Monday, July 31, 2023

OMG! Druggie moms are rampaging through Massachusetts!

Oh, wait, these are the GOOD kind of druggie moms. 

The cover story in the latest issue of Boston Magazine is a shocker!  It seems druggie moms are everywhere in parts of metropolitan Boston – including children’s play dates!  It was bad enough when mothers coped with the stress of raising kids with wine – (street name: “mommy juice”).  Now, this shocking expose reveals, drug use is rampant and –

Oh, wait.  I seem to have misunderstood.  The story isn’t an expose of these mothers – it’s a celebration!  

A writer whose past work includes an exploration of “mood boards” for your backyard cabana and a deep dive into the declining popularity of varsity jackets now introduces us to the “cannamoms” – mothers who use, and sometimes seem dependent on marijuana to cope with the stresses of raising their children.  

The story includes one testimonial after another from moms who say marijuana makes them better parents.  There’s a long section in which a medical expert says all this is just fine!  And, this being a publication that promises “must-have lifestyle tips,” there’s even “A Beginner's Guide to Weed.”  Gummies seem to be particularly popular. 

Not once does anyone quoted in the story worry that the Massachusetts family police agency, the Department of Children and Families, will be at the door.  The story includes no censorious quotes from DCF or from Massachusetts “Child Advocate” Maria Mossaides

That’s because this story unfolds in “the leafy suburbs west of Boston” -- you know, where the affluent white people are.  

And so we read this: 

Cannabis gummies have become as ubiquitous as Lululemon leggings and UppaBaby strollers, particularly among millennial mothers in their thirties and early forties. Moms are popping edibles as they’re folding laundry in the evening, before heading to back-to-school night, and during Friday-afternoon playdates. They’re setting up elaborate home bars decked out with cannabis-infused drinks and bowls of colorful gummies and hosting Cannabis & Crafts nights. 

And then there’s Kate, the mom who explains:

The first time she tried a gummy, “it was just wonderful,” she says. The self-dubbed “100 percent type A” mother found herself less wound-up and more relaxed with her two children. And she appreciates that she’s not drinking in front of her kids. At a Fourth of July gathering, Kate split a gummy with her close friend as the children ran around the yard. “I still have all my wits about me,” she says. “I can still tend to a boo-boo or take a kid to the bathroom.” Cannabis, she explains, is “the perfect balance…it doesn’t make me hung-over, and it doesn’t make me feel full and gross. ... 

And then, with no apparent sense of irony she adds: 

“It’s been a good fix for me.” 

And here’s what the medical expert from Massachusetts General Hospital has to say: 

As for women taking edibles, “Why make them feel bad…if it’s a natural plant-based medicine that helps them relax a little bit and connect with their kids and focus and let go of all the things that are burdening them? That’s a good thing."

Over and over again the story tells us how marijuana makes the cannamoms better parents because it helps them cope with the enormous stress of being parents.  But you can bet that stress is vastly higher in Roxbury than in Brookline.  Yet it’s the Roxbury mom who doesn’t dare use pot – or at least makes sure to hide that use -- because she knows that paints a target on her back and she could lose her children. 

Yes, marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, but that doesn’t necessarily matter.  When marijuana was
legalized in Colorado family police intervention in families where it was used actually increased.  And though the Massachusetts referendum legalizing marijuana included specific language stating marijuana use could not be the “primary or sole” reason for tearing apart a family, that provision was strongly opposed by DCF. 

Once caseworkers from an agency that has shown a deep puritan suspicion of marijuana start poking and prying into every aspect of a family’s life, they can always find some other excuse to tell a judge: “Well, your honor, it’s not just the marijuana.”  That’s why, as a family defender explained, in many Massachusetts counties workers and judges “continue to separate families and find parents guilty of child neglect based, at least in part, on their use of cannabis.” 

The Boston Magazine story is the journalistic equivalent of a public accommodation in the Jim Crow South.  It needs a great big sign explaining to readers that the joys of being a "cannamom" and telling anyone about it are strictly “Whites Only.”   

The story ends with the author deciding to try some pot herself.  At no point in the preceding 4,100 words is even one of those words about the race and class bias underlying it all.    

Hmmm.  Maybe marijuana does muddle your thinking. in Brookline.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Texas tragedy is foster-care failure in microcosm

KABB-TV in San Antonio reported this week on the tragic death of 16-year-old Mia Morales who died in a car crash after running away from a makeshift foster care placement.  It’s remarkable how many tragic failings of Texas foster care – and the failed attempt to fix it with a McLawsuit – are illustrated by this one case. 

● Mia’s mother says she gave up the girl and her other children for adoption nine years ago because she thought they would be safe.  The mother was being abused by the children’s father. 

What if, instead of simply accepting surrender of the children, authorities had removed the abuser from the home, and helped the mother with whatever she needed to raise the children on their own?  

● The adoption failed – the adoptive parents gave up on the children and sent them back to foster care. 

We don’t know how often this happens – family policing agencies never like to ask questions to which they don’t want to know the answers.  But the available data are alarming.  It’s clear that often the “forever family” is anything but.  This much we do know: The adoptions helped Texas collect bounties of anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 paid by the federal government under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  When the adoptions failed, Texas didn’t have to return any of the money.  In addition to all its other harms, ASFA creates an incentive for quick-and-dirty slipshod placements. 

● One reason the mother might have thought surrendering her children to foster care was the only option: She’d been in foster care herself.     

Yet, even after generations of failure, we still delude ourselves into thinking foster care is fixable. 

● The story ends with the obligatory quote from a lawyer involved in the McLawsuit against the Texas system brought by the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights.”  

But the McLawsuit, like so many other nearly identical suits brought by Children’s Rights, does nothing to fix these problems and may even make things worse. Children are in makeshift placements because too many are taken needlessly from their homes.  The McLawsuit diverts funds from what does work – providing the help families need so their children aren’t taken in the first place.  And the lawsuit complaint even calls for stricter enforcement of ASFA. 

