Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary roundup, week ending February 20, 2024

● We begin with this from The New York Times

A sweeping class-action lawsuit filed against New York City on Tuesday argues that the agency that investigates child abuse and neglect routinely engages in unconstitutional practices that traumatize the families it is charged with protecting. 

The lawsuit says that investigators for the Administration for Children’s Services deceive and bully their way into people’s homes, where they rifle through families’ most private spaces, strip-search children and humiliate parents. 

The story zeroes in on how much these practices hurt the children ACS claims it is protecting, such as a child known in the lawsuit as Y.A.:

 once outgoing and cheerful, [Y.A.] has been in therapy, her parents said, and blames herself for the investigations. 

Y.A. … had been asked to write a story about the home investigations. In the story, [her mother] Ms. Azar said, Y.A. had written, “I am a bad kid” and “I need to behave at school or Mommy and Daddy will be arrested.” 

 Ms. Azar … said she often wondered while investigators were in her home, “What was happening with all the kids that actually needed your attention?”

Another parent said: 

one investigator asked her 6-year-old daughter if she was suicidal. Her daughter had not previously known the word. “From that day on, she started saying — when they would come — she felt suicidal.”

The story includes a link to the full lawsuit complaint.  As you read it please keep in mind that New York City’s system actually is less horrible than most others.  So wherever you are, it’s probably worse. 

● Some of the issues in the New York class action also arise in three individual lawsuits in South Carolina.  Kaiser Health News reports that the lawsuits

accuse the state of forcing boys and girls to undergo traumatic genital exams during child abuse investigations, even when no allegations of sexual abuse have been raised. 

In one case

a 16-year-old girl claims she was subjected to painful vaginal exams against her will, even after she denied being sexually abused. She felt as if she was “being raped” during the forensic medical exam, her complaint asserts. … 

Claims that the exams are comparable to normal pediatric checkups are “garbage,” said Donnie Cox, a civil rights attorney in Carlsbad, Calif. 

“At the time they’re happening, they’re scary as hell and it really does traumatize children on top of the trauma of being removed from their homes,” said Cox, who has represented plaintiffs in similar lawsuits. “They’re using these kids, basically, as pieces of evidence, and you can’t do that.” 

The state family police agency has an interesting defense.  It says such exams are “standard procedure.”  And the head of a trade association for “children’s advocacy centers,” where many such exams are performed, says the real problem is agencies aren’t doing enough of them. 

● The child never needed to be taken. The Philadelphia family police agency had to know even a Philadelphia juvenile court judge wouldn’t rubber-stamp such a flimsy case. So they used a blackmail placement – aka hidden foster care.  Resolve Philly and The Philadelphia Inquirer report on the tragic result. 

In The New York Review of Books, Kristen Martin reviews Investigating Families, Prof. Kelley Fong’s outstanding examination of how family policing really works. Martin writes:

Investigating Families humanizes [the] data by focusing on the everyday horror of CPS involvement, reconstructing and analyzing several women’s experiences of having their parenting scrutinized and threatened by a state agency that has the power to take their children away. CPS may see these investigations as routine, but for mothers, Fong writes, “the experience can’t be pushed aside so easily, precisely because CPS represents the agency poised to brand them bad mothers, to take away what they treasure most.” … 

We would do well to examine why we continue to ignore the horror that is unfolding for millions of families in America each year, why we are reluctant to listen when women like Helen, Jazmine, Tatiana, and Sabrina tell us what things are like. 

● When a report alleging “child abuse” is “substantiated” it typically means only that a caseworker decided, entirely on her or his own authority, that it was slightly more likely than not that the “abuse” or “neglect” occurred and the subject of the investigation did it.  So it’s no surprise that in state after state, as soon as the accused has a chance to tell their side of the story before even a quasi-neutral hearing officer, large proportions of those findings are overturned.  The latest example: Massachusetts.  The Boston Globe reports that when the process was made minimally less unfair, the proportion of successful appeals rose from 5% to 40% -- even though the deck still is stacked against the accused. 

One example of a successful appeal: A mother is slammed to the ground by her boyfriend.  She takes the kids, goes to the police and gets a restraining order.  But because the boyfriend slammed her to the ground so hard the children could hear it in another room, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families said she was guilty of neglect.  Oh, and if you’re wondering who called in the complaint to DCF – it was the abusive boyfriend. 

