Wednesday, June 28, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 27, 2023

●  Three weeks ago, ProPublica exposed the duplicity of New York City’s family police agency as it publicly said it favored caseworkers informing families of their rights  - while working behind the scenes to gut legislation to require just that.  Now The Imprint reports on how the same agency used the same tactics to undermine legislation to replace anonymous child abuse reporting with confidential reporting. 

● Texas(!) in contrast, passed bills to do both.  You can learn more about how that happened, and the ongoing fight, at this webinar on June 29 from Narrowing the Front Door. 

● Also in New York, but applicable everywhere: This Daily News op-ed from family defenders on why the worst way to respond to child abuse fatalities is foster-care panic. 

● In the wake of the stunning – in a good way – Supreme Court decision on the Indian Child Welfare Act, ProPublica talks to Kathryn Fort, director of the Indian Law Clinic at the Michigan State University College of Law about how to make sure the law is enforced.  One of her recommendations: Repeal the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act

“It was a mistake,” said Fort, who added that not only does she believe that ASFA is bad for Native American children, but “I don’t think it’s good for any children.” 

● See also The Imprint’s interview with Shannon Smith, executive director of the ICWA Law Center. 

And, in a commentary about the ICWA decision in Slate, Prof. Stephanie Glaberson, director of the Civil Litigation Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, offers this reminder: 

The effort to destroy Native families stands out as uniquely genocidal. But it is not wholly different from the approach the United States has used against many families and communities deemed unworthy or undesirable. To the contrary, it’s a playbook we’ve seen over and over again in American history … 

● One of the reasons Massachusetts tears apart families at a rate more than 60% above the national average is The Boston Globe.  I have a Blog post on the latest example of how the Globe fails the vulnerable children of Massachusetts. 

● Don't stop me if you've heard this one before: Now it's the National Academy of Sciences out with a comprehensive report showing that government aid to reduce poverty can significantly reduce involvement with the family police.

● Here's one way to do it: In Washington, D.C., Street Sense Media reports on the “Mother Up” guaranteed income project launched by the Mothers Outreach Network.  Under this community-funded initiative  

Mothers living with their children and who have a current or recently open case with a [family police agency] social worker are eligible to receive $500 per month for three years

● It would do nothing to catch predator priests, but it would make it even harder for impoverished parishioners to get help.  I have a column in The Imprint about why making clergy mandated reporters doesn’t have a prayer of actually curbing child abuse. 

● I missed this one last month: Prof. Vivek Sankaran of the University of Michigan School of Law discusses the enormous harm to children caused by America’s mad rush to terminate those children’s rights to their parents. 

The Imprint reports on federal legislation that would help protect children of disabled parents from being needlessly removed from their homes or otherwise surveilled by the family police.  

The story includes this useful reminder: 

In January of this year, the Associated Press broke the story that the Justice Department was looking into an artificial intelligence tool being used in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, because it had received reports that the tool might be discriminatory to disabled parents.

● There is no innovation, no best practice and no good turn of phrase that the family policing establishment won’t try to co-opt for its own ends.  In some parts of the country, they’ve done it with Reunification Month celebrations.  Among the best at making sure that doesn’t happen is Legal Services of New Jersey.  And now that LSNJ’s Jey Rajaraman is at the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, she’s writing about how to reunify Reunification Month with its original meaning. 

● In Florida, the state family police agency took a teenage girl away from her mother after the girl ran away from home.  Then, WFLA-TV reports, everything got so much worse

● And in still another for the “horror stories go in all directions” file, check out the video of residents of a “residential treatment center” in Oklahoma beating up a child – while staff apparently do nothing.  KFOR-TV reports that when the mother contacted state family police agency officials they were very concerned – about getting the video taken down.  And see the follow-up story here.

● And finally, if you need a break from all this grim news about family policing, try the June 28 New Yorker Crossword - starting with 42 Across.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

When the journalism of child welfare fails, part one: The Boston Globe’s flying donkey

● In what is presented as a news story, the Globe finally acknowledges there’s a controversy over whether mandatory child abuse reporting is a good idea – and then devotes itself largely to making the case for keeping it.   

● The story accepts the false claim that curbing racial bias somehow compromises child safety – and ignores the mass of readily-available evidence that mandatory reporting makes children less safe. 

● The state’s “child advocate” suggests that, under these circumstances, racial bias isn’t a problem at all. Indeed, she almost seems to be saying a little bias might be beneficial. 

● In a story dealing with racial bias, it appears that only one of those quoted – briefly - is nonwhite. (For the Globe, that’s actually an improvement.) 

