Friday, March 31, 2023

If it's April Fools, it must be Child Abuse Hype and Hysteria Month

  I've reprinted this post almost every year since 2010.  But for the past four years it's been especially relevant. You can be sure that this year, like last year and the year before and the year before that, the Astroturf fill-in-the-blanks op-eds that various advocacy groups send to their local chapters will be filled with references to an "epidemic" or a "pandemic" of child abuse - as though the moment white middle-class professionals can't have their "eyes" on poor children of color, their parents will rush to torture them.  This myth persists even though several national news organizations -- and multiple studies - have found that it's not true.  NCCPR has details here.

I hope that before pushing the send button on these generic submissions, people will at least have the decency to pause and think long and hard about just how racist that framing is. Precedent suggests, however, that they won’t.

In fact, given that the child welfare establishment has no shame, expect the usual op-eds to have token boilerplate statements about racial justice – even as they propose making a profoundly racist family policing system even bigger and more powerful.


Back in 2003, one of the groups most responsible for fomenting hype and hysteria about child abuse came remarkably close to admitting that they did just that – and that it had backfired. 

Rather like Dr. Frankenstein admitting he’d created a monster, in a 2003 Request for Proposals concerning how to improve their messaging, Prevent Child Abuse America wrote: 

While the establishment of a certain degree of public horror relative to the issue of child abuse and neglect was probably necessary in the early years to create public awareness of the issue, the resulting conceptual model adopted by the public has almost certainly become one of the largest barriers to advancing the issue further in terms of individual behavior change, societal solutions and policy priorities. 

In 2020, PCAA went further. They actually branded what they had done “health terrorism” – but refused to apologize for it. 

This is especially worth remembering as we begin “Child Abuse Awareness Month” – a month, which, appropriately starts on April Fools Day. 

So I’ve reprinted below our 2010 blog post on the topic – with some updates and links to newer data – since, unfortunately, aside from those data, nothing has changed. Because it's a lot easier to create a monster than to bring it under control.


Get ready for a seemingly endless stream of cookie-cutter news stories and Astroturf op-ed columns (the kind written by national groups with blanks to fill in to make them sound home-grown) touting "Child Abuse Awareness Month" – based on the bizarre premise that the American people are blissfully unaware of child abuse. 

There is something appropriate about the fact that "Child Abuse Awareness Month" starts on April Fool’s Day, since it involves fooling the public in order to push an agenda of hype and hysteria that obscures the real nature of the problem, and real solutions, in favor of approaches that only make a serious and real problem worse. Your typical Child Abuse Awareness month news story or op ed column follows a standard formula: 

1.  1. Take the most horrifying case to occur in your community over the past year, the more lurid the better.

2.   2. Jump immediately from that story to a gigantic number which actually is only the number of "reports" alleging any form of child maltreatment. Ignore the fact that the vast majority of those reports are false and most of the rest are nothing like the horror story. Rather, they often involve the confusion of poverty with neglect. Or…

3.   3.  Use only the total number of cases that caseworkers guess might be true, but call them "confirmed" giving the guesses, which are simply the opinion of a worker checking a box on a form, far more credibility than they deserve. A major federal study found that workers are two- to six-times more likely to wrongly label an innocent family guilty than to wrongly label real child abusers innocent.

4.   4. Pile hype onto hype by reasserting the racist, discredited COVID-19 “pandemic of child abuse” myth.

5.    5. Throw in huge lists of "symptoms" or "warning signs" that "might" be "signs" of child abuse – and might as easily be signs of any number of other things.

6.     6. Instruct us all that it is our duty to phone the local child abuse hotline with any suspicion of anything no matter how vague and how dubious – instead of advising us to report when we have "reasonable cause to suspect" maltreatment, the same standard often used in law to guide "mandated reporters."  

      7. Remind us that we are welcome to call the hotline anonymously – thereby encouraging those who want to harass an ex-spouse, a neighbor or anyone else against whom they may have a grudge to go right ahead, secure in the knowledge that they'll never get caught because they can conceal their identity. 

It all comes from the same ends-justify-the-means health terrorism mentality behind, for example an egregiously-misleading report published by the group that calls itself Every Child Matters – the mentality that says: What's a little distortion and exaggeration in the name of a good cause? 

In fact, such distortion and exaggeration can do enormous harm to children.  

Hotlines wind up with more false reports and trivial cases; children are harassed and traumatized by needless child abuse investigations – often including stripsearches as caseworkers look for bruises - and some of those children are forced needlessly into foster care. The caseworkers wind up even more overloaded by these false allegations, so they have even less time to find children in real danger.  