The failure of the Children’s Rights McLawsuit approach is best summed up when the local lawyer working with them tells KABB “What these children need are trained caregivers.”  No. What these children need are exactly what Mia Morales needed – their own families.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

NCCPR in Colorado Newsline: No, Colorado, you don’t need to institutionalize 6-year-olds

To their great credit, an interim committee of Colorado legislators is meeting this summer to try to figure out how to fix the state’s abysmal “child welfare” system. Unfortunately, there are signs that, like so many other commissions and task forces, they’re being suckered by the industry that promotes the worst option for children, “residential treatment.” … 

Now the industry has reached a new low — conjuring up nightmare visions of 6-year-old demon murderers in order to justify institutionalizing even the youngest children. … 

Read the full column in Colorado Newsline.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

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

● New England Public Media has an excellent story about how Massachusetts is piloting the most promising innovation in the country for safely reducing needless foster care.  There’s a link to the story in this NCCPR Blog post – in which I discuss who is trying to undermine the program. (If you know Massachusetts “child welfare” you know the answer.) 

Two stories illustrate that there’s no such thing as “Minnesota nice” if you’re poor, and especially if your poor and nonwhite.  In fact, Minnesota can be unsurpassed in calculated cruelty. 

● Minnesota is one of 22 states where parents can petition to restore their children’s right to live with them after those rights have been terminated.  The law sets severe limits on this option, few families know about it, and, among those who do, The Imprint reports, few win their cases.  From the story: 

Ramsey County Commissioner Rena Moran, who authored the House version of the bill when she was a member of the state Legislature, said she wasn’t surprised by the numbers in a system that has a “long history of demonizing parents.” 

“If they are denied, then what progress are we making to even change the culture of how we know that family’s important?” she said. 

● She should have gotten probation.  Instead, a judge decided there wasn’t enough “remorse” in her tone, so Victoria Lopez was sentenced to seven years in prison – just as she gave birth to twins. As she explains in an essay she wrote for The Marshall Project, she gets to spend the first year with them – but after that, what the judge really did was sentence the children to seven years without their mother.  Perhaps when Ms. Lopez leaves for prison the judge should stop by and check to be sure her children’s cries have enough “remorse.” 

Oh, and one more thing: The crisis that led to all this actually began with a botched family police intervention involving Ms. Lopez’s oldest child. 

● Tearing apart families because of foster-care panic is common; admitting that’s why you’re doing it is not.  But this story from WitnessLA includes the case of a Los Angeles mother who was investigated but initially allowed to keep her children.  But then … 

Three weeks later, her social worker surprised Lacie when she announced DCFS would be taking her children, after all. 

Lacie asked for an explanation. Why, she asked, if DCFS believed the children were unsafe, did social workers not remove them immediately?  

The social worker told her that while they were not going to take her kids initially, they ultimately did so because a little boy had died in Lancaster after social workers neglected to remove him. 

● The problem in Los Angeles, and everywhere else, starts with mandatory reporting. In The Imprint, Tamara Hunter, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families, discusses efforts to reform mandatory child abuse reporting in the county.  Unfortunately, the effort puts too much faith in “training.” There’s no mention of pressing the state to abolish mandatory reporting.

The Imprint reports that New York State is planning a guaranteed income experiment in which 150 families in three counties facing neglect allegations will receive $500 a month for one year.  The commissioner of the state’s family police agency calls this a bold step. Obviously, it’s the right thing to do.  But we’re talking about 150 families for one year in a state with a population of 20 million.  It tells you a lot about the state family police agency that this is their idea of bold. 

● This week’s reminder that the horror stories go in all directions: The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has the horrifying details about the abuse allegedly inflicted on seven-year-old Ja’Ceon Terry by staff at the “residential treatment center” where he died.  It turns out, he wasn’t the only young resident abused there.  But the story doesn’t answer the most important question, the one I addressed last year in the Lexington Herald-Leader: Why is Kentucky institutionalizing seven-year-olds? 

● Time to bestow an award: We are pleased to announce that the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Division of Children and Family Services is the winner of NCCPR’s first Family Policing Euphemism of the Year award!  

● And finally, a thought experiment.  Read this op-ed column in the Arizona Republic, but everywhere the author says "foster parent" substitute "poor parent" or "Black parent" or "Native American parent." Do that, and you'll get a nearly perfect description of how family police agencies operate.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Congratulations, Cuyahoga County DCFS! You win the award for Family Policing Euphemism of the Year!

If only you were half as creative about actually helping families

The public and private “child welfare” agencies that institutionalize children never want to actually say they’re institutionalizing children.  So they’ve come up with a variety of euphemisms.  The institutions are “residential treatment centers” or “shelters.” They have “cottages” so they’re “home-like.”  (“Child welfare” itself is a euphemism for what should be called family policing.) 

But by now people have caught on to how awful such places are.  So there’s an urgent need for a new euphemism.  And one family policing agency has come up with one destined to be a classic. 

And so, we are pleased to announce that NCCPR’s first Family Policing Euphemism of the Year award goes to the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services for calling the new parking place shelter it plans to build to stash kids – are you ready? A “child wellness campus”! 

Is that brilliant or what?! It conjures up images of children frolicking on bucolic grounds as their every need is attended to.  

But it’s just another shelter – and shelters are among the very worst placements for children.  Even when they don’t turn into hellholes, as they so often do, like any institutional placement, they inflict inherent emotional harm on children – even when the stay in these places is relatively short.  Just check out the research.  Then ask the young people forced to endure them.  And shelters inflict their own kind of harm

The excuse for building this institution, which would be the second of its kind to open in Cuyahoga County just since March, is the one you’ve been reading all over the country: Children are forced to sleep in hotels, emergency rooms, detention centers, or in the case of Cuyahoga County, the main agency office, where the youth assault each other and staff and traffic other vulnerable young people.  The excuses for this in Cleveland are also the ones you’ve heard all over the country: Desperate shortage of foster homes, no place for the most difficult kids, blah, blah, blah. 

Unfortunately, most news organizations accept this b.s. without questioning it.  In fact, the only exception I’m aware of is The Philadelphia Inquirer – which zeroed in on the real problem: taking away too many children needlessly in the first place, often when family poverty is confused with neglect. 

