Tuesday, February 28, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 28, 2023

Before the news, a note about an upcoming event: The so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act neither prevents nor treats child abuse – rather it reinforces the foundations of the child welfare surveillance state.  There’s still time to register for a webinar tomorrow (March 2) explaining the harm of CAPTA and what can be done about it. 

● In Arizona, ProPublica exposes the smear campaign that led a cowardly governor to fire her reform-minded “child welfare” agency chief – after only a few weeks on the job.  

Last week on this Blog, I wrote about how family policing agencies play the bonding card to turn “child welfare” into the ultimate middle-class entitlement: Step right up and take a poor person’s child for your very own.  Now, from North Carolina, INDYweek reports on a tragically perfect illustration.  If, after reading the story, you want to show support for the family, you can sign a petition here

● As I noted in that post last week, in Kansas, some lawmakers want to make it even easier to do to families in that state what North Carolina family police are doing in the case described by INDYweek.  They’re out to preference strangers over families in many adoption cases.  But the horrors about foster care in Kansas are not coming from kinship caregivers.  Check out how stranger-care has been going in recent cases

● It’s been more than a decade since NPR exposed the rampant needless destruction of Native American families by the “child welfare” system in South Dakota.  Yet a legislative committee still voted down two bills that, it appears, simply would have codified provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, in case that law is overturned by the Supreme Court.  Instead, South Dakota Searchlight reports, the committee reluctantly supported creating a task force to study the astoundingly high rate at which Native children still are taken away.  How reluctantly? Said one lawmaker who, presumably, never heard the NPR stories: “I can’t believe we would remove children just for poverty.” UPDATE, MARCH 2: And the full House killed the bill.

● If you run group homes and institutions, the one group you don’t want anyone to talk to is youth who actually were forced to live in them.  Because this is what they’ll tell you

● The Prison Policy Initiative has a new report out on how some states are taking steps to mitigate the harm to children when parents are incarcerated.  As the report explains: 

Parental incarceration can have lasting effects on children into adulthood. Child development experts consider a child’s household member becoming incarcerated an “Adverse Childhood Experience,” which correlates to challenges throughout childhood development, negative effects on health, and adverse impacts on employment and educational outcomes. The state’s typical responses to parental incarceration often worsen this crisis, permanently changing a family’s relationships by placing children in foster care or terminating parental rights, but advocates are fighting for creative and holistic solutions. 

● In Aurora, Colorado a city councilor and her family were victimized by an anonymous, malicious false allegation of child abuse filed by someone who, fortunately, did a poor job of covering her tracks.  Now, KDVR-TV reports, she’s persuaded a state legislator to introduce a bill to replace anonymous reporting with confidential reporting. 

● In Illinois, the Majority Leader of the State Senate has introduced legislation to provide some due process protections for families where false allegations are based on a medical misdiagnosis

● I’ve often written that what we call child abuse is not a “public health” problem – it’s a social justice problem.  The so-called “medical model” has been used obscure the confusion of poverty with neglect and the racial bias that permeates family policing.  Now, in The Nation, a doctor argues that public health itself is a social justice problem.  “Want to fix public health?” asks Dr. Eric Reinhart. “Stop Thinking Like a Doctor.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 22, 2023

● We begin this week with two stories from, of all places, the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics. In one story two former top officials of the federal Children’s Bureau answer a question that, just a few years ago, the AMA wouldn’t even have asked: “How Should Race and Resource Context Influence How Neglect Is Considered by Clinicians?” In another, a doctor serving her internship in family medicine asks: “How Should We Respond When Clinicians’ Calls to CPS Are Punitively Weaponized Against Families?” 

● Both those stories revolve around mandatory reporting and the fact that most “training” is really propaganda demanding that mandatory reporters report anything and everything.  New York State has a new mandatory reporting course that makes some significant changes – though not nearly enough.  (And, having taken the actual course, I can tell you it is definitely not as good as its designers portray it.) 

● The New York State Assembly canceled a scheduled hearing on mandatory reporting.  So, as The74 reports, supporters of abolishing mandatory reporting, who’d planned to rally outside the hearing, took the rally online.

  As for what we can do instead of calling the hotline, Nora McCarthy writes in The Imprint about how to build better alternatives. Here's step one: 

Right now, we're seeing the child welfare establishment respond to calls for abolition by talking about "system transformation." But if government agencies, foundations and institutions actually want to seed transformation, they will need to yield significant power. 

