Monday, December 26, 2022

NCCPR news and commentary year in review, 2022

Among the year's highlights: This ad campaign from JMACforFamilies

Instead of the usual highlights of the week, we look back at some of the best family preservation journalism and scholarship of 2022 – and a little from late 2021. 

We start with three important books: 

● First, Prof. Dorothy Roberts’ definitive dissection of racism in family policing: Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families--and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World. There’s an excerpt from the book in Mother Jones. 

Prof. Roberts, who is a member of NCCPR’s Board of Directors, was also the subject of this profile in New York Magazine. It’s called Dorothy Roberts Tried to Warn Us: The legal scholar and sociologist wrote about the criminalization of pregnancy 25 years ago. Why didn’t more listen?  Prof. Roberts wrote this Five Myths column for The Washington Post. And on public radio’s The Takeaway, she made host Melissa Harris-Perry gasp.  

● The other vital book about family policing published this year is a novel. But Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers is no ordinary novel. Barack Obama included it on his list of favorite books of 2022.  Some might say the novel depicts a dystopian future child welfare surveillance state.  Dystopian yes – but it’s only 20 minutes into the future (10 if you live in Pittsburgh). As Kate Knibbs puts it in her review for Wired:  

“This closeness to reality is what turns the book’s emotional gut punch into a full knockout wallop. A mother reading it doesn’t close the book, sigh, and think, Thank god the world’s not really like this. No, she closes it and knows she must be very careful.”
Read it and you’ll find yourself thinking about it almost every time you read about how the system functions right now. 

● The third book was published in late 2021.  But in 2022, Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.


ProPublica and NBC News teamed up to examine every stage in the family policing process, from the initial call by a “mandated reporter” through termination of parental rights (or, as it should be called, termination of children’s rights to their parents.)  They found a system that, every step of the way, does enormous harm to the children it was intended to help.  Unfortunately, there is no “grand unifying link,”  No, wait, yes there is!

And, from ProPublica late in 2021: TANF as a child welfare slush fund.

● There also is a grand unifying link to this series of stories in Honolulu Civil Beat exposing everything from “grab-and-go” removals to the sham of court hearings in family policing cases.

USA Today continued its outstanding series of stories on the harm of family policing, with a particular focus on Florida.  This year’s story is more evidence that the solution to the problems of journalism is more journalism. Bad journalism by the Miami Herald set off a foster-care panic in Florida.  Now great journalism from USA Today Network Florida reporters is exposing how much that has hurt children.  Combining heartbreaking personal stories with rigorous data analysis, this year’s story is the definitive story about the havoc caused when poverty is confused with “neglect.” 

An earlier USA Today Network Florida story dealt with the trauma inflicted on children when they are taken from mothers whose only crime is to have, themselves, been beaten.  This year, that was the topic of one of two excellent stories from WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach.  In a second story, an overwhelmed grandmother seeks help from Florida’s family police agency. The granddaughter, now a young adult, talks about what that did to her family.

● The Western New England Law Review has a superb summary of the research showing the enormous harm to children caused when they are taken from domestic violence survivors. The article interweaves compelling case examples and a mass of research.  It also includes an excellent discussion of the dynamics of domestic violence, what makes it hard for a survivor to leave such a relationship (including the enormous role of poverty) and what courts – and the rest of us – should be asking concerning whether family policing agencies are genuinely making reasonable efforts to help them, as federal law requires.  Although it is specific to Massachusetts, it applies everywhere.  And it is only about one-fifth the length of a typical law review article. For more on this topic see NCCPR’s summary of expert testimony. 

● An entire journal devoted to the harm of family policing made its debut in 2022.  Check out the Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly with issues on the harm of the so-called “Adoption and Safe Families Act,” the confusion of poverty with neglect, the need to invest in community and families and, most recently, the most dangerous phrase in the family policing lexicon.

● The Columbia Journal of Race and Law published a second set of papers from the Strengthened Bonds symposium including 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. 

● In North Carolina, WBTV produced a series of reports documenting the harm done to children and families by hidden foster care in that state. This isone of them:

● Though not a formal series, there was a surge in news coverage and commentary about the enormous harm done to children by ASFA. Here’s our grand unifying link.

● In The Imprint, Nora McCarthy, co-founder of the New York City Family Policy Project and the former director of Rise has a series of columns on alternatives to family policing.

● Though it was released in 2021, Season 2 of the This Land podcast remains the gold standard of journalism for understanding the gold standard of child welfare legislation – the Indian Child Welfare Act.  And, of course, what the podcast exposed took on new urgency in 2022, as the Supreme Court heard a challenge to ICWA.  See also this excellent take from The Washington Post.

● Also related to ICWA: Every local newspaper in America that had a so-called “boarding school” into which Native American children were forced should do what the Everett Herald in Washington State has done and done well: Tell the story. 

From the Herald’s three-part series: 

There was no use running away, Harriette Shelton Dover recalled, when the Tulalip Indian School matron thrashed her with a horse whip from her neck to her ankles, swinging “as hard as she could.” 

“Years later,” she said, “I found out that kind was also used in penitentiaries and outlawed. But it was used on us. And what were we doing? We were 9 years old and we were speaking our language.” … 

From 1857 to 1932, thousands of Pacific Northwest children passed through a federally mandated school at Tulalip, about 30 miles north of Seattle, where students lived under a strict military regimen. Abuse was by design, to eradicate Native culture, at hundreds of similar schools across the nation. 

Other news and commentary:

● In 12 minutes this superb story from CBS News Sunday Morning tells you everything about how “child welfare” really works.  And notice the "age restriction" warning placed on the video by YouTube.  In other words: what the family police agencies that are supposed to "protect" children really do is so traumatic, children shouldn't see it!