Reality check 

NCCPR has some resources on our website for any journalists and others interested in putting all this into context, countering the hype and hysteria and pressing for real solutions: 

·        -- Issue papers on Understanding Child Abuse Numbers and False Allegations: What the Data Really Show

·        -- Our Solutions pages, Doing Child Welfare Right and our Due Process Agenda.

·        -- Our presentation on how to really prevent child abuse: take a social justice approach instead of a public health approach.

If the people behind "Child Abuse Awareness Month"  (also known as "Child Abuse Prevention Month") really want to prevent "child abuse" then how about campaigning to ameliorate the worst effects of poverty.  

Poverty increases the stress that can lead to actual abuse and, as noted above, poverty itself often is confused with "neglect."  This can be seen by the fact that study after study shows even small increases in income significantly reduce what child welfare systems call "neglect."

The problem of child abuse is serious and real, but the solutions have been phony. The distortion and exaggeration that typify child abuse "awareness" campaigns only promote phony solutions and make those serious, real problems even worse.

If only there were a Statistics Abuse Prevention Month.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending March 29, 2023

● Jimmie Garland, president of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the NAACP had this to say about the Black children needlessly torn from their family after a traffic stop that was, itself, questionable. 

As Tennessee Lookout reports, Garland: 

called the situation reminiscent of driving trips through Southern states that he took as a child in the 1960s when Black families feared being unjustly detained by police, accosted by residents and could not enter restaurants or motels. 

“I’m 73 now. Back then we wouldn’t travel if we couldn’t do it in eight hours. When I think what happened back then and what’s happening in 2023, it’s the same scenario. The bottom line is this is because they were driving while black. Instead of Tennessee going forward, it’s going backward,” he said. 

And see also, context for this case from Dorothy Roberts in Reckon

“They Really Wanted to See My Baby Get Taken Away.” That’s the headline on a New York Magazine story about a hospital that allegedly went to astounding lengths to secretly test a mother for drugs, and then report her to the family police because she tested positive for marijuana. 

● Something similar happened in Virginia.  WSLS-TV reports that children were taken and their mother was “set up for failure” by a family police agency that made reunification “impossible to achieve for the mother.”  Who says so? The state’s Office of Children’s Ombudsman. 

Law 360 sums it up perfectly:

 As New York City schools shuttered and people went into lockdown amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, city officials expected that having more children stuck at home would mean more children suffering abuse or neglect — but they were proven wrong. 

● Back in 2021 ProPublica exposed the diversion of federal funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a program intended to help poor people become self-supporting, into a family policing slush fund, with money used to investigate those same families and take away their children.  That story focused on Arizona, which probably has the worst such record in the nation.   But surely that wouldn’t happen in progressive New York City, where the family police agency is constantly talking about how much it wants to keep families together, right?  Wanna bet? Check out Nora McCarthy’s latest column for The Imprint. 

● That diversion continues despite the fact that it seems as though every week there's another study documenting that putting more funds in to curbing poverty significantly reduces what family policing agencies call "neglect." This week is no exception.

Honolulu Civil Beat reports that the Hawaii Legislature failed to pass laws to provide the most minimal due process protections for families when the family police knock on the door.  As we explained in the story: It’s not easy to counter 50 years of “health terrorism” – the misrepresentation of the true nature and scope of a problem in the name of “raising awareness.” 

● One of the reasons Minnesota has been unable to curb child abuse deaths is because Minnesota tears apart families at one of the highest rates in the nation.  I discuss this in a column for the Brainerd Dispatch. 

And finally: two items about family defense: 

The Imprint interviews Tehra Coles, the new director of New York’s Center for Family Representation. 

● And, what do you know? Harvard Law School now has a family defense clinic!

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Highlights from a special issue of Family Court Review

In addition to our regular news round-up, which will be posted later in the week, I want to highlight several excellent articles in a special issue of Family Court Review

● Vivek Sankaran and Christopher Church turn the current “master narrative” about securing “permanency” for children on its head.  That false narrative, pushed hardest by those who hate birth parents (and yes, that’s the right word) claims that only adoption guarantees a truly permanent home for a child removed from her or his parents. 

Sankaran and Church show that is false in every respect.  Partly that’s because adoptions sometimes fail.  As Sankaran and Church point out: 

any public reporting of the number of adopted children who once again enter foster care is likely an underestimate. Even with these limited data, a recent study found that more than 66,000 adopted children ended up back in foster care between 2008 to 2020, an average of 12 a day. 

Equally disturbing: 

[O]ne survey showed that only 41% of children over six adopted out of foster care expressed having a very warm and close relationship with their adoptive parent … Often, in the words of researcher Monique Mitchell, “they are grieving the loss of their identities and their role within their psychological family.” So they experience feelings of fear, anger, abandonment, shame, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. 