During the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show Ted Baxter, the pompous not-very- bright anchorman, briefly tries to take a stand on principle and do the right thing.  He quickly caves. 

News writer Murray Slaughter says no one should be too hard on Ted.  As Murray puts it: “When a donkey flies, you don't blame him for not staying up that long." 

The most generous interpretation of a recent examination of mandatory child abuse reporting by The Boston Globe is that the story is a flying donkey.  Until now, you’d never so much as see mandatory reporting questioned in the Globe. With a few notable exceptions (generally written by nonwhite reporters), the Globe follows the party line of those whose 19th Century counterparts proudly called themselves “child savers” – that massive intervention into families is needed to keep children safe.  Decades of such coverage is part of the reason Massachusetts tears apart families at a rate more than 60% above the national average, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.

So when a big story by Globe reporter Matthew Stout actually acknowledged that mandatory reporting is controversial, the donkey flew.  But it didn’t stay up long. 

Among the key facts the story left out: 

● The enormous harm to children from false allegations, constant surveillance, and needless removal. 

● The stunning number of expert individuals and organizations who once supported mandatory reporting but since had second thoughts.

● The enormous body of research showing that mandatory reporting backfires – making children less safe. 

● The particularly horrible impact of mandatory reporting on the children of battered women. 

Mass. "Child Advocate" - and Boston
Globe favorite -- Maria Mossaides
● The way the state’s child advocate, Maria Mossaides, (who gets the Globe’s usual reverential treatment in this story) misdirected her own commission on mandatory reporting to the point that commission members rebelled. 

The failure is all the more egregious since all of this information is readily available in the records of Mossaides’ commission, which studied mandatory reporting between 2019 and 2021.  A huge body of witness testimony includes citations to the studies documenting all the points noted above.  If the Globe pored through this testimony – or even glanced at it – it is not reflected in the story.  Our own analysis of the commission’s work, with links to all that information the Globe left out, is available here.  A selection of links to some of the key testimony and research is here.  (Citations for any statistic or study not otherwise linked in this post can be found in either of these two documents.) 


With that, let’s go through the story section by section. 

The donkey gets off the ground when it starts by profiling Kayla Ford, a mother who was victimized by repeated needless mandatory reports and investigations by the state family police agency, the Department of Children and Families.  (Oddly, for a story discussing racial bias, they chose a white mother.)  

The mother had an addiction to pills that turned into a heroin habit (A condition somewhat similar to that certain other Ford who, instead of being turned in, was treated by media as a hero – but I digress.) 

As soon as Kayla Ford learned she was pregnant she got treatment, including medication-assisted treatment – in this case Suboxone.  That is considered best practice – it is also often the subject of virulent prejudice among family police agencies.  And since this is Massachusetts, where the Puritan heritage remains strong, even medication used to prevent addiction makes you subject to automatic mandatory reporting.  That happened to Ms. Ford when her first child was born.  And her second. And her third, even though by then she’d been sober for six years. 

Even Mossaides concedes this goes a tad too far and is willing to see the state mandatory reporting law tweaked slightly for such cases. 

But while the story talks about how much strain all this put on the mother, it omits the most important part: The enormous harm needless investigation does to children.  

So it’s understandable that someone would write this in the comments section under the story: 

Sounds to me like in Ms. Ford’s case DCF involvement was not harmful in the end. Her kids were not taken from her and she is still sober. I’m struggling a bit to identify the problem mandatory reporting caused in her case. 

The commenter is struggling because: 

● The story didn’t explain that a child abuse investigation is not a benign act.  Having a stranger come to the door, awaken children in the middle of the night, pull them aside and question them about the most intimate aspects of their lives can be an enormously traumatic experience for a child. The caseworker will demand to see every room and look into every closet and cupboard. Often, it’s all accompanied by a stripsearch looking for bruises. If anyone else did that, it would be sexual abuse.  And if the family is put under “supervision” all this can happen over and over and over.  

As attorneys from The Children’s Law Center, a group that represents children in family policing cases - -  explain: 

children may experience “surprise, shock, [and] chaos” during a child welfare investigation, as well as a “loss of control,” “powerlessness, helplessness,” and a “sense of guilt or failure.” … Children involved in a child abuse or neglect investigation “may not know what’s going to happen in the examination or the interview,” which can be particularly traumatic because children are taught from a young age “not to talk to or trust strangers and not to let strangers touch their bodies; and these are strangers.” 

It’s no wonder parents of children who’ve been forced to endure these investigations sometimes speak of their children never wanting to let them out of their sight or diving under the bed when there’s a loud knock at the door.

