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 into thinking these are huge accomplishments and, worse, support policies guaranteeing that the other 99% of that pain will never end. 

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.