Philadelphia tears apart families at one of the highest rates among America’s big cities.  But you know which city is even worse?  Cleveland.  Compare entries into foster care to impoverished child population data from the Census Bureau and Cuyahoga County tears apart families at a rate 15% higher than Philadelphia, double the rate of New York City and triple the rate of metropolitan Chicago.  

Stop taking all those children needlessly and there will be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for the children who really need them – and no need to warehouse any child in an institution – oh, sorry, “child wellness campus.”  The “but the kids are too difficult for families” argument also is b.s. Because it’s only true if you don’t give the families any help. There’s nothing an institution can do that can’t be done far more humanely and at far less cost with Wraparound programs that bring anything a family or foster family needs right into the home.  They’ve done it for young people as challenging as any DCFS is parking in its office. 

There’s plenty of money available for alternatives, and there would be even if they didn’t cost less.  The county simply prefers to throw the money away on institutionalizing children.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the shelter that opened in March cost $11 million, and estimates of renovation costs alone for the new one ranged from $500,000 to $8 million.  

Promises, promises 

Along with the false claims about necessity the plans for the “child wellness campus” come with all the usual treacly promises. So County Executive Chris Ronayne declares in a press release this institution -- oops, there I go again -- “child wellness campus,” will be “focusing not just on a child’s survival but on their well-being, too.”  He envisions “safe, supported residential placement 24/7 365 days a year until less restrictive placements become available.  

And in the same release, DCFS Director Jacqueline Fletcher says the new institution will promote "transformative care to ensure the safety and well-being of our children." 

Yeah. That’s what they all say. 

Too bad it doesn’t work out that way.  Case in point, New York City which, when it was taking far more children also opened a place like this amid grand hopes and promises.  Guess how it turned out.  Or guess how it turned out at a whole slew of shelters in California

As we wrote at the time: 

Here’s the first rule about parking place shelters. 

If you build it they will come.  If you keep it open they will stay.  If it stays open long enough it will become a hellhole. 

Second rule: It doesn’t matter how pretty the place is.  It still will become a hellhole. 

The Plain Dealer story notes that none of the material about the planned facility “explains how this new facility would improve conditions…”  But that’s not quite fair.  At least now, if the young people continue to endure abuse and sex trafficking it will happen at a place with a lovely name. 

If only the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services were as good at actually helping children and families as they are at coming up with euphemisms.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Massachusetts pilots the most promising reform in child welfare. Guess who’s trying to undercut it.

 The Massachusetts Legislature needs to step in and provide the funding to make the approach taken by the Family Preservation Project available in every case.  That will require finally standing up to the state’s Fearmonger-in-Chief 

There’s a new program underway that is exactly what children need in a state where they are torn from their families at a rate 60% percent above the national average. 

In Springfield, Mass. the Family Preservation Project provides high-quality interdisciplinary family defense.  Families facing investigation by the state family policing agency, the Department of Children and Families, get a lawyer, a social worker who can come up with alternatives to the cookie-cutter “service plans” issued by DCF, and a parent advocate, usually someone who’s been through the system himself or herself. 

This is the model that’s proven so successful in New York City – where a comprehensive evaluation found that it reduced time in foster care with no compromise of safety.  It’s one reason New York City’s rate of removal is well under one-third the rate of Massachusetts, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.   

New England Public Media reports that the Western Massachusetts program is the first of five to be overseen by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute with a two-year federal grant. Even DCF says it favors the program (perhaps because they don’t have to pay for it). 

What kind of cases does the program see?  Here’s how the NEPM story begins: 

On an afternoon last January, a 49-year-old artist and mother named Cara was working a warehouse shift, one of two jobs she held to support her family. She was still sharing a house in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with her ex-partner and had left their 4-year-old daughter in his care.  But he got drunk, and Cara — not sure what to do — ended up calling the police. 

Cara, who asked to keep her last name private, said she had already been in touch with a domestic violence organization about her ex. After the drinking incident, she said, that organization called [DCF]. 

“I thought that when DCF stepped in, that it would be an outside authority that could put this situation in control,” she said. “And it did the opposite.” 

The state opened an investigation against Cara for child neglect, saying she should have known her ex might get drunk. That meant she could lose custody of her daughter.  

(Let’s pause here to consider: By that standard President Gerald R. Ford should have been charged with neglect – repeatedly – because his partner got drunk – a lot. She also abused prescription opioids and had mental health issues.  Yet, because the Ford family had money, Gerald’s partner – Betty – could raise their children.) 

In Cara’s case, DCF never should have come to the door.  But at least the agency itself referred the family to the Family Preservation Project, which found a way to keep the family together, sparing a four-year-old from all the trauma of foster care – and the high risk of abuse in foster care itself. 

Enter the Fearmonger-in-Chief 

Mass. "Child Advocate"
Maria Mossaides
Who in the world could be against something like that?  If you’ve followed Massachusetts child welfare at all, you know exactly who:  Massachusetts’ Fearmonger-in-Chief, state “child advocate” Maria Mossaides. 

● Mossaides is the one who led – and misled – a commission on mandatory reporting for a year; making sure the other members of the commission heard only what she wanted them to hear.  When they finally heard the other side of the story, commission members said they were “shocked,” “surprised” and “taken aback.” 

● Mossaides is the one who told the commission that repealing mandatory reporting would cost the state $400 million.  The actual figure would be, at most, more like $1.5 million.  

Mossaides is the one who has suggested that racial justice is at odds with child safety and racial bias isn’t a problem. Indeed, she seems to think a little racial bias might be good. 

So, keep Cara in mind as you consider what Mossaides told NEPM, and as we parse her comments. 

“I know that the advocacy community conflates neglect with poverty," Mossaides said. "That is not what the Office of the Child Advocate sees. What we see is actual risk to children or imminent risk to children.” 

That’s exactly what she told her mandatory reporting commission when she was misleading it.  As we explained at the time:

But, Ms. Mossaides, you don’t see a typical cross-section of cases – you focus on the most horrible cases.  If you really wanted to know what DCF does in typical cases, you would do what your former counterpart in New Jersey, Kevin Ryan, did when he was that state’s child advocate in 2005.  Not only did he look at a random sample of cases, he made sure the casereading would be objective by having the cases read by two groups with opposite views of the extent to which the state should intervene in families. 