In contrast, a status known as guardianship does not require such a trade-off.  Guardianship, typically with a relative or close family friend, is as legally secure as adoption and just as stable.  But it doesn’t require children to sever all ties with parents and sometimes with siblings, extended family and community as well.  They also take less time to achieve than adoptions. So in many cases, they are a better and a faster route to “permanency.”  

And that gives away the game: Those who equate permanency with adoption only (and you’ll notice those advocates are disproportionately white and middle-class) aren’t really interested in permanency.  They’re interested in getting overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite children into homes that most closely resemble their own, no matter what the cost. 

Also in Family Court Review: 

● In an essay called “Why abolition” Dorothy Roberts explains “not only how the family policing system harms children, but also why abolishing it is essential to keep children safe.”

● The tragedy of needless termination of parental rights, adoption failure and legal orphans – children who “age out” of foster care with no home at all -- all were worsened by the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  Shanta Trivedi explains why “The adoption and safe families act is not worth saving: The case for repeal.” 

● Even with ASFA in place, judges have a lot of discretion. Too often when the family police seek to tear a child from parents (or after they’ve already just gone ahead and done it) and when they seek to terminate children’s rights to their parents, judges wield rubber stamps instead of gavels.  Angela Olivia Burton and Joyce McMillan explain “How judges can use their discretion to combat Anti-Black racism in the United Statesfamily policing system.”   

● Five women, all affiliated with the parent-led, community-based organization Rise discuss their experiences: Still, we rise: Lessons learned from lived experiences in the family policing system

● And Daniel Hatcher exposes the seemingly endless ways that various government agencies have found to make poor families miserable. He calls it "Commodified inequality: Racialized harm to children and families in theinjustice enterprise."

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending May 21, 2023

● What happens when the racism of policing joins forces with the racism of family policing?  Read this harrowing account from Tennessee Lookout.  And here’s the latest update.  What was done to this family is so harrowing that the Tennessee family police responded immediately – by seeking to prosecute the family and their lawyers for daring to tell their story!  So remember, if you share the story, like this, for example,  the Tennessee family police agency will be very, very unhappy. 

● The Associated Press tells the heartbreaking story of a family that may have been torn apart because the parents are disabled – and because of Pittsburgh’s notorious child welfare predictive analytics algorithm.  From the story: 

The Hackneys, who have developmental disabilities, are struggling to understand how taking their daughter to the hospital when she refused to eat could be seen as so neglectful that she’d need to be taken from her home. 

They wonder if an artificial intelligence tool that the Allegheny County Department of Human Services uses to predict which children could be at risk of harm singled them out because of their disabilities. 

The U.S. Justice Department is asking the same question. … 

The story also reveals that it isn’t just families who don’t know what’s in the algorithms that can destroy them.  In some places, even the people taking the children don’t know why the algorithm labeled the family high-risk. 

The story discusses this new report from the American Civil Liberties Union.  For anyone who still believes the process of developing these algorithms is a matter of pristine application of science – be sure to check out the “smoking footnote.” 

● An algorithm is only as unbiased as the people who write it.  The co-author of the Allegheny County algorithm, Emily Putnam-Hornstein, has a disturbing track record.  She’s even part of a group that rushed to defend a self-proclaimed “race realist” law professor beloved by Tucker Carlson.  I have a post about it on this blog

Youth Today reports on how, yet again, an in-depth analysis of data debunks all those claims that, in the absence of mandated reporters, COVID-19 would set off a “pandemic of child abuse.”  The authors found that the real lesson is that New York, which takes away children at a lower rate than most places, still is taking away too many. Most notable is who wrote the latest paper: The lawyers who represent children in “child welfare” cases in New York City.  The New York Times also has a story

● And speaking of mandatory reporting:  I took the new, improved mandatory reporter training course that New York State just started using.  It’s significantly less awful than anything else I’ve seen but still has serious problems.  I wrote about it for Youth Today. 

● At SXSW, Roxanna Asgarian moderated a panel that included Prof. Dorothy Roberts, Author of Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families--and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World, Nancy Marie Spears of The Imprint and Lexi McMenamin of Teen Vogue.  Here’s the audio. 

● Thanks largely to excellent reporting by NPR and The Marshall Project, states are beginning to stop, or at least curb, the practice of family police agencies swiping foster youth’s Social Security disability and survivor benefits.  (Yes, they really do that.) The Imprint has a round-up of legislative changes

● And in Texas, The Imprint reports, proposed legislation would curb “hidden foster care” – starting with a requirement that the state report how many such children are taken that way.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

NCCPR in Youth Today: New York’s mandatory reporter training wants to have it both ways. That’s an improvement.