● There’s still another study out documenting racial bias in family policing.  In this case: which families doctors report as potential child abusers and which they don’t.  Even when you factor in poverty the results are exactly what you’d expect – or at least what you should expect by now.  Unfortunately, the study authors have a solution that may well make things worse.  But in a commentary about the study for MedPage Today called “Child Protective Services Is Being Weaponized Against Our Black Patients” Dr. Onyi Okeke has better ideas. 

● The Montana Free Press has more about the bias against Native American families in a state that is always a contender for Child Removal Capital of America.  

● An anti-ransom bill has been introduced in New York.  The legislation would bar family police agencies from forcing parents to pay part of the cost of their children’s foster care.  States call it “child support.”  But when someone takes your child and forces you to pay money to get the child back, the right term for that payment is ransom.  In the Albany Times Union leaders of an adoptive and foster parents group explain why ransom should be abolished. 

The Imprint reports that another New York bill would increase funding for the state’s family courts.  A lot of advocates have strong reservations about anything that makes the system bigger, but the bill also would bolster funding for family defense. 

In this week’s edition of The Horror Stories Go in All Directions: 

Honolulu Civil Beat has more details on horrifying abuse in foster/adoptive home, and a demand that the state family police agency tell what it knows about the case, including not only what happened to the child who died, but also what happened to another child “mistreated in almost unimaginable ways” in the same home.  Meanwhile, a public interest law firm is suing to get records from a tragically similar case of a child allegedly murdered by her adoptive parents. 

WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, La., tells the story of the children of Diamon Bell: 

Bell first came to WAFB last year when her daughter was molested by another child at a different foster home, all while she’s been fighting to get all of her children back. She believes because she came forward to report what’s been happening, she’s faced retaliation from the DCFS case worker on her case. [A source inside DCFS]… confirms the mother’s story. The source says they have also witnessed the DCFS worker threatening to “never let her get her kids back.” … 

That child finally was returned – after being abused in still another foster home.  But other children remain in foster care: 

The source … says it is past time this mother got her kids back because they believe the children have been harmed far more in the state’s care than they ever have in their mother’s care. The source says the children have faced sexual, physical, and mental abuse and everything in between. 

● And in West Virginia, which rushes to terminate parental rights more quickly than any other state, West Virginia Watch reports that 

A federal judge says Child Protective Services failed to respond and perform an adequate investigation in a high-profile case where Kanawha County children were found last fall locked in a shed without access to water or a toilet. 

“As a result, the children were left to suffer at the hands of their adoptive parents for months, until law enforcement officers eventually found the children locked in their house or in a detached shed, deprived of food, water, bathroom facilities, hygiene products and beds,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Eifert wrote in an order.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 13, 2024

● There was excellent reporting this week on two states that destroy astounding numbers of Native American families every year, and the state officials who don’t give a damn about itI have a short blog post about it, including links to excellent reporting from the Montana Free Press, South Dakota Searchlight and the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader. 

● Remember the children who were torn from their parents and thrown into foster care because the parents committed the crime of Driving While Black?  Now, Tennessee Lookout reports, the mother is suing.  And with the lawsuit come new details about what the family endured: 

According to the lawsuit, before the children were taken, even a state trooper showed more humanity than “child welfare” agency caseworkers: 

“Trooper Clark told (DCS caseworkers) Pelham and Medina that Clayborne was a good mother, that she should be released so that she would not be separated from her children, that the kids were not being neglected or abused, and that it would be best for everyone for Clayborne to stay with the children,” the lawsuit said. 

The caseworkers took the children anyway.  And after the family was reunited: 

Even after they were returned, the kids have displayed signs of trauma: the couple’s now-six-year-old son begs his mother “please don’t them come back and take us.” He experiences nightmares and wets the bed. Another child “has a visceral reaction to seeing police."

The Imprint has a useful state-by-state guide to laws that curb the practice of family police agencies swiping foster youth's Social Security benefits.  

KUSA-TV Denver has more about a case of a now former family police caseworker, Robin Niceta. Niceta took advantage of anonymous child abuse reporting (but did a poor job covering her tracks) to falsely accuse a member of the Aurora City Council, Danielle Jurinsky, of child abuse. Sentencing has been delayed because Niceta’s lawyer is ill.  That illness is real.  Less real, it appears, was a previous request by Niceta to delay her trial because she supposedly had a brain tumor.  She’s now been charged with falsifying the medical records. (If the charges are true, she apparently wasn’t good at that, either). 