Even DCF’s own annual report makes clear that the neglect cases OCA sees are rare exceptions.  Of all the reports alleging neglect – a total of 63,101, 16 were fatalities.  Another 1,121 involved a substantiated allegation of a substance-exposed newborn – and contrary to the fearmongering from the foster care establishment – and Mossaides --  not every such case by a longshot involves a parent endangering her child. The remainder, 14,345 cases, are labeled simply as “neglect.”  

In her interview with NEPM Mossaides made clear she prefers 

“another new program, based at the nonprofit agency Plummer Youth Promise, that provides mediators to work with parents and the child welfare agency.” 

That program sounds like a warmed-over version of family team meetings / team decision-making – which always put families at a disadvantage.  And, according to its own brochure, the Plummer program encourages something called “concurrent planning” which further stacks the deck against families and in favor of foster parents who want to adopt.* 

The program Mossaides prefers to the Family Preservation Project returns families to the status of supplicants. 

Then it was back to the fearmongering.  Mossaides told NEPM 

most of the cases her office reviews involve parents with substance use problems. She’s concerned the advocates could be too aggressive in siding with those parents and downplaying the risk to children. 

Well, for starters once again we have the problem of Mossaides seeing only what she chooses to see – or in this case “review.”  Of all the cases of children forced into Massachusetts foster care in 2021, 63% did not even involve an allegation of substance use.  And not every case of substance use endangers children – just ask all the parents in “pot smoking mom” Facebook groups.  

And here’s a news flash: It’s a lawyer’s job to be aggressive on behalf of her or his client.  But that doesn’t mean they get to decide what happens, and, indeed, the deck is stacked against lawyers for families at every turn.  Only when all sides have aggressive advocacy can judges get the information they need to make the right decisions. 

And then Mossaides says: 

“What I don't want is, it's just going to get more adversarial.” 

Actually that’s exactly what the system needs.  The non-adversarial approach dates back to the first juvenile court in 1899.  Then, juveniles accused of crime were denied all rights because supposedly everyone was just there to help them.  The U.S. Supreme Court put an end to that, at least in theory, in 1967 with its landmark decision In re: Gault.  As Justice Abe Fortas wrote: 

“[A] child receives the worst of both worlds:…he gets neither the protections accorded to adults nor the solicitous care and regenerative treatment postulated for children. … Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court." 

Unfortunately, much of child welfare operates with a pre-Gault mentality.  That boils down to: Just let us at DCF exercise our untrammeled power – after all, we’re only there to “help.” So families should bow and scrape, and jump through all the pointless hoops we set up for them.  They should beg forgiveness for their sins and, if we deign to return the children, thank us profusely for our benevolence. 

This is the world Mossaides is desperate to maintain – or make worse, since she seems to think DCF doesn’t tear apart enough families.  She is so desperate that not only does she want to undermine legal representation for parents she even wants to undermine it for children. 

But wait, there’s more. Mossaides then claims that she’s the one who doesn’t want more kids taken away and it’s those awful lawyers with their “adversarial” mindset that might cause more removals: 

“And what will happen is less cooperation, less willingness of a family to work with the department, which will inevitably lead to more children coming into custody.” 

Except it hasn’t.  As noted earlier, the New York City model significantly reduced foster care.  The program on which the Family Preservation Project is based, the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy handled hundreds of cases before it had to close because it couldn’t get funding.  None of the children in those cases had to be placed in foster care. 

And, as NEPM points out “At the Springfield location, out of 50 clients so far, all but one has kept custody of their children.” 

And yet, Maria Mossaides apparently wants us to believe that she is just trying to keep kids out of foster care while high-quality family defense will result in more children taken away.  

Persecuting survivors of domestic violence 

The two cases profiled in the NEPM story also illustrate another tragedy Mossaides seems keen to perpetuate: the persecution of mothers who are survivors of domestic violence. 

In Cara’s case, she had sought help from a domestic violence organization – and they’re the ones who called DCF.  I hope that’s only because they felt that, as mandated reporters, they had to.  

These cases can be among the most tragic – because the emotional trauma of child removal is actually worse for a child when the child is being taken because the mother “allowed” him to “witness domestic violence.”  One expert said taking a child in such circumstances is “tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.”  

Yet when proposals were made to the mandatory reporter commission to exempt people who help domestic violence victims from mandatory reporting, Mossaides opposed them.  Her approach to this issue can be boiled down to “Please pass the salt.” 

Fortunately, in both Cara’s case and the other discussed in the story, the Family Preservation Project kept the children with their mothers. 

But the project is small.  Even when there are four more of them, they can deal with only a small fraction of the families into which DCF intrudes every year.  So the Massachusetts Legislature needs to step in and provide the funding to make this kind of representation possible in every case.  And, by the way, because foster care is so expensive, and because in many cases the federal government will reimburse half the cost, the program is likely to be cost-neutral or even save the state some money.  

But step one is to stop being fooled by Maria Mossaides. 

Mossaides consistently ignores research and best practice in favor of what she “sees.”  But she sees only what she wants to see. 

The children of Massachusetts will be a whole lot safer when, at long last, politicians catch on and say to Maria Mossaides: We don’t give a damn what you “see” – because you are willfully blind. 

* -- Under concurrent planning, people who desperately want to adopt a child – and the child welfare agencies that desperately want those people to adopt -- are told, in effect: “Now remember, your first goal is to work with the birth parents and do everything you can to help them get the child back – but if, by some chance, you fail at this then you get what you really want – someone else’s child for your very own.” 

One parent in New Jersey was honest enough to tell The New York Times what she called “the mantra” of parents in this kind of program, which is: “I’m on the next plane to South America if they think they’re getting this baby back.” 

Meanwhile, the caseworkers are supposed to work equally hard to get the child adopted by people they like and can identify with – typically middle-class foster parents - as they do to try to reunite the child with people they often can’t stand, overwhelmingly poor disproportionately minority birth parents.


