Tuesday, October 31, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary roundup, week ending October 31, 2023

● If you can’t just get rid of the so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act – a law that neither prevents nor treats child abuse – at least defund the part that does the most harm, and put the money into the part that has some potential to do good. That’s the theme of this Congressional briefing co-sponsored by the RepealCAPTA Coalition.

● Speaking of solutions, the Family Justice Journal has a special issue in which, as the editors explain

we invited Advisory and Editorial Board members to write about connection and belonging in their lives and how it shapes who and how they are in the world. Rather than traditional articles, authors offer brief, visual essays to convey the need to be mindfully aware of relational health in all that we do. Such awareness calls us to let go of structures, practices and approaches that do not honor and promote essential relationships and replace them with new ways that do. Each essay adds to already overwhelming evidence that change is necessary. Taken together, they speak to depth, breadth, and urgency of the need. We are grateful for the courage and generosity of the authors in sharing deeply personal experiences and convictions.

And remember, if you hate flipbooks as much as I do, look for the download icon in the upper left corner to get it as a .pdf 

● In an extraordinary three-part series now underway, The Imprint tells the story of one Native American’s journey through his tribe’s child welfare system – and links it to the history of how family policing has treated Native Americans, and to the treatment of Indigenous America itself. Here's the link to part two.

From JAMA Pediatrics, still more evidence that all those claims that COVID would be followed by a “pandemic of child abuse” were 100% Grade A B.S.  On the contrary, the no-strings-attached cash assistance that followed the onset of the pandemic was a key factor in reducing child abuse.  Not that we’d ever say we told you so 

● There's another amazing resource out from the New York City Family Policy Project.  This one takes a deep dive into the data and reveals the impact of family policing neighborhood by neighborhood.  How many investigations, how many foster care entries, which categories of reporters are most likely to call the hotline, what they are alleging and, of course, the race of families reported - it's all there.  The data are only for New York City, of course, but it's a great model for what activists may want to do everywhere.

● The Biden Administration is working on updating the rulebook by which the federal government defines what kinds of programs are eligible for funding under the federal Family First Act and what standards of evidence they have to meet.  And they’re seeking public comment. 

● When truth is more horrifying than fiction: Dorothy Roberts, author of Torn Apart, in conversation with Jessamine Chan, author of The School for Good Mothers: (The audio is poor, but it’s captioned.)

● ICYMI: Check out our annual Halloween reminder to Court-Appointed Special Advocates: No, it’s not a good idea to raise money by holding a talent show with a blackface act. (And yes, one CASA chapter actually did that.) 

● And this week’s edition of The Horror Stories go in All Directions comes from Florida: 

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s office will not prosecute a Clearwater couple accused in a lawsuit filed in March of abusing more than 20 foster boys over decades. Prosecutors said they determined the statute of limitations had expired in the cases.

Monday, October 30, 2023

#CASAsoWhite: Our annual Halloween reminder to CASA: No, it’s not a good idea to raise money by holding a talent show with a blackface act. (And yes, one CASA chapter actually did that.)

 We suggest that the National office for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program use this item from The Daily Show as a training video

In 2018, responding to former Today Show anchor Megyn Kelly’s appalling attempt to justify blackface, (for which she has apologized) her colleague Craig Melvin noted that, as a CNN story put it, “this controversy is an opportunity to inform people — but said most people already knew how offensive blackface is.”

Most people, but apparently not one chapter of that most sacred cow in child welfare Court-Appointed Special Advocates.  Oh, they’ve learned in the years since they included a blackface act in a fundraiser, especially since they apparently eventually apologized – but that is just one example of the racial bias that plagues CASA.  And that, of course, raises fundamental questions about the role of CASA in deciding the fate of children who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately children of color.  Even more questions are raised by the latest study of CASA's effectiveness. And there's much more about CASA in NCCPR's presentation at the 2021 Kempe Center conference.