● The story quotes Ford as saying “I remember toward the end of my third pregnancy being terrified that they’re going to bring DCF back into my life. I was thinking about that more than the delivery.” But the story does not mention the potential harm that can cause for a pregnancy – or for the siblings. 

● The story didn’t explain that all the time and effort wasted traumatizing this family -- three separate times -- was, in effect stolen from finding some of the few children in real danger. 

More generally, the story fails to come to grips with the myths about substance use and the ability to raise a child; so it’s understandable that those myths crop up, repeatedly in the comments. 

Then the story turns – very briefly – to the issue of the effectiveness of mandatory reporting; and ignores the research.  The effectiveness issue is confined to this paragraph: 

A wide expansion of mandated reporting laws elsewhere has, in some cases, failed to uncover a rise in abuse. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers expanded the pool of who qualifies as a mandated reporter in the wake of the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal. The result, according to an NBC News and ProPublica investigation: Investigations soared, but the number of actual substantiated allegations remained flat. 

First of all, it speaks volumes about the Globe’s longstanding failure on these issues that a news organization of its size had to rely on ProPublica and NBC News – apparently the Globe had nothing at all on this in its own archives. 

More important, the harm is far greater than that single paragraph suggests.  There is now an overwhelming body of research showing that mandatory reporting makes children less safe. 

● It drives families away from seeking voluntary help with their problems before those problems become a crisis.  

● Research confirms that the deluge of false reports brought on by mandatory reporting distracts overloaded workers from finding children in real danger.  

● Mandatory reporting does particular harm to children of battered mothers – because when they are torn from mothers whose only crime is to, themselves, be victims of domestic violence, the harm to the children is especially great.  

Time for the token quote from a Black person 

Some reporters at the Globe seem to have a lot of trouble quoting Black people about child welfare.  Here’s a case in point from 2020.  Things haven’t changed much.  In this story, America’s foremost scholar on family policing and race, Prof. Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania gets exactly two sentences.  Here are the sentences: 

“It’s an extremely biased way of alerting the government to the risk of child maltreatment.  To say, ‘Let’s improve mandated reporting’ obscures what the problem is." 

That’s two more sentences than any other person of color got in the story.

And what is the problem?  You’d think the reporter would want to know.  And I’m sure Prof. Roberts, a member of NCCPR’s Board of Directors, would have been glad to tell him.  Either he never asked or he, or his editors, cut that part. 

So readers are left with no actual alternatives to “improving” mandatory reporting – only criticism of proposals to do away with it – again, with no explanation of the research behind those proposals. 

The Globe’s hero, state “child advocate” and fanatical proponent of mandatory reporting and polices that tear apart families, Maria Mossaides, gets far more attention:

“Since the pandemic, there has been a movement, both on the national and state level, to eliminate all mandatory reporting,” said Maria Mossaides, the state-appointed child advocate who believes the state mandated reporter law should be “cleaned up” but not thrown out. The movement has put a new focus on racial biases in reporting, which need to be addressed, she said, “but that doesn’t eliminate that there are certain children that need protection.”

Notice what Mossaides does. She equates mandatory reporting with child protection and suggests that abolishing mandatory reporting jeopardizes child protection.  But at no point, here or elsewhere, has Mossaides cited any research documenting that mandatory reporting actually improves child protection. Neither has the Globe.  In contrast, as noted above, there is a wealth of evidence that it makes children less safe.

Indeed, imagine for a moment the fury on the Left, including the Boston Globe, if any public official said we needed stop-and-frisk policing because even though it’s biased “there are certain people who need protection from crime.”

But Mossaides isn’t done.  She goes on to make statements that sound to this reader as though she thinks children might benefit from racial bias among mandatory reporters:

“Even when a reporter might be more suspicious of a Black family than the equivalent white family, that doesn’t mean that that child is not at risk,” she said. “There’s a discussion about what we do about racial bias that’s different from the obligation to protect children.”

By that logic, one should forget about waiting for reports altogether and simply investigate all Black families.  And again, imagine the fury on the Left if any politician said, “There’s a discussion about what we do about racial bias in policing that’s different from the obligation to stop crime.”

The idea that the two can be separated in family policing is enormously dangerous to children.

In Massachusetts, more than half of all Black children and more than half of all Hispanic children already are forced to endure a child abuse investigation.  But, for all racial groups, 69% of reports were false – that is, they did not even rise to the level that a caseworker would check a box on a form saying it might be slightly more likely than not that the allegation was true. (In Massachusetts the standard for checking the box is actually lower than the abysmally low “preponderance of the evidence” standard used in most states.)