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

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

This week we begin with multiple examples of how the horror stories go in all directions:

● In 2021 the Texas Legislature, by nearly unanimous vote, passed a bill tightening the state’s definition of neglect.  One lawyer complained that “The failing in the laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.”  As I said, that law passed in 2021.  Two recent tragedies make clear that, if anything, the standard is not high enough.  I have a blog post about them.

● The sisters of Arabella McCormack, a little girl allegedly, in effect, adopted-to-death in San Diego are suing. CBS8 San Diego reports that  

The lawsuit states that when deputies arrived at the home, Arabella weighed 40 pounds, her bones protruding from her small frame, her teeth yellow and calcified, and her body blanketed with bruises, scars, and cuts and riddled with broken bones. The two young sisters, whose identities will remain anonymous, were not in much better condition than their sister, says the lawsuit. 

● You know how the people who warehouse kids in “residential treatment centers” always say we have to have such places because it’s the only way to “treat” the most difficult young people.  Well, get this: WCBS-TV reports that with his agency’s prized RTC mired in scandal over rampant abuse, the director says: It’s not our fault, the kids they’re sending us are too difficult! 

So in other words, we need RTCs, but only for the easy kids?  To top it off, this RTC part of an agency run by Ron Richter, who once ran New York City’s family police agency and loves to pal around with the most extreme advocates for tearing apart families.  Although Richter implies that the problems are new, this facility has been the subject of exposes going back decades.  But don’t worry.  According to the website for Richter’s agency, it’s “one of the oldest and most respected residential treatment programs in the U.S.” 

● In Utah, NBC News reports on how the state has shut down an RTC.  All it took was “the deaths of multiple children in its care.”  The director of the RTC says his institution has been treated unfairly. 

● Of course, all this is nothing new. The Imprint reports that the horrors of America’s “boarding schools” for Native American children torn from their families and the 19th and 20th Centuries are being uncovered, literally, across the country.  

In other news: 

● The practice of governments swiping foster children’s Social Security benefits and keeping the money for themselves is so appalling that revelations that Massachusetts is doing just that left even a former head of the state’s public safety department shocked – but, she says, not surprised.  Unfortunately, she told Boston Public Radio “When you’re in government, the notion of what the general fund is entitled to is read very, very, very expansively.”

● And Lackawanna County, Pa. is in the midst of a foster-care panic.  In the Scranton Times-Tribune NCCPR explains why that makes all children less safe. (Requires subscription or daypass.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Deep in the heartless of Texas

Two cases illustrate the need for those good, bipartisan "child welfare" laws the Texas Legislature has been passing lately.

Two weeks ago I wrote about a news story concerning new laws in Texas that bolster due process for families.  In that story one lawyer pushes the idea that, “The failing in … [recently passed] laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.”  This apparently was a reference to a 2021 law tightening the definition of neglect before a child could be removed.  (None of the laws passed this year does anything to change the standard for removal.) 

The story also quoted a state legislator opposed to a new Texas law that, in most cases, replaces anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse and neglect with confidential reporting.  Said Sen. Jose Menendez: 

“None of us in this room want any child to suffer abuse or neglect. And I would hate for us to vote for a policy where the tradeoff is ... [having] a child possibly die from abuse or neglect.” 

But two recent cases illustrate that either the standard is still too low or, like so many laws intended to protect children from needless surveillance and foster care, this one isn’t being enforced.   One of the cases also makes clear that the near-ban on anonymous reporting came too late.  That case led to the ultimate tragedy.  To what should be the surprise of no one, both families are Black. 

A case in Houston 

A four-year-old is taken from her mother after they were found sleeping in their car – which was the only place they could afford to live.  This story, from KTRK-TV, gives the police version and the mother’s version.  But even if you believe the police version, this case was cause to find the family housing – not to throw the four year old into kinship foster care. 

In addition, the mother was arrested. But a condition of her release was that she not even see her child – or to put it another way: The child has been barred from seeing her mother.  What exactly did the child do wrong to deserve that? 

This seems to be a habit in Houston.  The case is remarkably similar to this one.  And this one. 

But it can get so much worse. 

A case in Harker Heights 

This is what happened in Harker Heights, a town between Austin and Waco, in  September 2022: Six children are taken away.  All of them, even the youngest, age 2, are institutionalized.  Now that child is dead.  According to KWTX-TV,  “this all happened because of a call alleging [the mother] was smoking marijuana.” KXXV-TV reports the mother passed numerous drug tests.  The television station also reports that the call setting this tragedy in motion was – anonymous. (KXXV also report there was an allegation of "violence" - but no indication there was even an allegation of violence against the children.)

And apparently the children were never in danger since, shortly after boy’s death, the Texas family police agency gave all the other children back and closed the case.

So yeah, tell us again, Texas lawyer, how “the failing in the laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.”  And tell us again, Texas lawmaker, how the "tradeoff" for banning most anonymous reporting is "[having] a child possibly die."

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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

● Once upon a time, the family policing establishment insisted that they never, ever took away children because of poverty.  Then, when it was pointed out that the disproportionate rate at which Black and Native American children were torn from their families just might have something to do with racism, they said: No, no! We’re not taking them because their nonwhite, we’re taking them because of poverty!  Of course in the ridiculous debate over whether families are needlessly separated because of race or because of poverty the answer is: Yes.  

All of which leads me to a fascinating new data analysis from the New York City Family Policy Project. They found that if you’re Black, affluence won’t free you from the family police.  Here’s what they found: 

Latino, White and Asian children all show lower investigation rates in neighborhoods where child poverty is lower. Neighborhood child poverty rates do not appear to have the same protective effect for Black children. In fact, Black children face extremely high investigation rates in dozens of well-off and majority white neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn Heights or Boerum Hill. [Emphasis added.]

And a friendly reminder to the rest of the country: The New York City system is horrible - but significantly less horrible than most.  So wherever you are, it's probably worse. 

Vox is a news website known for explanatory journalism. They’ve just done a superb job explaining the family policing system.  From the story: 

It’s easy to fall back on imagining that more funding and more foster parents are the most urgent priority … But nearly everyone that Vox spoke with who works within the system itself thinks that foster care isn’t the answer and that the current child welfare system is one that traps families in poverty and then penalizes them for it. 

