Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Child welfare’s “Scooby Gang” is getting desperate

This is a picture from the Twitter feed of Prof. Deadric Williams, during one of his lectures at the University of Tennessee.  As he explains “This is a slide I use to describe scholars looking for variables to account for the ‘racial gap’ in a given outcome.” 

In “child welfare,” or as it should be called, family policing, the Scooby Gang is getting desperate.  As the work of genuine scholars, such as Prof. Dorothy Roberts undermines the foundations of the family policing surveillance state, the Scooby Gang falls back on all it has left: misrepresenting what their betters have to say, and invoking horror stories. 

In a previous post, I documented the desperate efforts of a charter member of the Scooby Gang, former University of Maryland School of Social Work Dean Richard Barth, to use his increasingly shrill Twitter feed to stand the whole concept of “evidence-based” on its head.  

Now, he’s sunk even lower – to the level of Emily Putnam-Hornstein, the foremost evangelist for using “predictive analytics,” or, as it should be called, computerized racial profiling, in family policing.  She has turned her Twitter feed into the “child welfare” equivalent of Fox News -  devoting it almost exclusively to horror stories about child abuse deaths.  (You can read all about her and her track record here.)  

Putnam Hornstein claims she’s “sharing abuse and neglect deaths since advocates ignore.” That is demonstrably false.  We “advocates” pay constant attention to child abuse fatalities.  To cite just one example, two NCCPR Issue Papers are devoted almost exclusively to the topic, and you’ll find it discussed in scores of posts to this blog.  It’s just that we say things with which Putnam-Hornstein disagrees. 

Things like this:

There is irony in Putnam-Hornstein’s Foxified approach, since the rate of child abuse fatalities has remained the same for decades, even as the family police surveillance state has reached such gargantuan proportions that more than half of all Black families will be investigated.  So every Putnam-Hornstein tweet is, in effect, a refutation of the approach she and the rest of the Scooby Gang have championed. 

But exploiting horror stories while falsely claiming others ignore them is a great excuse to distort the entire debate while trying to maintain a veneer of “scholarship.” 

And now, Barth has joined in: 

 Retweeting Putnam-Hornstein, he cites a horror-story case and says it “doesn’t fit the abolitionist, neglect deniers argument that “neglect is really just poverty” that has been trumped up by [child welfare services] authorities. 

I know of nobody who has ever made the argument that all neglect is just poverty.  We’ve absolutely said that the confusion of poverty with neglect is rampant – because it is -- but we’ve never denied the existence of those very rare horror stories. (In contrast, Barth has denied that there is any racial bias in family policing.)  If you still don’t understand this, Prof. Barth, be sure to attend my virtual presentation on this very topic at the next Kempe Center International Conference (Oct. 4 at 9:30 a.m. e.t.) [UPDATE: ICYMI, Prof. Barth, the text is here.]

Or did I miss it somewhere?  If so, Prof. Barth, please provide a link, or at least a citation, to where anyone with whom you disagree has said that all neglect is “just poverty.”  

Of course, Barth and Putnam-Hornstein aren’t the only ones who link to horror stories.  We do it, too, concerning abuse in foster homes and institutions.  But there’s one key difference.  Six years ago, I offered a deal:  As long as people like the Scooby Gang keep invoking horror stories, the rest of us have to remind people that the horrors go in all directions. But, I wrote, while I will not unilaterally disarm, I am prepared to accept a mutual moratorium on the use of horror stories to “prove” anything. 

Instead, the Scooby Gang has doubled down – because horror stories are all they’ve got.  

At a minimum, the descent into fearmongering argues for excluding Barth and Putnam-Hornstein from any serious scholarly discourse on family policing. 

And actually using a so-called “predictive analytics” algorithm designed by anyone who behaves this way should be unthinkable.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending September 26, 2023

● What does it really mean to confuse poverty with “neglect”? This heartbreaking, thoroughly reported story from CT Mirror has all the nuance and all the angles. 

● Among those quoted in the story: Kelley Fong, whose new book, Investigating Families has been called by Prof. Martin Guggenheim “the best book of its kind I’ve ever read.”  Prof. Fong will be interviewed at the second of these two events sponsored by the City University of New York School of Law.  (Note that you need to register for each separately  You can register for the first event here and the second event here.)