Long ago, when I was a reporter in Albany, New York, I was approached by a colleague who covered health. He was about to cover a training session for health professionals required to report any suspicion of child abuse and neglect under New York’s “mandatory reporting” law. Knowing I’d just written a book on the failures of the “child welfare” system, he asked for suggestions for questions to ask the trainers. I suggested he ask whether, in addition to telling medical professionals what to report, they also taught them what not to report. 

When he returned, he said he did indeed ask, but “they didn’t understand the question.” The idea of actually explaining to a mandated reporter when not to report was incomprehensible to the trainers. By and large, across the country, that’s still true. But in New York, at long last, they’re learning. 

I just took New York’s new online mandated reporter training course. It is significantly less awful than anything I’ve seen before. It actually does attempt to teach when to report and when not to report. But it still has serious flaws … 

Read the full column in Youth Today

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Guess which child welfare “scholars” are in the group defending a “race realist” law professor beloved by Tucker Carlson

Self-proclaimed "race realist" law professor Amy Wax having a friendly chat with election denier Tucker Carlson

Prof. Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School is quite a piece of work.  The school’s Dean, Theodore Ruger, has written a letter urging the University to consider imposing a “major sanction” against the self-proclaimed “race realist.” 

I’ll go into some of what Wax is accused of saying – and some of what she has unquestionably said – in a moment.  But I should explain at the top why this commentary is on a blog about the “child welfare” system. 

Wax’s most strident defenders include a group called the Academic Freedom Alliance.  AFA’s members include some of the most strident supporters of tearing apart more families and some of those deepest in denial about racism in child welfare.  

AFA members include Emily Putnam-Hornstein, America’s foremost evangelist for the use of predictive analytics in family policing (a more accurate term than “child welfare”) and someone who has gone out of her way to ridicule the work of a Black activist in the field. They also include Prof. Sarah Font, who issued a publication with a graphic labeling anyone accused of child abuse a “perpetrator” – even after they’re found innocent.  She also condemned the Indian Child Welfare Act.  

Font and Putnam-Hornstein have been brought in by that other bastion of the child welfare establishment, Chapin Hall, to advise them on a study that amounts to a whitewash of abuse in foster care. 

A founding member of AFA, Elizabeth Bartholet, is also the leader of child welfare’s caucus of denial concerning racism in child welfare. 

All three signed a paper (with Font as the lead author) calling for a massive increase in surveillance of poor families by family police even when they are not accused of abuse or neglect. 

As The New York Times reports, AFA sent a letter to University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Magill denouncing the call to investigate Wax and demanding that any and all attempts to discipline her cease.  Indeed, they are demanding the issuance and publicizing of “a complete exoneration of Amy Wax for her multiple exercises of academic freedom both in her teaching and public statements.” (There are links to Ruger’s letter and the AFA letter in the Times story.) 

Amy Wax’s “race realist” vision 

So now, some highlights from the work of Amy Wax: 

The Times cites comments the self-proclaimed “race realist” made while appearing on Tucker Carlson’s program on Fox Nation (which is like Fox News but without its subtlety and nuance). According to the Times, Wax 

said “American Blacks” and people from non-Western countries feel shame for the “outsized achievements and contributions” of Western people.
Wax appeared with Carlson in 2022, well after Carlson began spreading lies about the 2020 election and lies about the Jan. 6 insurrection that followed.  None of that deterred Wax.  The Times story continues: 

On a recent podcast, she said, “I often chuckle at the ads on TV which show a Black man married to a white woman in an upper-class picket-fence house,” she said, adding, “They never show Blacks the way they really are: a bunch of single moms with a bunch of guys who float in and out. Kids by different men.”… 

Here, from Ruger’s letter, are some more examples: 

• Stating, based on misleading citation of other sources, that “women, on average, are less knowledgeable than men,” women are “less intellectual than men” and there is “some evidence” for the proposition that “men and women differ in cognitive ability.” 

• Stating that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” 

• Stating that Blacks have “different average IQs” than non-Blacks, could “not be evenly distributed through all occupations,” and that such a phenomenon would not be “due to racism.” 

• Stating that Asians have an “indifference to liberty,” lack “thoughtful and audaciousindividualism” and that “the United States is better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration.” 

• Stating that immigrants with “Brown faces, Asian faces . . . feel anger, envy, and shame,”and expressing her disbelief that they would criticize the United States when “on some level, their country is a s---hole.” 

• Stating that “there were some very smart Jews” among her past students but that Ashkenazi Jews are “diluting [their] brand like crazy because [they are] intermarrying.”

 • Stating that low-income students may cause “reverse contagion,” infecting more “capable and sophisticated” students with their “delinquency and rule-breaking.” 

• Stating that “if you go into medical schools, you’ll see that Indians, South Asians are now rising stars. . . . [T]hese diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are poisoning the scientific establishment and the medical establishment now.” 