Of those cases in which the worker did check that box on the form, 89% did not involve so much as an allegation of sexual abuse or any form of physical abuse.

Eleven percent of Black and Hispanic children in Massachusetts will be torn from their parents and
consigned to the chaos of Massachusetts foster care.  Even In those cases, again, 89% did not involve even an allegation of physical or sexual abuse.  Sixty-three percent did not include any allegation of substance abuse.

The only way to prevent this massive state-sanctioned assault on Black and Hispanic children is to understand that doing something about racial bias is absolutely essential in order to do something about child protection.

The mandatory reporting commission

Here’s how the Globe tells the story of the commission created to study mandatory reporting in 2019:

The state in 2019 created a first-of-its-kind commission, led by Mossaides, to examine the mandated reporter law. Its initial proposals were to greatly expand the number of people considered mandated reporters, as well as stiffen penalties for failing to report suspicions. Those recommendations drew heated criticism that the changes would only worsen a system that already disproportionately enters the lives of Black and Latino families.

The commission ultimately folded after two years without agreeing on any recommendations it could make to lawmakers.

But there’s so much more to it.

What actually happened was that Mossaides led the commissioners by the nose for more than a year, making sure they saw and heard only what she wanted them to see and hear.  Far into the process, Mossaides finally had to hold public hearings – and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Witness after witness cited that mass of evidence – and spoke movingly of the tremendous harm mandatory reporting has done to children and families.  To cite just one example, Jane Doe, Inc., The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Violence zeroed in on the enormous harm mandatory reporting can do to the children of battered mothers.  The Globe journalists either ignored this testimony or never read it.

Luckily, the commission members paid more attention. Having heard what Mossaides never wanted them to hear, commission members declared themselves “shocked,” “surprised” and “taken aback.”  So they rebelled – refusing to rubber-stamp Mossaides’ recommendations.

It was all summed up by a member of the commission, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan:

I spent a lot of years thinking that [mandated reporting] gets us to a better place; I’m disheartened to hear maybe it really doesn’t – and even if it does, perception is reality.  A lot of well-credentialed, well-meaning experts think this doesn’t work. … I was taken aback to hear so much of that conversation. [Finding out if they’re right] should be Job One.

It’s been nearly a year since the commission issued its report. Wouldn’t a reporter with a modicum of curiosity want to get back to Ryan and other commissioners and ask what they think now?  Has anyone pursued Job One? How do they feel about how Mossaides handled the commission?  Did the commissioners feel misled when, for example, Mossaides falsely claimed that abolishing mandatory reporting would cost the state $400 million – and it turned out to be, maybe, $1.5 million at most?

But no; there is not one word in the story from anyone on the commission – except, of course, Mossaides.

So it’s no wonder another commenter on the Globe story would say this:

The director of the Massachusetts Office of Child Advocate, someone who lives these situations every day, says Massachusetts should keep the law but clean up its intent. Why would we listen to her? Experts, what do they know?????

Again, understandable. Because the story never tells readers that there are a huge number of experts who think Mossaides is flat wrong – and they have the research to back it up.  Nor are readers told that over the decades since mandatory reporting was instituted – with no study beforehand to figure out if it would actually work -- one former proponent after another has had second thoughts.

Among the first to express doubts is someone who was, for decades, one of the biggest names in Massachusetts child welfare (and no friend of family preservation) Dr. Eli Newberger.  In 1983 he wrote:

"Had professionals, like me, known then what we know now, we would never have urged on Congress, federal and state officials broadened concepts of child abuse as the basis for reporting legislation."

So apparently it was the Boston Globe that took the attitude: Experts, what do they know?????

A bizarre detour to Foxborough

Recall how the Globe story briefly acknowledges (by citing other news organizations) that when Pennsylvania vastly expanded mandatory reporting in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal (in which by the way, the perpetrator was a foster parent and group home operator) it didn’t work.

Yet at the end, the Globe suggests that somehow Foxborough, which did almost exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason, is some kind of model.

The Globe explains that after sexual abuse revelations in Foxborough

The town formed a so-called Child Sex Abuse Awareness Committee, and has now trained thousands of residents — including public works officials, town hall employees, and others who fall outside the mandated reporter law — in recognizing abuse or neglect.

“Our philosophy in Foxborough is, the more eyes aware and watching, the better. Why would we restrict that?” said Bill Dudley, a pastor at the Union Church of Foxboro and a member of the committee.

How about because turning everyone in town into a spy – free to enact their prejudices on anyone who is poor and/or nonwhite – will cause enormous harm to children?  Rev. Dudley doesn’t know that for a lot of reasons, not least because what is still probably the state’s most prominent news source has never told him.