● The head of the family police agency in Missouri is bragging that they have reduced foster care.  But, in this commentary for the Missouri Independent, one of the nation’s leading experts on hidden foster care asks:  Have they reduced foster care, or just renamed it? (And is the same sleight-of-hand going on in your state?)  

● We don’t know why the Philadelphia family police agency took Hezekiah Bernard from his mother.  But we do know that when they couldn’t handle him, they simply sent him back – suggesting there were alternatives to taking him in the first place.  So he was back home, in worse shape than before, and Mom was on her own.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on what happened next. 

● Last week, we highlighted a story from The Boston Globe about how the Massachusetts family police agency persecutes survivors of domestic violence.  They do it even though the damage to children from needless removal is compounded when they are taken in these circumstances.  The Boston Globe editorial board did some additional reporting for this excellent commentary. 

● But that isn’t even the worst thing the Massachusetts family police were revealed to be doing this week.  Try to imagine the worst possible place to institutionalize adults.  Now imagine an agency so cruel it would put children there.  You don’t need to imagine it.  Just check out the story from Boston25 News.  And for more context on this institution, see this excellent 2012 story from New York Magazine. 

● And, still in Massachusetts – a state that has long torn apart families at a rate far above the national average, there’s this reminder, from NBC10 that the horror stories go in all directions. 

● Next door in New Hampshire, where they tear apart families at an even higher rate and institutionalize children at an astounding rate -- I have a column in the Concord Monitor about why one worthy program isn’t enough to change this. 

● Even when the group homes and institutions aren’t as awful as those described above, “group care destroys lives almost instantaneously,” says Kaylah McMillan, a former foster youth who lived it, in USA Today. 

● The survivors of family policing need more than an apology – they need reparations.  Nora McCarthy discusses this in her column for The Imprint. 

The Imprint has a story about what the New York City family police agency is trying to, shall we say, palm off, as telling families their rights.  It's a small step forward, but what's really needed is legislation requiring that families know all their rights.

● Among those most ardent about pushing the false, racist myth that COVID would lead to a “pandemic of child abuse” were the nation’s so-called “Child Advocacy Centers” and their trade association.  In the wake of a scandal engulfing one such center in Pennsylvania, the Allentown Morning Call has some context

● California could become the biggest jurisdiction yet to stop swiping foster children’s Social Security benefits if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs a bill the legislature just passed

● There are a few reporters across the country who seem to specialize in exposing problems their journalism may well have worsened.  In Texas, no reporter has been more fanatical about ignoring wrongful removal and promoting the myth that any effort to oppose the needless removal of children is some kind of vast right-wing conspiracy than Robert T. Garrett of the Dallas Morning News.  So when you read this Garrett story about predators who go where the prey is – the makeshift placements where children are warehoused because of an artificial “shortage” of foster homes – think about how they got there in the first place. 

● You know how shelters and other institutions go out of their way to make their buildings and grounds look nice, to try to fool people into thinking good things are going on inside?  WFLA-TV has a story about a place that isn’t even bothering to try.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

NCCPR in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor: Even "Strength to Succeed" can’t make up for DCYF’s failure

Both the Strength to Succeed program and Michaela Towfighi’s excellent story about it for the Monitor reflect a rare understanding that parents who lose children to foster care usually are not the monsters we read about in horror story cases, and helping those parents is the best way to help their children. 

The story also reveals the chronic failure of the Division of Children, Youth and Families to recognize this, and the enormous harm its failure does to those same children. The statistics about entries into care also are revealing, when you factor in one key variable. 

Consider two cases discussed in the story. …

Read the full column in the Concord Monitor

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending September 19, 2023

We start this week with something a little different.  It’s a picture from the Twitter feed of Prof. Deadric Williams of the University of Tennessee, showing him during one of his lectures – and one of the slides he uses.  He uses it to illustrate the desperate efforts of “scholars” to avoid facing up to the fact that the usual reason for racial disparities in any field, including family policing, is racism:

● You know how family police agencies say they never take children because of poverty  - and certainly not poverty alone?  If that were true, then in Massachusetts (which, by the way, tears apart families at a rate 65% above the national average) there’d be no need for this charity.  It provides astoundingly small amounts of cash or basic goods so children can stay home or return home because, guess what, they were taken, or are now trapped in foster care, because of poverty alone.  Check out the story in Business Insider. 