  But federal financial incentives make this difficult. I thought I knew all the ways terrible federal financial incentives encourage family policing and discourage better alternatives.  But in Truthout, Elena Gormley taught me about one I'd missed

Motherboard has a story, with comment from NCCPR, examining a New York City Comptroller’s report blasting the way city agencies, including the Administration for Children’s Services are using predictive analytics.  As the headline puts it: “AI Use by Cops,Child Services In NYC Is a Mess: Report.”  From the story: 

The comptroller’s report found that while the agency says it routinely does bias testing, it was unable to produce logs of that testing or update the agency on how frequently it occurs or when it revises the algorithm. And while the agency says it has guidelines on how it uses predictive models, it “did not provide us with evidence that these guidelines are required to be followed in the same way that formal policies would be.” (ACS told the comptroller that it was in the process of making their guidelines formal.) …
[W]hen the comptroller asked if members of the public could review the algorithm or log complaints about the use of the algorithm, the agency said that “there would be no basis for a complaint” because the algorithm does not make the final decision, it merely flags cases to prioritize for ACS employees to review.

● The University of Baltimore School of Law hosted a webinar about the stakes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the Indian Child Welfare Act. Here's the video: 

A bill in Texas would provide Miranda rights for families and provide the first minimal legal protections when the state tries to force kids into hidden foster care - a practice that may be worse in Texas than anywhere else in the country. The bill is sponsored by Republican State Rep. James Frank and has the support of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.  So it’s going to be hard to smear this one as supposedly part of some Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. 

● Two weeks ago, I concluded this round-up by writing:  Just in case anyone needs still another study documenting that reducing poverty reduces child “neglect,” here’s another study documenting that reducing poverty reduces child “neglect.” 

Well, those studies just keep on coming.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 14, 2023

● Think you know all about the cases at the heart of the current challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act?  This story from Mother Jones will tell you a whole lot more about one of them – and why ICWA is so important.  (And note, in particular, the role of the “volunteer guardian ad litem” in the case. In Minnesota, where this case takes place, that’s the term they use for a CASA volunteer.) 

● For more about ICWA, listen to the Imprint podcast interview with Sandy White Hawk, author of the memoir A Child of the Indian Race: A Story of Return. 

● Children are always traumatized when torn from their parents.  On rare occasions inflicting that trauma is the least detrimental alternative.  But the trauma actually is compounded when the child is taken from a parent, almost always the mother, who is herself a victim of domestic violence.  One expert calls such a removal “tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.”

A bill in Maryland would go a long way toward taking away the family police salt supply.  The Imprint has a story, we have a review of some of the research - and you can see the public hearing on the bill here, starting at 58:49 in:  

● The federal government released its annual Child Maltreatment report. It covers the year 2021, the first year when it was possible to assess the real impact of COVID-19 on children, child abuse – and family policing.  It turns out that Because of #COVID19: 

  -- The family police stepped back – investigating fewer cases and taking fewer children.

  --  Community-based mutual aid stepped up.

  -- The federal government stepped in with no-strings-attached cash for poor families. 

And now, the new federal report tells us: Instead of the pandemic of child abuse predicted by child welfare establishment fearmongers and their media allies, child abuse went down. The Imprint has a summary

● Stephen Colbert famously coined the word “truthiness” to describe the belief that something is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.  If you want to see truthiness in action, check out the mindless assault on kinship care being waged by some lawmakers in Kansas. 

KCPQ-TV Seattle reports on another case of a “child abuse pediatrician” allegedly running amok – compounded by a family policing agency that allegedly violated state law allowing parents to get a second opinion, and then misled a court. 

And in CommonWealth Magazine, Michael Dsida, deputy chief counsel of the Children and Family Law Division at the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, writes about what’s really wrong with family policing in that state: 

Factoring in poverty, DCF removes children from their homes at one of the highest rates in the country. Regularly separating Massachusetts children from their families does not make them safer. After all, the vast majority of DCF cases are rooted in poverty, not physical or sexual abuse. Instead, by removing children from their homes, schools, and communities, DCF regularly causes severe harm to children.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Will truthiness triumph in Kansas?

It will if some lawmakers attacking kinship foster care get their way

A few months ago on this blog, I posed a hypothetical question to some folks in Oregon.  Now I’d like to pose the same question to some politicians – and some journalists – in Kansas: 

Suppose a couple of strangers kidnapped your child at birth and fled to Mexico.  Suppose they took really good care of your child.  Suppose a year, or two years, or three years later they came back.  Should they be allowed to keep your child? 

Of course not, you say? 