The Times discussion of academic freedom does not discuss a concomitant responsibility: academic.  But according to Ruger, Wax 

relies on outdated science, makes statements grounded in insufficiently supported generalizations, and trades on the University’s reputation to amplify her baseless disdain for many members of the University community. … When challenged regarding her unsupported and uncited claim that communities that are “more diverse” litter more, she responded that “[s]ociologists don’t study this stuff,” when in fact there are multiple studies on the topic. … Wax proclaimed that “there is essentially no science being done in a place like Malaysia. No science, no technology coming out.” This is patently false.

What Wax allegedly said to her students

 AFA and Wax’s other defenders say that, as a tenured professor, she should be free to go on whatever “race realist” rants she chooses without fear of consequences concerning her employment. 

But Wax also allegedly has made belittling, racist comments to her students.  From the Times: 

[A] Black law student who had attended UPenn and Yale said that the professor told her she “had only become a double Ivy ‘because of affirmative action,’” according to the administration. 

The complaint filed by Ruger lists more allegations: 

Emailing a Black student, that “[i]f blacks really and sincerely wanted to be equal, they would make a lot of changes in their own conduct and communities.” 

• Stating in class that people of color needed to stop acting entitled to remedies, to stop getting pregnant, to get better jobs, and to be more focused on reciprocity. 

• Stating in class that Mexican men are more likely to assault women and remarking such a stereotype was accurate in the same way as “Germans are punctual.” 

• Commenting in class that gay couples are not fit to raise children …  

• Commenting after a series of students with foreign-sounding names introduced themselves that one student was “finally, an American” adding, “it’s a good thing, trust me.” 

Wax denies saying anything belittling or racist to students. But the Times reports that even another group that supports her suggested hers was a borderline case: 

Professor Wax is a test case of academic freedom, “right up on the line,” said Alex Morey, the director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression [FIRE]. But, she said, “We have not seen any evidence that it crosses the line.” 

But is the line always bright and clear?  When a professor says Black people are cognitively inferior, nonwhite immigrants come from “s---holes” and that they are only in her classroom because of affirmative action, how can she be trusted to treat all students fairly and equally?  If even some of her defenders concede it would be wrong for her to tell her own students to their faces that they are cognitively inferior, come from “s---holes” and are only in her classroom because of affirmative action, why is it ok retain a tenured professorship after saying the same things about them using someone like Tucker Carlson has an intermediary? 

While FIRE might concede that a line might exist, even if they don’t think Wax crossed it, the letter
from AFA expresses no qualms about Wax’s statements at all.  It doesn’t even offer up the Voltaire defense:  You know, the quote attributed (
probably wrongly) to Voltaire which goes: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  

So one might expect AFA’s letter to begin with something like: “Make no mistake. We are appalled by Prof. Wax’s repugnant views and her actions, and we want to make clear in the strongest possible terms that we do not share them.  Nevertheless …” 

But no such statement appears.  The AFA letter contains not one word disapproving of what Amy Wax says amid the 1,109 words defending her right to say it.  And, as noted earlier, AFA is demanding “a complete exoneration” of Wax for what she has said “both in her teaching and public statements.” 

The letter is signed by the co-chairs of AFA’s Academic Committee.  There is nothing to indicate that Bartholet, Font or Putnam-Hornstein were involved in drafting it or even read it.  But it speaks volumes about all three that they are part of a group that would rush to defend the right of a self-proclaimed “race realist” to spew venom without one word of criticism concerning the venom she spews. 

It’s also unsurprising. 

Putnam-Hornstein’s most celebrated predictive analytics algorithm, the one in Pittsburgh was launched after stacking the deck on evaluations and ethics reviews.  When, finally, independent researchers got to evaluate it they found racial bias.  That same algorithm now is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible discrimination against disabled families.  A just-published Associated Press story and an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union make clear just how much havoc the Pittsburgh algorithm can cause. 

As for taking away children, Putnam-Hornstein has said "it is possible we don’t place enough children in foster care or early enough.”  And, taking an approach I suspect Wax would like, Putnam-Hornstein has gone out of her way to ridicule the work of a Black activist. 

As noted above, Sarah Font has condemned the Indian Child Welfare Act and claimed that families have too much due process when faced with the vast power of child protective services. 

Bartholet has made a career out of denying that there is racial bias in child welfare, proposing mandatory family police surveillance of every family with young children and calling for changes that would require taking millions of children from their families.  (But apparently, she’ll compromise. The document she signed with Putnam-Hornstein and Font only suggests requiring that people reapplying for public benefits be forced to produce their children for family police inspection if they are not otherwise seen by a mandated reporter of child abuse.) 

So it’s no wonder Putnam-Hornstein, Font and Bartholet joined – in Bartholet’s case co-founded -- a group that felt one of its highest priorities should be to rush to the defense of Amy Wax. 