What was not delayed were victim impact statements in the original false allegation case.  Jurinsky’s father told the court: 

"Your Honor, every lie and every evil criminal action committed by this defendant against Danielle and our family was planned, not random, spur-of-the-moment decisions, but planned and researched. She hoped it would it would succeed in removing a son from his home and destroy a family. This is why this person should not receive leniency from the court." 

The whole ordeal never could have started if not for the fact that, like 48 other states, Colorado allows anonymous reporting. They should do what Texas did and largely replace it with confidential reporting, in which the accused still doesn’t know the name of the accuser, but the family police do. 

In the Virginia Mercury, Valerie L’Herrou, deputy director of the Center for Family Advocacy, urges support for legislation that would bolster the quality of family defense in that state. She writes: 

In Virginia, one issue that contributes to poor outcomes for children in foster care is the extremely poor system of legal representation for parents of children in foster care. Multiple other states have vastly improved the quality of legal representation for parents, because this has been shown to improve outcomes for children in the system. 

● In Rhode Island, state officials have given a whole new, unfortunate, and stunningly na├»ve meaning to the concept of “passing the smell test.” I have a blog post about it. 

In this week’s edition of The Horror Stories Go In All Directions:

Hawaii, 2021: six-year-old Ariel Sellers was allegedly adopted to death.  Though relatives wanted to take her in, she was placed with strangers.  Ultimately, they adopted her and changed her name to Isabella Kalua.  The foster/adoptive parents have been charged with murdering the child.  She allegedly died trapped in a dog cage with duct tape covering her mouth and nose. 

Hawaii: 2024: Because the family police agency is stonewalling, a lot still is unknown, but as Honolulu Civil Beat reports, ten-year-old Geanna Bradley appears to have been a foster child.  The presumed foster parents obtained guardianship status – and were paid $1,961 per month to “care” for her.  Then, police allege they “restrained her with duct tape [and] confined her to a tiny space while they collected money for her care”  and ultimately killed her. According to Hawaii News Now  Prosecutors say Geanna’s death was “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity.” KHON-TV reports she suffered “multiple injuries to her face including her ears, eyes, forehead, cheeks, lips and a road rash-type of injury on her chin. Part of her nose bridge was missing.” 

Another child, this one known to have been adopted, also was found abused in the same home. 

Hawaii Public Radio got comment on the case from Prof. Dorothy Roberts, author of Shattered Bonds and Torn Apart and a member of NCCPR's Board of Directors who said:

"This is just one example of a child who was harmed after the system took her from her home. As far as I could tell from the father who was interviewed, she would have been better off in his care than in the care of these people who abused her." 

One other thing to know about Hawaii: The state takes away children at a rate more than 40% above the national average.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Officials in two states that routinely destroy Native American families make their position clear: We don’t care, we don’t have to.

South Dakota tears apart families at a rate well above the national average. Native American children are 13% of the child population and 74% of the foster child population.  But hey, a slogan is a slogan, right?

There were two important news stories last week from states that destroy astounding numbers of Native American families every year.  The stories make one thing clear: State officials and many state lawmakers don’t give a damn about it. 

● Montana continually vies with West Virginia for the title Child Removal Capital of America.  In Montana that’s partly because the state family police agency tears apart so many Native families.  The Montana Free Press reports that Native children are 10% of the state’s child population and one-third of the foster child population.  The Free Press story is filled with such data – and filled with bland, boilerplate, buck-passing responses from state officials like this one from the head of the state family police agency: “I think it’s really about continuing to have the conversation.”  The closest thing she has to a concrete solution is no solution at all – making it easier to place Native children in hidden foster care

● It’s even worse in South Dakota, another state that takes away children at a rate well above the national average.  In South Dakota, Native Americans are 13 percent of the child population and nearly three-quarters of the foster-child population, an issue first exposed in 2010 by NPR.  South Dakota Searchlight and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader returned to the subject with an excellent series last year, documenting how the state cuts a swath of destruction through Native families.  Now they’ve followed up with a story about legislative proposals for change.  

One of those proposals is one that most state legislatures would routinely approve, since it delays actually doing anything: creating a task force.  But those who want to see change are having trouble getting the South Dakota Legislature to do even that much. 

