Tuesday, December 26, 2023

In “child welfare” the horror stories go in all directions – all year long

Part one of NCCPR’s news and commentary year in review for 2023

America’s massive child welfare surveillance state was built on horror stories.  Stories about children murdered or tortured in their own homes stampeded us into building a massive system that destroys children in the name of saving them. The system has torn apart millions of families needlessly.  It’s also so overloaded the system that workers have no time to find the few children in real danger.

A system that attempts to make policy-by-horror-story makes all children less safe.  That’s why we’ve long extended an offer to the fearmongers in the child welfare establishment: a mutual moratorium on using horror stories to "prove” anything.

We can do that because we have actual evidence that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, family preservation is not only more humane than foster care or massive surveillance, it’s also safer. But the fearmongers will never give up their horror stories because horror stories are all they’ve got.

That’s why we’ve taken to reminding people that the horror stories go in all directions.  And when it comes to the high rate of abuse in foster homes, group homes, and institutions, the horror stories are backed up with study after study showing the rates of abuse in those settings are appalling.

So now, just a few examples from 2023:


● 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.   NCCPR’s op-ed column in the Kentucky Lantern explains the root cause of this massive failure. (Yes, it's what you think.)

● Earlier, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting exposed the horrifying details about the abuse allegedly inflicted on seven-year-old Ja’Ceon Terry by staff at the “residential treatment center” where he died.  It turns out, he wasn’t the only young resident abused there.  But the story doesn’t answer the most important question, the one I addressed in 2022 in the Lexington Herald-Leader: Why is Kentucky institutionalizing seven-year-olds? 

It’s not just Kentucky where authorities look the other way when children they took in the first place are abused.

● 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 occur.

● And also this tragedy in Arizona: Two teenagers run away from their group home.  Two weeks later their bodies are found in a nearby pond.  The only “solution” the group home industry can come up with is lamenting the fact that they can’t lock kids in.  In this blog post, I suggest a better idea

● They also look the other way in Tennessee 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.

● The state’s own inspectors tried to blow the whistle.  But WTVF-TV in Nashville reports that: 

Two whistleblowers at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services said top leaders within DCS ordered them to cover up dangerous conditions at homes where abused and neglected children are staying. 

A former and current DCS employee told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Commissioner Margie Quin did not want written inspections of the homes because she was concerned about reports falling into the hands of the media

● Here’s how they respond in Indiana: A lawsuit accused a politically-connected “residential treatment center” of being rife with sexual abuse.  As the Indianapolis Star reports: 

A psychologist’s report prepared for the lawsuit said [the center] “showed deliberate indifference” to the rampant sexual abuse of young boys, interfered with the ability of residents and staff to report to DCS, and “emboldened sexual predators.” 

The center denied the charges and the lawsuit was settled.  But the center wasn’t done.  They pushed for a state law granting them immunity from future lawsuits.  The Star reports that 

Under the legislation, immunity would apply to most liability claims, including wrongful death, negligence, malpractice, battery and infliction of emotional distress. There are exclusions for criminal offenses, gross negligence and willful or wanton misconduct, but those cases are rare and much more difficult to prove.

As a result of the Star's revelations, the bill was withdrawn. 

● But The Star and ProPublica teamed up and found even more: 

…It was the third time since 2019 that police or child protective services formally accused a female staffer at Pierceton Woods of sexual abuse or misconduct involving male residents.  In response, the state’s Department of Child Services temporarily stopped referring children to Pierceton Woods, a nonprofit residential facility which treats boys for substance use disorders and sexually harmful behaviors. 

That lasted 11 days….


● In Utah, NBC News reports on how the state has shut down an RTC.  All it took was “the deaths of multiple children in its care.”  The director of the RTC says his institution has been treated unfairly. 

● 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 not no 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: 

● You know how the people who warehouse kids in “residential treatment centers” always say we have to have such places because it’s the only way to “treat” the most difficult young people.  Well, get this: WCBS-TV reports that with his agency’s prized RTC mired in scandal over rampant abuse, the director says: It’s not our fault, the kids they’re sending us are too difficult! 

So in other words, we need RTCs, but only for the easy kids?  To top it off, this RTC part of an agency run by Ron Richter, who once ran New York City’s family police agency and loves to pal around with the most extreme advocates for tearing apart families.  Although Richter implies that the problems are new, this facility has been the subject of exposes going back decades.  But don’t worry.  According to the website for Richter’s agency, it’s “one of the oldest and most respected residential treatment programs in the U.S.” 

