Sunday, November 26, 2023

Is this family police agency leader really bragging about misleading the public?

Perhaps if we all say it often enough we can stop
family police agencies from misleading us about this.

Last week, Virginia’s Director of Social Services, Danny Avula, gave a presentation to the state Commission on Youth.  According to Virginia Public Media

Avula noted Virginia’s rate of placement with relatives is less than half of the national average — a statistic he said is skewed by the fact that local social services departments in the state prioritize informal placements with relatives before sending a child into the foster care system. 

“The upside of that is that it keeps our overall numbers of kids in formal foster care low,” Avula said. [Emphasis added.] 

The practice Avula seems to be bragging about, and the hoodwinking of the public that goes with it is, in fact, shameful. 

On the surface, Virginia appears to have a low rate of tearing apart families.  But that’s only because Virginia hides a whole lot of its foster care placements – by not calling them foster care.  

There’s a term for these kinds of placements – “hidden foster care” (of course).  But I prefer “blackmail placements” because that’s how they usually work. 

The family police agency decides to remove a child from the home.  To make the process easier, for the agency, not the family, they essentially blackmail the parent: Give us the child and let us place him “informally” with a relative -- without involving the court, without having to deal with a family defense attorney and without even the minimal due process rights you normally have -- or we’ll go to court and throw your child into the home of a stranger, or worse, a group home or institution. 

By some estimates, nationwide, there may be as many children in hidden foster care/blackmail placements as there are in the kind where the numbers are officially reported to the federal government and the public.  That means that instead of tearing apart families 206,000 times per year, it’s more like 412,000.  

When they fail to report these placements, states are, at best, exploiting a loophole in federal regulations.  At worst, they are ignoring those regulations and the federal Administration for Children and Families chooses to look the other way. 

The deception is compounded when family police agencies deny that these placements are foster care – calling them kinship placements or worse “kinship diversion.” 

Though kinship care is almost always the least harmful form of foster care, kinship care is still foster care.  

There’s nothing unusual about family police hoodwinking the public by keeping hidden foster care hidden and calling it something else.  What is unusual is when they seem to brag about it. 

That sure sounds like what Avula was doing when he said that when it comes to all those blackmail placements “The upside of that is that it keeps our overall numbers of kids in formal foster care low.” 

Upside for whom?

The children still have been torn from their families.  And while they are in kinship foster care with a relative, that could have been done through the formal system with the state forced to report that they did it and at least some minimal due process rights for the families. 

When state officials say blackmail placements are better because the child is being placed with relatives, once again they’re trying to hoodwink you.  Going to court does not deny a child placement with kin instead of strangers – unless that’s what the family police always wanted in the first place. 

There’s no “upside” for the children, and there’s no upside for the families.  It’s only an upside for the state of Virginia, which can pretend to be tearing apart fewer families and for local family police agencies (in Virginia these systems are county-run) which don’t have to deal with those pesky family defense lawyers, can save money on court costs and never have to pay the relatives the way they pay strangers.  (Formal placement doesn’t guarantee relatives will get such placements, but informal placement guarantees they won’t.)

 The families know this.  As Virginia Public Media pointed out: 

[A] 2022 report from the newly created Office of the Children’s Ombudsman found issues with Virginia’s practice of informally placing children with relatives. It included comments from parents who felt they’d been coerced into giving up their children for an unspecified amount of time, without representation from an attorney. 

“My children were kidnapped,” the report quotes one anonymous parent. “There was no court order.”