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.