Yet Chapin Hall has turned to Font and Putnam-Hornstein to advise them on that stacked-deck study of abuse in foster care – a study whose methodology guarantees that such abuse will be minimized. 

Chapin Hall should have the decency to dismiss Font and Putnam-Hornstein from their advisory board immediately – and to tell another advisory board for their “study,” a board made up of young people with lived experience in foster care -- why Font and Putnam-Hornstein were such a bad choice in the first place.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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

● I’ll begin by repeating my favorite paragraph among all the rave reviews for Roxanna Asgarian’s book, We Were Once a Family.  This is from The New York Times: 

 "[Asgarian] knows that abolishing #fostercare as it’s currently practiced might sound not only undesirable but almost inconceivable to many people — myself among them, at least before the book unsettled some of my assumptions ..." [Emphasis added.] 
Links to this review, reviews in The Washington Post and The New Yorker, and more are on this blog here.  And see also an excerpt from the book in The Texas Tribune.

There are more good books on the way: 

● NYU Press will publish Prof. Jane Spinak’s book, The End of Family Court: How Abolishing the Court Brings Justice to Children and Families on August 1.  If you use the code SPINAK30-FM at checkout, you can get 30% off.  

● In September, Princeton University Press will publish Prof. Kelley Fong’s book, Investigating Families: Motherhood in the Shadow of Child Protective Services. 

 In other news:

● With the federal Indian Child Welfare Act under threat at the Supreme Court, The Imprint reports that Minnesota is the latest state to strengthen its own statute concerning the rights of Native American children to live with their own families.  As the story explains: 

The stakes are particularly high for these families in Minnesota — which encompasses 11 federally recognized tribes. The state has the ignoble distinction of having the highest rate in the nation of separating Indigenous children from their families. Native American children in Minnesota are 16 times more likely than white children to be removed from their homes, according to state data. 

● At least ten other states have strengthened protections for Native families or are considering doing so.  Wyoming is one of them.   But KELO-TV reports, South Dakota is not.  Given that state’s history, as reported more than a decade ago by NPR, that’s not surprising. 

● Canada has a similarly ugly history when it comes to child welfare and Canada’s First Nations. Canada has done more than the United States to face up to it.  But, as a new lawsuit documents, not nearly enough.  As CBC News reports, that suit calls the modern Canadian family policing system "the next round of cultural genocide and discrimination toward First Nations." 

● Two big new studies, one in JAMA Open and one in Academic Pediatrics examine who gets drug tested in hospitals and who doesn’t.  It’s who you think. 

● The problem is bad enough when the drug tests are accurate. It may be compounded if your state is using a company that allegedly cuts corners, leading to an alarming rate of false positives.  KSL-TV reports that Utah is cutting ties with a company accused of just that.  But only after the television station exposed the problem. 

● In San Diego, Arabella McCormack and her sisters were taken from their mother not because she abused them, but because they witnessed domestic violence.  They were placed with foster parents who adopted them.  That’s where Arabella died.  As KNSD-TV reports: 

 Prosecutors say she was severely malnourished, weighing just 48 pounds at the time. They also say her body was covered in bruises and doctors found 15 still-healing bone fractures. 

Arabella’s mother is suing – and still fighting for the return of Arabella’s sisters, who remain in foster care. 

● In Massachusetts, which tears apart children at a rate 60% above the national average, a state that has been an outlier for decades, and a state where the “Child Advocate” appears determined to make that record worse, NBC10 Boston reports on a lawsuit alleging that horrific abuse in a state-licensed foster home was ignored for years.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

A new book unsettles assumptions about “child welfare” foster care and adoption


You probably remember the story: White adoptive parents of six black children drive themselves and the children off a cliff, killing them all.  That may be all you remember, and perhaps wondering what would drive such a noble couple to such despair.  After all, they rescued these children from their terrible parents, didn’t they? 

That was the story most reporters told, without asking any tough questions. 

But one reporter explored the lives of the children and their families.  She found children who not only never should have been placed with the adoptive parents who killed them; they never needed to be placed with strangers at all. 

Reporter Roxanna Asgarian tells the full story in what the Washington Post calls “[a] bracing gut punch of a book,” We Were Once a Family.  It is a book likely to be talked about in the same breath as masterpieces such as Nina Bernstein’s The Lost Children of Wilder and Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child.

The best testament to this book’s power comes in a review by Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times:

 "[Asgarian] knows that abolishing #fostercare as it’s currently practiced might sound not only undesirable but almost inconceivable to many people — myself among them, at least before the book unsettled some of my assumptions ..." [Emphasis added.] 

See also: 

The review in The New Yorker 

The review in Publisher’s Weekly 

The review on NPR.

