Tuesday, April 25, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 25, 2023

● The child needlessly taken, within days of birth, from a Black family in Texas has been returned home – after having been separated from her family for some of the most important days of her life, her first.  The 19th has an update.  And here’s their original story, which shows how the case lives at the intersection of two types of bias. 

● As WBTV shows in this tragic case, sometimes it takes a whole lot longer For a family to be reunited.  And if it takes long enough, you can bet someone will try to prevent it by playing the bonding card

● Americans find that appalling – when it happens in other countries.  But sometimes, it seems, the worst foreign leaders are simply using the U.S. child welfare establishment playbook.  Here’s a case in point. 

● And then there are the times when the foster child doesn’t live long enough to be reunified.  Reason has an update on one such case in Arizona. 

● A lawsuit accused a politically-connected Indiana “residential treatment center” of being rife with sexual abuse.  As the Indianapolis Star reports: 

A psychologist’s report prepared for the lawsuit said [the center] “showed deliberate indifference” to the rampant sexual abuse of young boys, interfered with the ability of residents and staff to report to DCS, and “emboldened sexual predators.” 

The center denied the charges and the lawsuit was settled.  But the center wasn’t done.  Now they’re pushing for a state law granting them immunity from future lawsuits.  The Star reports that 

Under the legislation, immunity would apply to most liability claims, including wrongful death, negligence, malpractice, battery and infliction of emotional distress. There are exclusions for criminal offenses, gross negligence and willful or wanton misconduct, but those cases are rare and much more difficult to prove.

UPDATE, APRIL 27: As a result of the Star's revelations, the bill was withdrawn. 

● In criminal justice cases that involve the death penalty, the accused is entitled to a lawyer.  The accused also is entitled to a lawyer for an appeal.  Too obvious to even mention?  Perhaps.  But when it comes to family policing’s death penalty – termination of children’s rights to their parents – there’s no such guarantee.  The Imprint reports on efforts to change that in Minnesota. 

● Also in The Imprint, a Native American grandmother writes about “Why I’m fighting for the Indian Child Welfare Act.” 

● In Florida, WFTS-TV reports, there’s still another lawsuit alleging horrific abuse in foster care – abuse allegedly ignored by the state family policing agency.  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, in Florida neither is unusual

● And yes, there’s still another study out showing that a little bit of extra cash significantly reduces what family police agencies label as abuse or neglect.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Look who’s embraced US “best practice” in “child welfare”!

Yes, it’s this guy:

It’s tough being part of America’s “child welfare” establishment these days.  Americans are catching on to the harm done by a massive child welfare surveillance state that falsely equates child removal with child safety, and investigates the homes of more than half of all Black children.  They’re noticing the massive confusion of poverty with neglect – and not buying the excuses for it.  They have seen the racism that permeates every corner of the system.  And they’re not buying the excuses for that, either

But cheer up, take-the-child-and-run advocates!  There is one prominent world leader, and a top aide, who understand:  Vladimir Putin and his “Commissioner for Children’s Rights” Maria Lvova-Belova have your backs!  They’ve embraced what for decades has been considered best practice in American child welfare. 

I learned about the remarkable similarity in outlook after reading stories from NPR and The New York Times about Ukrainian mothers who have made a harrowing 3,000-mile journey to bring home children taken from them as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Some of the children were taken by force.  In other cases, the frontlines shifted.  Mothers in Ukranian territory occupied by Russia sent their children to summer camps in Russia or Russian-occupied Crimea.  But when Ukraine took back the territory they were cut off, and Russia refused to send the children home.  As NPR explains: “Kyiv now accuses Russia of using a system of summer camps and foster homes to indoctrinate and steal Ukrainian children.” 

But that’s just so unfair.  Russia’s rationale sounds remarkably like the reasons the American family policing system regularly invokes to take poor children, especially poor children of color.  For instance: 

Kostya, age 14, wound up with Russian foster parents.  They didn’t hold him by force; instead here’s how they tried to persuade him to stay: 

They said when I'm 18, I'll get 30,000 rubles a month - you know, the good life. And if I return to Ukraine, I won't get anything. 

Well, of course!  Just last month,  one of America’s most prominent advocates of a take-the-child-and-run approach to “child welfare” said pretty much the same thing.  In a publication for the American Enterprise Institute, here’s how Prof. Sarah Font explained why, for older foster youth, even aging out of the system with no home at all can be better than reunification with a parent, or even guardianship with a relative.  Wrote Font:

Although permanency is important for older youth as well, the implications are less clear given that reunification or guardianship or living with relatives … may deprive older youth of additional resources that are conditional on aging out. 

Or consider the Russian official who said this to a mother from the Ukrainian town of Vovchansk trying to get her children back.  As the mother recalls: 

He said, why are you in such a hurry? We know that Vovchansk has no gas or water. Why do you want to return the kids to such conditions? 

Here in the United States, 30% of foster children could be home right now if their families just had decent housing.  Keeping children from parents because of no gas or water, or for even less reason, is just standard operating procedure. 

