Wednesday, August 30, 2023

When injustice hides in plain sight

The New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is examining racism in the New York family policing system (a more accurate term than “child welfare” system).  New York’s institutional providers of family defense prepared in-depth written testimony that is a report in itself.

As I read it, I had to stop every few pages.  Just reading the first-hand accounts of soul-crushing injustice visited upon overwhelmingly poor nonwhite families was tough.  Yet these families have to live it every day.

I’ve excerpted part of one section below – the section on what, in New York, is called the family court.  That’s not because the injustices chronicled in that section are worse than the rest – but they are easier for the rest of us to see for ourselves.

Anyone in New York – especially any journalist -- who doesn’t believe what these lawyers are telling us can head for the family court in their borough or county and watch.  For more than 25 years in New York State, by order of that state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, these hearings have been open.  

Unfortunately, New York reporters almost never take advantage of this opportunity.  In fact, in 2011 a New York Times reporter started showing up just to see what would happen and was repeatedly turned away.  Judges and court officials either never knew, or forgot, that the hearings were supposed to be open.  The Court of Appeals had to send them a reminder. 

So now might be a good time to put the judges to the test again – and this time, stick around to see the injustice that’s been hiding in plain sight. 

And not just in New York.  In large part because of the work of New York’s family defenders, at least in New York City the system is one of the least horrible in America.  Wherever you are, it’s probably even worse.  And if where you are happens to be Texas, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Washington State, Oregon, Colorado and, for media only, Illinois, you can go see just how awful things are.  Admittedly, in some of these courts it may take time before an observer can see the difference in how Black and white families are treated – because it may take awhile before you see a white family in these courts. 

Meanwhile, here’s some of what New York City’s family defenders see every day.  And here’s something else to think about as you read it:  

One of New York’s, indeed the nation’s, most important, and bravest, anti-racist voices in the field, Angela Burton, was fired from her job with the New York State court system after she submitted an outline of remarks she planned to make to a meeting of the New York Advisory Committee.  Her bosses felt her remarks would “undermine public confidence in the court’s impartiality.” 


The structure and practices of family court and the laws family court judges apply harm families and act as a force of destruction to Black communities. Too often family courts rubber-stamp the decisions of the family policing agencies, and fail to function as the intended check on the system. … 

From its failure to follow governing laws and ensure due process, to its prioritization of expediency over fairness, humanity, and just outcomes, the family court functions as an arm of state power, rather than a neutral arbiter of fairness and justice. … On a regular basis our clients face the following harms and disregard for their humanity and dignity in family court:  

1. Being called by generic labels like “mom,” “birth mom,” “dad,” and “paramour,” instead of by their actual names, and the use of other dehumanizing language;

 2. Having cases scheduled and called with no regard whatsoever of the parent’s schedule, obligations, or the arduous demands of court ordered services; 

3. Experiencing the other players in the system insensitively laughing, joking, rolling their eyes, and making light of the proceedings in total disregard for the profound impact the proceeding is having on them and their family; and 

4. Being subjected to the reliance on tropes and narratives deeply rooted in this country’s history of anti-Black racism, classism, and other forms of structural oppression. 

From the moment of a parent’s first contact with the family court, the system dehumanizes parents and families and deprives them of the opportunity to be fully heard. While family investigations go on for days, weeks, or even months prior to the filing of allegations in family court, parents are typically unable to meet their defense counsel until the day the petition is filed (sometimes even on the second or third appearance) and often only moments before a family is called before the court for the first time, … 

There is no legal obligation for [the Administration for Children’s Services] ACS or prosecutors in family policing cases to provide exculpatory or exonerating evidence. This results in presentations to the court that are extremely one-sided, resembling a diatribe making a case against a parent without the balance that could give the court an accurate picture of the family. 

The unnecessary and inexplicable, and in our view intentional, delay in providing information is so normalized in the courts, that we are greeted with astonishment when we propose that we receive the information earlier. 

Time and time again, we have seen cases with similar facts have vastly differing results, with the only measurable distinction between the families being the color of the parent’s skin. For example, when allegations of neglect relate to a one time incident of excessive corporal punishment, white and Asian children are more likely to remain at home with their families, while Black families are consistently separated, with the court relying on racist tropes that the parent is “angry” and unable to control their actions. The data also supports our observations in court, showing that although the percentage of reports leading to [court] filings for Black parents and Latine parents are similar, the reports made against Black parents are 50% more likely to result in removal than those made against Latine families. 

From their first appearance in court, Black families are not looked at holistically, and are met with suspicion and contempt. For example, expressions of emotion by a Black parent whose children are being torn away are often viewed by both the court and caseworkers as evidence of a larger mental health or anger issue, consistent with racist perceptions and tropes about Black people—rather than recognizing an emotional response to family separation as fundamentally human. 

A parent who is deferential to the agency and the court – who is “polite,” easy to work with, and who expresses “insight” in terms that they admit full wrongdoing – is more likely to have a swift and favorable resolution. In contrast, a parent who expresses emotions about the separation of their families, who questions unreasonable directives from the agency and court, and who raises concerns about the care their child receives in the foster system, will often be viewed as “angry,” “difficult,” “non-compliant,” and “lacking insight,” which will delay reunification and progress in family court. 