The review in The Imprint

Asgarian’s interview with the Los Angeles Times

Asgarian's interview with The Imprint podcast.

An excerpt from the book in The Texas Tribune.

 And after that, you can sign up for Asgarian’s April 6 book talk with the upEND Movement at the University of Houston (it’s both in person and livestreamed). 

But only if you’re ready to have some of your assumptions unsettled.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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

● “When my kids were growing up, they weren’t afraid of the bogeyman. They were afraid of social services,” a parent with disabilities (one of the groups most vulnerable to family policing), told The Colorado Sun. “People don’t think about how traumatic these investigations are for kids.” 

The comment is part of an in-depth examination of mandatory child abuse reporting laws in Colorado – which are pretty much like the laws everywhere else.  It is the most thorough, most nuanced story I’ve seen on this topic anywhere in the country. 

● In still another illustration of the enormous harm of mandatory reporting, a new study confirms earlier research.  The study finds that “fear of state punishment – in this case fear of child removal is a key factor in not only if, but how and where Black women access maternity and pediatric care.” [emphasis in original.] 

As it happens the first case example perfectly illustrates the enormous harm that can be done by questionnaires like the one on “adverse childhood experiences” being administered by doctors to poor women in California without informed consent.  

● Another key problem with child abuse reporting: allowing people to report with total anonymity.  That, too, is under scrutiny in Colorado.  KDVR-TV reports on a bill that would replace anonymous reporting with confidential reporting. 

● On this Blog: How the governor of Arizona caved-in to pressure from extremist lawmakers and fired the first Black director of the state family policing agency just weeks after hiring him; how the group home industry tried to cash in and how, in a state which tears apart families at a rate 75% above the national average and has an abysmal record on racial bias, the governor’s new choice for the job promises not to do “anything radical.”  By the way, Arizona media missed the real story.  Only ProPublica got it right.

● If you missed the webinar on the enormous harm done by the so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, you can see it here: 

● In Ms. Melody Webb, executive director and founder of the Mother’s Outreach Network writes about how the best “child abuse” prevention program is a guaranteed income: 

Through Mother’s Outreach Network, I’ve met mothers who are forced to choose between working several jobs to provide for their child or getting to spend time at home with them. I’ve  (nmet mothers struggling to find stable housing and employment after their names were permanently placed on the child protection register, despite the fact that their cases ended with them keeping their children in the home. Too often, the system has charged parents of neglect without pausing for a second to consider the role that poverty plays in these situations. 

● With the Indian Child Welfare Act facing a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, The Imprint reports that “a new think tank has formed to advance legal and political strategies to protect tribal sovereignty.” 

● On those rare occasions when children really must be taken from their parents, the least harmful option, by far, almost always is kinship foster care – placement with relatives or close family friends.  But foster care licensing standards often are geared to middle-class creature comforts.  Since most children torn from their parents are poor, kinship foster parents also are more likely to be poor, and unable to meet these arbitrary requirements, unrelated to health or safety.  The federal government is, at long last, proposing to change that, and several national organizations have announced a plan to help.

● Is there a state where so-called “child abuse pediatricians” aren’t allegedly out of control? The latest expose, called “Shaky Science, Fractured Families,” is from Mississippi Today.  Perhaps even more interesting than the behavior of the state’s only child abuse pediatrician is what happens when some child abuse pediatricians get together at conferences.  Consider how they treat some diagnoses that others in the scientific community question: 

At one conference on shaken baby syndrome and abusive head trauma, a speaker presented defense expert testimony alongside a picture of Pinocchio. The event concluded with doctors and prosecutors singing a song mocking skeptics of the diagnosis to the tune of, “If I only had a brain.” 

● And in Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reports, a family police caseworker “accused of lying to remove children from a home has agreed to a $6 million settlement with the family she separated.”  But she says the state should foot the bill because, she says, everything she did was “the result of instructions she received from others and that the State is ultimately responsible” for the child’s removal.”

Friday, March 3, 2023

UPDATE:Arizona group home industry tries to take advantage of ouster of the first Black director of the state’s “child welfare” agency.

Hobbs doesn’t go as far as they want, but, for an agency in desperate need of radical change, she chooses someone who promises NOT to do “anything radical.”

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The recap:

 In a previous post to this blog, I wrote about a huge cave-in by Arizona’s Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.  She apparently surrenderedto pressure from an extremist Republican legislator, State Sen. Jake Hoffman, and fired Matthew Stewart.  Stewart was, very briefly, the first Black director of the state family police agency, the Department of Child Safety.  Stewart fired him less than two months after appointing him. 

Stewart had not been confirmed, and Hoffman chairs the committee that would have held the confirmation hearing. 