The parallels don’t end there.  According to the Times: 

The children were told that if their parents did not collect them by this month, six months after their arrival, they would be sent to foster homes or put up for adoption. 

Of course!  America’s child welfare establishment says it’s just best practice to tear apart families forever if the parents don’t meet timelines! After all, the children need permanency! 

Perhaps the Russians simply got hold of a copy of America’s Adoption and Safe Families Act and decided to push it just a little further – as California does.  ASFA says family police agencies must seek termination of children’s rights to their parents after 15 months but encourages states to make the time even shorter. For the youngest children in California, the law says to seek termination of parental rights after six months.  

It’s not hard to guess what comes next.  When Ukraine finally wins and Russia is pushed back, the Russians will adopt another American best practice and declare they won’t return the children because they’ve “bonded” with their foster parents.  After all, they don’t call Maria Lvova- Belova Commissioner for Children’s Rights for nothing! 

Of course, not everyone gets it.  The woke mob at the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova, claiming their approach to child welfare constitutes a war crime.  But they have nothing to worry about.  In the extremely unlikely event that they’re ever brought to justice, the Russians have the perfect defense. They can just explain that they were acting “В интересах ребенка” – in the best interests of the child.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 18, 2023

● Some relatively good news in Tennessee: Tennessee Lookout reports that thanks to strong legal advocacy, public pressure, and some very good journalism, the children taken from parents whose “crime” was Driving While Black have been returned.  That does not, of course, take away the trauma inflicted on those children, and so many others in Tennessee and elsewhere. 

NBC News and KXAS-TV report that there is less progress concerning another case of wrongful removal of a child from a Black family, this one in Texas.  UPDATE, APRIL 20: The news on this one just got better

● Florida is among the states where the family police agency keeps claiming it has a shortage of caseworkers.  But WFLA-TV finds there’s another possibility.  

● In Hawaii, the family police agency is sinking to misrepresentation and blackmail - and that’s just how they treat the State Legislature!  I have a blog post about it, with a link to the original story, from Hawaii News Now. 

The Imprint reports on legislation in California that would curb arbitrary timelines concerning when children’s rights to their parents can be terminated. 

● If you don’t raise your children exactly the way stereotypical white, middle-class Americans raise their children, everything is going to be a problem. The Imprint has a case in point. 

Axios summarizes one of the new studies about racial bias in drug testing. 

And finally, a great new resource in New York City: 

● Who calls the “child abuse” hotline? What do they allege? Where do they call from? Who would benefit most from legislative reforms? In New York City you can find out, not just by borough but by zip code, in this new interactive easily searchable-data brief from the NYC Family Policy Project.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Hawaii family police agency sinks to misrepresentation and blackmail - and that’s just how they treat the State Legislature!

The Hawaii State Capitol

As regular readers of this blog know, many states are swiping money from foster children to reimburse themselves for giving those youth the “privilege” of living in foster care.  It happens to foster youth who are entitled to Social Security Disability or Survivor benefits. 

It might be legal – though even that is a gray area.  But in every other respect it’s simply stealing money from some of those who need it most. 

As a result of reporting by NPR and The Marshall Project, some states have stopped or at least curbed the practice.  But not Hawaii. 

In Hawaii, lawmakers could have passed a law banning the process – that is, after all, why they’re called lawmakers.  Instead, they passed a resolution asking the state family police agency to stop this practice.  (I haven’t seen the text, I don’t know if they remembered to say “please.”) 

The family police agency, the state Department of Human Services, responded with a lie – purely by accident, they say.  In legislative testimony they not only told the Legislature they’d ended the practice, they demanded that the legislature give them an extra $500,000 to make up for the funds they are losing. 

But, as Hawaii News Now reports, that simply wasn’t true:  

DHS officials said “the testimony submitted was the incorrect version and the error was not caught until after.” … Social Services Division Administrator Daisy Hartsfield added: “What actually occurred is that we immediately began discussions to consider how we can cease Social Security payments for use of foster board reimbursements.” 

Then came the blackmail.  According to an agency statement: 

“While DHS changed its position as requested by last year’s resolution, the Legislature will need to appropriate general funds to DHS to replace the federal Social Security benefits available for the child’s care …” 

In other words, give us $500,000 or we’ll keep stealing it from the kids! 

At this point, it’s worth noting that the Hawaii Department of Human Services has a total budget of nearly $3.8 billion.  But somehow, they are either too greedy or too incompetent to find $500,000 in savings (that’s 0.0001% of their budget), so they don’t have to steal it from children for whom it could be life-changing. 

It’s also interesting to see where the money DHS steals from foster children is going: It’s used to pay
their foster parents.  Only in a system as morally bankrupt as “child welfare” could it be considered acceptable to make children pay an allowance to their substitute parents.

Now consider: This is an agency so arrogant that it first lied to the State Legislature (by mistake, they say) and then tried blackmail – give us that $500,000 or we’ll keep stealing it from the kids! If that’s how they treat state lawmakers, how do you think they treat families? 