But wait.  The kidnappers took great care of your child.  They just figured they’d do a better job than you.  And now your child has bonded with them.  After all, the kidnappers are the only family your child has ever known!  

Still no?  Are you sure? 

Then why are Kansas lawmakers and their media allies backing a bill that would do essentially the same thing in foster care cases? 

Oh but this is different, you say.  When foster parents (especially white, middle-class foster parents) play the bonding card against birth parents or their extended family (who are more likely to be neither middle class nor white) the foster parents didn’t do anything illegal – in fact, the placement was authorized by a government agency, and the foster parents probably have the best of intentions. 

So what?  

If alleged bonding is superior to every other consideration and this child supposedly would be terribly harmed if moved from “the only family he’s ever known;” if such a move would be contrary to his “best interests,” why should that alleged harm be inflicted on a child just because, in the case of a kidnapping, the initial removal was illegal? 

I ask because, right now, in Kansas, the bonding card is being played do denigrate everything from sibling connections to choosing relatives over strangers when placing a foster child for adoption.

In fact, the research is overwhelming that when children really have to be placed in foster care or adopted, kinship foster care – placement with extended family or close family friends – is more stable and better for children’s well-being than what should properly be called “stranger care.”  Kinship placements also are safer, and kin are less likely to dope up foster children on potent psychiatric medication. 

That’s why federal law has a preference, albeit far too minimal a preference, for placing children with relatives. To receive federal foster care funds, states must 

consider giving preference to an adult relative over a nonrelated caregiver when determining a placement for a child, provided that the relative caregiver meets all relevant State child protection standards. 

In Kansas, when the state has terminated parental rights and the state is looking for an adoptive home, state law also has an extremely mild preference for kin.  Under current state law: 

the court shall give preference, to the extent that the court finds it is in the best interests of the child, first to granting such custody for adoption to a relative of the child and second to granting such custody to a person with whom the child has close emotional ties. [Emphasis added.] 

Even this mild preference has the all-purpose loophole “best interests of the child” – the most dangerous phrase in the child welfare lexicon since “best interests” is subject to the whims – and prejudices – of those making the decisions. 

But even this is more than some Kansas lawmakers can stomach. 

Notwithstanding the mass of research showing kinship placements are far more likely to be in “the best interests of the child,” they’re proposing to specifically downgrade kin, and give preference to stranger-care parents if the child has been in their physical custody  for more than two years, or for more than half the child’s lifetime -- or any other time the political employee in charge of the state family policing agency unilaterally decides this would be “in the best interests of the child.” 

Oh, and if, by some chance, the family police still dare to prefer a relative, the foster parents would be given power to go to court and demand they get the child instead.  If the court dared to say no, they’d have the right to appeal – thereby prolonging impermanence for the child while also making it easier to cite their own stalling as a reason not to take a child from “the only family he’s ever known.” 

In the real world … 

Here’s how this would play out in real life: Middle-class caseworkers take away poor people’s children and throw them into the homes of middle-class strangers – people the caseworkers can identify with.  They make little or no effort to find relatives.  If relatives do turn up, they find all sorts of excuses not to license them as foster parents (licensing requirements often involve middle-class creature comforts; relatives tend to be poor). The relatives spend months trying to meet those requirements.  Or the agency finds all sorts of other excuses to find the relatives unsuitable.  Or it’s months before relatives even find out the child is in foster care. 

Meanwhile, the agency, perhaps with the aid of the middle-class stranger-care parents, stalls and stalls and stalls.  So by the time the relatives meet the requirements and jump through any other hoops thrown in their way, so much time has passed that, well, you know how it is, right? The middle-class stranger-care parents are “the only family the children have ever known.”  So, under the proposed law, they would get to step right up and keep a poor person’s child for their very own. 

In fact, the law goes even further.  It would eliminate even the extremely mild preference for relatives in existing law at any point in the adoption process - even if the relatives are available and meet all agency criteria from the start.  If this bill becomes law, the slight preference that serves to make the playing field a little less unequal for impoverished kin when facing off against affluent strangers is wiped out from day one.  (This raises a question: Would this put Kansas in violation of the federal law cited above?) 

All of this would be bad enough in any state.  But this law is being proposed in Kansas, which, year
after year, tears apart families at
one of the highest rates in America – well over double the national average.  (It may be far worse; Kansas either violates federal regulations or exploits a loophole in federal regulations, depending on how you interpret the regs, to avoid counting a large number of placements.) 