● Among those who understand this are the former director of the federal Children’s Bureau, Jerry Milner, and his Special Assistant, David Kelly. They now direct the Family Justice Group. In The Imprint they write: 

Relational health — the sense of connection, belonging and relationships that people have — is essential to our individual and collective well-being as human beings in the world. Somehow, however, this most essential and defining aspect of being human has been overshadowed or cast aside in the industry known as child welfare. 

Services reign supreme in the industry, and providers of them have an undue impact on policymaking nationwide. Their main interest is to remain in business. This has resulted in a fixation on clinical services and proprietary models rather than proactive family support. It sustains a narrative that pathologizes the conditions families are forced to live in or with, especially poverty and the trauma of racism. 

● Similarly, writing in Slate about the Netflix documentary Take Care of Maya, Dr. Mical Raz explains that 

The documentary’s dystopian depiction of child protection is not an anomaly. Children are regularly removed from their loving parents and placed in unsafe situations—from sleeping on couches in office buildings to foster homes where they are often abused—all in the name of child protection. … Yet this overpolicing of families and children is not a necessity and does not keep kids safe. Rather, the specter of child abuse has created a system that is harmful and even abusive. Perhaps Take Care of Maya, because of the unusual details of its case, will bring attention to the harmful impact of an overreaching family policing system. 

ProPublica reports on how, with near-unanimous bipartisan support, the Texas Legislature passed a bill giving families facing the family police the equivalent of Miranda rights, while in New York legislative leadership blocked a vote on a similar measure.  The story notes that the Texas law  “will in many cases benefit Black, Hispanic and low-income families who often have their lives and homes upended by CPS officers” and that “child welfare issues often defy typical partisan binaries.” 

● Both of those concepts are apparently beyond the understanding of The Texas Tribune, which continues to push the idea that any bill providing due process for families is a nefarious plot by “parents' rights” activists – even though the Miranda rights bill and others passed the Texas legislature almost unanimously.  I have a blog post about it. 

The Washington State Standard reports that Washington State is easing a policy that had required hospitals to automatically turn in to the family police the parents of any newborn “affected” by the mother’s substance use.  That’s the policy that, as Reveal and The New York Times Magazine exposed last week, has had tragic results for children across the country.  Of course, not everyone is happy about this.  In comments dripping with condescension, people at a center that institutionalizes these infants for days or weeks after hospital discharge don’t like this one bit. 

● There’s more about the harm of turning in substance-using mothers to the family police in this overview from Scientific American. The article cites multiple experts including Miriam S. Komaromy, medical director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, who says: 

“It’s critical that a pregnant person feels able to seek help, but mandated reporting sets up a dynamic in which she feels afraid to acknowledge that she has a problem and maybe even afraid to seek any prenatal care because of the fear that a doctor will detect that she has a substance use disorder.” 

● When parents divorce and one parent has custody, a court may require that the other parent still be allowed contact with the child – indeed, if the parents can’t come up with a voluntary agreement it’s the norm.  Yet when adoptive parents want to cut children off from any and all contact with their birth parents, those birth parents usually have no recourse.  The Imprint reports on a bill passed – for the third time -  by the New York State Legislature that would change that.  

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts is the latest state where some lawmakers are asking why the state is swiping Social Security benefits meant for foster youth and keeping the money for itself.  But the bill they proposed was tepid and still got nowhere.  Showing its signature callousness and cruelty, the state family police agency has dug in its heals in an effort to keep the kids’ money. 

● And the latest example of how the horror stories go in all directions comes from New Mexico.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

UPDATED: When the journalism of child welfare fails, part three: Texas lawmakers are catching on; the Texas Tribune is not.

The state capitol in Austin

What the Tribune (and the Dallas Morning News) can’t face is that after decades of seeing the system that calls itself “child welfare” do enormous harm to children, people across the political spectrum are coming together and finding common ground. They've come to understand that due process for families is the best way to ensure children’s rights and child safety.

The online news site Texas Tribune has improved its coverage of the family policing system (a more accurate term than “child welfare” system) compared to how it handled these issues when it was founded in 2009.  But it still has a long way to go. 

The Tribune is still pushing the Big Lie of American “child welfare” – the idea that any bill that protects children from being traumatized by the family police and forced into the hellscape of Texas foster care is a “parents’ rights” bill that supposedly comes at the expense of child safety.  And they do it with a slightly revised version of the standard Texas twist; the longstanding false claim that any such legislation must be part of a vast right-wing conspiracy! 

I previously discussed a fearmongering Texas Tribune story about one of the bills.  The theme of the latest story can be boiled down to: The Texas foster care system is horrible! How dare the legislature try to keep more kids out of it!  At one point, the reporter simply decrees on her own authority that one law is “extreme.” 

To understand the extent to which the Tribune keeps misleading Texans about these bills, we need to start with what the bills actually do. 

One bill requires that families get the equivalent of a Miranda warning when the family police are at the door. That is, they must be informed of rights they already have.  Contrary to the Tribune’s latest story, they are not given any new rights. 

● That bill also curbs hidden foster care – or what should be called blackmail placements, in which families are coerced into “voluntary” placements of their children, usually with relatives, that are anything but voluntary.  The most recent data are old, but they indicate more than 60% of Texas placements occur this way – and they’re not even included in the figures Texas reports to the federal government, or to the public, as entries into care. 

Another bill largely (though not completely) replaces anonymous reporting to the state’s child abuse hotline with confidential reporting.  That is, the accused still won’t know who accused them but, in most cases, the family police agency will. 

Another bill bolsters legal representation for families – something that has been proven to curb needless foster care with no compromise of safety. 

● And another bill simply requires the family police and judges to document the “reasonable efforts” they made to prevent removal of a child to foster care and to prevent termination of children’s rights to their parents (a more accurate term than termination of parental rights).  

Again, this law does not give families any new rights. “Reasonable efforts” have been required by federal law since 1980 – and routinely ignored.  This bill doesn’t even stop Texas family police from continuing to ignore the requirement – they just have to state what, if anything, they did to comply with it! 

The vast bipartisan conspiracy 

All of these bills passed with bipartisan support – most of them nearly unanimously. 