But then, the people at Hawaii DHS have plenty of reason to think they can get away with it.  One need only read the outstanding reporting of John Hill in Honolulu Civil Beat to see the extent to which the Hawaii family police run roughshod over families, and the extent to which the legislature is content to let them get away with it. 

But hey, all is not lost. According to Hawaii News Now, 

On Thursday morning, the Legislature’s latest resolution calling for DHS to stop taking the Social Security benefits cleared its latest hurdle passing through the Human Services committee. 

Perhaps this time it says “Pretty please.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 11, 2023

● “Which would be worse,” asks Jasmine Wali, director of policy & advocacy at JMAC for Families, in this story for The Nation: “being beaten by your partner, or having social services take away your children? That’s the choice facing many parents I’ve worked with as a social worker, and the answer is always the same. ‘I’d rather take the beating than catch a CPS case,’ as one said to me.” 

That’s exactly the choice battered women face – because of mandatory child abuse reporting laws that drive them away from getting help.  

The Today Show explains that there’s one more thing Black people have to add to the long things they dare not do “While Black”: Using a licensed certified midwife to help you give birth at home.  

● Of all the outcomes for foster youth, everyone knows the worst is “aging out” of the system with no home at all.  Well, everyone except Prof. Sarah Font of Penn State, that is.  She thinks even aging out can be better not only than returning to their own homes (an outcome to which she’s long been hostile) but even to guardianship with extended family.  Why? It all boils down to $$$$$$  I have a blog post about it.  And here’s part two, which explains why “creme" is to food what “permanency” is to child welfare: a fake substitute. 

● A member of the Seattle Times editorial board has made a discovery

Turns out, one of the best ways to shrink foster care rolls is neither parent therapy nor drug treatment, but something much more concrete: housing. … This solution, to both homelessness and foster care sounds almost ridiculously obvious. 

● And once again, if “ridiculously obvious” isn’t good enough, The Imprint podcast features a discussion of still another study showing how additional cash reduces what family policing agencies call “neglect.” 

● Another area where broad, vague “neglect” laws do enormous harm concerns “lack of supervision.”  In Social Policy Report, three scholars examine “The Unintended Consequences of ‘Lack of Supervision’ Child Neglect Laws: How Developmental Science Can Inform Policies about Childhood Independence and Child Protection.” 

● You’ve read story after story about “understaffing” in family police agencies.  But Metro Philadelphia shows how much of the problem isn’t understaffing – it’s overpolicing. 

● In the Advertiser-News, which serves parts of Northern New Jersey and Upstate New York, three mothers talk about the deep trauma inflicted on their families even by what should be called CPS-Lite: In two cases, no more than a relatively brief intervention from a well-meaning caseworker.  One mother describes how 18 years after their encounter with the family police, the family remains haunted: 

“I was never an anxious person. I am now. I’m a little more distrustful. I stand back a little bit from crowds. I always think what is in it for you? What do you want from me? What’s the end game? 

“The biggest thing out of all this is anxiety. I can see it in my children. My son tries to be perfect – a perfect person, perfect guy. Has relationship issues sometimes because of it,” she said. “My daughter is always saying she’s sorry. She beats herself up over the dumbest things.” 

 ● Young people also suffer when parents are forced to jump through all sorts of absurd hoops to be reunited.  In The Imprint, Joel Swazo writes that 

[I]n my own personal experience, my stepdad lost custody of myself and my two sisters. He ended up going to jail for a year for unrelated reasons. Upon release, CPS required him to have his own apartment, job, bedrooms for each of my sisters, parenting classes, counseling, and monitored visits. Until he did each and every requirement, he would not be able to get my sisters back. How is the average person supposed to gain access to housing with a criminal record? How was he supposed to obtain a living-wage job, but required to go to all these different classes during business hours? It took him over two years to finally complete these requirements that should have been six months or less. These are all things that would be very difficult to do without support or access to supplemental services.

● Did you think that now that the practice has been exposed, all family policing systems have had the decency to stop what amounts to stealing foster children’s Social Security Disability and Survivor benefits – and give back what they took?  This story from CalMatters makes clear you’d better think again.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Why “permanency” is the “creme” of child welfare (and other problems with a new "report" from Charles Murray’s favorite think tank).

Second of two parts. Read part one here. 

I’ve often wondered why so many in the family policing establishment love to take the perfectly good, clear English word “permanence” and add an extra syllable, turning it into “permanency.”  The dictionary says they mean the same thing, so for a long time I figured it was just a way for family policing professionals to make themselves feel more important. 

But, thanks in part to Sarah Font of the Penn State University “Child Maltreatment Solutions Network” (or, as it should be called the Penn State University Penance Institute), I have a new theory.  Her new “report” on “permanency” for the American Enterprise Institute, home of  Charles Murray, is so full of false premises and false promises that perhaps “permanency” is to child welfare what “creme” is to food.  No, not crème as in crème brûlée, “creme” as in the word the law makes you use when you want to pass something off as cream – but it really isn’t.  