More substantive legislation already has been defeated.  Under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, states are supposed to make “active efforts” to keep families together, a higher standard than the “reasonable efforts” required un federal law (but almost universally ignored) for other families.  A bill to require active efforts for all South Dakota children – and to explain exactly what that term means – was defeated yesterday.  

Even the head of a local Court-Appointed Special Advocates program, herself a Native American, favored the bill.  As the Argus-Leader reported: 

For example, if a parent needs to overcome substance abuse, an active effort would be helping that parent with a ride to a treatment class, said Kehala Two Bulls, the executive director of the 7th Circuit Court CASA program. A reasonable effort would be giving that parent a list of treatment programs. 

I would disagree that a list of treatment programs is anywhere near reasonable as an effort – it’s pretty typical of the failure to make reasonable efforts -- but you get the idea.  Getting the parent to the program is a reasonable effort.  Bringing home-based drug treatment to the parent, as Connecticut does in some cases, is an active effort. 

But the head of South Dakota’s family police agency, Matt Althoff said, presumably with a straight face, that they’re already making “active efforts” in the cases of Native American children who, again, make up 74% of the state’s foster care population.

An opponent of the bill said: “How do we put something in into law when everybody is interpreting this differently?”  And here I’d been operating under what is, apparently, the absurd notion that this is why you put things into law in the first place.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Residential treatment: Can the scent of Pine Sol cover up the stench of abuse?

Rhode Island State Rep. Patricia Serpa says she can tell things are soooo much better
at a residential treatment center because "I could smell the Pine-Sol"

Ever wonder why “residential treatment centers” almost always look so good?  It’s amazing how much these places, which always claim to need even more money, lavish on making sure the grounds are gorgeous the “cottages” are nicely painted and the lawns are mowed.  Then they invite public officials on a carefully guided tour.  

The amazing thing isn’t that these places keep pulling this stunt, the amazing thing is that it works! 

The latest to be snookered is Rhode Island State Rep. Patricia Serpa, who chairs that state’s House of Representatives Oversight Committee.  She and other officials got the full guided tour of St. Mary’s Home for Children in North Providence. 

Here’s what’s been happening at the place they are so anxious to save, according to news accounts summarizing a 119-page report from the state’s child advocate. 

“Staff-on-child physical assault, youth stealing the program van, overdoses, a high number of AWOLs, neglect and an overwhelming number of responses by the North Providence Police Department.” 

From just the beginning of April through May 8, 2023: 

There were more than 20 calls to the CPS hotline, they found, including allegations of drug overdoses, sexual contact among the children, staff assaulting children, runaway children, and an overwhelming amount of police responses, the [Office of Child Advocate] said. 

That’s just the start.  The Boston Globe did its own investigation and found that, at an institution with only 39 beds: 

The North Providence police were called to St. Mary's more than 300 times in the past two years, mainly for children as young as 8 running away, according to 317 pages of police call logs obtained by the Globe through a public records request. … 

North Providence Police Chief Alfredo Ruggiero Jr. told the Globe things are so bad that when runaways are found by police “there’s a part of us that our hearts are breaking” as they bring them back.

Neighbors such as Andrew Marsalli and his partner Ken Richey said they would often hear children screaming.  Marsalli recalled 

the boy with cuts and bruises who showed up at his door asking for help. 

"The boy would say, 'Please don't let me go with them. Don't let them find me,' " Marsalli said. "He would just come knock on my door to talk. But . . . they would know where to find him." … One time, Marsalli and Richey said, they watched in horror when two staff members tackled the boy in their yard and hauled him away. They said an ambulance was called because the boy's arm had been yanked back. 

Then there was the girl placed at St. Mary’s by Rhode Island’s family police agency, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), because she’d been sexually assaulted and was at high risk of being sexually exploited.  She ran away several times.  Twice she was raped.  When her mother sued, St. Mary’s said the child “had assumed the risk of injury.” (The suit was settled.)  St. Mary’s is not the only residential treatment center to make that horrifying claim

And then there was the whole matter of the institution bringing in a bunch of bikers to help patrol the place. 

The head of DCYF, Ashley Deckert, admitted St. Mary’s was awful, but in a comment stunning for both its callousness and its candor, she said that because Rhode Island doesn’t have enough places to put kids, St. Mary’s is a “too big to fail situation.” 

As I pointed out when I wrote about St. Mary’s for Rhode Island Current, what she did not say is that the lack of places to put kids is because Rhode Island tears apart so many families needlessly – at a rate 80% above the national average. 

Pine-Sol to the rescue! 