The story goes on to quote the town’s state senator, who wants to further expand mandatory reporting:

“There’s a moral obligation [to report]. In my mind, this should be a statutory obligation.”

But notice what is missing in this entire section: any evidence that what they did in Foxborough actually reduced child abuse.  In fact, no evidence is offered to suggest things went any differently there than in Pennsylvania.

The story ends by noting that

Mossaides’ office, using a $200,000 legislative allocation, is preparing to launch a pilot course in all of the state’s public school systems in the fall that she said will both train teachers on how to spot signs of abuse and how to decide to actually file a report.

That’s like giving Donald Trump a $200,000 grant to teach proper handling of classified documents.

Maybe the donkey wasn’t supposed to fly

Perhaps my assumption that the story was a flying donkey is too generous.  There’s another possible explanation.

In 1983, former Washington Post editor Ben Bagdikian wrote The Media Monopoly, among the finest works of media criticism in American history and certainly among the most prescient. When I taught journalism, I used it as a textbook.

One of Bagdikian's important observations is how newspaper editors who have strong feelings about a story deal with the side of that story they don't like:

They cover it. Prominently. Once.

That's just enough for the editors to say to critics "Oh, we covered that. We even put it on the front page!" – when they know full well that anything covered only once has almost no impact. It's what's repeated over and over that leaves an impression.

This was even worse: The editors can now say they “covered” the controversy over mandatory reporting and racial bias in child welfare when really, they just pretended to.  Now they can go back to the usual grind of horror story coverage, always with an inflammatory comment by Maria Mossaides.  So Massachusetts can keep on tearing apart families, especially nonwhite families, at one of the highest rates in America.

Future posts will look at other recent examples of how the journalism of "child welfare" fails. 

Monday, June 26, 2023

NCCPR in The Imprint: Making Clergy Mandated Reporters? No Prayer This Curbs Child Abuse

Laws requiring most professionals dealing with children to report any suspicion of “child abuse” were put in place decades ago — with no studies beforehand to see if they would work. Now that mandatory reporting finally has been studied, the evidence shows that it has backfired. 

Mandatory reporting drives families away from seeking help, and overloads the system with false reports, making it harder to find the relatively few children in real danger. Many one-time proponents have had second thoughts. 

But instead of heeding that research, in several states, legislators have proposed expanding mandatory reporting into one of the few fields that has typically been viewed as sacrosanct: the clergy. …

Read the full column in The Imprint

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 20, 2023

● The big news this past week, of course, has been the stunning victory for Native American children and their families at the U.S. Supreme Court.  There’s lots to link to, but the two journalists who know the Indian Child Welfare Act – and the case that led up to last week’s decision – best are probably Rebecca Nagle, who produced the This Land podcast about the case – she discusses the decision here – and Nancy Marie Spears of The Imprint, who wrote about the decision hereNCCPR’s perspective on the decision is here.  Nagle also discusses the case on The Imprint’s podcast.

● As we note in that post, the court victory is huge, but it doesn’t solve one big problem with ICWA: the failure to enforce it. ProPublica has that part of the story 

● The ICWA decision was not the only good news. The nation’s first Family Miranda Rights bill was signed into law in Texas.  I’d link to a story from a Texas news outlet but I can’t find one.  I guess the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Tribune are just waiting for the next child abuse fatality so they can claim it “raises questions” about the law – because, after all, no Texas child ever died of child abuse before this law was passed, right? 

So we turn for analysis to Prof. Robert Latham, associate director at the Children & Youth Law Clinic of the University of Miami Law School, who wrote this on his excellent Blog: 

And lest you think this law has no teeth, the law prevents admission of any statement made by a parent without the notice being given. It also prevents admission of anything discovered as a result of statements made without notice. That’s a full Miranda. Cool. 

The bill also curbs the abuse of "hidden foster care" - a practice Texas uses at what may be the highest rate in the country.

Also in Texas: 

● The governor signed the law described here, which partially replaces anonymous child abuse reporting with confidential reporting.  No big stories on this either, except the one before the bill was signed in which the Texas Tribune featured fearmongering in advance.  Because, after all, there were never any child abuse deaths in Texas before these bills became law, right? 

● In what may turn out to be the most significant of the bills, the governor signed into law a measure with the potential to significantly boost the quality of family representation in Texas.  I could find no stories on that. Perhaps certain news organizations are waiting to scapegoat a family defender under the new program for a child abuse fatality.  Because, after all – well, you know. 