I wrote about how this was not only a political failure but also a media failure. Arizona media cut-and-pasted Hoffman’s false allegations against Stewart, with no context for either what was alleged or who was alleging it.  The allegations came from a legislator so extreme he was banned from some social media spaces for running a “troll factory.”  Oh, and he’s an election denier – he refuses to even acknowledge that Hobbs is really the governor!  I only know this because ProPublica published a story with the context Arizona media left out.

 Here's what’s new, part one:

 While still failing to provide this context, the Arizona Republic did advance the story a little on Thursday.  They published a story raising questions about whether Stewart was the victim of a campaign by the state’s group home industry.

 The Republic reports that three days after Hobbs fired Stewart, she received a letter from “numerous group home operators” urging her to reinstate Mike Faust, who ran DCS under former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Hoffman promptly echoed that call, citing the group home industry letter.

 It’s no wonder they’re so fond of Faust.  Congregate care – group homes and institutions -- is, by far, the worst option for children.  Among all forms of foster care group homes and institutions have the worst record for abusing children in their“care.”  As the Republic story points out: “Under [Faust’s] watch, there were safety issues at several group homes, including last fall, when a foster youth was fatally shot.”  I wrote about another example of Arizona group home failure just last month.

 But even when residents are not physically or sexually abused, group home and institutional care is so inherently harmful that pressure has been growing across the country to get rid of them.  But Arizona lags way behind. The state institutionalizes children at a rate 50% above the national average.  So clearly, the Arizona group home industry had a lot to lose when Hobbs named Stewart, a reformer dedicated to doing more to keep families together, to run DCS.

 The letter from the group home industry came three days after Stewart was fired, so we don’t know if they were urging Hoffman to attack Stewart all along, or if they just saw their opportunity and they took it.

 Responding to Hoffman’s call to bring back Faust, a spokesman for Gov. Hobbs declared that "We won't be taking direction from Hoffman.”  That would be a lot more convincing if they had never thrown Matthew Stewart under the bus in the first place.

Here's what’s new, part two:

While Hobbs did not go as far as the group home industry wanted, she has now made a choice to head the agency that almost guarantees no real change.  Indeed, her choice to run DCS has already promised as much.

Hobbs chose David Lujan, the current head of a group that did an enormous amount to create the current crisis in Arizona child welfare – the so-called “Children’s Action Alliance.”   Even though Arizona tears apart families at a rate 75% above the national average and has one of the nation’s worst records for racial bias, Lujan told the Arizona Republic he plans to assure lawmakers that “I'm not looking to do anything radical at this agency.”

That’s not surprising.

To understand just how much harm the Children’s Action Alliance has done, we need to go back a long way, to another failure by an Arizona governor.  As I explained in what turned out to be a way-too-optimistic op-ed column for the Arizona Republic:  It was January 2003.  High-profile child abuse deaths in cases “known-to-the-system” were front-page news and the new governor, Janet Napolitano, had fallen for the Big Lie of American child welfare: that child removal equals child safety. So within days of taking office, she was greeted with wild applause when she told a child welfare conference, “Err on the side of protecting the child, and we’ll sort it out later.”

Speaker after speaker echoed her call.  They set off a foster-care panic, a sharp sudden increase in children torn from their homes.  But Arizona still hasn’t sorted it out.  The panic has never stopped.

I bring this up now because the 2003 conference in question was organized by the Children’s Action Alliance.  Like many such groups, they do good work on issues like education, health care, etc.  But when it comes to “child welfare,” they have long been the leading voice for a take-the-child-and-run approach.

In Arizona, year after year, CAA threw gasoline on the fires of foster-care panic.  Do a search for “Children’s Action Alliance” in our 2007 report on Arizona child welfare, and you’ll find one inflammatory quote after another.

CAA has never apologized, never taken responsibility for the chaos it helped to unleash and the families it helped to destroy.  Instead, it is one more group engaging in reputation laundering.  So their current child welfare agenda uses what has become the standard buzz phrase that once had real meaning but now has been co-opted to the point that it tells you when a group doesn’t really want to change anything: “child and family well-being system.”  That means: go through the performance art of pretending to consult communities, add on a few more “preventive services” – but call for nothing that would actually curb the power of the family police.

And sure enough, CAA’s child welfare agenda has not one specific proposal to curb entries into care, and nothing that would curb the vast power of DCS.  Mostly their agenda involves “fixing” foster care.  So when Lujan promises not to do anything radical, we can all take him at his word.

So can we expect change when David Lujan starts running DCS?  Sure.  Caseworkers will have to keep their “professional kidnapper” T-shirts hidden.

A postscript

Arizona media continue to disappoint: The three stories I read about Lujan's appointment all repeat the allegations against Stewart, none includes his response and the other context provided by ProPublica.