● In much the same way, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, is piloting a program in which poverty cases are referred directly to family defenders who arrange for the concrete help families need.  It’s an excellent program – but why is it just a tiny add-on to a system built on family policing and foster care?  And as you read the cases cited by consider: Why were these cases ever a family police agency’s business in the first place?

● Back in Massachusetts, consider another group family police love to persecute – survivors of domestic violence.  They do it even though the damage to children from needless removal is compounded when they are taken in these circumstances.  Check out the story from The Boston Globe. Then check out how even the most minimal efforts to curb this harm to children were thwarted by the state’s “Child Advocate” Maria Mossaides

● I’ve linked to stories in which family defenders describe what they see every day.  I’ve linked to a story in which a lawyer for children describes what she sees every day.  And now, Mother Jones tells us about what caseworkers see every day:

 One woman talked softly about “apprehending” a 2-day-old baby, and recalled crying when she was praised for doing her job. Another described being sent out to take children from good parents who lived in shoddy housing. A third told how her colleagues would warn their own children, “If somebody has a badge like Mommy, don’t talk to them until I get there.”

● More data are in from New York City debunking the racist myth spread by so many advocates – and journalists – at the start of the pandemic that COVID would set off a “pandemic of child abuse.” Instead, New York City children are safer.  I have a blog post about it. 

● Also in New York City, Black Agenda Radio interviews Anne Venhuizen of The Bronx Defenders about their big win against the family police – successfully suing the family police agency for tearing a child from her mother at birth because the mother smoked marijuana.  The interview starts at 27:15 in

● And The Brooklyn Eagle reports on the testimony submitted by New York's family defenders to the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the harm done to children when their parents are wrongly listed on a giant blacklist – a central registry of those caseworkers may only vaguely suspect of abuse.

● Arizona joins the list of states providing Miranda rights for families.  I’d link to a story but the story about the bill that includes the Miranda rights makes no mention of it!  So just check out the last four pages of the bill itself

Lots of news this week about “child abuse pediatricians”: 

The Seattle Times has a fascinating profile of the doctor who pushes back against Washington State’s most fanatical child abuse pediatricians.  Contrast her humanity with the child abuse pediatrician who opposes her because, after all, he’s checked his own work and says “he could think of only a handful of cases where he’s been wrong.”  Don’t you feel better already? 

● Another child abuse pediatrician who got in trouble in New York and then in Florida for allegedly misdiagnosing child abuse, apparently is in trouble in Pennsylvania, too.  In the wake of a scathing report from a county auditor, The Morning Call reports, she was just relieved of her job running the “child advocacy center" at the local hospital.  But she’ll still be on the payroll, working part-time “at other locations.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer has an overview of the case – and be sure to read the last two paragraphs. 

● A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that in some cases, a diagnosis beloved by some child abuse pediatricians, “shaken baby syndrome” is “junk science.” 

● And in Florida jury selection is beginning in one of the most notorious cases involving child abuse pediatrics – the case at the center of the Netflix documentary Take Care of Maya.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The “unintended abolition” is still making New York City children safer

 Between 2019, before the pandemic, and 2023 foster care went down…


...and child safety improved


 Among the first studies to debunk the racist claims that, in the absence of “mandated reporters” keeping their eyes constantly on children, COVID would lead to a “pandemic of child abuse” was Prof. Anna Arons’ examination of what happened in New York City – what she aptly called “An Unintended Abolition.” 

Here’s what happened: The family police (a more accurate term than “child protective services”) 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 result: A dramatic reduction in needless family surveillance and foster care with no compromise in safety.  Even the head of the city’s family police agency at the time admitted it.  Other studies, including one in JAMA Pediatrics, would confirm it. 

But, the fearmongers replied: It’s still early!  Just wait until 2021, when the kids are coming back to school.  But in 2021, the federal government’s annual Child Maltreatment report found that what family police agencies label “abuse” and “neglect” reached a 30-year record low. 

Oh, well, OK, the fearmongers said, just wait ‘till 2022!  Then you’ll see how all those overwhelmingly poor disproportionately nonwhite parents treated their children because, after all, you know how they are, right?  