Similarly, “permanency” sounds like permanence – but often it is not; not when it is defined as adoption and only adoption.  

As I discussed in a previous post, the worst part of Font’s “report” is what it says about her attitude toward older foster youth – she seems to think they need money more than love.  Or as Font put it: 

Although permanency is important for older youth as well, the implications are less clear given that reunification or guardianship or living with relatives (adoption is exceedingly rare for older youth) may deprive older youth of additional resources that are conditional on aging out. 

That’s just the beginning.   But before getting to what else Font got wrong, let’s look at the two things she got partially right: 

● She’s right about the enormous emotional harm foster care inflicts on children.  She’s even right that the more time a child spends in foster care the greater the risk of harm.  But she is wrong to suggest that shorter stays are harmless – not by a longshot.  It is precisely because foster care is so harmful, at any length, that the family preservation movement exists – because the best solution to the harm of foster care is not to put children there in the first place. 

And she is wrong to dredge up the myth of the Vast Family Preservation Conspiracy as the reason for prolonged foster care.  On the contrary, children languish in foster care because workers, overloaded with false reports, trivial cases and cases in which poverty is confused with “neglect,” rush to place them there needlessly.  Then the children are filed away and forgotten as workers rush on to the next case.  Not only did the law Font loves, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act not fix it, ASFA may well have made it worse

That’s because the real purpose of ASFA had little to do with adoption or any other form of “permanency.”  The real purpose was to encourage states to take away more children.  In 2000, unable to resist a little gloating, one of those who took responsibility for writing ASFA, the late Richard Gelles declared: 

Initially, this was just supposed to be a safe families bill, not really an adoption bill at all. The adoption component was a way of sanitizing the bill, to make it more appealing to a broader group of people. Adoption is a very popular concept in the country right now. 

● Font also is right about the enormous value of permanence – but real permanence is not the same as what Font calls “permanency.”  For Font, the preferred form of permanency, by far, is rushing to terminate children’s rights to their parents, a more accurate term than termination of parental rights, and then trying to get the overwhelmingly poor, disproportionately nonwhite children adopted by strangers who are likely to be neither.  

That’s based on 1950s-era social science theories that we’ve long since outgrown, and in retrospect are a bit bizarre: they postulate that permanence requires children to have just one connection to one authority figure; even if that means cutting them off from everyone else they know and love – extended family, friends, teachers, classmates, in some cases even siblings. 

When this is accomplished through termination of children’s rights to their parents the termination itself can add enormously to the emotional trauma – indeed, it can create what scholars call “ambiguous loss,” which can be more traumatic for a child even than a parent’s death.  

And adoption isn’t always the happily-ever-after that it’s often claimed to be.  Because child welfare systems almost never ask questions to which they don’t want to know the answers, we know very little about how often adoptions fail, but what we do know is disturbing.  

As Professors Vivek Sankaran and Christopher Church write

Only 16 states had federal identification numbers that allowed children from failed adoptions to be linked to prior foster care records. Thus, 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. A disproportionate number of those children were Black; they faced more than a 50% greater risk of adoption failure than a white child. 

That may be “permanency” but it sure as hell isn’t permanence. 

And even when the adoption lasts, Sankaran and Church remind us 

One 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.

Yes, there are rare occasions when termination of parental rights and adoption are appropriate. But where children genuinely can’t remain with their parents, there often is a far better option: legal guardianship with a relative, often a relative with whom a child already is in kinship foster care.  As Sankaran and Church explain: 

[N]umerous studies by Mark Testa and others have shown that guardianships - which do not require terminating a parent's rights - are as legally secure as adoptions - which do require termination. Testa found that a caregiver's commitment to the child, the child's sense of belonging, and the length of the placement bore very little relationship to the particular form of legal permanency chosen by the family. … Even the federal government has conceded that children discharged from foster care with legally secured guardianships have living arrangements just as stable as those in other legal statuses. 

Indeed, given the emphasis Font puts on reducing time spent in foster care, she should be embracing guardianship as a better option in many cases.  Since it doesn’t require either termination of parental rights or seeking out a total stranger, it typically takes far less time to arrange a guardianship. 

But, of course, since children are taken almost exclusively from poor families and disproportionately from nonwhite families, their extended families are likely to be poor and nonwhite as well.  Strangers who adopt are more likely to be richer and whiter – perhaps that’s the real reason this is such an attractive option to the family policing establishment. 

Indeed, Font says that “adoption is considered preferable to guardianship” in part because of, here we go again, “post-permanency financial and therapeutic support.” 

Stacking the deck when ranking the states 

So now let's see how Font’s false premises, false promises and general deck-stacking play out in her “timely permanency report cards.” 

● In discussing ASFA, she claims the law “maintained a strong preference for reunification…”  As Gelles made clear, it did not.  That’s why the law pays states bounties for adoptions over a baseline number, lesser bounties for guardianships (for most of its history it paid none) and no bounties for reunification. 