Prosecuting attorneys attend court conferences intended to discuss settlement and visitation completely unprepared, without settlement offers or positions on expanding visits or other plans for achieving reunification. Cases with extremely weak allegations often unnecessarily take months or years to resolve, and then only after attorneys for parents force the agency’s hand by filing motions to compel discovery or to dismiss. The ACS attorney will then often withdraw their petitions or offer a very short adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, ultimately subjecting families to months or years of unnecessary surveillance and family policing involvement. 

Prosecuting attorneys regularly fail to provide discovery until the eve or day of trial, making it difficult, if not impossible, for defense counsel to advise parents about the potential risks and consequences of settlement, or to be prepared to move forward with trial. Parents regularly take off work to appear in court for a fact-finding hearing, only to find out that the ACS attorney failed to subpoena a witness or essential records, or is simply unprepared to move forward. Adjournments are liberally granted by the court in these circumstances, despite the ACS attorney’s lack of diligence. The resulting delays subject families to needless separation, unnecessary surveillance and stress, and demonstrate an utter disrespect for families. 

While these delays are intolerable and grounded in a racist disregard for the time and well-being of Black and Latine families, the family court’s efforts to address them also often display the same racist disregard. For example, while adjournments are repeatedly granted to ACS, a parent’s request for an adjournment, no matter the basis, is routinely denied. A parent’s absence will lead to an immediate default, which carries with it negative legal consequences, while the court will grant multiple adjournments when the ACS worker is repeatedly absent, even when their participation is essential. 

[O]ften, Black parents are treated across the board with greater skepticism and distrust. Courts question the intentions of Black parents, their love and commitment to their children, as well as their willingness and ability to follow court orders while white parents are generally given the benefit of the doubt and trusted to overwhelmingly have good intentions and stronger protective capacity.   

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 29, 2023

WITF Public Radio has a good story about a joint report  from law schools at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University on Pennsylvania's “central registry” of those whom a caseworker decided were slightly more likely than not to be child abusers.  Their conclusion: Do what Georgia did with its registry: Get rid of it. Among the reasons: racial bias.  As the story points out:

Researchers point to different reasons why Black parents are reported for child abuse and neglect at a higher rate. One of those reasons is the discretion caseworkers are given to determine what constitutes physical neglect. Researchers found that some caseworkers were flagging people for neglect for leaving children unsupervised for brief lapses of time, sometimes as short as 15 minutes.

● Also in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh’s highly-touted predictive analytics family policing algorithm reportedly is under investigation for bias against the disabled.  So Pennsylvania officials should be among the first to read TWO new law review articles: Prof. Sarah Lorr’s new article about pervasive family police discrimination against disabled families, reviewed here (with a link to the full article) by Prof. Josh Gupta-Kagan, and this one just published today (Aug 29) by Prof. Robyn Powell. 

● Have you noticed how the writing of “child welfare” establishment types sounds more frantic lately? Case in point: The “scholar” so desperate he’s trying to turn the entire concept of “evidence-based” on its head.  I have a blog post about it. 

In an editorial, the Arizona Republic is asking the right questions about all those important family policing court documents that somehow never reached the people who were supposed to see them: 

How many Arizona children have been needlessly ripped from their parents?

Or haven’t been reunited with them?

Or adopted to another family because critical information was never uploaded to their files? 

And a family defender in Arizona – who used to prosecute these cases – writes: 

I have significant concerns about whether parents in these thousands of cases were afforded their full due process rights. … Records that have to be “admitted” into the database [but may not have been] include substance abuse records, visitation records and medical records. Similar to a report by a psychologist, if these records were never admitted, it could mean that parental rights were terminated by a court that had insufficient information. 

● Los Angeles tears apart families at the second highest rate among America’s largest cities.  A new McLawsuit brought by the group that calls itself “Children’s Rights” won’t help – and may make things even worse.  I have a blog post about it. 

In The New York Times Elizabeth Spiers writes about the real story of Michael Oher whose story supposedly was told in the book and movie The Blind Side.  Says Spiers: 

The idea that Black children are automatically better off with nice white parents than their own biological parents is just white supremacy, which does not have to be produced by official hate groups to be insidious. It is often banal, and so commonplace that its ubiquitousness renders it just part of the background. It doesn’t always arrive wearing a white pointed hood or muttering racial slurs; it’s often just a presumption of white benevolence.

● The harm inflicted by so-called child abuse pediatricians is in the news in two places this week. WFMZ-TV reports that the county comptroller in Lehigh County, PA. issued a report on one.  And in Seattle, Fox 13 reports, a judge ruled that a rush to judgment by a doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital was "based on conscious and unconscious bias towards people from minority communities. Particularly black and brown communities."  It wasn’t the first time this doctor had traumatized a family with a misdiagnosis. 