In a state where the entire child welfare establishment has shown such profound hatred for overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite families who lose their children to foster care, “best interests” is little more than a euphemism for middle-class white privilege. 

Public radio weighs in 

And yet, here’s how KCUR Public Radio framed the story:  

The current law giving relatives a priority can mean taking a young child away from the foster parents who raised them, even when those foster parents want to adopt. 

Kansas lawmakers could change that. They worry that the current system may sometimes run counter to the child’s best interests and possibly traumatize children. 

In fact, the law would repeal any preference for relatives when they, too, want to adopt – and that framing assumes that adoption should be preferred over, for example, guardianship, which often is a better way to achieve permanence for children with relatives.  The law would privilege paper permanence over relational permanence. 

Oh, and if Kansas lawmakers really cared about not traumatizing children, they’d stop letting the family police take them away at such an obscene rate in the first place.  

As for that pesky research, the research that shows kinship placements almost always are the less traumatic option, KCUR gives it a quick mention, toward the very end of the story, in what journalists call the “To be sure…” grafs – as in, “To be sure, there is another side of the story that we don’t agree with so we’ll shove a couple of token sentences about it in here.” 

And, indeed, the to-be-sure grafs are quickly followed by 

Lawmakers and supporters of the proposed law acknowledge these facts, but they say each case is different and common sense needs to be applied. 

A preference for truthiness 

Common sense?  How is acknowledging research and ignoring its findings common sense?  In fact, it’s more like substituting for truth what Stephen Colbert famously called “truthiness” -- the belief that something is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.  In this case, backers of this bill are saying, in effect: I like white middle-class strangers better than impoverished relatives so my gut says it’s “common sense” to give them preference.  The truth is in the research, but truthiness says giving strangers preference is in children’s “best interest” – research be damned. 

And, of course, existing law already leaves judges ample flexibility to invoke the all-purpose mantra “best interests of the child” to ignore any preference for relatives. 

If the backers of this bill really believed that judges should simply be free to use their “common sense” then they would have proposed a law with no preference of any kind.  Instead, they privilege the privileged, equate common sense with their own middle-class sensibilities and tilt the balance away from what research says is truly in children’s best interests. 

Further indicating how desperate proponents are to flee from reality is the fact that the high-profile case that started this frenzy doesn’t even involve relatives seeking to care for a child.  It involves two competing sets of stranger-care parents.  One set of stranger-care parents is willing to keep four siblings together – which is what research suggests usually is best.  The other wants to keep a three-year-old, even if it means she won't  be united with siblings because these stranger-care parents are “the only family she’s ever known.”

Not only did Kansas politicians rush to take the side of the foster parents who would keep the siblings separate, somehow the politicians extrapolated from this case to support a bill that attacks any kinship preference for adult relatives who want to adopt! 

In Kansas, they’ve taken truthiness to a whole new level. 

To see just how much harm the white, middle-class version of “best interests of the child”  “common sense” and trying to play the bonding card can do to children of color – and why, for Native American families, it took a federal law to curb that harm, check out this outstanding story from Julia Lurie in Mother Jones.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 7, 2023

● The first item is one I missed when it was published last November. I link to it now because I am in awe of the work from Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel  Ken Armstrong of ProPublica that went into it and the skill required to tell this story.  Called simply, The Landlord and the Tenant  It’s a story about the failings of family policing, and so much more. 

● Speaking of great journalism, on The Imprint podcast Joe Shapiro of NPR discusses his investigation into states forcing families to pay ransom to family policing agencies to get their children back from foster care.  (The agencies call it “child support” but listen closely at 36:23 in, and you’ll hear Imprint editor John Kelly use the R-word :-))  The interview starts at 16:40 in. 

● Still another victory in the fight against computerized racial profiling (or as the family police prefer to call it “predictive analytics”) in child welfare: The Associated Press reports that Connecticut’s advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says that state needs more safeguards and transparency for such algorithms.  This comes on the heels of AP’s revelation that the most far-reaching – and most highly-touted – such algorithm of all, the one in Pittsburgh, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concerning possible bias against the disabled. 

Writing for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab, Dr. Mical Raz writes about the harm of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act: 

On this anniversary of ASFA, we should relieve ourselves of outdated notions of providing “new families” for children on an arbitrary timeline, and instead work to support families in creating communities in which all children can thrive.  

You can read the whole series of recent commentaries on the harm of ASFA here

● The Associated Press looks at states moving to bolster protections for Native American children in case the federal Indian Child Welfare Act is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Imprint reports on legislation in Washington State that would provide families with lawyers when faced with being coerced into placing children in “hidden foster care.”  The state family police agency is trying to “Yes, but…” the bill to death. 