● In deciding what to measure in order to grade states, Font chooses to measure the percentage of
children exiting to some form of “permanency,” including reunification within set time periods.  She also measures the percentage exiting to every “permanent” placement except reunification.  She does not measure the percentage reunified alone.  Apparently, Font doesn’t want any state regarded favorably for reunifying families.  Font even warns that some states might look good because they do well on reunification. 

● States also are downgraded if they have a high percentage of children who remain in care “and are not legally free for adoption after 18 months and after three years.”  Notice she said legally free, but not necessarily adopted.  So a state can rate highly by creating lots of legal orphans – children with no ties to their own parents and no permanent home of any other kind either. 

● Font has a measure for what she calls “failed reunifications,” when a child is returned home and later placed again.  She implies that when this happens it's because the child never should have been sent back to those horrible parents.  In rare cases that’s true.  In other cases, the child was taken when family poverty was confused with neglect.  When the child was returned home the family was still poor – or possibly made poorer.  That can happen because of everything from being forced to quit a job to jump through various family police agency hoops to being forced to pay what amounts to ransom – “child support” payments to the state for the privilege of having their child “cared” for in foster care.  

So, if a child is taken because poverty is confused with neglect and when the child is returned home the poverty is as bad or worse, it stands to reason that poverty can be confused with neglect again and the child can be taken again.  

● Even more telling: Though Font has a whole measure for failed reunification, there is no measure for failed adoption.  And, as explained above, while a formal measure would be difficult, this crucial issue is barely even mentioned. 

● Not mentioned at all: The high rate of abuse children face in foster care itself.  I don’t blame Font for not doing a state-by-state comparison because official, laughably low figures from any state are b.s.  But she doesn’t mention the independent studies that, conservatively, find abuse in one-quarter to one-third of family foster homes, and rates of abuse in group homes and institutions that are even worse. 

● Font concludes by claiming that there has been “a clear retreat from the idea that foster care can help children in dire circumstances.”  That is not true.  Rather, there is a growing understanding that in most cases, the circumstances prompting children to be taken were not, in fact, dire and that there are far better answers than inflicting upon children the very traumas Font herself admits can accompany foster care. 

Should we all really be like West Virginia? 

To understand how ludicrous all this is, and how many children will be hurt if Font’s approach is taken seriously, consider a state that, over and over again, scores among the best in Font’s rankings:  West Virginia. 

Now consider a few facts about West Virginia that Font doesn’t mention: 

● West Virginia tears apart families at the highest rate in the nation.  Ah, but it’s a poor state, right?  But when you factor in rates of child poverty, West Virginia still tears apart families at the highest rate in the nation. 

● West Virginia has proportionately more children in foster care on any given day than any other state.  When you factor in poverty, West Virginia still has the second-worst record. 

Right now, American family policing agencies take away just over 200,000 children every year.  If every state were like West Virginia, America would take away 945,000 children every year.  

Right now, on any given day, nearly 400,000 children are stuck in foster care.  If every state were like West Virginia, the American foster care population would be more than 1.4 million

And it doesn’t stop there.  

● West Virginia uses the worst form of “care” group homes and institutions, at a rate 30% above the national average.  Font may not view that as a problem.  Font endorses another AEI publication suggesting institutionalization has gotten a bad rap and the federal government should make it easier to institutionalize children. 

If you want to know just how much of a horror show West Virginia foster care is in terms of actual care, just Google a few news accounts. 

And we’re still not done. 

There aren’t many Black children in West Virginia, but the state’s family police agency has effectively painted a target on the backs of every one of them.  

● According to a new study, at some point, nearly one-third of Black children in West Virginia will be forced into foster care.  No other state even comes close. For the four states tied for second place, it’s 18% - which would seem appalling if not for West Virginia. 

● And 14% of Black children will, at some point, be taken from their parents forever.  The second highest rate of termination of parental rights for Black children is 6% - which, again, would seem appalling if not for West Virginia. 

And yet, if you judge family policing systems by Sarah Font’s criteria, you’d think West Virginia was – almost heaven. But then, what else should one expect from a "scholar" who co-authors an op-ed condemning only one kind of removal of Black children from homes: their removal from white middle-class foster homes, that is, because of what Font claims are "woke views on race."

That’s what happens when you take a noble concept like permanence, turn it into something fake and destructive – and call it “permanency.”

Monday, April 10, 2023

Attn: Older foster youth: Meet the professor who thinks you need money more than love

(And she doesn’t seem very interested in your lived experience, either.) 

What Prof. Sarah Font is telling foster youth boils down to this:
You can have a free college education – as long as you forego any chance
that there will be a family cheering you on at graduation. 

First of two parts

After following issues involving foster care for decades, I’ve gotten used to the extent to which people in the system hate birth parents.  As Prof. Martin Guggenheim aptly put it decades ago “There’s a lot of hate masquerading as love in this system.” 

But it still shocks me when I am reminded of the low regard in which some in the system seem to hold the young people themselves – particularly when they’re older teenagers and aren’t so cute anymore. 