● Great news, Missouri parents: The state Department of Social Services says you are now free to smoke marijuana, as long as you’re away from the kids! – Oh, wait, sorry, I misread the story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: It’s foster parents who now have this official freedom. They can even grow pot for their own use, as long as it’s under lock and key.  I wonder how many of those same foster parents are caring for foster children taken from their own homes because their real parents smoked pot?  In a state that tears apart families at a rate 70% above the national average, probably quite a few. 

● Confronted with evidence of widespread problems with false positive drug test results, the family police agency in Utah tells KSL-TV what they're going to do about it: Not a damn thing.

● There’s a federal law that makes housing vouchers available to youth aging out of foster care.  But, NCCPR Board Member Ruth White writes in The Imprint, it took another law just to force caseworkers in Washington, D.C. to tell young people about it. 

● And in this week’s edition of The Horror Stories Go in All Directions, the Oregon Capital Chronicle reports that: 

A woman who spent 16 years of her childhood in the state’s foster care system is suing the Oregon Department of Human Services, alleging the agency placed her in foster homes where she suffered abuse and failed to protect her when they knew. 

And, it seems, Oregon continues to cover up what happened: 

In this case, some of the details are murky because – as the lawsuit points out – the state agency would not give her complete records about her time in the state system and instead blacked out information about the foster parents and homes.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

What part of “no evidence” does this child welfare “scholar” not understand

Meet the "scholar" who is turning the concept of "evidence based" upside-down
(Photo by Nick Youngson,

This post quotes from many tweets. I have not tried to correct the typos in those tweets.

Have you noticed something new about the “child welfare” establishment lately? You know, the wonderful people who created the child welfare surveillance state that tears apart at least 200,000 families a year and subjects more than half of all Black children to traumatic child abuse investigations based on reports that are almost always false.  The tone of their writing seems to be increasingly desperate. 

After 50 years of health terrorism – misrepresenting the nature and scope of a problem, in this case, child abuse, in the name of “raising awareness,” people are catching on.  People are noticing that all that misery inflicted on millions of children in the name of stopping child abuse fatalities has done nothing to stop child abuse fatalities.  And they’re noticing that the misery is inflicted almost exclusively on people who are poor and disproportionately on people who are nonwhite.  I wouldn’t say people aren’t buying the fearmongering anymore, but it’s getting harder to sell. 

Among those sounding increasingly frantic is Richard Barth, former dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland.  Barth, you may recall, is the one who declared that – unlike any other profession in America, child welfare is 100% free of racial bias!   

The evidence, including study after study, says otherwise. 

Perhaps that’s why Barth now is trying to stand the whole concept of evidence on its head. 

This can be seen most recently in his response to an op-ed column in the Hartford Courant by Prof. Kelley Fong, author of the forthcoming book Investigating Families. In that op-ed, she writes: 

Research finds that following high-profile child fatalities, child welfare agencies respond by removing more children from their homes in a “foster care panic.” There’s no evidence, however, that this makes children safer. Instead, such panics leave more children and their parents traumatized by family separation, and spread child welfare workers even thinner. 

Barth responded on his increasingly shrill feed on The Site Formerly Known as Twitter. (No, I will not be linking to it or anything else Barth has written. There’s enough here for anyone to find it if they are so inclined.  But I’ve reprinted the tweet in full, pausing for analysis.)  Let’s have a look, line-by-line. He begins with this: 

Nice to see acknowledgment of the many ways that child welfare services do help support families. 

That’s sort of like saying “what about Officer Friendly?” in response to issues of police brutality. Of course, sometimes individual police officers do good things. That does not justify stop-and-frisk and choking Black people to death.  And the very fact that in order to – maybe – get help, families have to go to what is really a police force adds enormous stress and drives many away from seeking help. 

Misreading We Were Once a Family 

Barth similarly misunderstood We Were Once a Family, Roxanna Asgarian’s brilliant book about Black children who were adopted to death by their white foster/adoptive parents.  Almost every reader understands what that book is all about: the racism that led to these children being taken from extended families who could have raised them and the racism that prompted family police agencies (a more accurate term than “child welfare” agencies) to ignore signs of abuse by the white savior foster / adoptive parents. 

But not Richard Barth. In a commentary for The Imprint about Asgarian’s book, he can’t bring himself even to mention the fact that the children were Black and the murderers were white. And his only solutions are more study and ramping up constant surveillance of all adoptive families. 

Now, back to Barth’s tweet, as he switches gears and discusses foster-care panics: 

 I agree that the standard of removal should not change, markedly, after a child death 

So, how much is “markedly”?  Often there is a 10% increase in a single year.  Is that “markedly”?  Sometimes it’s 20% or 30%.  In the worst example I know of, Florida in 1999, removals skyrocketed 50% in a single year.

More important, where is the evidence that every time there is a high-profile tragedy there should be any increase in the number of children torn from their homes?  It doesn’t exist.  

That does not stop Barth, who continues: 

--these deaths and serious injuries should be factored in to decision making before then. 

So does that mean we all should be tearing apart families at higher rates to begin with?  Again, where is the evidence?  We tear apart vastly more families than we did 50 years ago.  But, as is discussed further below, there is no evidence that child abuse deaths have decreased. 

And now we get to the heart of the matter. Says Barth: 

But not sure what it means that no evidence shows that removals after high profile deaths don't make children safer... 