But great news everyone!  After her definitely-not-a-surprise inspection, Rep. Serpa says things are soooooo much better now!  How does she know?  She told WPRI-TV: 

“What I saw today was encouraging.  The facility is clean. I could smell the Pine-Sol, I could smell the fresh paint. The kids’ rooms were kids’ rooms — they were messy, but an organized messy.” 

Of course!  Everyone knows children are never abused in rooms that smell of Pine-Sol!  And who would ever want to run from a room that was freshly painted?   (Where was Serpa expecting to see kids stay – in dungeons?)  

Deckert took the tour too.  Deckert, more than any other individual, has a vested interest in downplaying any problems at the places where her agency institutionalizes children.  And sure enough, she called the progress “tremendous.” She, too, made a point of saying the place “smells nice.”

 No wonder DCYF is moving full speed ahead on a plan to spend $11 million in taxpayer funds to expand St. Mary’s.

Fool me once … 

This isn’t even the first group of Rhode Island officials to buy into this routine.  As we discussed in our 2010 report on Rhode Island child welfare, the chief family court judge for many years, Jeremiah S. Jeremiah, fell in love with an institution in Pennsylvania; the Glen Mills School.  As we explained in our report: 

[I]n late January of this year, Jeremiah suggested that Andrew J. Johnson, a lawyer and director of the Rhode Island Court Appointed Special Advocate’s office, visit Glen Mills to see what their program has to offer. Johnson flew to Philadelphia, at the school’s expense, where a school van drove him the 22 miles to the school in Concordville, Pa. He met with admissions officials, toured the campus and talked to students.  “It’s a remarkable place,” Johnson said after he returned. “Step on the campus and it’s like a prep school or a university ... .” 

Again, that was 2010. 

It will probably not surprise readers who have gotten this far to know that the Glen Mills School was closed.  After the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed rampant, horrific abuse, the state of Pennsylvania shut the place down.  Unfortunately, they’ve now allowed the place to reopen on a (for now) much smaller scale.  The place has a brand new name.  It’s run by a new corporation headed by a former Glen Mills executive.  

And presumably, it has a good supply of Pine-Sol.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending February 6, 2024

● Why do family police agencies so often turn a blind eye to rampant abuse in group homes and institutions.  The head of the family police agency in Rhode Island gave a chilling answer.  I have a column about it in Rhode Island Current 

In 2022 grandparents of an autistic boy in Kentucky couldn’t control his constant running away.  All the grandparents needed was therapy for the child and help to be sure he was never out of someone’s sight. Had they been rich they easily could have purchased both. But they’re not rich. So they had to turn to the state which offered no alternatives except institutions – and took control of where the boy would live.  He ran away from the institution and drowned. 

In 2024, adoptive parents in Kentucky couldn’t handle the behavior problems of their 15-year-old daughter.  Unable to afford the therapy she needed they turned to the state for help.  They offered no help except to take custody of the child take control of where she would live.  They parked her in foster care while waiting to institutionalize her.  She ran away.  Do I really have to tell you what happened next?  Check out the stories form WDRB-TV in Lexington and WLKY in Louisville. 

And now, more about how The Horror Stories go in All Directions:

 Honolulu Civil Beat reports that 

For more than two years, the Department of Human Services has stonewalled in accounting for its actions in the horrific death of Ariel Sellers, the 6-year-old Waimanalo girl whose adoptive parents are accused of murdering her.  This, despite federal law and state regulations that require disclosure of at least minimal information when children die or nearly die as the result of abuse and neglect. 

Now DHS can explain itself to a judge. 

From The Columbian:A Kelso man formerly employed as a Child Protective Services case worker is facing charges of third-degree child molestation and communication with a minor for immoral purposes after he allegedly sexually abused a child under his care.

Friday, February 2, 2024

NCCPR in Rhode Island Current: Why DCYF tolerates abusive institutions: Ashley Deckert says the quiet part out loud

It happens all over the country. A watchdog agency or a news organization exposes rampant abuse of children confined to group homes and institutions. Just in the past year, horrors have been exposed in Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Washington State, Arkansas, Connecticut and New York, to name a few. 

Whenever all that abuse is exposed, people wonder how it could have been missed by the state’s child protective services agency, the agency mandated to keep children safe and, often, the very agency that put the children there in the first place. Thanks to Ashley Deckert, director of the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), we know the real answer. Speaking at a legislative hearing concerning appalling abuse at St. Mary’s Home for Children, she said ...