Wrong. Data for 2022 from Pennsylvania and New York City showed there still was no surge in what agencies call “child abuse” and “neglect.” 

I don’t know if the fearmongers are desperate enough to tell us that the “surge” in child abuse will happen in 2023 – but it looks like they’re wrong again. 

New York City just released its annual Mayor’s Management Report for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2023 

So let’s compare 2019, the last fiscal year entirely unaffected by COVID, to 2023:


 Let’s start with how often caseworkers for the city’s family police agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, banged on the doors of almost exclusively poor, nonwhite families and demanded entry.  In 2019 it happened in 58,217 cases.  In 2020, unsurprisingly, it went down a lot. It went down a little more in 2021, before going back to 50,516 in 2022.  In FY 2023 it went up a little more to 52,369.  But it’s still well below the figure before COVID hit.  Lesson: All those mandated reporters learned something – but they haven’t learned enough. 

Note that these figures combine formal investigations with cases that are investigations in all but name.  New York City’s family defenders have found that the city’s version of “differential response” can be even more intrusive than an investigation that’s labeled an investigation. 

There’s a similar pattern when it comes to children forced into foster care.  The number declined significantly, then there was regression.  But the 2023 figure, 2,798, remains more than 25 percent lower than the number in 2019 when the city took 1,000 more children. 

The safety measures 

But, of course, the fearmongers want you to believe that this modest reduction in family policing must have left children less safe.

There are two standard measures of child safety.  One is foster-care “recidivism,” that is, of all children sent home from foster care what percentage are returned to foster care within a year?  In 2023 8.5% of foster children sent home returned to foster care.  That’s up from 7.5% in 2022 – but still well down from the 9.8% in 2019.  

This also is potentially the more volatile of the two measures since the raw numbers are relatively low.  A one percentage point difference, whether up or down, probably represents fewer than 18 children, since 1,770 foster children were reunified in FY 2022 – and we’re looking at what happened in the year that followed. 

The second measure involves far more children: It concerns alleged recurrence of abuse or neglect – that is, the proportion of children for whom a caseworker checked the box declaring an allegation “indicated” for whom there was another “indicated” report within a year.  That figure plummeted during COVID – and stayed down, falling from 17.9% in 2019 to 13.6% in 2023.  

As we’ve noted previously, in 2022, New York raised 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 in part for the lower rate of alleged recurrence of “maltreatment.”  But the dramatic decline in recurrence also could be seen in 2020 and 2021.  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.  

Whether this progress can be maintained is an open question.  That extra cash assistance is no longer going to poor families – resulting in a dramatic rise in child poverty nationwide.  It’s not as if ACS ever stopped confusing poverty with neglect; so more poverty means a more target-rich environment for ACS.  And, of course, at any time a child abuse death could prompt a demagogic reaction from politicians creating the risk of a foster-care panic, a sharp sudden increase in needless removals of children.  How would ACS respond to that?  The current leader, Jess Dannhauser, has yet to be tested. 

If we really want to keep making children safer a good start would be for the state and the city to step in and replace the cash assistance the federal government no longer provides – or at least provide no-strings-attached funds to the mutual aid organizations that sprang up during the pandemic. 

And remember, this progress comes in a place that, even before COVID had a terrible system, but a less terrible system than most.  Wherever you are, it’s all probably worse.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending September 12, 2023

● The family policing establishment loves to deny it when lawyers for parents say children are taken away because of poverty.  So, what do lawyers for children say?  Writing in Teen Vogue, one such lawyer, Chanel Smith, says this: 

I have seen children removed because of complaints of “dirty homes,” or because they were home alone while a parent went to work or had to run an errand, or because they missed one too many days of school. These are all situations in which additional support and investment could have helped families to preserve their households. Instead, they had to face an unforgiving system. 

● Another classic excuse for tearing apart families involves drug use.  Family police apologists revel in horror stories.  But poor nonwhite children can be taken for the kind of “drug use” middle-class white parents can brag about – like smoking marijuana.  Now, as Gothamist reports, one such parent in New York City who fought back, just won a big victory.  

● It’s always worth remembering that New York City has one of the least awful systems in the country.  Wherever you are probably is worse.  It’s certainly worse in Colorado.  We released a comprehensive report on the Colorado family policing system.  And KUSA-TV did a story about one of the system’s many problems. 

