Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Update: Missouri’s take-the-child-and-run approach leads to tragedy

This agency's failure to follow federal law contributed to an unspeakable tragedy

Last fall, I took issue with how KCUR public radio in Kansas City handled a story about the failings of the state’s family policing system (a more accurate term than “child welfare” system).  In many ways, it was a good story, but it still missed the point.  I concluded it this way:

 This was certainly a better story than many, perhaps most day-to-day reporting on “child welfare.”  But the fact that even an excellent reporter producing an in-depth public radio story can use a case in which the only thing separating a family is housing, another case in which visits with children are being used as a “reward” for a parent, have a caseworker admit that children are in foster care needlessly, all in a state that tears apart families at a rate 50% above the national average – and still think the primary problem is a “shortage” of caseworkers, suggests that the journalism of child welfare has a long way to go. 

Two weeks later, the Missouri Independent showed a better understanding of the issue.   And I wrote a commentary about how the head of the state’s “child welfare” agency, Darrell Missey,  effectively admitted violating federal law requiring family police to make “reasonable efforts” to keep families together. 

Naturally, Missey has paid no price for this.  The same cannot be said for the mother who lacked housing, Shayla Curts.  In December, she was shot to death. 

As KCUR reports in this follow-up story, Shayla’s family is asking: 

Did problems with the Jackson County, Missouri, foster care system force Shayla into an unnecessarily risky living situation? 

“She would still be alive if they’d have put her, like they promised, in housing,” [Shayla’s mother] Dezirae said. “They were looking for housing, shelter or transitional housing, just somewhere she could take the kids.” 

Again it’s a good story. But again it misses the point.  It attributes the problem largely to a shortage of caseworkers, instead of the fact that Missouri is now tearing apart families at an even more obscene rate than before.  In the months since the original story, most of America got better – but Missouri got even worse.  Now, the rate of removal in Missouri is more than 80% above the national average.  The fact that Missouri tears apart families at the 10th highest rate in America is never mentioned in the story.  Neither is the issue of Missey’s failure to follow federal law.