So every Halloween, I plan to reprint this post from 2017:  

This Halloween, The Daily Show offers a useful history lesson: The topic, why it’s a really bad idea for white people to dress up in blackface:

But the lesson isn’t just useful for Halloween. It’s also something that anyone involved with that most sacred cow of child welfare – Court-Appointed Special Advocates -- needs to know.

CASA is a program in which minimally trained volunteers, overwhelmingly white and middle-class, are assigned to families who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite. Then they tell judges if the children should be taken from those families, sometimes forever.   That, of course, raises problems of inherent bias.  But some CASA chapters have made their biases depressingly obvious.

Consider what happened nine years ago in Arkansas City, Kansas. To raise funds for the local CASA chapter, they held a talent competition. The winning act featured the mayor of Arkansas City – dressed in blackface.  The head of the local CASA chapter couldn’t understand why that was a problem.   "It wasn't black black," she said. "It was all really just tan." That’s only the beginning. All the awful details are here.

It would be one thing if this were just an isolated example of racial bias. But it’s not.

● There was the CASA chapter in Marin County, California, which fell apart when the state CASA association merely asked that they strive for more diversity among the volunteers.

● There was the appalling racist rant by someone who says he volunteered in a scandal-plagued Washington State CASA program for 20 years.

● There’s the fact that the most comprehensive study ever done of CASA, a study commissioned by the National CASA Association itself, found that CASA volunteers spend significantly less time on a case if the child to whom they are assigned is Black.

● And then there’s the question of whether the very structure of CASA makes it, in the words of a law review article, “an exercise of white supremacy.”

Showing the Daily Show video won’t solve all these problems; not even close. But it might help prevent the worst excesses of racial bias in CASA programs.

Originally published, Oct. 30, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 24, 2023

● When I first saw that Mother Jones had published an expose of the horrors of a for-profit McTreatment chain’s residential treatment centers, I thought:  There’ve been so many exposes, what could possibly be new?  What could still shock? 

In fact, by zeroing in on foster youth, reporter Julia Lurie unearthed much that is new and even more that is shocking.  From referring to foster youth as “frequent flyers” because they can be counted on to come back again and again, to admonitions to not leave “days on the table” – meaning find ways to hold children needlessly as long as possible to bring in payments that can reach more than $900 per day per child, to marketing techniques eerily similar to how drug companies marketed Oxycontin, this story is a must-read. 

The reason McTreatment chains can get away with it was aptly summed up by someone who has worked to expose their abuses for decades, Dr. Ronald Davidson: “These are kids, by and large, who’ve been taken away from their parents,” he said, “so they have no family to watch out for them.” 

In addition to the magazine story, there’s a podcast, produced in collaboration with Reveal: 

● But of course, not everyone is listening.  In the Philadelphia Inquirer, a former foster youth, Christina Sorenson, writes that 

Today, Pennsylvania faces an overcrowding crisis, but rather than imagining a different solution, or investing in legislation to ensure the safety of our youth currently placed, there are calls to build new facilities.

● We’ve heard of one form of “ransom” in foster care – parents forced to pay part of the cost of foster care in order to get their kids back.  But in Los Angeles, The Imprint reports, when forced to jump through all sorts of other hoops first, they’ve actually had to pay for the hoops – in other words, these parents, almost all impoverished, had to pay for their own “counseling” “parent education” etc. 

A new California law may change that.  The law 

requires a judge to ask if a parent can afford court-ordered services during dependency court proceedings. It also clarifies that parents cannot be considered noncompliant with their case plan if they are unable to pay. 

Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers Executive Director Dennis Smeal [said]: “We’ve often heard parents say things like, ‘The department took my children and now I have to buy them back.  There’s no world in which that should ever be happening.” 

● The chief of New York City’s family police agency is running around bragging about new “training” for mandatory reporters in schools. The agency says it’s intended to discourage needless reports.  But training is always the cop-out agencies use to avoid real change.  