All this will be particularly upsetting to longtime Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau Chief Robert T. Garrett.  He's spent decades writing news stories that are, in fact, de facto editorials condemning any attempt to bolster civil liberties and curb the power of the family police to discriminate against poor and nonwhite families as somehow a right-wing plot.  But all of these bills passed with bipartisan support; two of them were approved nearly unanimously.  The Vast Bipartisan Conspiracy has struck!

● The Arizona Capital Times reports that Arizona has now banned the state family police agency from swiping foster children's Social Security benefits to "reimburse" itself for the children's "care." It's a practice exposed by NPR and The Marshall Project in 2018.  San Diego County, California, which, until recently, did the same also has now stopped the practice, and is formally urging the state to ban it. 

● Of course, that assumes the youth taken from their homes will live long enough to collect. In still another reminder that the horrors go in all directions, KNSD-TV, San Diego exposes the numerous warning signs that were ignored before 11-year-old Arabella McCormack was, in effect, adopted to death.  (And remember, the adoption helped San Diego County collect the bounties paid by the federal government for finalized adoptions of foster children under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.) 

● And, speaking of horrors: The headline on this Sacramento Bee story says it all: “Sacramento County to remove foster children from cells, avoiding state fines.” But the county is lying about why the children are there at all. It’s the usual lie: The kids supposedly are too difficult, there’s supposedly no place else for them, blah, blah blah.  In fact, the places these children could go are being taken by all those other children the county never should have taken in the first place. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

NCCPR statement on the ICWA decision: A joyful surprise: The Supreme Court refuses to give family police the green light to revert to policies that fit the UN definition of genocide.

Now, let’s get serious about enforcement

The United Nations defines genocide as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.”  In the decades, indeed in the centuries before passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act, U.S. “child welfare” policy toward Native Americans fit that definition.  

It’s not as if anyone tried to hide it.  From the superintendent of a notorious 19th Century “boarding school” – more like a prison – who said the purpose was to “kill the Indian in him and save the man” to the Child Welfare League of America’s Indian Adoption Project which had as its explicit aim  “to stimulate adoption of American Indian children by Caucasian families on a nationwide basis,” they said the quiet part out loud.  (CWLA’s subsequent apology rings hollow, since they continue to support racist laws like the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.)

 The Indian Child Welfare Act is a recognition that it’s not too much to ask of America’s “child welfare” agencies that they not commit acts that fit the definition of genocide in international law.  We are thrilled that the United States Supreme Court agrees.  

ICWA is often described as the “gold standard” for “child welfare” law and policy.  As such its biggest flaw is not in the law itself but the failure to enforce it – indeed, ProPublica reminded us of that failure in a story published just today (June 15)..  The story focuses on the atrocious record of South Dakota, the same state exposed by NPR more than a decade ago

Other nations are doing better.

 In Australia, there is a National Sorry Day, to apologize to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for what Australia calls “the stolen generations.”  In Canada, governments are paying reparations to First Nations for what was done to them.  While other nations slowly move forward, we must build on today’s Supreme Court decision to force America’s family police agencies (a more accurate term than “child welfare” agencies) to do the same.  And we must provide tribal nations with the resources they need to enforce their families’ rights under ICWA.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 13, 2023

--How many times have you read what journalists covering child welfare call “the fatality series”?  Most of the time, they get it wrong.  Last week, the Detroit News did “the fatality series” – and got it right.  In the process they exposed the failure of one of those awful McLawsuits the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights” brings all over the country. I have a blog post about it all, with a link to the full series. 

--In Minnesota, which has America’s worst record for family police bias against Native Americans, Minnesota Public Radio reports on how Native social workers are trying to teach their non-native colleagues stuff they should have learned in social work school, but apparently didn’t.  It’s a worthy effort, but training is no substitute for due process. 

--A little more of what those social workers, and the rest of us, need to know, is available with the creation of an online archive of records of so-called “boarding schools” run by the Catholic Church.  The Imprint has a story. 

--Speaking of due process for families, in Montana, lawmakers were unable to override the Governor’s veto of a bill that would have gone a long way toward proving it.  But the fact that legislation which, a few years ago, could not even have been discussed, got this far is a big step forward.  It means that, just maybe, Montana’s days as perennial contender for Child Removal Capital of America might be numbered. 

--In The Imprint, three experts write that. in addition to all the other harm broad, vague definitions of "neglect" do, they also compromise healthy childhood development by impeding reasonable childhood independence. 