The latest reminder comes from Prof. Sarah Font of Penn State University’s so-called “Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.”  The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network itself owes far more to politics and scholarship. It was created in the wake of the scandal surrounding former foster parent, group home operator (and Penn State football coach) Jerry Sandusky, so the University could show that no one, no one, was going to be tougher on child abuse than Penn State. 

A report by Prof. Font includes this
graphic labeling everyone accused
of child abuse or neglect a "perpetrator"
--even after they're found innocent.

Prof. Font’s work includes a report claiming that families in Pennsylvania get too much due process – complete with a graphic in which every accused is branded a “perpetrator” – even after they’re found innocent.  She’s condemned the Indian Child Welfare Act and called for requiring every parent reapplying for “public benefits” (in other words, poor people) whose children are not otherwise seen by a mandated reporter to produce the child for a child abuse inspection - even when there is no allegation of abuse or neglect.  Font also is part of a group that rushed to defend the right of a self-proclaimed “race realist” University of Pennsylvania Law School professor to exchange rants with Tucker Carlson – without one word condemning the content of those rants. Judging by a recent op-ed she co-authored, Font herself likes to use the word "woke" the way Ron DeSantis does.

Nothing surprising there.  But now we discover Font also seems to think foster youth somehow don’t need love as much as other young people.  And she doesn’t seem to see much value to listening to their lived experience either. 

That revelation turns up in a “report” she wrote for the American Enterprise Institute (the place where that other “race realist” Charles Murray still hangs out) comparing how quickly states rush to terminate children’s rights to their parents (a more accurate term than termination of parental rights).  Naturally, in Font’s version, the faster the better. 

But the shocker is this statement, explaining why Font looked at termination data only for children up to age 14.  She writes: 

Although permanency is important for older youth as well, the implications are less clear given that reunification or guardianship or living with relatives (adoption is exceedingly rare for older youth) may deprive older youth of additional resources that are conditional on aging out. 

Did you catch that? According to Font, what has long been viewed as the worst option of all – “aging out,” in which a young person exits at age 18 or age 21 with no family whatsoever, and for which it’s well-documented the results are dismal, may be better not just than reunification with those birth parents for whom Font has such contempt; it also may be better than guardianship with extended family, better than loving grandparents or aunts or uncles.  Why?  Because aging out might provide the foster youth with financial benefits. 

Notice also the one exception: In Font’s view, the only thing clearly better for older foster youth than aging out with no family at all is adoption.  What’s the difference between adoption and those other options?  Simple. Adoptive homes tend to be richer – and whiter. 

In fact, Font is so sure that adoption is best and no-home-at-all is second-best that she even condemns states for making sure they’re not creating legal orphans.  States should not wait until they actually have an adoptive home for a child before taking away, forever, the one he was born with.  In fact, states don’t seem to be waiting.  In part because, thanks to ASFA, states collect a bounty of up to $10,000 per child if they increase adoptions over a baseline number, they are indeed racing to terminate children’s rights to their children.  And that has led to a big increase in legal orphans

Yet for Font this is worth it.  Because if you don’t, she argues, it will inconvenience prospective adoptive parents or make them hesitate.  In what passes for “child welfare” in America, nothing is more important than coddling white middle-class adults. But do we really want people so easily discouraged claiming to make a lifetime commitment to love a child?  Oh, wait, I forgot.  Font doesn’t seem to think love is such a big deal for foster youth. 

That also may explain her insistence on adoption as by far the best form of “permanency” even though there are disturbing data on how often such adoptions fail, especially for Black children – and even though a study found that only 41% of adopted foster children over age six “expressed having a very warm and close relationship with their adoptive parent.” 

In contrast, if a foster youth reading this wants to tell Prof. Font how important the love of extended family is in her or his life, it’s not clear whether she’ll be all that interested. 

In seeking to defend foster care in general and, in particular, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act, Font declares that the narrative about the widespread failure or both “relies on the misappropriation of ‘lived experience’ as a replacement for scientific research …”  On the contrary, now that we are finally listening to the lived experience of foster youth, we are finding that much of that lived experience complements a huge body of research on the inherent trauma of foster care and the high rate of abuse in foster care.  

Font also claims that foster care isn’t harmful if the time in care is relatively short – by which she seems to mean less than 18 months.  But the anguished cries of young children torn from their parents at the Mexican border suggest the trauma is immediate.  And if that’s too anecdotal for Prof. Font, there’s plenty of evidence of harm caused by the act of removal itself, even when the time in foster care is very short

There also are data on where children who age out actually go: One study found that nearly one-quarter at tome point went back to the very parents from whom they were supposedly taken forever; nearly one-third lived with other relatives. Perhaps they value love more than Font seems to think. 

As far as those financial benefits go, it’s not exactly a cornucopia.  Many of the benefits involve housing – which, of course, a young adult needs if s/he doesn’t live in, uh, a home.  Other benefits involve learning independent living skills – again, something that, believe it or not, grandma and grandpa just might be able to teach. 