And, as this New York Daily News story makes clear the family police chief, Jess Dannhauser, is still embracing the Big Lie of American child welfare, falsely suggesting that child protection and “being fair with families” are opposites that need to be balanced.  On the contrary, being fair with families means not subjecting their children to the trauma of needless investigation and foster care, and not overloading the system so you’re more likely to miss children in real danger. 

● Professor Martin Guggenheim, the father of family defense (and also President of NCCPR) was honored with a big award from the New York State Bar Association. Here’s his acceptance speech. (It starts at about 17:00 in): 

­● From the you-sure-don’t-see-this-every-day file.  From the Grand Forks Herald: Instead of the usual hand-wringing story about a so-called “shortage” of foster homes, a story about a county that has all the foster homes it needs – because it’s not taking away so many children. Of course, that’s not all that difficult in North Dakota which, as of 2021, was tearing apart families at the fourth-highest rate in the country. 

● And this week’s example of how the horror stories go in all directions is from the Orlando Sentinel:

 Two nonprofits charged with administering Central Florida’s foster care system were negligent in their oversight, resulting in the sexual abuse of two girls placed in a Sanford home with a man who last year pleaded guilty to charges that he molested and covertly took video recordings of the school-age children as they changed in their bedrooms, a lawsuit alleges.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 17, 2023

Suppose you are very rich. In September you send your son off to boarding school. But when Christmas vacation came around, he does not return. Instead, you got a letter from a lawyer for your son’s gym coach. 

The lawyer explains that your son and the coach have “bonded.” An expert on “attachment theory” they’ve hired concludes it wouldn’t be in your son's "best interests" to return home. Instead, the coach is going to court to adopt your child – because he now has every bit as much right to your child as you do.  Consider this as you read this vitally important story from The New Yorker and ProPublica.

Here’s an excerpt: 

It’s not acceptable in most family courts to explicitly argue that, if you have more material advantages to provide a child, you should get to adopt him or her. Outside the courtroom, though, intervenors are sometimes less discreet. During a 2021 case meeting, according to a specialist who took notes, a foster parent and [attorney Tim] Eirich client said, of the prospect of reuniting a baby boy with his biological family, “He’s used to being raised by a maternal figure who stays home. We have 1.5 acres for him to run around, and they have an apartment.” Another foster parent and Eirich client told me that reuniting a baby girl with her birth mother would mean transitioning her from a “personalized nanny” to a “day care center with, you know, 50 kids running around, and sleeping on a little cot.” …

● Speaking of excerpts, The Guardian has an excerpt adapted from one of the most important books about family policing this year or any year, Prof. Kelley Fong’s Investigating Families. 

● Speaking of important books, The Imprint talks to Prof. Jane Spinak, author of The End of Family Court. 

● Of course not everyone thinks things are so bad. I have a blog post about the newsletter that tells foster youth, in effect: Great news! We’ve ruined your lives, but you’re getting free haircuts! 

● As the Illinois family policing agency gets ready to hire a new director, Aaron Goldstein of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office writes in the Chicago Tribune that what’s needed is transformational change, not more foster-care panic. 

The Imprint reports on the new Family Miranda rights law that has now taken effect in Texas – and makes a point that most Texas media can’t seem to grasp: 

The Texas law — introduced by Republican state Rep. James Frank and jointly authored by Reps. Gene Wu and Josey Garcia, both Democrats, along with Republican Rep. Candy Noble — is part of a larger bipartisan effort to reform the state’s beleaguered foster care system and prioritize keeping families together.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

A message to foster youth from the “child welfare” establishment: Great news! We’ve ruined your lives, but you’re getting free haircuts!

 That’s the real message behind a monthly newsletter touting “the good stuff in child welfare.” 