● Back in 2020 the Albany Times Union reported on how, after New York State reopened the right to sue for child sexual abuse, officials were stunned by how often the accused were not priests – but foster parents and staff at group homes and institutions.  Now, the Los Angeles Times reports, California is making the same discovery:

County officials predicted that they may be forced to spend between $1.6 billion and $3 billion to resolve roughly 3,000 claims of sexual abuse that allegedly took place in the county's foster homes, children shelters, and probation camps and halls dating to the 1950s. ... Veteran sex abuse attorneys are calling for an outside investigation, saying that not even they realized the full scope of the alleged abuse taking place in county facilities. 

Experts say the volume is unlike anything they've heard of in local government. … “[I]f it's true, it would be the most massive sex abuse scandal imaginable," said Stewart Mollrich, an attorney with Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, one of the law firms specializing in sex abuse claims that is suing the county. 

● Check out the video of residents of a “residential treatment center” in Oklahoma beating up a child – while staff apparently do nothing.  KFOR-TV reports that when the mother contacted state family police agency officials they were very concerned – about getting the video taken down.  And see the follow-up story here.

● And, speaking of horrors: The headline on this Sacramento Bee story says it all: “Sacramento County to remove foster children from cells, avoiding state fines.” But the county is lying about why the children are there at all. It’s the usual lie: The kids supposedly are too difficult, there’s supposedly no place else for them, blah, blah blah.  In fact, the places these children could go are being taken by all those other children the county never should have taken in the first place.

From KXLY-TV, Spokane

Washington State has agreed to pay $16.95 million in a landmark child abuse settlement. 

Multiple lawsuits were filed pertaining to 12 boys who were sexually and physically abused at the J Bar D Boys Ranch north of Spokane, which is under the care of the state. The group home is now "a shuttered facility in lone." 

The boys were ages 10-15 when the abuse happened in the late 1970s to mid 1980s after being removed to the state's custody. The boys were subjected to rampant sexual and physical abuse by staff and older residents. 

From The Arkansas Advocate:

 A federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges repeated sexual and physical abuse of children at The Lord’s Ranch, a residential treatment facility in Northeast Arkansas that closed in 2016. 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs — eight former residents who were reportedly abused as boys — said this is the first of several lawsuits they will file on behalf of the more than 30 clients. … 

● 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.

● KPIX-TV reports that the mayor of the town where Alameda County warehouses foster youth in a parking-place “shelter” is suing the county.  You’ll never guess why: 

The center is supposed to act as a sort of safe house for children but in recent months, the mayor claims it has become a hotbed for serious criminal activity including sex trafficking. ... 

Rebecca Edwards -- the co-founder of Braid Mission, an organization that supports and mentors foster youth -- says incidents like what the mayor is describing are sadly all too common. 

"You know people who are pimps and drug dealers, who are recruiting for gangs, know exactly where to find these youth who are vulnerable and who are desperate for somewhere to belong," explained Edwards.

In other words, predators go where the prey is.  Which raises the obvious question: Why are you using a place like this in the first place?  

Unfortunately, the lawsuit does not raise this question. 

● 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.

● There are horrifying details about the sexual assault of two young teenagers in Texas foster care.  One is 16, the other 13.  But as The Imprint reports for the 13-year-old 

[t]he October assault was not the first she had survived. After running away from a foster care placement two years ago, the court monitors found, she was abducted from a gas station, drugged and sexually assaulted by two men. 

● 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. 

● Here’s another example: 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 of the the system with children who don’t need to be there.

● If you run group homes and institutions, the one group you don’t want anyone to talk to is youth who actually were forced to live in them.  Because this is what they’ll tell you

● Here’s a case in point from USA Today. 

● And finally, 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.


Arabella McCormack and her sisters were taken from their mother because they witnessed domestic violence.  They were placed with foster parents who adopted them.  That’s where Arabella died.  As KNSD-TV reports: 

 Prosecutors say she was severely malnourished, weighing just 48 pounds at the time. They also say her body was covered in bruises and doctors found 15 still-healing bone fractures. 

Arabella’s mother is suing – and still fighting for the return of Arabella’s sisters, who remain in foster care. 

Arabella’s sisters also are suing. CBS8 San Diego reports that  

The lawsuit states that when deputies arrived at the home, Arabella weighed 40 pounds, her bones protruding from her small frame, her teeth yellow and calcified, and her body blanketed with bruises, scars, and cuts and riddled with broken bones. The two young sisters, whose identities will remain anonymous, were not in much better condition than their sister, says the lawsuit. 

KNSD-TV exposed the numerous warning signs that were ignored before Arabella was, in effect, adopted to death.  (And remember, the adoption helped San Diego County collect the bounties paid by the federal government for finalized adoptions of foster children under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.) 

● In Hawaii, Honolulu Civil Beat reports, 

The estate of a 6-year-old Waimanalo girl who died from alleged abuse in perhaps the most notorious child welfare cases in recent Hawaii history is suing her adoptive parents and the state for gross negligence. 