But, depending on the state, there also may be significant aid for higher education.  California, for example, will cover all tuition costs for aging-out foster youth in the University of California and California State University systems.  Proposed legislation would cover related incidental costs as well. 

But those who see at least foster youth, if not their families, as fully human would never want a foster youth to face a dilemma like this.  They would demand that states offer the same help to, at a minimum, foster youth reunified or placed in guardianships as well. 

And that’s the heart of the matter.  To suggest that foster youth are better off with a little money instead of a lot of love strikes me as suggesting that foster youth, who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite, are a little less human than other young people. 

Perhaps that’s why Font seems to have no problem saying to foster youth, in effect: You can have a free college education – as long as you forego any chance that there will be a family cheering you on at graduation. 

Read Part Two: What “permanency” has in common with“creme”: A discussion of some of the other false premises in Font’sreport

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 4, 2023

● The first paragraph of this story from Reason says it all: 

Two Colorado child care workers will go on trial this June for presiding over a day care center where a 5-year-old pulled down a 3-year-old's pants. 

See NCCPR’s comment in the Reason story.  And check out the report in the Colorado Sun, which broke the story. 

● The American Civil Liberties Union At Liberty podcast devotes an episode to how “Mandatory Reporting Is Destroying Families.” Guest Anjana Samant of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project says that “I definitely see work in the child welfare system as a core, just basic ACLU bread-and-butter of civil liberties fight.” 

● Samant also discusses the enormous harm of predictive analytics algorithms in child welfare.  Up to now the designers have pretended that the algorithms don’t use factors like race and poverty.  But in their latest, they stop pretending: Race is explicitly included as a factor in measuring the supposed risk to children from their own parents.  I have a blog post about it. 

● Florida families who say they were denied the chance to care for extended family members, with the children sometimes placed with well-connected strangers instead, are not giving up their legal fight, as WFTS-TV reports

● In Texas, the Texas Tribune reports, kinship foster care families face another kind of discrimination: less financial aid than stranger-care parents, even though kinship caregivers are more likely to need the help. 

● From The Guardian, this story from San Diego: “She lost her child in a home birth. Prosecutors charged her with murder.” 

● Remember the story of the Washington State foster mother and foster grandmother who kidnapped a foster child and fled to Vietnam? (Here’s a reminder.)  They were caught in January and, KING-TV reports, they’ve pled guilty.  But, perhaps because the case contradicts a decades-long “master narrative” of showing contempt for birth families and lionizing foster parents, the Seattle Times still hasn’t published a word about the case. 

● Delaware may become the next state to take some small steps toward boosting the quality of legal representation for families. 

● In his review of the new film A Thousand and One for The New Yorker, Richard Brody writes: 

Throughout, [Director A.V.] Rockwell brings to the fore the media hum of politics, the electoral results and the matters of law that give rise to Inez’s daily difficulties, starting with the matter-of-fact separation of families by way of the foster-care system and the enduring, multigenerational miseries that such cavalier interventions inflict on parents and children alike.

And ICYMI, here’s the trailer:

Monday, April 3, 2023

From the people who brought you AFST: The most dangerous "child welfare" algorithm yet


 ● It aims to stamp a scarlet number risk score on EVERY child at birth.

● There is no opportunity for any family to opt-out or deny the use of their personal data.

● It’s literally computerized racial profiling: race and ethnicity are explicitly used to rate the risk that a child will be harmed.

● Developers say: Don’t worry, the data will be anonymized – but the promise is unenforceable.

First there was the Allegheny Family Screening Tool (AFST), an algorithm that uses a mass of data, mostly about poor people and disproportionately about nonwhite people, to cough up what amounts to a “scarlet number” risk score.  When the county’s child abuse hotline receives a report alleging neglect, the score is used to guide screeners in deciding which children will have to endure the trauma of an investigation. 

Key features of its implementation include: 

● Ethically challenged ethics reviews.

● No informed consent – or any consent - for the use of the data as a policing tool.

● Deceptive marketing.

● Evaluations almost always done by the developers or commissioned by Allegheny County.

 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. An Associated Press story and an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union make clear just how much havoc the Pittsburgh algorithm can cause.  

Hello, Baby 

None of that stopped the county from moving ahead with the even more dangerous “Hello, Baby” algorithm.  This algorithm stamps the scarlet number on every child at birth, regardless of whether the parents have been accused of anything – unless the family, in the days immediately after birth, takes advantage of one obscure chance to opt out.  One of the ethics reviews of AFST said it was OK in part because it was not applied to every child at birth.  When they created, Hello, Baby, an algorithm that does just that, the county got around this by commissioning a friendlier ethics review.  It’s no wonder the county resorted to an even more deceptive marketing campaign to sell it. 

The county promises that Hello, Baby will be used only to target “preventive services.”  Even if they keep this unenforceable promise, the services are likely to be delivered by mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect, who go in knowing an algorithm has labeled the family high-risk. 