As foster children returned to school in September, the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice, & Research at the University of Pennsylvania had some great news for them: Sure, it may be your third, fourth, or fifth different school in a few years as you were forced to move from home to home, and sure, the odds that you’ll actually graduate high school are far lower than the odds for children never forced into foster care (and the odds of graduating college are dismal). But all that is such a downer.  Let’s focus on the “good stuff”: If you happen to be a foster child in Grand Rapids Michigan you can get a free haircut! That’s because “looking their best helps students feel their best as they head back to school.” 

The item about those haircuts (minus the context, of course) is typical of what you can find each month in what may be the most cringe-worthy email in all of family policing.  It’s called “The Good Stuff in Child Welfare” and it comes from The Field Center. 

The Field Center was co-founded by the late Richard Gelles, who claimed responsibility for writing the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act and was among the most fanatical devotees of a take-the-child-and-run approach to “child welfare.” He was also a fan of orphanages.  The Center now is led by Johanna Greeson, a charter member of the “Scooby Gang” – the clique that runs around trying to persuade us that there is no racism in child welfare.  (In fact, according to  eyewitnesses, she seemed profoundly perturbed some months ago when she had to listen to Prof. Alan Dettlaff explain that, as a matter of fact, there is.) 

And so, Greeson came up with the idea of giving the world a newsletter devoted entirely to reassuring people like herself that the system they did so much to build and do so much to sustain isn’t so bad after all.  

Everything about the newsletter is cloying, from the email subject line that always says “You don’t want to miss this” to the intro, to the typeface for the intro.  Have a look: 

Our team at the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice, & Research recognizes that between the all too frequent and grim child welfare stories that make us teary-eyed, clenched-fisted, and faint-hearted, there are inspiring accomplishments and heartening endeavors taking place all over this country at every level of practice. To elevate and promote these encouraging stories, we are pleased to bring you this monthly newsletter emphasizing news stories only about “The Good Stuff” from the broad field of child welfare.  

The issue of the newsletter that mentioned the free haircuts also featured a website “where people can donate necessities to children in the child welfare system, similar to an Amazon wishlist,” the expansion of “a support network for youth aging out of foster care,” and an item headlined “Over 2,000 Toys Donated to Help Montana Child and Family Services Division.”  (I would have thought the toys were meant to help the kids; but, in any event, it’s not much help in a state that tears apart families at the second highest rate in America.)

Another issue exalts the fact that one of the nation’s big residential McTreatment chains received “a grant of $7,250 to create a mentoring program for youth in foster care.” 

What’s striking is how monotonous these newsletters are.  Month after month, as they desperately search for “good stuff” in a field they did so much to create, items like these are almost all they can come up with. 

Of course, there’s a risk in suggesting there’s anything wrong with this newsletter.  The more demagogic elements in family policing will say “Ah hah! So you don’t want foster children to have nice haircuts!” Or maybe they'll go with "How can you denigrate the work of these wonderful volunteers!"

No, we think it’s a fine thing to do and it's wonderful that the volunteers are doing it.  Same with all the other things that ease maybe one percent of the pain foster youth endure.  Our problem is with places like the Field Center which delude themselves, and want to delude the rest of us, into thinking these are huge accomplishments and, worse, support policies guaranteeing that the other 99% of that pain will never end. 

UPDATE, JUNE 19, 2024: As it happens, I just ran across a meme that sums it all up:

There is horrible stuff in family policing – which is what it should be called.  There is bad stuff in family policing.  There is stuff in family policing that makes the bad stuff a little less bad.  But no, prof. Greeson, there is no “good stuff” in “child welfare” as it exists today  You and the rest of the Scooby Gang share responsibility for that fact.  No wonder you seem to anxious to try to distract us with stories about free toys and haircuts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending Octover 10, 2023

The Imprint has an extraordinary two-part story about one aunt’s fight to take care of her own nephews – in the face of opposition from stranger-care parents.  But this is more than a story about one case.  This is a story about how concepts like “attachment” and “bonding” were so perverted in order to serve the interests of, almost always, white middle-class strangers, that it’s become junk science.  A child’s fate may be decided because, one day, a white “expert” looks across a courtroom at a Black woman and decides she doesn’t like her “body language.”