Really, Prof. Barth?  You don’t know what “no evidence” means?  It means: No. Evidence. 

In fact, no evidence means pretty much what you said yourself in the very next sentence: 

I'd surprised if there is evidence that shows anything about the impact of subsequent removals after failure to protect children. Is there? 

Actually, there is some evidence about this.  It is, indeed, limited, but it does not support Barth’s position. 

In one sense the relative lack of evidence is a good thing.  Though each is the worst imaginable tragedy, child abuse deaths are as rare as they are horrifying.  So in all but the largest jurisdictions, they may rise or fall due to random chance.  And even in those large jurisdictions, there are other confounding variables, including bias in determining if a given death was due to, say, neglect, or an accident. 

But in those very large jurisdictions, I have never seen a foster-care panic followed by a decline in child abuse deaths.  Several times, there have been increases. 

Correlation is not causation.  But the best people like Barth can say is there is no evidence one way or the other.  Yet this is how he makes his case to maintain the status quo:  There’s no evidence foster care panics make children safer, but you can't prove they don’t! So apparently, we shouldn’t worry too much about them.  In another tweet, responding to Prof. Fong, who cited family defense attorneys who used statistics from government agencies, Barth doubled down: 

Hmm. Public defenders arguing from single trends don't give me any confidence. It's time for public defenders, and attorneys, and CW commentators, in general, to team up with scientists before drawing conclusions. I see that lawyers have now tweeted out your claims that there is no evidence. Sigh. 

Darn those pesky lawyers!  If Barth wants to convince people that it’s wrong to claim there’s no evidence all he has to do is provide the evidence.  But he can’t.  Because there’s no evidence! 

A failed defense of mandatory reporting 

In an opinion column he co-authored for JAMA Pediatrics Barth again turned the concept of “evidence-based” on its head to justify mandatory child abuse reporting laws. 

Those laws were deployed more than 50 years ago with no evidence base at all. There were no studies beforehand to see if they would work.  Now that research finally has been done, those studies show mandatory reporting backfires, scaring families away from seeking help and overloading workers so they have less time to find the relatively few children in real danger. 

So what does Barth say?  Keep mandatory reporting – but “Research is needed to find optimal approaches to certain circumstances…” 

So to review: Here is the traditional definition of “evidence-based”: First you come up with an idea.  Then you test the idea with rigorous studies.  If the studies show it works, then you deploy. 

Here’s the Richard Barth approach when it involves something he likes: Deploy mandatory reporting with no testing.  After 50+ years, when zero evidence says it works and the studies done so far say it’s harmful – then do more studies. 

Notably, even child welfare establishment types are becoming more reluctant to buy what Barth keeps trying to sell. 

That JAMA Pediatrics opinion column was followed by a comment from none other than Dr. Richard Krugman. Krugman is the very personification of the child welfare establishment.  He used to be director of the C. Henry Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. Here is his comment, in full: 

This is a thoughtful commentary stressing the need for balance in our views of Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies. As one who has worked in this field for the past 40 years, I agree with Dubowitz and Barth that just ablating CPS agencies is the wrong approach. BUT, we now have 40 years of experience with this approach and have made no progress in reducing the mortality from physical abuse of children (decades with 1500-2500 children dying annually). What is missing from CPS are data on the outcomes for children and families of the "services" being provided to them. What is needed are carefully designed studies testing alternative approaches to community child protection efforts that can tell us in the next decade whether those approaches lead to better outcomes for children and families that what we are doing now. Doing the same thing for 40 years that doesn't seem (or can't be shown) to be working was someone's definition of insanity. [Emphasis in original.] 

Alas, like Barth, Krugman can’t bring himself to actually call for not doing things that are not evidence-based.  But for someone like Richard Krugman to offer even this genteel critique, with its implication that Barth’s approach may be, um,  lacking in sanity, means that extremists like Barth are becoming increasingly isolated. 

Barth isn’t just trying to redefine evidence-based.  When it suits him, he tries to redefine foster care. 

Consider this bizarre 2021 exchange on Twitter between Barth and Prof. Alan Dettlaff: 

Dettlaff tweets:

 In April 2020, Cornelius Fredericks threw a sandwich at another resident of the institution where he was placed. He was then killed by staff members who restrained him until he could no longer breathe. This is what happens to children in foster care. 

Barth then replies: 

This is tragic but did not occur in foster care. (This was a residential center.) So it can't fit your sloganeering about what happens to children in foster care. Lazy thinking amd imprecise language wont help us serve children better. 

Hey Prof. Barth, have you told the federal government?  All these years, they’ve been under the misimpression that residential treatment is foster care!  For some reason, the federal database known as the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System has a whole category for “institutions” Similarly, this excellent database from ChildTrends includes “Group Home or Institution” under “Placement settings and stability for children in foster care” [Emphasis added.]  

And apparently, the entire federal government got its regulations wrong, too.  Because Federal regulations define foster care as 

24 hour substitute care for all children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the State agency has placement and care responsibility.  

So, Prof. Barth, tell us again about “lazy thinking.”