The civil lawsuit claims both the Department of Human Services and Catholic Charities Hawaii — a nonprofit that periodically reviews foster homes — failed to investigate and intervene in child abuse allegations that caused Isabella Kalua’s wrongful death. 

Her adoptive parents, Isaac and Lehua Kalua, have been charged with murder. They are alleged to have kept Isabella in a dog cage to keep her from seeking food at night because they didn’t feed her enough and covering her mouth with duct tape. 

● In Massachusetts four former foster and adopted children reached a $7 million settlement in a suit they filed against the Massachusetts family police agency.  WFXT-TV reports that: 

The lawsuit, filed in Middlesex Superior Court, says the children were locked in dog crates, forced to perform sex acts, submerged in ice paths to the point of drowning and threatened with death while under the care of the [foster parents]. The plaintiffs also allege that DCF, then known as the Department of Social Services, ignored 14 reports of abuse and was “deliberately indifferent to the ongoing abuse.” 

NBC10 Boston also has a story about the case, and The Boston Globe reports, not all of the former foster children lived to see the settlement: 

The plaintiff who died, Kristine Blouin, was placed in the Blouin home when she was just 2 weeks old; for the rest of her life, memories from there tormented her, a woman who acted as her surrogate mother has said. Kristine Blouin overdosed in 2022, and left behind two children who [Attorney Erica] Brody said would benefit from the settlement amount.

● Also 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 still are going in all directions. 

From the Associated Press

Iowa will pay $10 million to the siblings of an adopted 16-year-old girl who weighed just 56 pounds (25 kilograms) when she died of starvation in a home where an attorney for the siblings says the children were forced to fight each other for food. 

● 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. 

● Also from the Oregon Capital Chronicle: 

A woman who spent 16 years of her childhood in the state’s foster care system is suing the Oregon Department of Human Services, alleging the agency placed her in foster homes where she suffered abuse and failed to protect her when they knew. 

And, it seems, Oregon continues to cover up what happened: 

In this case, some of the details are murky because – as the lawsuit points out – the state agency would not give her complete records about her time in the state system and instead blacked out information about the foster parents and homes.

●In Arizona, Courthouse News Service reports, Trever Frodsham is suing because 

He says his foster father sexually abused him from age 2 to age 14, when David Frodsham was arrested in 2016. He’s currently serving a 17-year prison sentence for leading a sex abuse ring, forcing multiple children he fostered to perform sex acts on both him and his friends, sometimes in the presence of his wife, Barbara. … The state allowed the couple to retain custody of their foster children and later adopt them despite nearly 20 complaints of misconduct. 

But the state says it is immune because the caseworkers who kept placing children in that home over and over and over and failing to notice the abuse there over and over and over were sincerely acting in what they felt was, yes, “the best interests of the child.” 

Oh, and by the way, each time the Frodshams adopted a foster child, it helped the State of Arizona collect bounties of $4,000 to $10,000 per child under the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act.  When things like this happen, states are not required to give any of that money back.

From WFLA-TV in Tampa

Within days of Chance Witherington’s first breath, he was taken from his mom by the Department of Children and Families and placed in foster care in Polk County.  Two months later he was dead.

● Also in Tampa, WFTS-TV reports, there’s still another lawsuit alleging horrific abuse in foster care – abuse allegedly ignored by the state family policing agency.  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, in Florida neither is unusual

From WTVM-TV in Columbus, Georgia

 An east Alabama couple is heading to prison for abusing their foster child.  32-year-old Elizabeth McDowell and 32-year-old John McDowell were convicted in October of aggravated child abuse.  Russell County District Attorney Rick Chancey says both were sentenced to life in prison this morning.

From the Detroit News: 

Attorney General Dana Nessel charged two Lansing area couples Monday with 36 criminal child abuse charges, months after other similar charges against the foster and adoption families were dismissed.

 The DeWitt couples are being charged in relation to eight of the 30 children who have been in their charge since 2007. Nessel alleged the couples' collected more than $1 million tax free through the adoption subsidy program.

While Kansas lawmakers were busy attacking the safest form of foster care, kinship foster care, this is how foster care with strangers has been going in recent cases

Please keep all this in mind when family police agencies claim there is very little abuse in foster care. Not just these examples of cover-up, but numerous independent studies say otherwise.  Perhaps that’s why that bastion of the family policing establishment, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, appears to want to downplay the problem.  They’re undertaking a “study” of the issue that’s almost certain to grossly underestimate the true rate of abuse.  I have a blog post about it

Please also keep in mind that when the fearmongers say that anything that curbs the vast power of the family police will endanger children – the examples above all are from the system we have now; this is the system they say we need to keep in order to keep children “safe.” 

In part two: Our look back at family preservation journalism and commentary in 2023