● Big event today (Oct. 11 at 2pm ET): Prof. Kelley Fong discusses her new book, Investigating Families at CUNY Law School.  You can register for the livestream here.


● And see also this event at Rutgers tomorrow (Oct. 12):  You can register for the livestream here.

● I’m proud to have joined Angela Burton and Dr. Mical Raz on the latest installment of the upEND Movement podcast. This edition deals with the modern foundations of the current family policing surveillance state, and the pernicious influence of the so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. 

● Speaking of CAPTA, the Boston Globe has a story about a bill that, if it becomes law, would curb one of its worst features. 

● The family police agency in New York City, the Administration for Children’s Services, has opposed legislation to require it to tell families their rights – not extend any additional rights, just tell them the rights they already have.  So the online news site The City decided to do it themselves, along with guidance from family defenders on when and how to exercise those rights. 

And check out the photo that accompanies the story – talk about saying the quiet part out loud!

● Got a budget gap you need to fill? Steal the money from foster kids!  At least that’s California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approach, according to this story from CalMatters

● NCCPR’s presentation at last week’s Kempe Center conference dealt with all the desperate spin offered up by the family policing establishment to deny that poverty routinely is confused with neglect.  Here’s the text.  And here’s still another study showing that the best “preventive service” is cash. 

And now, this week’s reminders that the horror stories go in all directions: 

● From the Oregon Capital Chronicle: 

A boy is suing the Oregon Department of Human Services for alleged abuse and neglect in a home where he lived with his sister for a year along with other children. 

The federal lawsuit, filed in September in U.S. District Court in Portland, provides the account of the then-5-year-old boy who entered into a foster home in 2016 with his 9-year-old sister in Lane County. …  The foster father, Joe Raygosa, was sentenced in 2018 to 94 years in prison for sexually abusing the girl. 

● From CT News Junkie:

A Connecticut legislative committee will host an informational hearing Wednesday to review allegations of crime, abuse, and sex trafficking related to a state-financed group home for girls in Harwinton.

● From WRAL-TV: 

State and Smithfield police are investigating a report from a 7-year-old girl who says she was sexually assaulted inside the Johnston County Department of Social Services building by a 17-year-old boy.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Analysis of Drake et al. “Racial/Ethnic Differences in Child Protective Services Reporting, Substantiation and Placement, With Comparison to Non-CPS Risks and Outcomes: 2005–2019”

This post will be a little more dense and assume more prior knowledge on the part of readers than most.  That’s because it’s meant specifically for those who have read a study concocted by a who’s who of family policing’s “caucus of denial” – those who claim that, somehow, child welfare is magically immune from the racism that infects every other aspect of American life. 

I’ve taken to calling this caucus the Scooby Gang, because of this slide that Prof. Deadric Williams uses in his lectures to characterize “scholars” like them. 

One of the members of the Scooby Gang, Brett Drake, has been on something of a grand tour touting their latest study.  This post is here now because, at this moment, he is scheduled to try to sell his claims at the Kempe Center’s virtual international conference.  And he’ll be taking the act to the University of Pennsylvania later this month. 

This analysis gives Drake et al. every benefit of the doubt, despite reason to question the underlying data used in the study – something I will discuss later.  But let’s assume, for the moment, the raw data are correct. 

The heart of their argument is this: Disparities in the rate of family police involvement (a more accurate term than “child welfare” involvement) are no greater, and slightly lower, for Black families than disparities in other aspects of American life over which the family police claim to have no control,* such as poverty, low education, infant mortality, very low birthweight, etc. Therefore “child welfare” isn’t racist. 

To which the only logical response is: Huh??? 