Some of the data variables in the Cross Jurisdiction Model Replication Project

And now comes the next all-too-logical progression.  The same team that brought us AFST and Hello Baby, are part of the team offering up the most Orwellian algorithm yet: the Cross Jurisdiction Model Replication project. 

Like “Hello, Baby,” CJMR generates a risk score for every child at birth. (The developers claim this is ok because, they say, in effect, the number is invisible. More about that below.) Unlike Hello, Baby there is no opt-out at all.  And while with AFST the developers bragged about not explicitly using race (while using poverty), and with Hello Baby they claimed (falsely) that they weren’t using poverty, this time there’s no more let’s pretend.  The use of race and poverty is out in the open. 

Data variables include: 

● Paternal multi-race code

● Material multi-race code

● Paternal ethnicity Hispanic/Latino

● Maternal ethnicity Hispanic/Latino 

As for poverty, data variables include: 

● “WIC food” (that is, use of the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children).

 ● “Birth payment method for delivery” (in other words, whether it was paid for by Medicaid, the health insurance program for poor people).

And sure enough, the developers say, it works!  How do they know?  If this all weren’t so dangerous the answer would be laugh-out-loud funny: They know it works, they say, not because the algorithm was good at predicting actual child abuse, but because, in many cases, it was good at predicting whether a child would wind up in foster care! 

But like everything else in family policing, the reasons children wind up in foster care are arbitrary, capricious, cruel – and subject to racial and class bias.  As is so often the case with these algorithms, they are less prediction than self-fulfilling prophecy. 

So really guys, you didn’t need to bother!  We already know that if you’re poor and especially if your poor and Black or poor and Native American your kids are more likely to wind up in foster care; in fact, we’ve been trying to tell you why that’s a huge problem for years. 

With CJMR there’s no way to protect your family from government agencies taking your most basic,
and in some cases, most private data, and turning it against you.  There is no chance for informed consent or any kind of consent.  And, of course, there is nothing to show this actually prevents child abuse.

But don’t worry, the developers say.  All of this is OK because the data are anonymized.  That scarlet number risk score on your child is invisible, so no problem!  The purpose of the algorithm, the developers say, is not to target individuals, but to target communities.  The documents touting the algorithm are pretty vague, but they appear to be suggesting that if enough “high-risk” babies are from the same neighborhood that would be a good neighborhood for concentrating preventive services. 

But since poverty itself is commonly confused with “neglect” we already know where the “high-risk” neighborhoods are – they’re the neighborhoods where poor people live.  So all you need to do is find those neighborhoods – and send money.  Not a lot of money either, since we know that remarkably small amounts of cash are enough to significantly reduce what family police agencies call “neglect.” 

But for America’s giant child welfare industry of helping professionals, that spoils all the fun.  

This was best explained decades ago by Malcolm Bush in his book Families in Distress: 

“The recognition that the troubled family inhabits a context that is relevant to its problems suggests the possibility that the solution involves some humble tasks … This possibility is at odds with professional status. Professional status is not necessary for humble tasks … Changing the psyche was a grand task, and while the elaboration of theories past their practical benefit would not help families in trouble, it would allow social workers to hold up their heads in the professional meeting or the academic seminar.” 

So it should come as no surprise that some of the biggest enthusiasts for scarlet number algorithms also are push a narrative of false complexity on a problem that really isn’t all that complex. 

That’s best case. Worst case, they just want a rationale for taking away more kids. 

The co-designer 

And that brings us to the co-designer of all these algorithm projects, Emily Putnam-Hornstein.  An algorithm can be only as unbiased as its designer, and Putnam-Hornstein has revealed increasing devotion both to tearing apart more families and to minimizing the racial bias problem in family policing has a racism problem.  She has: 

● Declared that "it is possible we don’t place enough children in foster care or early enough.” 

● Called for forcing every parent reapplying for “public benefits” who has a child not otherwise seen by a mandated reporter to produce the child for a child abuse inspection in exchange for the financial aid. 

● Not merely disagreed, but demeaned the work of Black activists. 

­● Taken pride in being part of a group that rushed to defend what it says is the right of a self-proclaimed “race realist” beloved by Tucker Carlson to rant about the inferiority of Black people – without one word condemning the content of those rants. 

● Abandoned even the pretense of scholarly discourse on her Twitter feed, devoting it almost exclusively to lurid accounts of child abuse deaths. 

So when Putnam-Hornstein helps design and promote an algorithm that explicitly uses race and income to determine “high risk” for child abuse, and when developers or users of that algorithm say, in effect, “Trust us, we’ll always keep the data anonymized,” that’s not good enough. 

In fact, given that we already know how to target communities for prevention, the CJMR can serve no real purpose unless agencies using the algorithm stop anonymizing the data and use it to target individual families – and that’s what’s likely to happen as soon as there is a highly-publicized death of a child “known to the system” (like the ones in Putnam-Hornstein’s Twitter feed) in a state or locality that adopts the CJMR.  

The only thing stopping that is a family police agency’s equivalent of a pinky-swear.