Sometime today, Prof. Barth responded to having his tweets criticized:

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Another lousy McLawsuit won’t fix LA foster care – and might make it worse

The McLawsuits brought by the group that calls itself "children's rights"
always ignore the elephant in the room.

● These McLawsuits typically lead to consent decrees that drag on for years and sometimes worsen the conditions they were intended to correct. 

● That’s because they systematically ignore the elephant in the room; the problem at the root of all the others: the needless removal of children.  

● The latest McLawsuit reinforces ugly stereotypes about who loses children to foster care. 

● And when it comes to racism in the system, the McLawsuit reeks of tokenism. 

The group that calls itself Children’s Rights (CR) has filed another McLawsuit – one of those nearly identical suits it files all over the country that routinely ignore the need to stop taking so many children in the first place. 

This time the suit is against Los Angeles County’s family police/family regulation agency – terms the McLawsuit itself refuses even to use, except in a single footnote.  It concerns the horrendous treatment of foster youth aged 16 to 21. 

At the outset, there are some things I’m glad to stipulate, as the lawyers would say. 

● I have no doubt that everything in the McLawsuit about how horribly older foster youth are treated is true. 

● Litigation can be effective.  NCCPR board members brought two of the few lawsuits that have been relatively successful,  R.C. v. Hornsby in Alabama and Nicholson v. Scoppetta in New York.  Both those suits focused on curbing the needless removal of children – disproving CR’s repeated claim that this can’t be litigated. 

● CR and the other groups bringing this latest McLawsuit are not “in it for the legal fees.”  As is so often the case among those who get these issues wrong, they mean well. 

But in the rare cases when CR’s McLawsuits are followed by real improvement, it’s almost always in spite of the litigation, not because of it.  And over and over, the McLawsuits have left systems as bad – or worse – than they found them. 

That’s why Michigan’s foremost family defender, Vivek Sankaran, in effect told CR to please get the hell out of Michigan.  More details about CR’s ugly litigation track record are here.  

But the bottom line is simple: In family policing, wrongful removal drives everything else.  That's the elephant in the room.  But CR’s McLawsuits typically say little or nothing about curbing the needless removal of children or reunifying them after they are taken.  The remedies they seek often divert scarce resources from keeping families together. 

The L.A. suit risks doing just that. 

About that “array” 

The major solution called for in the lawsuit is “a minimally adequate array of safe and stable placements.”  The phrase appears at least 19 times in the McLawsuit complaint.  But Los Angeles County already has a “minimally adequate array of safe and stable placements.”   They’re just not using it correctly. 

Los Angeles tears apart families at the second highest rate among America’s largest cities.  If they stopped doing that, a whole array of empty foster homes would be available.  And if L.A. then provided Wraparound services those homes could handle “difficult” older youth. 

Yet there is not one word about the need to take fewer children.  And, in a county where foster homes are filled with children originally taken because their family poverty was confused with neglect, CR couldn’t be bothered to find even one named plaintiff taken under such circumstances. 

On the contrary, the McLawsuit reinforces ugly stereotypes about the kinds of families whose children are taken, by offering no counterpoint to examples such as the youth who 

was cycled by DCFS between various family member placements. During this period, she experienced abuse and neglect from her caregivers, including periods of homelessness. 

CR even implies that such cases are the norm: 

Rosie S.’s childhood had the hallmarks of trauma and instability that DCFS is accustomed to seeing in children entering foster care, including early childhood abuse and neglect, family violence, frequent moves, and unstable placements. [Emphasis added] 

The point is not that such examples should be left out.  The point is that the far more common circumstances under which children come into DCFS “care” should have been included.  Who says poverty is confused with neglect?  Among others, Children’s Rights itself – in its excellent public policy work, which often is at odds with its own litigation.  

As for reunification, the McLawsuit does mention that – but only in one specific context: foster youth
who are themselves parents and wind up needlessly separated from their own children because of various rules and policies in their placements.

CR rightly condemns this without addressing the question of all the young people in foster care whose own families are denied what they need to reunify. 

With curbing needless removal off the table (as usual in a CR McLawsuit), what’s left?  The McLawsuit doesn’t say, but typically that silence, combined with the false claim that LA doesn’t have “a minimally adequate array of safe and stable placements” means another foster parent recruiting campaign or maybe another pay raise for foster parents – who already often are taking in children because of those children’s own parents’ poverty.  And quite possibly more “group homes,” probably with some sort of euphemism in the name.  

CR’s policy arm produced an outstanding report condemning such “congregate care.”  Perhaps the litigation arm never read it – no wait, that can’t be it; CR’s litigation director is credited as a co-author. 

So when the inevitable settlement takes place it is quite possible that scarce funds that could be far better used to keep families together will be diverted into creating CR’s vision of “a minimally adequate array of safe and stable placements” – as happened in Michigan and Georgia. 

Tokenism about racism 

Children’s Rights is a group that once actually claimed, in a fundraising pitch, to be “driving a national conversation about the urgent need to end unjust government intervention in the lives of Black children and families.” 

