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.