It’s not even clear what they’re getting at.  At first, it seems like just a regurgitation of the usual: “It’s not race, it’s poverty!” trope that family police apologists have been using ever since racism in family policing finally started to get the public attention it deserves.  (Before that, the family policing establishment denied they ever took children because of poverty.) 

But if that’s their argument, and they are saying disproportionate substantiation of allegations against Black families and removal of Black children is valid because they also are disproportionately more likely to be poor, have less access to quality healthcare and education, etc., then what they are saying is: poverty equals neglect and we should take away people’s children because of it.  

That’s bad enough, but it ignores all the studies showing racial bias over and above the class bias

It also dances around the fact that racism has something to do with all those other factors.  And it’s quite a dance. 

Here’s what they write: 

Some may argue that because all harm indicators included here (e.g., infant mortality, very low birthweight) are influenced by racism, they are not objective and cannot be used as benchmarks. Our argument is different; we argue that these indicators are external to CPS and thus, cannot be caused by racially biased CPS decision-making. Thus, if mandatory reporters or CPS caseworkers systematically targeted Black children with overreporting or overintervention, disparities in CPS contact should be observably larger than disparities in external indicators of risk and harm (regardless of the ultimate cause of those disparities). 

On the contrary.  This shows only that, as the authors admit, all those other factors are “influenced by racism” and so is CPS decision-making!  If society as a whole is racist, why wouldn’t there be disparities across the board?  

A high bar for determining racial bias 

The 15 authors also set up a straw man by saying their study disproves the idea that “if mandatory reporters or CPS caseworkers systematically targeted Black children…”  That suggests a very high bar for judging behavior as racist:  By this standard, anything less than a caseworker changing into a white sheet and hood to go burn a cross after work isn’t racism.  As even this overwhelmingly white group of authors should know, that’s not how racism works. 

In light of this it’s worth circling back to a complaint the authors have about a study co-authored by abolitionist scholar Prof. Alan Dettlaff. They write: 

Only when [the authors] added a caseworker risk assessment score to the model did the coefficient for Black race become larger and statistically significant. 

But, uh, that’s the whole point.  Caseworker decisions are biased.  So, the Scooby Gang’s complaint about Prof. Dettlaff’s study is that only when they checked to see if caseworkers were biased did they find that caseworkers were biased! 

The authors do a lot of chest-thumping about how the legacy of racism is a really bad thing and “racial inequity is real and pervasive in our society and must be addressed far more aggressively” [emphasis added].  Both claims imply that racism itself is a thing of the past, however.  And, they emphasize, family police agencies really can’t be expected to do anything about all these other bigger problems.  They also say this: 

To assert that these patterns, and the poverty and chronic stress they perpetuate, would have no impact on behavioral and psychosocial functioning among the individuals and families in those neighborhoods is to reject decades of scientific consensus on human development.

In other words, past racism led to conditions that make Black people bad parents, and since the family police can’t be expected to fix any of that, we just have to go on taking away Black children. 

Of course, there’s another possible conclusion: If you admit that a “legacy” of racism causes poverty that in turn causes stress that in turn causes some parents to lash out, and you admit that the solution is to deal with poverty, and you admit that family police can’t deal with the actual problem – which, again, you now admit is poverty – isn’t that a case for, um, abolition? 

At a minimum, it might be worth asking members of the Scooby Gang what exactly they have done to make sure racial inequity is addressed “far more aggressively.”  How many members of Congress have they met with about this?  What legislation have they proposed?  Have they taken part in any protest marches lately – or at least since 1963? Have they at least written to their legislators?  If this is the centerpiece of the problem, shouldn’t it be the centerpiece of their work? 