That makes especially offensive how that whole issue is handled in this McLawsuit.  It isn’t.  It is simply mentioned in passing that “The overwhelming majority of foster youth in Los Angeles County come from low-income Black and Latino communities.”  And then, much later: “[T]he harms of Defendants’ failures disproportionately fall on already marginalized youth—youth of color, queer youth, pregnant and parenting youth, and youth with disabilities—as these youth are vastly over-represented in the Los Angeles County foster care population.” 

There is nothing about why this is the case, except for a hint, buried in a footnote. 

For clarity purposes, this brief uses the traditional terms “child welfare system” and “foster care system” to refer to the system of policies and supportive services meant to ensure the safety, wellbeing, and permanency of children, youth, and families. We recognize that the term “family

regulation system” more aptly describes this set of government structures, which far too often unjustly regulates marginalized families. 

But the Los Angeles McLawsuit doesn’t address how to stop “this set of government structures” from unjustly regulating marginalized families. 

The McLawsuits never do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending August 22, 2023

● Until a few years ago, you probably never would have read a story like this one, from Toriano Porter, a member of the editorial board of the Kansas City Star.  Because, until a few years ago, people with Toriano Poter’s lived experience were rarely hired by newspaper editorial boards.  So this urgent story isn’t just about the tyranny of family policing, this time in the most literal sense of the term.  This story also is about the power of newsroom diversity, and the need for more of it. (And if you hit the Star’s paywall, look for the questionnaire option.  Any spam you may receive as a result will be worth it.) 

● After the tragic death of a child in Connecticut, Prof. Kelley Fong asks in a commentary for the Hartford Courant if the head of the state’s family police agency will make sure there’s no foster-care panic. 

She writes: 

DCF has expressed a commitment to keeping families together, and has worked, impressively, to decrease foster care caseloads and refer families to community supports. Now the rubber meets the road, as DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes and her team face their first big test. Will they waver in the face of pressure? Or will they uphold their commitments to child safety through family preservation?

 ­● When the data from 2021 showed that claims made the year before about a coming COVID-induced “pandemic of child abuse” were just the usual fearmongering from the family policing establishment, they replied: Just wait ‘till we see the data from 2022!  Well, the wait is over: I have a blog post about data from 2022. 

● There’s been a monumental screw-up in Arizona.  CBS 5 reports that in a minimum of 3,800 cases the screw-up “prevented judges from seeing all the information available in cases before making life-changing decisions like removing a child from their home.” 

As The Arizona Republic explains: 

The discovery has broad implications for children, parents and potential adoptive parents. In the immediate term, 596 ongoing cases will be reviewed over the next two weeks. 

Attorneys and DCS staffers also have to review the 139 adoption cases, as well as 515 guardianship cases that have been completed since the system launched, raising the possibility that decisions in those cases might be reversed, or at least revisited.

The family police agency asked the courts to postpone all "child welfare" cases for two weeks until they could figure out which documents are missing in which cases.  But in the state's largest county, Maricopa, the judges have refused. 

● In Hawaii, Honolulu Civil Beat reports, Melanie Joseph kicked a meth habit and put herself through all sorts of “services” to prove she can be a good mother to her newborn son.  But apparently, the family police don’t believe it.  The family police are the ones who took Melanie’s six-year-old daughter away and placed her with the foster/adoptive parents now accused of torturing and murdering her.  So, whose judgment should we trust here? 

● In the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law, Prof. Shanta Trivedi explores the harm done to some of the children hurt most by “mandatory reporting” laws – children whose mothers are, themselves, survivors of domestic violence. 

● Prof. Trivedi also is quoted in this story from the Baltimore Banner about Maryland making it a little harder for the family police to tear apart families when a parent smokes marijuana.  Read the story in conjunction with the story mentioned here to get a full understanding of who gets to smoke marijuana and be a parent – and who doesn’t. 

● In New Hampshire, the state’s “Child Advocate” says now that two children have been removed from a horrible institution in Tennessee she can get “a good night’s sleep.”  I have a blog post about why she really shouldn’t be resting easy. 

New York Magazine spoke to Angela Tucker, author of You Should Be Grateful: Stories of Race, Identity, and Transracial Adoption, about what should now be called the alleged adoption of Michael Oher, whose story was told (or was it?) in the movie The Blind Side.  Tucker calls it 

the quintessential white-supremacy moment. What do Black and brown people have to do in order to be seen as fully human and deserving of being believed? As Black adoptees, we don’t get that benefit of the doubt. There can never be an accusation that we make without people defending white people first, looking at us sideways, thinking, There’s gotta be more to the story. Maybe they’re exaggerating. 

● And In New York City, family defenders have presented comprehensive testimony to the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  The committee is studying racial bias in the New York family policing system.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Attn: New Hampshire “Child Advocate” – there are horrendous institutions in your state, too

You shouldn’t be getting “a good night’s sleep” while kids are institutionalized anywhere.  

If your state didn’t tear apart families at a rate nearly double the national average, you wouldn't be institutionalizing children at triple the national average.  In fact, none would “need” to be institutionalized. 

The Bledsoe Youth Academy in Tennessee sure sounds like a hellhole.  That’s what New Hampshire’s “Child Advocate,” Cassandra Sanchez, found when she toured the place. 

