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.