Thursday, November 3, 2022

Two stories about “shortages” in Massachusetts “child welfare.” One got it right.

Last month, the Boston Globe published one of those stories popping up all over the country about a so-called “shortage” of placements for foster children, leading to some having to sleep in offices.   Also last month NPR interviewed Julie Lurie of Mother Jones about her story concerning prolonged delays in initial hearings for families after the state family police agency – entirely on its own authority – rushes in and takes away the children. 

Now, try to imagine what would happen in either case if Massachusetts didn’t take away children at a rate more than 60% above the national average. 

Julia Lurie did. She told NPR: 

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. … 

In contrast, the Globe story tells us the problem is too few foster parents. No alternative explanation is offered for reader consideration. In fact, the problem is not too few foster parents.  The problem is too many children needlessly torn from everyone they know and love. (Compare how the Globe got it wrong to how the Philadelphia Inquirer handled the same story.) 

Worse, the Globe story suggests it is a bad thing that group homes are taking fewer children and, in some cases, closing. But in a system that wasn’t one of the worst in the nation for tearing apart families, that would be something to celebrate – because institutionalization is the worst form of placement for children.  Again, closing institutions is even more urgent in Massachusetts, which, not only tears apart families at a rate more than 60% above the national average but also institutionalizes the children it takes at a rate 60% above the national average. 

How did Massachusetts get into this mess?  It goes back more than a century.  Other states are as bad or worse, but, as it happens, the history of “child welfare” failure in Massachusetts is particularly well-documented. 

Last month I gave a presentation examining some of that history.  Excerpts are on this Blog here.