As the news site In-Depth New Hampshire reports: 

Sanchez and Assistant Child Advocate Jennifer Jones toured Bledsoe, finding it was run by staff through fear and humiliation … 

At Bledsoe, kids are offered incentives by staff to assault other “problematic” kids, the report said. 

“…if a kid is giving staff a difficult time, another kid might be asked by staff to go after him physically and would be rewarded by staff with a snack or some other incentive, and the aggressor would not be written up for the behavior. …” 

So Sanchez was understandably proud of herself for getting two New Hampshire foster youth out of the place.  But Sanchez takes that way too far when, as the story puts it, 

Finally, she and her staffers can breathe and get a good night’s sleep knowing they are no longer at Bledsoe, she said. 

The management of WMUR-TV apparently feels similarly reassured

But no one should be getting a good night’s sleep as long as foster children are institutionalized – in Tennessee, New Hampshire, or anywhere else.  In fact, that goes triple for New Hampshire, where, as of 2021, 27% of foster children were institutionalized - a rate triple the national average.

And Sanchez, of all people, should know it. Because just last year her predecessor issued a report exposing widespread abuse at a home-grown institution. In fact, the Child Advocate’s office received a “cascade of complaints” about the place.  And yet, for some reason, that institution got kid glove treatment, not only from the state but in the remarkably tepid recommendations from the Child Advocate’s office itself.  You can read all about that institution, and the state’s lousy response here.

As we pointed out in that post, institutionalization is inherently so traumatic as to be an act of abuse in itself.  It is also unnecessary.  The evidence is overwhelming that there is nothing an institution can do that can’t be done better, and at far less cost, with Wraparound programs.  Watch Wraparound pioneer Karl Dennis explain how it’s done.


And that makes Sanchez’s own response even more disheartening.  Again, from the story: 

Two Executive Councilors and a handful of lawmakers have reached out to Sanchez’ office since the report became public to see what can be done to avoid a similar situation in the future. … 

One idea Sanchez mentioned was to form a commission to study the residential treatment placement of children in and out of state and find out what’s working well. 

Just a commission?  You sure you don’t want a blue-ribbon commission?  Or maybe a “task force”? 

That’s what they’ve got in Colorado, a state that also institutionalizes children at a rate above the national average, but actually looks good compared to New Hampshire – and they’ve stacked it with people who run residential treatment centers.  You can guess how that’s going to go. 

So let me make New Hampshire the same offer I made Colorado: I can save the state a little money and a whole lot of time. 

Here’s a list of everything that’s “working well” in residential treatment: 


When it comes to institutionalizing children the only thing that works well is not institutionalizing children. It appears the new director of New Hampshire's family police agency knows this.  He says a top priority will be reducing institutionalization.

And yes, New Hampshire could do that.  The so-called “shortage” of foster homes in New Hampshire is artificial.  It comes from the fact that New Hampshire tears children from their families at the ninth highest rate in America – a rate nearly double the national average – even when child poverty is factored in. 

Get the children who don’t need to be in foster homes back into their own homes and there will be plenty of room in foster homes for the relatively few children who need to be taken away. 

But Sanchez undermines any effort to even consider that option when she refers to having concerns that institutionalization is “further traumatizing the kids.”  That reinforces the false impression that every child removed from her or his home had been traumatized there.  In fact, many children are not traumatized until they are taken away.

Sanchez’s false framing makes it that much less likely that the one option that “works well” will be considered by lawmakers. 

All of this means that, at best, those New Hampshire children rescued from the hellhole in Tennessee are out of the fire and into the frying pan. 

That should be keeping Sanchez and her staff awake at night.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Child abuse: The “surge” that wasn’t.


New data from Pennsylvania confirm: When America’s child welfare establishment fearmongers predicted that COVID would bring on a “pandemic of child abuse” it was just the usual health terrorism. 

Data from New York City tell the same story (which means The New York Times owes readers a full retraction).

The American family policing system, a more accurate term than “child welfare” system, is built on “health terrorism” – misrepresenting the true nature and scope of a problem in the name of “raising awareness.”  (Health terrorism is not a term I made up.  I heard it from the leader of a group that admits to having practiced it. They say they've stopped.  As it happens, another part of this group's approach is the blue pinwheel imagery that Pennsylvania's family policing agency was only too glad to adopt for its report cover.) 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the health terrorists in full force.  

First came the racist fearmongering when schools closed, and family policing agencies had to pull back.  You remember what all those health terrorists said, right? Now that all those overwhelmingly middle-class disproportionately white “mandated reporters” don’t constantly have their “eyes” on children who are neither, their parents shall unleash upon them a “pandemic of child abuse” – because (and this was the unspoken part, of course): you know how they are. 

Then came the corollary: Sure, you can’t see the pandemic of child abuse now – but just you wait until we get back to normal!  We’d better be prepared for a surge in child abuse reports and a surge in foster care, as all those abused children emerge from their homes battered and bruised and are once again seen by all those mandated reporters who can make the call that will rescue them!  Because you know how they are. 

