but it’s by one of my favorite authors and journalists.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

When “child welfare” oppressors demand that the oppressed be nice to them, it’s just one more form of oppression

No one should be required to “be nice to people who do despicable things.”

Attention child welfare garden partiers: The skunks have arrived

Every year, the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse holds a four-day virtual extravaganza featuring more than 100 panels and speakers from around the world.  In the past, this event was essentially a garden party for the child welfare establishment.  But Kempe is one of the few organizations that’s actually changed, instead of just engaging in reputation laundering.  For the past few years, they’ve been inviting a lot of us skunks to their garden party.  Martin Guggenheim was a keynoter this year.  Dorothy Roberts was a keynoter last year. I’ve given several presentations. 

But, much like a school lunchroom, the skunks tend to go to the skunk-led panels and the child welfare establishment types tend to stick to the garden parties. Occasionally they meet in the same virtual room. That’s when things get especially interesting. 

Take, for example, a mostly skunk panel on Oct. 4 called “The Myth of Benevolence.”  It began with this question from the moderator: 

What is the historical context of [the myth of] benevolence that is bound up in the child welfare system as we know it today? 

No sooner did Joyce McMillan, founder of JMAC For Families, utter four sentences, than it set off an explosion of white fragility in the chat section. McMillan explained that the myth of benevolence shows itself when people in the system say: 

We’re doing God’s work.  And if I hear another white person say that – oh my god, you are not doing God’s work.  You’re actually doing the opposite.  Because I’m guessing that with balance in life, if there’s a heaven, there’s a hell and those who think they’re doing God’s work are going to hell. 

Asked to elaborate, she said: 

People who work within systems may have gotten there with good intentions, but at some point you have to learn and realize what the outcomes are. 

But before she’d even had a chance to say that second part, someone posted in the chat something to the effect of “white person???  Clearly this is not the training for me” and declared that s/he was leaving. (I didn’t copy it down, but that was the gist.) 

Then came someone else with this comment, which I did copy down exactly: 

“I’m curious how shaming and blaming is curative for child welfare?” 

I’m going to dwell on that one for a couple of reasons.  First, this comment didn’t come from some new, naïve caseworker.  It came from a while person who, to use Joyce McMillan’s phrase, “got there with good intentions” and stayed for a long time, becoming a high-ranking official in a family policing agency, and a prominent defender of those agencies.  So it’s no wonder she was upset when McMillan spoke truth to her power. 

Now, consider what family policing agencies actually do to families that are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. 

They demand entry to homes, sometimes in the middle of the night.  They put the home under a microscope, poking through drawers and cupboards and asking both the parents and the children the most intimate questions about their lives. They stripsearch children.  They make parents pee into cups.  They make them take anger management and parent education courses so they can find out what bad parents they are and what they must do to get better.  They pore over reports from therapists. They poke and pry, examine and constantly grade parental behavior.  And that’s even when they don’t walk right out of the house carrying the children with them into the night. 

In other words, the family police shame and the family police blame. Then they shame and blame
again.  Then they shame and blame some more.
 The commenter in the chat, however well-intentioned, spent decades in an agency that, like all its counterparts, should be called the Department of Shaming and Blaming. 

But when once – just once - someone who the system attempted to shame and blame mercilessly dares to talk back, dares to say that, as a matter of fact, family police aren’t doing God’s work, the commenter says, in effect:  Ohhhh, poor me! You’re shaming and blaming! 

What this longtime administrator is saying is that the oppressed must always be nice to their oppressors.  That’s just another form of oppression.  Saying those oppressed by family policing should be nice to their oppressors is like saying Ukraine should be nice to Russia. 

Offensive as such a demand is, family preservation advocates actually did that in the 1990s.  Faced with constantly being accused of essentially not caring if children die, and faced with one family police establishment misrepresentation after another, too much of the movement responded by playing nice – never mentioning racism, and just trying to somehow talk up the virtues of keeping families together without mentioning the enormous harm done by the alternative.  The result: The family preservation movement almost niced itself to death.  And we wound up with hideous laws like the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act. 

We’re not making that mistake again. 

Respect must be earned

The general demand for niceness has been a problem at the Kempe conferences.  There are efforts by moderators to persuade the skunks to be more, well, moderate; attempts to smooth things over and make us all play nice.  Even the evaluation questionnaires ask you to agree or disagree with the statement “The presenter(s) were respectful and inclusive of other’s opinions, experiences, and thoughts.”  But sometimes, being “nice” is just passive aggression – as when presenters at a garden party “conversation circle” took almost the entire time for themselves and disabled the chat.  There was nothing "respectful" or "inclusive" about that, but the garden party presenters did it "nicely," speaking softly and smiling.