The track record of several of the authors isn’t exactly reassuring.  Two of them, Sarah Font and Emily Putnam-Hornstein, are part of a group that did indeed send a letter – a letter rushing to the defense of a self-proclaimed “race realist” law professor who pals around with Tucker Carlson.  Putnam-Hornstein’s Twitter feed has become the child welfare equivalent of Fox News and her prized predictive analytics algorithm is reportedly under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for bias against the disabled.  Font co-authored a paper that labels every accused a “perpetrator” – even after they’ve been found innocent, and she’s condemned the Indian Child Welfare Act.  Another co-author, Richard Barth, is following in Putnam-Hornstein’s footsteps, while turning the whole concept of “evidence-based” on its head

B.S. in, B.S. out 

Drake et al.’s second claim is that once reported and screened in for investigation, workers are no more likely, and possibly a little less likely, to “substantiate” an allegation and place a child in foster care when the family is Black than when the family is white.  I question whether this is reliable based on all the potential flaws in the database they use, something I’ll discuss below. 

But if, in fact, that’s true there is a more likely explanation: 

We have seen that mandatory reporters are far more likely to assume a child is “at risk” of “abuse” or “neglect” if the child is Black.  Hotline screeners, who may well be able to infer race from things like street address and other information from a caller, are likely to do the same.  So if they are reporting and screening in a vastly larger proportion of bullshit reports on Black families than on white families, it makes sense that at later stages of the process, even biased caseworkers might not substantiate the same proportion of reports on Black children or remove the same proportion of Black children. 

Here’s a hypothetical example: 

For every 100 screened-in reports about Black families, 90 are bullshit.  Twenty are “substantiated” – ten because they’re real, ten because the workers are biased. 

For every 100 screened-in reports about white families “only” 80 are bullshit – because the threshold for calling in a report on a white family is higher.  So 20 are substantiated, all of them real.

The substantiation rate is the same, but that doesn’t mean there’s no bias. 

The limits of NCANDS 

Finally, a note about the database the Scooby Gang used for this study. 

They use a database known as NCANDS for National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.  This is a voluntary database, and I am aware of no checks on what individual states report and how they report it.  NCANDS is the only national source for data on reports and substantiation.  

But for foster care entries, there is another, less unreliable database, known as AFCARS, Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.  Providing information to that database is mandatory, and there are specific definitions states are supposed to follow. 

In 2021, NCANDS reported 156,576 entries into foster care.  But AFCARS reported 206,812.  The fact that these figures are so different should be at least a huge yellow flag when it comes to drawing sweeping conclusions based on NCANDS data.  Studies of single states, if the states are known for maintaining relatively reliable or at least consistent data, might be more valid than this deeply flawed attempt at a national comparison.  

*-In fact, family policing often makes these outcomes worse, so in that sense family police agencies do have control over them.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

It’s Not “Just Poverty” – It’s UNjust Poverty

This morning, I gave a presentation with the above title
At the Kempe Center International Virtual Conference:
A Call to Action to Change Child Welfare
Here is the text of that presentation


Have you heard? Poverty is confused with neglect!

            At long last, almost 50 years after scholars like David Gil and Leroy Pelton pointed it out people are getting the message.  People are starting to realize that the two biggest problems in what the child welfare establishment likes to call “child welfare” but should be called family policing are the confusion of poverty with neglect and the racism that permeates the system.

            Fortunately, having finally realized this, the child welfare establishment has apologized for the enormous harm they have inflicted on generations of impoverished children through hyper surveillance of their families, needlessly consigning millions to the chaos of foster care, and so overloading the system it’s that much harder to find the few children in real danger.

            Nah, just kidding.  The family policing establishment has spent huge amounts of time and energy that could have been devoted to say, easing poverty, and devoted it to churning out excuses for their failure and claims that amount to: well, o.k., maybe it’s poverty, but it’s not just poverty.