● In Hawaii, Honolulu Civil Beat reports, the family police are using a variation on the technique – the “let’s have a study commission!” diversion. They're using it to try to derail legislation to simply require the family police (or any other police) to get a warrant before tearing a child from her or his family unless the child truly is in imminent danger. 

● In Arizona, two teenagers run away from their group home.  Two weeks later their bodies are found in a nearby pond.  The only “solution” the group home industry can come up with is lamenting the fact that they can’t lock kids in.  In this blog post, I suggest a better idea

● In Dayton, Ohio, a misdiagnosis of child abuse forced infants into foster care for nearly a year.  Now the family is suing. 

● And just in case anyone needs still another study documenting that reducing poverty reduces child “neglect,” here’s another study documenting that reducing poverty reduces child “neglect.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

NCCPR in The Imprint: No, “Neglect” Is Not a Gateway Allegation

Remember the great reefer madness scares in the late 20th Century? Maybe marijuana itself wasn’t so bad, it was said, but it’s a gateway drug! 

Now that people have finally caught on that much of what family policing agencies (a more accurate term than “child protective services” agencies) do is confuse poverty with neglect, the child welfare establishment has come up with a similar excuse to justify all that surveillance of impoverished families and removal of their children: Neglect, they suggest, is a gateway allegation. And that’s even worse. Because while a gateway drug, it was said, might lead people to worse in the future, a gateway allegation is a claim that something far worse has already happened to innocent children. 

Making that argument requires taking data out of context — either by presenting numbers without ratios or ratios without numbers. 

The out-of-context data make for good sound bites. Understanding why they’re so misleading requires a trip into the weeds. … 

If you want to take that trip, read the full column in The Imprint

Monday, February 6, 2023

The group home industry excuse machine leaps into action after still another tragedy

Two girls ran from a group home in Arizona.
Their bodies were found here.

On Jan. 7, two girls, one age 17, the other 15, ran away from a group home in Mesa Arizona. Two weeks later their bodies were found in a nearby pond. 

The only solution the operator of the group home can offer is to imply that such places should be able to be more like jails.  The lawyer for the group home said there was nothing they could do because they’re not allowed to lock young people in, but as soon as they left they called Arizona’s family police agency, the Department of Child Safety, to report them missing.  We don’t know what, if anything, DCS did. 

If that sounds familiar, it may be because it’s the same answer offered by the residential treatment industry and their media and government allies in Colorado, after similar tragedies there.  There also have been similar tragedies in Kentucky

It never seems to occur to the industry that if children keep running to the point where the only way to keep them in your institution is to lock them in, maybe the problem isn’t with the children but with the fact that you are institutionalizing them.  Or maybe it does occur to residential treatment “providers,” but to mention it would encourage people to draw the logical conclusion: that such places should be shut down. 

There are no allegations of abuse at the group home in Arizona, which opened about three months ago.  But the problem with institutionalizing children is that it is inherently abusive, inherently dehumanizing.  And an overwhelming body of research shows such places are not necessary.  Of course children want to run. 

And of course you’ll hear the usual excuses: There supposedly aren’t enough foster homes, or, to use the industry’s own offensive phrase, these children “blow out” of foster homes.  That’s just industry b.s. 

Arizona, Colorado, and Kentucky all tear apart children at rates well above the national average.  Stop doing that and there will be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for the few children who really do need to be taken from their parents.  Then provide wraparound services, in which birth families or foster families get all the help they need to care for children with behavioral problems.  There is nothing residential treatment can do that can’t be done better with wraparound programs. 

That’s what the residential treatment industry doesn’t want you to know. 

An “advocate for foster families” is no better 

Perhaps even more offensive are the comments from someone described as an advocate for foster families.  (I’ve yet to see a story that quotes an advocate for birth families.) 

The only solution she can come up with is, well, it’s not clear exactly what it is, but it seems to involve telling authorities that, after children run away, they have to start looking for them sooner.  She told Phoenix television station KNXV: 

“I do feel like there needs to be legislative changes, with some teeth behind it, some deliverables behind it, to ensure that for each and every child that goes missing that there are procedures that are being followed and adhered to. … This is the perfect opportunity to show that these girls did not die in vain. 

But if all the state of Arizona can come up with is some cruddy little piece of feel-good legislation (even if it does have “deliverables behind it”) it won’t just mean these girls died in vain.  It will be like spitting on their graves.