● In all the time I’ve followed child welfare – more than 45 years now – I’ve probably read hundreds of stories about foster children trapped in all sorts of hideous makeshift placements.  But here’s what sets this year’s stories in The Philadelphia Inquirer apart.  They got the solutions right.  One of the stories summed it up this way: 

Advocates say what’s needed now is to address the short-term glitches while pursuing the long-term vision of supporting more families at home — not backsliding into the era when congregate beds were ample and eagerly filled by a system that saw removing and institutionalizing kids as an easy fix. [Emphasis added]. 

That summary is in what reporter Samantha Melamed herself called the “TL;DR version.”  But I hope you’ll resist the temptation and read the full story.

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

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

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

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

(If anyone still doesn’t know the answer to that, see the Honolulu Civil Beat stories mentioned above.)

● Does anyone still believe the lie that at least after taking the child (without so much as asking a judge first) there at least has to be a hearing right after?  Sure, that’s what most state laws say.  But, as Mother Jones illustrates in this story, the reality is that the free shot the family police have at any child can last for weeks, sometimes months. 

● The 74 reported 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.” 

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

Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has filed a landmark lawsuit challenging the process by which people are placed on the registry in Pennsylvania.  There’s a story in The Imprint.  And here’s the CLS press release.  

● Although broadcast at the very end of 2021, this NPR story, on governments forcing parents to pay ransom to get their children back from foster care got results throughout the year as several cities and states moved to curb the practice, and the federal government issued guidance recommending against it. (No, of course, they don’t call it ransom, but when someone takes your child from you and forces you to pay money to get the child back, any other term for the payment is a euphemism.)  But, as a follow-up story late this year makes clear, not everyone is getting the message.  In North Carolina, for example, children can lose their parents forever for not paying ransom - even when the state forgets to send the ransom note.

● NPR and The Marshall Project also published a follow-up to their groundbreaking stories about another odious practice of family policing agencies: swiping foster youth’s Social Security benefits.  

● The Associated Press published an amazing story that, at least for now, doesn’t touch on family policing directly.  But you can bet it will, as soon as one couple tries to play the bonding card.  NCCPR has a blog post on key lessons from the case 

In October, 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.” 

Other reports and scholarship:

● The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch released this outstanding, comprehensive report on the racial and class biases that permeate family policing.  The report includes this video:

● A bastion of the establishment, the American Bar Association passed a resolution that comes within an inch of calling for repeal of ASFA and other awful family policing laws.  The Imprint has a story.  Our own take is here.  

● Another bastion of the child welfare establishment JAMA Pediatrics has called b.s.  on the whole COVID-19 “pandemic of child abuse” myth.  Their somewhat more formal title: “Child Physical Abuse Did Not Increase During the Pandemic.” Unfortunately, it’s a typical, overpriced journal article – but NCCPR’s comprehensive round-up debunking the myth is free.  

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

NCCPR commentary:

In addition to posts on this blog, NCCPR has been published all over the country on local and national issues involving family policing.

● Thanks to Greg Abbott, affluent white people are discovering that even “CPS-lite” is enormously traumatic for children and families.  As NCCPR explains in this column for The Imprint, for Black, Brown, Native and poor white families it’s a whole lot worse.  And in Youth Today we wrote about Texas caseworkers who have given us a lesson in whose lives matter.

● Following up on the excellent reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer noted above, we wrote for the Inquirer about how Philadelphia could stop warehousing children in makeshift placements.

● We also wrote about makeshift placements for Bridge Michigan – in particular, how Michigan judges are passing the buck for their own failures.

● CalMatters published NCCPR’s commentary on a massive science-be-damned, ethically-questionable albeit well-meaning experiment on overwhelmingly poor, nonwhite Californians.

Several columns dealt with the harm of “residential treatment.”

● Colorado plans to spend two years and nearly $100,000 on a task force charged with trying to find out why children run away from residential treatment.  In Youth Today, we save the state a little money and a lot of time.

In the CT Mirror we wrote about how, when an 11-year-old girl was sexually assaulted at a “residential treatment center” the RTC said it was the child’s fault!  

● In the Lexington Herald-Leader we wrote about how, amid all the handwringing over the deaths of two young children the state had chosen to institutionalize, no one was asking the most important question.

● Who gave a damn about Harmony Montgomery? She’s a seven-year-old New Hampshire girl who and was feared dead (fears since confirmed)  NCCPR’s commentary on the case for CommonWealth Magazine is about how the one person who cared about Harmony is the person no one would listen to: her mother. 

● In Youth Today we came up with a simple formula to determine if a “child neglect” problem is really a poverty problem.

● In The Imprint we explained why Safety Science is Good for Aviation, But in Child Welfare, it Won’t Fly

● In Honolulu Civil Beat, we wrote about the need to curb the state’s “grab-and-go” mentality when it comes to tearing apart children.

● That mentality is even worse in Missouri, where, as we noted in the Missouri Independent, the head of the state’s family policing agency effectively admitted to routinely violating federal law requiring “reasonable efforts” to keep families together.

● It is worst of all in Montana. In the Daily Montanan, we wrote about how much children are hurt by that state’s status (tied with West Virginia) as the child removal capital of America.

● And on our website: As the racial justice reckoning finally reaches family policing, one big mainstream “child welfare” group after another has been trying to launder its reputation – hoping we’ll forget all the harm they’ve done, as they co-opt the rhetoric of reform in service to the status quo. NCCPR’s new publication, “Child Welfare” heads to the reputation laundry, includes a guide to how to recognize reputation laundering, and what real change is all about.