--When St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reached out to me for a comment on a case in which his view is sympathetic to a couple who want to be foster parents, he had every right to ignore my dissenting view – he’s an opinion writer, and is ethically free to promote his own views and the views of those who agree.  Instead, he decided to offer all sides and let readers decide. So now you can, too.  (It would be a good idea if more news reporters on the “child welfare” beat, who really do have an obligation to report the perspectives they disagree with, fulfilled that obligation.)

Friday, June 9, 2023

The Detroit News does “the fatality series” right

And Michigan’s leading family advocate blasts a Children’s Rights McLawsuit consent decree for making things “much worse.” 

How many times have you read what journalists covering child welfare call “the fatality series”? A now-defunct publication that purported to advise journalists on how to cover child welfare actually said: “Do the fatality series” – with what seemed like the implication that it should be done the usual way: by scapegoating efforts to keep families together and setting off a foster-care panic. That’s the easy way to cheap glory; the way chosen by the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times and many others. 

On June 8 and 9, the Detroit News did “the fatality series.” But they did it the hard way: In parts one and two they presented horror stories, but focused on the extent to which a key reason for the horrors is  taking away too many children in the first place, and how that overloads the system, making the horror stories more likely. 

Then, in parts three and four of the series, the News illustrates how the horrors go in all directions – with stories of needless removal of children from their mothers. (As you read them, recall that Michigan is the state where judges admit they routinely lie when they certify that the state complied with federal law and made “reasonable efforts” to keep families together before taking their children.) The stories also look at what Michigan says it’s doing to change – and contrasts it with what real change would look like. 

I can find no “grand unifying link” but all the stories can be found on on this page. (The stories are behind a paywall, but the News has a great deal on subscriptions right now.) 

The failure of the McLawsuit 

We appreciate the inclusion of NCCPR’s perspective, of course, but even more significant: The series allowed Michigan’s foremost family advocate, Prof. Vivek Sankaran, of the University of Michigan School of Law, to blast the longstanding consent decree won as a result of one of those awful McLawsuits brought by the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights.” From the story: 

The consent decree wastes agency resources and diminishes creativity because the state is worried about violating the consent decree, Sankaran said. 

The UM professor has been practicing law in Michigan since 2005, a year before the Children's Rights lawsuit was filed, and said he has seen a lack of improvements from the consent decree. 

"The consent decree stifles innovation; it squanders funds," Sankaran said. "I can tell you on the ground with the families and the kids I represent, nothing has gotten better because of the consent decree. … (The consent decree has), if anything, made the situation much worse because it's funneling money from front-end stuff to really fund our foster care system." 

That’s only part of the harm this consent decree and its underlying lawsuit have done.  The lawsuit called for strengthening enforcement of the so-called Adoption and Safe FamiliesAct.  The settlement demanded an odious practice called  “concurrent planning.” And the whole thing made it harder to place children in the least harmful form of foster care – kinship foster care.  You can read about it in our publication The Children Wronged by “Children’s Rights.” 

Though Michigan may be CR’s worst McLawsuit, others have done similar significant harm. That harm is all the more glaring now, because in recent years, Children’s Rights has taken some excellent public policy positions, such as calling for repeal of ASFA – the very law the Michigan Lawsuit (and by the way, their Texas lawsuit as well) said needed tougher enforcement!  But over and over the McLawsuits undermine the policy positions. 

It’s about time the group’s leader, Sandy Santana, was held accountable for the contradiction.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending June 6, 2023

--All you had to do was read between the lines to see that when New York City’s family police agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, claimed if favored letting families they investigate know their rights, they were lying. Now, thanks to some great reporting by ProPublica, you no longer need to read between the lines. 

In noting the opposition to the bill from the State Senate Majority Leader, who is in other respects known for her progressive stands on issues, the story makes a crucial point: 

But advocates say that progressive politicians, not just in New York but across the country, have so far failed to understand how fighting against child welfare agents’ abuses of power is part of the same agenda. 

--In contrast, as both ProPublica and The Imprint noted in its story on the bill, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who used to oppose the bill, changed his mind: 

“When in life do you want Americans not to know their rights?” he said. “The only time you need them not to know their rights is when their rights are about to be violated.” 

Also pending before the New York State Legislature: A bill to replace anonymous reporting with confidential reporting. 

--Also in New York City, The 74 reports, 

Across the nation’s largest [school] district, parents of students with disabilities who speak up on behalf of their children say they are being charged with allegations of child abuse or neglect — a tactic advocates say schools use to intimidate parents and coerce them into dropping their concerns. 

And, the story notes, it’s not just New York City: 

[S]pecial education parents nationwide recount instances of being punished for speaking up on behalf of their children. 