            In this presentation, I will examine the claims that it’s not just poverty, and discuss why usually those claims are wrong and, even when they’re right, they’re irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending October 3, 2023

● It was a day I didn’t expect to see in my lifetime: Families who had been silenced for decades told their stories at a seven-hour hearing of a New York State Assembly committee.  And, it appears, the politicians listened.  The moment I’ll never forget: Testimony from the mother of a young child needlessly taken, then abused in foster care.  Now that they’re reunited, she said, “My daughter hears a knock on the door and she hides under the table because she thinks it’s ACS.”  Here’s the story from The Imprint.  And here’s the video of the entire hearing. 

● Still afraid of the A word?  Let Roxanna Asgarian explain what “abolition” is and what it isn’t in this story for In These Times.  She writes: 

The abolitionists’ vision of an alternative is more nuanced than critics claim. They want to dismantle the surveillance and punishment aspects of the child welfare system — which research shows decrease neighborhood trust — and replace them with a robust support network that isn’t punitive. The idea is that, when people have their needs met, they are less likely to harm those closest to them, and strong communities caring for children will provide better opportunities to intervene if and when harm happens. 

● Asgarian’s explanation is so clear even what should be called “the Scooby Gang” should be able to understand it.  I have a blog post about why they probably won’t. 

● But instead, all the family policing establishment can come up with is relabeling surveillance as a “child and family well-being system.” I have a column in The Imprint about why we should worry when they say “I’m from the new, improved child and family well-being system and I’m here to help you!” 

● For the Hastings Center on Bioethics, Anne Zimmerman writes that “Our System for Reporting Child Abuse is Unethical.” She calls for the abolition of mandatory reporting and the abolition of the subspeciality of child abuse pediatrics. 

● The Biden Administration has proposed, and, in one case, implemented some new rules that look like steps in the right direction, including making it easier for kinship foster parents to become licensed and expanding reimbursement for family defense.  There are stories in The Imprint and from CNN

● Remember that “computer glitch” that led to judges all over Arizona making decisions in family policing matters without all the documents they were supposed to have? In the Arizona Daily Star, a family defender and a social worker argue that 

This is not just a story about a data glitch. It’s a revealing story about the "surveillance tentacles" of the state’s “child welfare” system, the pervasive failure of the system to listen to the people it targets, and the ways adding a layer of technology magnifies the system’s harms. 

● Arizona also brings us more reminders that the horrors go in all directions. If you run a group home or an institution in Arizona and you want to abuse the kids, you’ve pretty much got a free pass, according to a state report.  Check out the story from KPNX-TV and the story from the Arizona Capitol Times

● That may help explain how a tragedy like this death in foster care could have happened.  

● Who says that great big McLawsuit brought by Children’s Rights and A Better Childhood accomplished nothing?  Texas Public Radio reveals how it helped some middle managers in the Texas family police agency get free vacations! 

● Another example of news organizations exposing problems they may well have worsened in the first place.  It’s a tossup which news organization in Washington State has been worse about ignoring wrongful removal, sucking up to foster parents and generally encouraging a take-the-child-and-run mentality: The Seattle Times or Investigate West.  

Now, Investigate West has a big expose (essentially like all the other big exposes you’ve read) about a hideous troubled teen industry institution in Idaho.  But even now, the story blames the problem on a “shortage” of foster homes – an artificial “shortage” worsened by news stories encouraging the overloading ot the the system with children who don’t need to be there.

Monday, October 2, 2023

NCCPR in The Imprint: Child Well-Being Doesn't Require Family Policing

This is what America's "child welfare" systems call a success story:

 A family is victimized by a false allegation of child abuse. After they are cleared, they miss one doctor's appointment for their child, so they are accused again. After authorities "carefully consider" their situation, they are referred to a prevention program while constantly monitored. After release from the program they have to fight their way out of the state's central register of accused child abusers. In an interview, in the presence of someone from the program, they praise the program. 

In fact, while the 0-5 Program in Clinton County, N.Y., administered by an agency called Youth Advocate Programs, may have merit, everything else about this story illustrates the failure of what should properly be called "family policing." ...

Read the full column in The Imprint