As Prof. Guggenheim said many years ago, it’s so very wearying to “constantly have to be nice to people who do despicable things.” 

Civility toward individuals is one thing; that’s an entitlement. [UPDATE, OCT. 15: Or maybe not. Lexie Gruber-Perez, who knows a lot about reputation laundering, sent me a link to this article making the case that in some circumstances, demands for civility also can be a form of oppression.  Here's an excerpt:

In 1934, Henry Cadbury, professor of biblical literature at Bryn Mawr College and an official of

the American Society of Friends, called for Jewish Rabbis to speak civilly to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Discussing issues in a civil tone, Cadbury insisted, would build bridges with persecutors and would be a more effective policy than resistance. 

As already intimated, for those who experience oppression, the tone one uses in communicating may offer a way to vent, to tell the truth, or to loudly proclaim one’s humanity. Robin DiAngelo explains, “It’s like if you’re standing on my head and I say, ‘Get off my head,’ and you respond, ‘Well, you need to tell me nicely.’ I’d be like, ‘No. Fuck you. Get off my fucking head.’” While tone might be a tool of self-survival for the marginalized, I submit that charges of incivility on the part of the dominant may appear to be about tone yet are really about the message.]

But respect must be earned.  

Truth before reconciliation 

Similarly, there has been a lot of talk about the need for “truth and reconciliation” in family policing.  But some of those making that call misunderstand the process. 

When, after at last freeing themselves from the tyranny of apartheid, South Africa’s new government, led by Nelson Mandela, created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, all those white racists didn’t confess to committing atrocities because they decided not to be white racists anymore.  They confessed because the alternative was going to jail. 

Sometimes what the child welfare establishment calls truth and reconciliation is just another form of reputation laundering.  

I won’t presume to suggest when there’s been enough truth to allow for reconciliation in family policing.  Only those who have been oppressed can render that judgment.  But I know this: No one should demand that anyone be nice to people who do despicable things. 

As for shaming and blaming: After decades of dishing it out, family police, you’re just going to have to take it. Accept the blame, feel the shame -- and do something about it.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

NCCPR in Youth Today: Texas caseworkers give us a lesson in whose lives matter

Sixteen current and former employees of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) have filed an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit trying to stop Gov. Greg Abbott from using the family police – a more accurate term than child protective services – to persecute transgender children.  This is the money quote: 

“Professionals at DFPS did not enter the child protection profession to remove children from loving homes with parents or guardians merely because they follow medical advice and a doctor’s care, only to place them in a foster care system that is riddled with actual abuse, sexual assault, and even sex trafficking,” [Emphasis added.] 

Among them, the 16 workers spent 129 years at DFPS.  Most were there for at least five years.  Some were frontline caseworkers, some were supervisors, at least two were managers. Five are still on the job. 

Yes, they did the right thing in coming forward.  Yes, it took courage for those who left their jobs.  But consider what these workers are confessing: They freely admit that day after day, year, after year, they took children from their parents and consigned them to “a foster care system that is riddled with actual abuse, sexual assault, and even sex trafficking.” ...

Read the full column in Youth Today

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 4, 2022

● Last week, I was asked to list the most important contributions to the field of family advocacy and family defense made by Prof. Martin Guggenheim. The fact that he is a founder and president of NCCPR didn’t even make my top five.  As Kathleen Creamer put it in this story from The Imprint “No one has done more than Marty to move this field towards justice — even when no one seemed to care about justice.” 

● California becomes the latest state to curb the practice of making parents pay ransom to get their kids back from foster care. (Yeah, yeah, they call it “child support” but when you tear a child from a parent’s arms and then make the parent pay money to get the child back, the only proper term for the payment is ransom.) The Imprint published this story about the bill while it was awaiting a decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom.  Subsequently, Newsom signed the bill.  He also signed two bills intended to curb the confusion of poverty with neglect. 

● In New York, that state’s Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights is going to launch an investigation into “possible violations of Black families’ civil and constitutional rights by the New York child welfare system.” 

● Following up on a Honolulu Civil Beat investigation revealing that family police in Hawaii almost always tear children from their families without so much as asking a judge first, a state senator is considering introducing legislation to curb the practice. State Sen. Joy San Bonaventura also is wise enough to know that would be only a first step: 

“My concern is that a judge would rubber-stamp whatever a CPS social worker says,” she said. “At least it will be something to have a warrant, but I think we need more than that.” 

Fourth Amendment rights are the issue in one of two new and important works of legal scholarship: 

● When reporters call, one of the most difficult questions for me to answer is how the Fourth Amendment applies in “child welfare” cases.  That’s because court decisions have left a thicket of confusion and inconsistency.  Prof. Tarek Ismail of CUNY Law School cuts a path through the thicket, not only explaining how we got into this mess, but also suggesting a path to get us out. 