Read the full column in Rhode Island Current

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending January 30, 2024

● Twenty years ago, Youth Today revealed the stunning results of a study of Court-Appointed Special Advocates commissioned by the National CASA Association itself.  The study found that the program didn’t work.  The story concluded that National CASA’s desperate efforts to spin the findings “can border on duplicity.” 

Now, The Imprint has surveyed the research on CASA.  It finds no evidence that CASA works – and the most rigorous study finds it actually does harm.  And it does this harm at a cost of $477 million per year, most of it taxpayer funds.  Think of it: $477 million thrown away on a program that fails at best, does harm at worst.  That’s more than double total federal spending on the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. 

As for how CASA and its various chapters spin these findings – well, read the story for yourself. 

And we have more on CASA in our 2021 presentation to the Kempe Center international conference.

● Despite this dismal track record, CASA is explicitly included as an option for "representation" of children in court under the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  Another egregious practice encouraged by CAPTA is mandatory reporting.  On this 50th Anniversary of the law's enactment, Dr. Mical Raz, author of Abusive Policies: How the American Child Welfare System Lost its Wayexplains in Time magazine why that should be repealed.

● In Rhode Island they just said the quiet part out loud.  If you’re still wondering why rampant abuse in residential treatment centers is allowed to continue year after year after year in state after state after state, check out what the Providence Journal reports the head of Rhode Island’s family police agency said when confronted about such abuse at St. Mary’s Home for Children: 

“We can’t lose this [bed] capacity,” she told members of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday. It’s almost “like a too-big-to-fail situation.” 

The state Child Advocate, who exposed the huge problems, agrees!  

Here’s what’s been happening at the place they are so anxious to save: 

“Staff-on-child physical assault, youth stealing the program van, overdoses, a high number of AWOLs, neglect and an overwhelming number of responses by the North Providence Police Department.”
 Boston.com has more.  From the start of April through May 8, 2023: 

There were more than 20 calls to the CPS hotline, they found, including allegations of drug overdoses, sexual contact among the children, staff assaulting children, runaway children, and an overwhelming amount of police responses, the [Office of Child Advocate] said. 

One thing more about Rhode Island:  The reason they have a “bed capacity problem” is that they tear apart families at a rate 80% above the national average. 

● Remember when the county controller in Lehigh County, PA issued a scathing report on the misdiagnosis of child abuse by the local child abuse pediatrician?  Here’s a reminder from The Philadelphia Inquirer: 

Willow Feeney said she and her sister were placed in foster care after her mother was accused of falsifying their medical conditions. She told officials that her family is still traumatized by their experience. 

 “Growing up medically complex is a challenge in itself,” she said. “I was suddenly told that everything I felt wasn’t valid anymore. No matter how much I explained, I was told that I was wrong  and I was brainwashed.”

Now the update: Instead of action, the Morning Call reports, county officials and lawmakers have crawled into a bunker, retaliating against the controller and stalling any action.  I don’t know if she had Ms. Feeney in mind when one county lawmaker complained that “It all became emotional.” 

In Vital City, Prof. Jane Spinak, author of The End of Family Court, discusses why we need to end family court.  She has a blunt assessment of the arrogance at the heart of the notion that courts should not be real courts, from the original juvenile court in 1899 to the “problem-solving courts” of today: 

As long as family court judges continue to argue that only they can provide justice to families, we will continue to fail children and their families. 

In this week’s edition of The Horror Stories Go in All Directions.  

KOLD-TV Tucson reports that 

A man was sentenced to more than 200 years in prison for the sexual abuse of a child in his care. That is in addition to a current sentence 53-year-old Francisco Medina is serving from different cases.  Medina is a former foster parent who was convicted of six counts of sexual conduct with a minor under the age of 15, all class two felonies.  He was also convicted of molestation of a child, also a class two felony and a dangerous crime against children.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Backers of a bill that tries to legitimize hidden foster care in Virginia say it creates guardrails. On the contrary; it sends the rights of children and families careening off a cliff.

A judge in neighboring North Carolina says the same approach is unconstitutional, one county alone has paid more than $53 million to settle lawsuits and there even have been criminal charges.

There are two very important things to know about the process by which a child welfare agency removes a child from a parent and places that child with some other kinship caregiver.

