Tuesday, November 28, 2023

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, weeks ending Nov. 29, 2023

Through the story of a mother whose children were torn from her after she did the right thing -- fleeing an abusive partner and going, with her children to a shelter -- and through the work of a former family police caseworker turned whistleblower, WBTV in Charlotte, NC and the online magazine The Assembly tell the story of how family policing really works. 

From the story: 

About 11,000 North Carolina children … were in DSS custody at the end of September. … And despite federal and state laws requiring “reasonable efforts” to reunify families, most will never go home.  Their parents are disproportionately Black and overwhelmingly poor, and often lack the resources to battle a powerful system that operates with little scrutiny. 

This side of the child welfare story - what happens to mothers like Alexis after their children enter the system - is seldom seen. It plays out in courtrooms where records are sealed, journalists’ notes are seized, and observers can be ejected on a judge’s whim - even as families are ripped apart. 

There’s no question that some children live in dangerous environments, and it’s in their best interest to be removed from their homes. At least 45 kids died of abuse or neglect in North Carolina in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. When that happens, social services officials come under fire. But there are few consequences for wrongly removing children from their homes. 

You can see for yourself here 

And here (The image looks the same, but it's another part of the story):

 ● In Florida, it’s a grandmother waging a prolonged fight for custody of her grandchild as the state’s family police agency throws one obstacle after another in her way.  WFTS-TV’s story includes comment from NCCPR

● If anyone still doubts the need to replace anonymous reporting of alleged child abuse with confidential reporting, check out this story from ProPublica.  Here’s how it begins: 

It was 5:30 a.m. Flashlights beamed in through the windows of the ground-floor apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Police officers and child welfare caseworkers were ordering a woman to open her front door. 

When she did, the first thing she saw was that the police had their guns drawn. Her hands flew up into the “don’t shoot” position; she was well aware of the recent stories of cops “shooting first and asking later.” She prayed that her 7-year-old son was still asleep in his room. 

The Imprint also has an excellent story about this case.  The story includes this quote from the mother: 

“I wasn’t able to protect him like a mother.  Especially when he had to come home and cry to me that the kids were teasing him, saying: ‘ACS are gonna come and take you.’ 

“I just felt like I failed him.”

And I have a blog post about the two questions anyone covering stories like this in New York always should ask. 

● More than a decade ago I first wrote about how states use federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds – which are supposed to help poor people become self-sufficient – to investigate those same poor people and take away their children.  In 2021 ProPublica published a superb expose of this practice.  One of those two things probably is part of the reason why the Biden Administration is proposing regulations to curb this practice.  ProPublica reports that 

The new rules would also restrict states from spending TANF funds on child protective services investigations, foster care or any other programs that don’t meet the fundamental purposes of welfare: strengthening poor families and keeping them together. ProPublica found that in Arizona and elsewhere, money meant to help parents struggling to raise their children is instead used to investigate them for alleged child maltreatment — which often stems from the very financial circumstances that they needed help with in the first place. 

Under the Biden plan, Arizona would likely have to find other ways of funding its aggressive child protective services investigations of poor parents and use welfare dollars to help families stay together rather than removing their kids into foster care. 

But we're going to have to pore over the fine print to see how much of a change this is.  There may be at least one loophole.

● Back in April I wrote about another of those appalling extremist statements that come from Penn State Prof. Sarah Font.  As I noted at the time: 

According to Font, what has long been viewed as the worst option of all – “aging out,” in which a young person exits at age 18 or age 21 with no family whatsoever, and for which it’s well-documented the results are dismal, may be better not just than reunification with those birth parents for whom Font has such contempt; it also may be better than guardianship with extended family, better than loving grandparents or aunts or uncles.  Why?  Because aging out might provide the foster youth with financial benefits. 

I don’t know if Font thinks that’s especially true for Native American children. I do know that Font, who is part of the “Scooby Gang” that denies there is racism in family policing, wants to get rid of the Indian Child Welfare Act.  

All of this is by way of introducing a story from Youth Today and Crosscut, centered around the life of a Black and Native American foster youth forced to make exactly the choice Font describes.  Check out how it worked out for her.  And check out all the other times she was failed, from the very beginning.  Here’s how the story starts: 

One day in second grade, Janell Braxton’s teacher told her, unexpectedly, that her mom had come to pick her up for a dentist appointment. Janell, thrilled to avoid reading time, trotted off to the school office. But she did not see her mother. 

Instead, a social worker told Janell that the adults had lied about the dentist. She would move into foster care, which Janell’s young mind imagined as a form of jail. Why had this happened? she wondered. Because she hadn’t eaten her vegetables? She worried about her younger brother, and volunteered to “do time” for him. 

“Oh honey, that’s not how it works,” the social worker told Janell.

● Speaking of Native American children: South Dakota Searchlight and the Argus Leader continue their series about what the state of South Dakota has done to these children, with stories on how the system severs cultural connections and what’s being done about this.  When it comes to the state itself, the answer is what you’d expect: Not much. 

● After one witness after another at a New York State Senate hearing described the trauma of the child welfare surveillance state and needless foster care, one lawmaker asked “What is the better alternative?” In the Albany Times Union, NCCPR offers some answers

● We all know about usually white, male law enforcement officers and prosecutors stretching laws to persecute pregnant women – especially nonwhite pregnant women -- for using drugs, something that only endangers children by driving mothers away from prenatal care.  But Mississippi Today and The Marshall Project report that in Mississippi they’re taking it an ugly step further. 

● Among the enormous harms of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act is a dramatic escalation in the number of times children’s rights to their parents are terminated. (That’s a more accurate term than termination of parental rights.)  ASFA makes it easy since it allows termination if enough time has passed even if the child was wrongly taken in the first place. Some states compound the injustice by making a prior termination automatic grounds to terminate again without even trying to keep the family together. In the journal Social Work, Professors Mical Raz and Frank Edwards argue that 

TPR is not a rare event that universally serves as proxy for parental unfitness.  Rather, it demonstrates how harsh child welfare policies target certain marginalized communities, often faulting parents for their circumstances, and place their healing and recovery on a strict timeline. Thus, a history of a prior TPR should not be the sole reason to deny a parent reunification services.  

In this week’s edition of The Horrors go in All Directions: 

● It is horrific, it is pervasive, and authorities repeatedly look the other way.  That’s what Louisville Public Media and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found when they took a close look at abuse in that state’s residential treatment centers in a story including NCCPR’s perspective.  As the story explains: 

The system that promises to monitor these facilities and protect children from abuse often devalues the child’s perspective of what happened — communicating to them time and time again that they are untrustworthy and unbelievable. 

More than half the time the child who disclosed the abuse was not even interviewed by those charged with investigating the allegation.   I have an op-ed column in the Kentucky Lantern on the root cause of this massive failure. (Yes, it's what you think.)

WKRN-TV in Nashville reports that 

The homes sheltering some of Tennessee’s most at-risk children as they await foster care placement comes with its own dangers and issues, according to logs of calls made to Metro Nashville Police. 

News 2 obtained the logs for more than 500 calls made to two neighboring Department of Children’s Services (DCS) transitional homes in Davidson County between Jan. 1 and Oct. 27 of this year. 

The reports show multiple instances where police were called to the homes for fights, criminal activity, theft, and reports of a person with a weapon.