--In Los Angeles County, WitnessLA begins a multi-part in-depth series on the failure of the child welfare surveillance state with a look at battered mothers afraid to seek help because of the entirely justified fear that the family police might take away their children. 

--Another group afraid to seek help because of justified fear of the family police is pregnant women with substance use issues,  As NBC News reports: 

That's why a growing number of experts — including maternal/fetal specialists, federal health officials and people who treat addiction — are calling for changes to the laws. 

"We should remove criminalization of women who are pregnant and taking drugs," Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in an interview. "That needs to stop." 

Doctors have been saying things like this for decades.  But what’s notable now is the specific criticism of the law that encourages these awful policies – the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  According to the story: 

a growing number of experts worry CAPTA and its state interpretations have gone too far when it comes to the definition of "abuse" in utero. 

"The intention of the law may not have been punitive, but the way it plays out in any particular community or in any particular child welfare office can sometimes feel punitive," said Dr. Marian Jarlenski, associate director of the Center for Innovative Research on Gender Health Equity at the University of Pittsburgh. 

And Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy in Nashville adds this: 

"What is the problem we're trying to solve?" said Patrick. "I treat far more complications from untreated diabetes in the NICU than I do from opioid use disorder." 

"Imagine if we approached someone with uncontrolled diabetes and said, 'Listen, if your baby's born weighing 12 pounds because you have uncontrolled diabetes, you may have child welfare involvement,'" Patrick said. "That sounds crazy." 

--Citing NCCPR’s blog post, the Kokomo, (Indiana) Tribune demands to know why Indiana is subjecting Black families to the terror of child abuse investigations at the highest rate in America – nearly four out of five Black children will have to endure such investigations.  As the editorial put it: 

Let's hope officials take these horrific numbers to heart and efforts are made for Indiana's children.

But so far, the family police agency’s response has been a mealy mouthed statement acknowledging that Black children are: 

"over-represented in child-welfare systems nationwide." And "Indiana is no exception, but we are committed to reversing that trend and making promising strides," 

While it is true that this is a problem nationwide, in one respect Indiana is an exception.  When it comes to family police investigations of Black families Indiana. Is. The. Worst. 

--9News Colorado has another example of the tragedies that result when middle-class foster parents are allowed to formally “intervene” in a court case after only three months and use their money and power to take a poor person’s child forever. 

--Here’s one for the “Every time you think the family police can’t sink any lower…” file: We’ve previously highlighted the obscene practice of family police agencies swiping foster children’s Social Security survivor and disability benefits to reimburse themselves for the “care” they provided. NPR and The Marshall Project exposed the practice in 2021.   

Now check out the new twist, as reported by WBBM-TV in Chicago.  It involves a nine-year-old girl trapped in a psychiatric hospital only because the state family police agency had no place to put her.  (Though not mentioned in the story, this is because a foster-care panic in Illinois has led to a sharp increase in needless removals.)  According to WBBM-TV: 

The Cook County Public Guardian said this girl's case is a first: taking money from the accounts of vulnerable kids, money left by their deceased parents to reimburse for pricey nights in the hospital that the kids didn't need. 

So you see, there is no depth to which the “child welfare” establishment won’t sink. 

--When it comes to racism against Native American families, could there be places even worse than Minnesota? The Appleton Post-Crescent reports on a couple of counties in Wisconsin that are giving Minnesota a run for its money in the racism derby. 

--There's some good news in Oklahoma where, The Frontier reports, the state is taking a small step to bolster legal representation for families.

--Here’s another reminder that the horror stories go in all directions. In Arizona, Courthouse News Service reports, Trever Frodsham is suing because 

He says his foster father sexually abused him from age 2 to age 14, when David Frodsham was arrested in 2016. He’s currently serving a 17-year prison sentence for leading a sex abuse ring, forcing multiple children he fostered to perform sex acts on both him and his friends, sometimes in the presence of his wife, Barbara. … The state allowed the couple to retain custody of their foster children and later adopt them despite nearly 20 complaints of misconduct. 

But the state says it is immune because the caseworkers who kept placing children in that home over and over and over and failing to notice the abuse there over and over and over were sincerely acting in what they felt was, yes, “the best interests of the child.” 

Oh, and by the way, each time the Frodshams adopted a foster child, it helped the State of Arizona collect bounties of $4,000 to $10,000 per child under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  When things like this happen, states are not required to give any of that money back.

--And here’s still another reminder about those horror stories, from WFLA-TV in Tampa

Within days of Chance Witherington’s first breath, he was taken from his mom by the Department of Children and Families and placed in foster care in Polk County.  Two months later he was dead.