And then came the claim that, well, even if we didn’t see the surge in 2021, we’ll see it in 2022! 

It didn’t happen. 

On the contrary, the family police were forced to step back, community-run community-based mutual aid organizations stepped up, and the federal government stepped in with the best “preventive service” of all: no-strings-attached cash. 

The Pennsylvania data 

The latest evidence debunking the health terrorists comes from Pennsylvania, which released its 2022 Child Protective Services Report this week. That report is the source for all of the data in the charts below. That state divides reports alleging abuse or neglect into two categories. Child Protective Services reports involve abuse and what agencies deem the most serious forms of neglect.  The rest – and that’s the overwhelming majority – are called “General Protective Services” reports.  There is no difference in who investigates them or how they are investigated. 

So let’s take a look, starting with the trend in Child Protective Services reports:

The first thing we see is that in the plague year of 2020 total reports alleging child abuse did indeed decline significantly.  But look more closely. 

First of all, in every year, almost all of the reports are false.  (And in case anyone still believes the health terrorist b.s. about how they’re not really false, please check the facts here.) 

When we look at the much smaller number of reports that had the minimal amount of evidence needed for a worker to check a box on a form declaring them “substantiated” we see that they did not decline.  The 2020 figure and the 2019 figure are almost identical. 

In other words, in Pennsylvania, the entire decline in child abuse reports due to all those mandated reporters no longer having their eyes constantly on overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite children was due to a decline in false reports.

 That’s because suddenly children weren’t surrounded by people who either had their own biases or simply were terrified not to report, even when they didn’t believe it themselves. That happens because while there is no penalty for a false report, there are penalties for failing to report.  It also happens because what passes for mandated reporter training in Pennsylvania can be boiled down to three words: Report! Report! Report!

In 2021, there was, indeed, an increase in reports and so-called substantiated cases.  But in neither case did the figures approach where they were in 2018.  And then, in 2022, which, remember is when the fearmongers said we were really supposed to see that surge – reports inched up – but “substantiated” reports went down. 

It’s easiest to see when we remove the data for the plague year of 2020:

So where’s the surge?

Now let’s look at neglect reports, what Pennsylvania calls General Protective Services


The pattern is similar.  There was a drop in 2020 and an increase in 2021.  But the increase in reports was, again, far higher than the increase in what Pennsylvania calls “valid” reports.  (That’s just like a substantiated reports, but Pennsylvania likes to give everything involving neglect a different name.)

Again, take out the plague year:

When we simply compare 2021 to the last year before COVID, 2019 we find an overall increase in reports of more than 10%.  But the increase in so-called “valid” reports was about 4.4%.  And that is about the same rate of increase as occurred between 2018 and 2019 – when there was no reason to suspect a massive number of hidden child neglect cases. 

And then in 2022 so-called “valid” reports of neglect dropped again – almost back to where they were during the pandemic year of 2020. 

So, once again, where is the surge? 

Even more extraordinary: We didn’t see a surge even though all those mandated reporters had been primed to expect one.  That probably made them even more likely to, for example, confuse poverty with “neglect.” 

Other evidence 

The Pennsylvania data are only the latest to prove the health terrorists wrong. 

● By 2021 even people who run family policing agencies admitted that there had been no pandemic of child abuse.  David Hansell, then commissioner of New York City’s Administration for Children's Services (ACS), told the New York City Council that not only was there no evidence of a pandemic of child abuse, the real lesson from the pandemic was that there’s been an overreliance on rushing to call child abuse hotlines.

● Then the specialized journal of the American Medical Association devoted to children, JAMA Pediatrics debunked the myth: the headline says it all: "Child Physical Abuse Did Not Increase During The Pandemic." 

● And the federal government’s annual “Child Maltreatment” report found that in 2021, what agencies say is child abuse and neglect reached a 30-year record low.  (In fact, that’s one reason the health terrorists started fearmongering about 2022.)

● But the New York City data for 2022 are now in – and the pattern is even clearer than in Pennsylvania.  The number of investigations dropped sharply in 2020, of course – what was aptly called “an unintended abolition.”  They rose again in 2021 (to see this, look at the combined total for investigations and for the city’s version of “differential response,” known as “CARES”) and a little more in 2022.  But they’re still well below where they were before COVID.  And in 2022, the percentage of those investigations that are “indicated” (New York’s term for “substantiated”) declined.   

In 2022, New York did raise the threshold for indicating a case to “preponderance of the evidence,” the abysmally low standard used in most states; incredibly it used to be even lower.  That might account for the lower substantiation rate.  But there was no change in the threshold for investigations.  And again, the pandemic-of-child-abuse thesis was that, in the absence of mandated reporters and the family police, abuse would skyrocket – and we’d see it when we got back to normal.  That didn’t happen.  

So the New York Times Metro Desk, which produced one of the worst of the early fearmongering stories, damn well owes New Yorkers a retraction.  A full one, not just the de-facto retraction that appeared last March.

What the new data from Pennsylvania and New York City, and so much other evidence, make clear is this: When you take away mandated reporters false reports decline.  When you put mandated reporters back, false reports increase.  So we shouldn’t put them back.