  1. This process, known as kinship foster care, is usually the least harmful form of foster care.  
  2. But it’s still foster care.  Let me repeat that: 

Kinship care is foster care.

Kinship care is foster care.

Kinship care is foster care.

For a child, a journey that begins by being suddenly yanked out of the home, torn from parents and familiar surroundings and carried off, often in the middle of the night is severely traumatic – no matter where that journey ends.  Kinship foster care cushions the blow, but the harm of removal is still present.  

This bears repeating since the child welfare establishment here in Virginia has been doing a great job of hoodwinking lawmakers into thinking kinship foster care isn’t foster care.  They’re rushing to support a bill (HB 27/SB 39) that would, in fact, make things worse for children, parents and kinship caregivers alike.  The bill even has the Orwellian name Kinship as Foster Care Prevention Program. 

Even without the bill, this sleight-of-hand already exists in Virginia.  Virginia, like many states, has a shadow system of hidden foster care. Parents are coerced into “voluntarily” giving up the few due process protections they have and surrendering their children to the hidden foster care system. 

Essentially, these are blackmail placements.  The caseworker says: We want to take away your child.  You could fight us in court, where you’re entitled to free legal counsel if you’re indigent,  where federal law requires us to make reasonable efforts to keep your family together and where an actual judge decides if we can take your children away.  But if you do that and you lose – and you probably will - we’ll throw the kids in with total strangers and maybe split them up while we’re at it.   On the other hand, if you give up all those rights and let us do whatever we damn well please, we promise that we’ll place them with Grandma.   

Nationwide, there may well be as many children in these blackmail placements as there are in official foster care.  In Virginia, the proportion in hidden foster care is probably even higher 

The Virginia bill changes almost nothing – except to try to give the whole practice a patina of legitimacy.  Proponents say over and over that the law adds “guardrails” to the hidden foster care process.  On the contrary, the law would send the rights of children, families, and kinship foster caregivers careening over a cliff. 

Under the terms of HB 27/SB 39: 

● Child welfare agencies remain free to bypass even the most minimal due process protections.  They don’t have to make “reasonable efforts” – in fact, the bill as written fails to require these agencies to make any effort – to prevent placement or to reunify the family.  No lawyer gets to fight the decision, no judge gets to review it. 

● The bill says families must be notified of their right to consult a lawyer.  But there is no funding to pay for those lawyers if the family is indigent – and they’re almost always indigent.  (Proponents point to a separate bill to provide such counsel – but there’s no guarantee it will pass, it’s not clear when it would take effect if it does pass, or whether there would  be enough funding to cover the entire state.) 

● Proponents say the placements are “voluntary.”  It’s claims like that which explain why I so often
invoke Orwell in these blog posts, though in this case, The Godfather seems more appropriate: It’s the ultimate example of an offer you can’t refuse.

● Proponents point to time limits: The placements can last 90 days – oh, wait, that’s 90 days and then, if we feel like it, we’ll add another 90 days – “voluntarily,” of course.  But for young children, time passes far more slowly than for adults – six months can be agony.  For a newborn taken at birth – it’s a lifetime. In fact, 180 days actually is longer than 21% of Virginia placements made through the formal court process.   

And that assumes the child will even come home.  After those 180 days, the child welfare agency still can go to court and demand an official placement – they even can point to the fact that the child was out of the home all that time as evidence of supposed “unfitness.” And all of that time, 3-6 months can be tacked on as a fast track to termination of parental rights.  

● Proponents say the bill would make kinship foster care placements easier.  Easier than what?  It’s just as easy to make a kinship foster care placement by going to the judge and saying: “Your honor, we want to place this child with grandma.”  That Virginia may have close to the worst record in America for doing it this way –  at best, only 12% of official foster care placements are with kin -- simply reflects Virginia’s addiction to hidden foster care.  Other states and localities have no problem. 

Nationwide 35% of foster children are placed with relatives – the formal, legal, on-the-books way.  In Montana, it’s 40%.  In Illinois 45%.  In Arizona 53%.  The County-run systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh place more than half their foster children with relatives – without sacrificing due process or taking any other shortcuts.  This bill only makes foster care placements easier than not taking children needlessly in the first place; because there is no lawyer fighting for the family and no requirement to make reasonable efforts. 

● The bill confers no benefits on kinship caregivers and it may cost them.  They won’t be paid any additional funds.  But they will be subjected to additional, often onerous surveillance by child protective services agencies.  Depending on the specific case, kinship caregivers may lose out on benefits to which they might be entitled if a placement is court-ordered. 