That’s important because of a decades-long insistence by some Texas media on putting a false ideological framing on these issues.  (Some of the reasons for this are discussed in the report we issued on Texas child welfare nearly two decades ago.)  

In Texas media, particularly the Tribune and the Dallas Morning News, any attempt to curb the vast power of the family police supposedly is part of a far-right plot to place “parents’ rights” ahead of “child safety.” 

The Dallas Morning News truly outdid itself last year when it managed to blame both an expansion of family police power and a reduction in that power on the far right.  The latest Tribune story has come up with a new bit of spin to explain away the bipartisan support for these bills. 

So with that, it’s time for a close look at the latest Texas Tribune failure. 

The reporter’s preconceived notions are clear right off the bat.  Here’s how the story begins: 

Faced with a troubled foster care system and a 12-year-long lawsuit for putting children in state custody at risk, Texas legislators this year made sweeping changes to state agencies that look after vulnerable kids removed from their homes. 

But legislators’ focus was less on conditions for children in the system and more on reducing the number of kids entering state care. 

Translation: We want you to believe those awful right-wing lawmakers cared more about coddling abusive parents than fixing the state’s horrendous foster care system! 

On the contrary. The legislative priorities reflect the fact that, at long last, lawmakers are beginning to realize that you will never be able to fix the state’s horrendous foster care system as long as the state keeps shoveling children into it in huge numbers. 

But to sell these as “parents’ rights” bills, there’s a lot you have to leave out.  So a story written by a
reporter whose bio says: “She covers how inequity plays out for children and families with an eye on the state’s foster care system” makes no mention of that inequity, even though Black and mixed-race children are torn from their families in Texas at a rate 60% above their rate in the general population – a disparity these bills are likely to curb. 

In contrast, ProPublica’s latest story about the Miranda rights bill notes that it “will in many cases benefit Black, Hispanic and low-income families who often have their lives and homes upended by CPS officers.”  The story also explains that “child welfare issues often defy typical partisan binaries.” 

But that doesn’t fit the Tribune story’s entire parents vs. kids framing.  So the Tribune story ignores inequity and instead claims that lawmakers concluded: “parents facing abuse accusations are entitled to more rights.” 

For starters, that’s grossly misleading.  None of the provisions of new laws discussed in the story give parents – or anyone else -- more rights.  The bills do things like force the family police to tell families the rights they already have and document whether they have followed existing federal law.  The one provision that arguably gives more rights – to children -- the one that helps protect them from blackmail placements – isn’t mentioned in the story. 

But the bigger problem with the story is the claim that these are “parents’ rights” bills. 

● A law that reduces the chances that children will be forced to endure the enormous trauma of a needless child abuse investigation because an angry neighbor is hiding behind anonymity to phone in a false report is a children’s rights law. 

● A law that requires the family police to simply document what, if anything, they say they tried to do to keep a child safety out of the horrors of Texas foster care – so a judge can step in when, in fact, they did little or nothing -- is a children’s rights law. 

● A law that bolsters family defense, so families have a team that can propose alternatives to cookie-cutter “service plans” doled out by the family police -- again, to spare children the horror of Texas foster care -- is a children’s rights law. 

● And a collection of laws that, together, may reduce false allegations trivial cases and cases in which family poverty is confused with “neglect” so workers have more time to find the few children in real danger is a collection of children’s rights laws. 

The ultimate unreliable source 

To bolster the false claim that these are parents’ rights bills, the reporter turns to what probably is the least reliable source in all of Texas, but a source guaranteed to support the reporter’s own view: Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).  Indeed, she relied on the chapter of that organization which did the most comprehensive study of all to determine if its program worked -- and found that it actually did harm: the chapter in Texas. 

CASA is a particularly odd choice for a reporter whose beat focuses on inequity.  CASA is the program in which overwhelmingly white, middle-class amateurs with no required qualifications and maybe 40 hours of training (plus in-service so it’s OK, right?) are allowed to march into the homes of families who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite and pass judgment upon them – judgments that, depressingly often, are rubber-stamped by the courts. 

That’s why a law review article aptly characterized CASA as “an act of white supremacy.”  

Furthermore, study after study after study shows that CASA backfires, often hurting the children it is intended to help. 

The most revealing of these was a study of Texas CASA – commissioned by Texas CASA itself.  It was released at the end of 2019.  According to that study: 

“Overall, children appointed a CASA have significantly lower odds than children without a CASA of achieving permanency.” [Emphasis added.]

Compared to children not burdened with a CASA on the case, Texas foster children with  CASAs were:

 Less likely to be reunified with their own parents.

● Less likely to find permanence in the form of guardianship by a relative.

● More likely to “age out” of foster care with no home at all.

When the study came out the Austin American-Statesman did a good story about it. The Texas Tribune ignored it. 

Yet somehow this is the organization we are supposed to trust when it invokes the false claim that child safety and family preservation are opposites that need to be balanced. 

So the Texas Tribune story gives us this: 

“We’re in a period in history right now where things are swinging very much towards having the smallest possible system, really prioritizing parents’ rights,” said Sarah Crockett, the director of public policy at foster kid advocacy group Texas CASA. 

For decades everyone in the system has claimed that they want the smallest possible system – that they only want to see children taken as a last resort.  Yet now, when some small steps are taken toward doing it, “smallest possible system” somehow is equated with “parents’ rights.” 

Crokett then offers the classic example of the Big Lie: implying that when you make the system smaller, children are less safe: 

“This system is traumatic and stressful for children and parents. I absolutely do think that we should do everything that we can to keep the child with their family,” Crockett said. “And it’s also true that child abuse is still happening. And so how do we balance those two things? 

Except that well over a decade ago, a Texas think tank – a liberal Texas think tank -- released a study debunking the idea that doing more to keep families together compromises child safety. On the contrary, it’s the massive overload of systems with all those false allegations trivial cases and poverty cases that makes it harder to find children in real danger. 

The bias of the center 

One of the problems for the Tribune in pushing the whole idea that these bills all spring from the minds of right-wing “parents’ rights” fanatics is the fact that so many of the bills passed nearly unanimously (something never mentioned in the story).  The solution is to stereotype both sides as extreme while groups like CASA – and the Texas Tribune -- are simply suggesting that, as journalists love to proclaim, the truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. 