● Alaska regularly tears apart families at one of the highest rates in the country – driven to a large extent by the needless destruction of Native Alaskan families.  The Imprint reports on a unique study by Child Trends focusing on something that may never have been studied before: The role of environmental degradation in undermining Native families and culture.  Among other things, the study shows the value of diversity among researchers.  And the story shows the value of diversity in journalism.  

● As I noted last week, so much of what has gone so wrong has its roots in one terrible law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  Check out the video of the teach-in by the Repeal CAPTA Coalition explaining how we got into this mess – and how to get out.  And there’s more on the Coalition’s website

● It says a lot about just how callous and cruel family policing systems really are that this is what can happen when someone from the outside takes over such a system and learns about a standard practice: “My reaction really was: That can't be right. That can't be a practice that we're doing."  But New Mexico was indeed swiping foster children’s Social Security benefits and keeping the money for itself.  As NPR reported in 2021, most family policing systems do it.  

But while in some states, agency leaders made all sorts of excuses about how complicated the issue is, New Mexico’s leader cut to the chase: She ordered the practice stopped.  Several other states and localities have done much the same, as NPR reports in this follow-up story.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

NCCPR releases report on Colorado “child welfare”

Read the report here.

          Colorado takes children from their parents at a rate 30% above the national average – and some counties have rates of child removal that are even worse, according to a report released today by a national child advocacy organization.

Colorado also uses what experts consider the worst form of substitute care – group homes and institutions – at a rate 33% above the national average, while using the least harmful form of foster care, kinship foster care, at a rate 30% below the national average, according to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

NCCPR found that Colorado counties take away Hispanic children at a rate 20% above their rate in the state child population.  They take Native American children at a rate 50% above their rate in the general population (a figure that can vary from year to year due to the relatively low number of Native American children in Colorado.) And they take away Black children at a rate nearly triple their rate in the state child population.

In addition to the report, NCCPR released a Colorado Rate-of-Removal Index comparing the propensity of Colorado’s largest counties to take away children.

“The name Colorado uses for its child welfare database is sadly appropriate for the system itself,” said NCCPR Executive Director Richard Wexler.  “When it comes to child welfare, Colorado trails.”

Wexler was joined by Maleeka Jihad, founder of Colorado’s leading family advocacy organization, the MJCF Coalition.

Read the full report, executive summary, press release, Ms. Jihad’s statement, and the Rate-of-Removal Index here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Monday, September 4, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending September 5, 2023

● When children are torn from everyone they know and love, the emotional trauma is enormous.  It is made even worse if the children can’t even visit their parents.  Yet in Hawaii, Honolulu Civil Beat reports, children can be cut off from so much as seeing their parents unless the parents confess to abuse or neglect – even if they never abused or neglected the child.  

As NCCPR told Civil Beat: 

In effect, DHS is holding children hostage, requiring false confessions before a parent can even see a child.  But if the parent confesses, then they can never be proven innocent – and that in itself increases the likelihood that the child will lose her or his parents forever. 

● So much of what has gone so wrong has its roots in one terrible law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  The Repeal CAPTA Coalition has an online teach-in on Sept. 11 explaining how we got into this mess – and how to get out.  You can register here. 

● New York City’s family defenders have issued written testimony to the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The committee is studying racism in the New York family policing system – including the courts.  The testimony is a report in itself.  But be warned: If you read the testimony, or even this NCCPR Blog post about it, it may “undermine [your] confidence in the court’s impartiality.” And we can’t have that! 

● In Virginia WSLS-TV has an update on a case of wrongful removal so egregious even the state’s child welfare “ombudsman” is skeptical. 

● In this week’s edition of The Horror Stories Go in All Directions, we’re learning more about nine-year-old Jakob Blodgett, an Arizona boy who died of complications from untreated diabetes just 18 days after being taken from his father and placed in a group home.  From a story by KNXV-TV:   

“They need to accept responsibility because the Arizona Department of Child Safety killed Jacob Blodgett,” said Attorney Robert Pastor who is representing Jakob’s father. 

(And, by the way, why is Arizona putting nine-year-olds in group homes in the first place?)