● It gets less attention than the racial and class bias that permeate family policing, but discrimination against families with disabilities is just as pervasive.  One might think the federal Americans with Disabilities Act would help.  But prof. Sarah Lorr of Brooklyn Law School writes in the California Law Review that family policing agencies and courts have found so many ways around it that their behavior “transforms the ADA into an empty vessel for parents with intellectual disabilities.”  

And finally...

● Last week's round-up included this New York Law Journal story about New York's Family Justice Law Center.  The Center will bring impact litigation challenging the city's family policing agency, the Administration for Children's Services.  An agency flack, who is, of course, paid by New York City taxpayers, offered up a response that is a one-paragraph masterpiece of dissembling and misdirection.  I have a blog post analyzing it.  It's a great chance for New Yorkers to see their tax dollars at work!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Let the NYC family police teach you how to dissemble like a pro!

Last month, the New York Law Journal published an excellent article about the Family Justice Law Center.  The article aptly describes the Center as 

 a first-of-its-kind organization that intends to engage in affirmative litigation with the [Administration for Children’s Services] —hitting it with lawsuits to potentially hold it accountable for allegedly violating families’ constitutional rights via heavy-handed investigatory and removal tactics.  

“It is incredibly traumatic when government agents enter a person’s home and there’s the looming threat of a child removal,” [founder David] Shalleck-Klein told the Law Journal. “And of course, the harm is enormous when government agents do remove a child from a parent … sometimes in the middle of the night, in incredibly traumatic ways. Those harms stay with children.” 

Of course, the reporter turned to ACS, the city’s family policing agency, for comment.  An agency flack ignored most of the abuses Shalleck-Klein mentioned, discussing only one, so-called emergency removals when the caseworker not only demands entry, not only interrogates the children and families, often in the middle of the night, not only stripsearches the children but also, on top of all that, tears the children from their parents on-the-spot without even asking a judge first, let alone having a formal court hearing. 

The flack’s response is a one-paragraph masterpiece of dissembling and misdirection.  So let’s have a look, line by line.  The flack’s comments are in italics, followed by a brief discussion of each claim. 

Emergency removals occur in fewer than 2% of ACS child protection cases 

Actually, a comparison of data in the Mayor’s Management Report to ACS’ own data on removals suggests it’s more like 3%.  But assuming the flack is correct, what that really tells us is that a minimum of 98% of what ACS does is b------t.  The figure apparently is based on the total number of cases ACS investigates.  But overwhelmingly, these are so obviously false they fail to meet even the minimum standards for a caseworker to check a box on a form declaring the case “indicated.”  Almost all of the rest are cases in which family poverty is confused with neglect.  In short, the workers spin their wheels, and the families suffer all sorts of trauma, for nothing. 

The more relevant figure is: When ACS decides to take the child and run, how often do they do it without even asking a judge first?  The answer is not 2% it’s more like fifty percent. 

and happen only when our highly trained staff  

Highly trained? All you need is a bachelor’s degree in any number of fields, a minimal amount of relevant coursework, and a six-week training course.  You are then empowered to tear children from their homes on-the-spot. 

 feel that a child is in immediate danger and unable to get a court order in time to keep the child safe

Except that they get it wrong astoundingly often.  Consider: At the very first hearing, families have no real chance to mount a defense – it’s usually not until this hearing that they even meet their lawyers.  They stand before judges who know they can rubber-stamp ACS thousands of times and, though it will do terrible harm to the children, the judges are safe.  But if they send one child home and something goes wrong, their careers may be over.  And yet, despite all that, they still overrule ACS’ “highly trained staff” 20 to 25% of the time and send the child right back home.  That suggests the proportion of cases when judges should do that is far higher. Oh, and one other thing: In America police – even the family police – are supposed to make their decisions based on evidence, not on their feelings. 

ACS is committed to keeping families together whenever that is safely possible and, in the vast majority of investigations, children are not removed from their homes. 

Again, that’s because the vast majority of investigations are investigations of false reports. 

Our robust continuum of family support services has successfully led to a 36% reduction in the number of children entering foster care from 2017 to 2021, 

But the number went up again in 2022. 

with foster care now at all-time low of less than 7,200 children. 

But that doesn’t mean families are left alone.  As the Movement for Family Power points out, as  foster care has declined, there’s been almost a one-for-one increase in oppressive family surveillance that, itself, inflicts needless trauma on children and families. 

Graphic from Movement for Family Power

So thank you ACS flack.  Your refusal to accept responsibility for the harm the agency does shows exactly why organizations like the Family Justice Law Center are needed.