So after accepting CASA’s false characterization the story declares that the new laws represent 

an approach supported by both ​​social conservatives who tout family values and progressive child welfare abolitionists who want to do away with the system. 

In the Texas Tribune’s eyes, only extremists support these “parents’ rights” bills; whereas good, sensible moderates oppose them.  This is a classic example of what’s been aptly called “the bias of the center” – the idea that the truth always lies “somewhere in between” – and somehow taking that stand in a news story, and stereotyping everyone you disagree with as an extremist, isn’t bias. 

In this case there’s a particular problem: By that logic, almost every Democrat in the Texas Legislature is an abolitionist “who want(s) to do away with the system.”  If that were true you’d think they would have proposed stronger bills. 

No, what the Tribune (and the Dallas Morning News) can’t face is that after decades of seeing the system that calls itself “child welfare” do enormous harm to children, people across the political spectrum are coming together and finding common ground.  They've come to understand that due process for families is the best way to ensure children’s rights and child safety.  

So the Tribune presents us with a lawyer, who, apparently referring to these bills and one that became law in 2021 said: “The failing in the laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.” 

In fact, none of this year’s bills changes the standard for removal. The one that became law in 2021 (again after passing with huge bipartisan majorities) said only that before branding families guilty of neglect and tearing children from everyone they know and love there should be an “immediate danger” to the child.  That’s because if the danger isn’t immediate then there’s time to find ways to remove the risk instead of the child.  Why in the world wouldn’t you try that first? 

The anonymous reporting bill 

The first bill discussed specifically in the Tribune story is the one largely replacing anonymous reporting with confidential reporting. Here, the reporter doesn’t bother with the figleaf of finding someone else to say what she thinks, instead she simply declares flatly that the bill “takes an extreme approach to weeding out false reports.” 

The story’s discussion of this bill is misleading in several ways. 

The story declares that “the anonymity can protect those afraid of retaliation.” At no point does the story explain why confidential reporting, in which the accused still doesn’t know the name of the accuser, fails to do that.  

The story then repeats this from that previous misleading Texas Tribune story about the bill: 

About 1,000 of the 12,473 anonymous reports made in 2022 led to findings of abuse, according to Texans Care for Children. 

Like the previous story, this one leaves a whole lot out:

      ● “Findings of abuse” is a gross exaggeration.  The 1,000 reports were “substantiated,” but that means only that a caseworker checked a box on a form guessing it is slightly more likely than not that something that meets Texas’ definitions of abuse and neglect occurred. 

        Of those 1,000 cases, it is likely that 770 did not involve sexual abuse or any form of physical abuse.

      So what the numbers actually show is that, of all anonymous reports alleging abuse or neglect in Texas in 2022, 92% were flat-out false.  That means caseworkers handling these cases spent 92% of their time harassing innocent families, inflicting trauma on their children – and wasting time that could have been used to find children in real danger.

      Add in the cases that were “substantiated” but involved neither physical nor sexual abuse, and the figure rises to more than 98%.  That’s 98% of workers’ time spent on cases that are nothing like the horror stories.

At no point in the Texas Tribune story is anyone quoted favoring the bill.  But, again echoing the previous story, the reporter gladly invokes the ultimate in fearmongering to oppose it: 

“None of us in this room want any child to suffer abuse or neglect. And I would hate for us to vote for a policy where the tradeoff is ... [having] a child possibly die from abuse or neglect,” [Sen. José] Menéndez said on the Senate floor. 

Texas Tribune readers never learn about that liberal think tank study showing that encouraging more reports, anonymous or otherwise, does not reduce child abuse deaths.  They never learn about the research showing that it is the overload of false allegations trivial cases and poverty cases that actually makes it more like that that you could have “a child possibly die from abuse or neglect.” 

Suckered by a McLawsuit 

Part of the blame for all this lies with the group that brought the massive doomed-to-fail Texas McLawsuit in the first place: the group that calls itself Children’s Rights.  Both CR and the group that spun off from it and which shares responsibility for the Texas McLawsuit, A Better Childhood, have abysmal records of filing almost identical suits across the country that ignore the problem at the root of all the others – needless removal of children.  Instead, they demand “solutions” that don’t always fail completely, but often leave states with the same lousy systems only bigger.  

That’s why Michigan’s leading child advocate recently blasted the consent decree resulting from a very similar Children’s Rights McLawsuit in that state, declaring that the Michigan 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. 

The Texas lawsuit demands much the same – and it sounds like that’s exactly as the Texas Tribune thinks it should be.  

The Texas suit also is another example of CR’s excellent public policy work and its lousy lawsuits working at cross purposes.  In recent years CR has done bold work calling out racism in family policing and demanding things like the repeal of horrible laws such as the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act. 

But in its Texas lawsuit Complaint (Paragraph 282) CR demands stricter enforcement of ASFA. 

None of this excuses how Texas has responded to the lawsuit – by fighting it tooth and nail instead of proposing an alternative: a consent decree that emphasizes services and due process protections to keep children in their own homes.  (It’s not too late to try that, by the way.) 

But none of this is hindsight either.  We knew the McLawsuit was doomed to fail and we said so early on.  Now, the Texas legislature is figuring out that the only way to fix foster care is to have less of it – whether the Texas Tribune or the Dallas Morning News like it or not. 


KWTX-TV reports on a case in which six children were taken away.  All of them, even the youngest, age 2, apparently were institutionalized.  Now that child is dead.  According to the news story “this all happened because of a call alleging [the mother] was smoking marijuana.” And KXXV-TV reports the call was anonymous and the mother passed "numerous drug tests."  (They also report there was an allegation of "violence" - but no indication there was even an allegation of violence against the children.)

Apparently, the children were never in any danger, because shortly after boy’s death, the Texas family police agency gave all the other children back and closed the case.

So yeah, tell us again Texas lawyer how “the failing in the laws is that the standard is so high now for a child to be removed.”  And tell us again, Texas lawmaker, how the "tradeoff" for banning most anonymous reporting is "[having] a child possibly die."