Oh, and two things more: 

● Hidden foster care is unconstitutional.  A judge ruled it unconstitutional in North Carolina.  One county alone in that state has had to pay $53 million in damages to settle dozens of lawsuits.  There even have been criminal charges.  The Virginia bill won’t fix these issues. You can’t make an unconstitutional practice constitutional by passing a law. 

So why push for a law that doesn’t benefit children, doesn’t benefit families, and doesn’t benefit kinship care providers?  Because of the one group it does benefit: The Virginia Department of Social Services and county child welfare agencies.  With hidden foster care, they don’t have to deal with all that pesky due process, and they can mislead the public about the true extent to which they take away children.

Indeed, Virginia’s Commissioner of Social Services, Danny Avula, seemed to brag about doing just that. 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.] 

And finally, one last point: 

Foster care is traumatic.  Kinship care is foster care.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending January 23, 2024

Before the news, check out this big event on January 31.  There's an in-person and a virtual option for the Congressional Briefing and you can register here: bit.ly/50YearsRepealCapta 

And now the news:

The Imprint has a story that covers both the good California Supreme Court decision I wrote about for WitnessLA and a terrible bill proposed in Washington State that is essentially a throwback to the “crack baby” hysteria of the 1980s. The good news: Until recently, such a bill would have sailed through almost any state legislature in America nearly unanimously.  But people are learning, and this time, there’s some real opposition. 

Westword examines Colorado’s task force studying mandatory child abuse reporting laws – including NCCPR’s perspective, that while the Task Force has done far better than any other or it’s kind, that’s a low bar.  I have more about that here.  The story confirms that the Task Force is not even considering the one recommendation that would make a huge difference: abolishing mandatory reporting entirely.

WitnessLA perfectly sums up the harm of mandatory reporting laws in a story that begins this way: 

Mandated reporting laws have led to a flood of calls to report suspected child abuse and neglect, burying calls about kids who are in critical danger, while subjecting many more families whose children are safe to unnecessary surveillance and separation. 

Gothamist has real news about what should be called fake Miranda rights – the notices that New York City’s family police agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, will give parents when ACS caseworkers pound on their doors. Among other problems, unlike proposed state legislation, ACS’s misleading notices will tell families some of their rights – but not all of them.  

But my favorite part of the story is where ACS Commissioner Jess Dannhauser objects to a provision in the state bill which would require his caseworkers to inform families, Miranda-style that “anything can be used against you in a court of law” because that “might increase fear.” 

Right. Because there’s nothing to fear from a government agency that can march into your home, stripsearch your kids and take them away from you on-the-spot!

Sunday, January 21, 2024

NCCPR in the Arizona Mirror: No, sex-trafficking satanists have not infested DCS. The real problems are way worse.

Here’s the good news: Contrary to what one state legislator seems to believe, the Arizona Department of Child Safety is not in the grip of a global satanic sex trafficking cabal. Here’s the bad news: The real problems at DCS are way worse. 

If it were just a few satanists in high places, all we’d have to do is weed them out.  But the real problems at DCS are rooted in a culture that has plagued the mostly well-meaning people working in Arizona child welfare for decades: the false assumption that child removal equals child safety.  The result is a system that makes all Arizona children less safe. … 

Read the full column in the Arizona Mirror

Thursday, January 18, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary roundup week ending January 18, 2024

You hear it from family police agencies all the time: We never take children because of poverty alone.  This investigative report from WABE Public Radio in Atlanta and ProPublica could have been called: Like hell they don’t!  It documents hundreds of cases in which Georgia family police tore apart families for lack of housing – and nothing else.  Read it and watch how, paragraph after paragraph, the madness of the system unfolds. 

There’s the caseworker who probably didn’t even know she was admitting her agency routinely violates federal law requiring “reasonable efforts” to keep families together, when she seemed to be telling the mother at the center of the story that the agency isn’t obligated to do a damn thing. 

Or the judge who wouldn’t return the children because “these children have lived in unstable living arrangements long enough” – dooming the children to be split from each other into separate foster homes, moved from placement to placement to the point that two of them had to spend a night in a family police agency office. 

Or if the harm to children isn’t enough, there’s the fact that taxpayers are spending vastly more on foster care than it would cost to just provide the housing.  And not just Georgia taxpayers.  If the case is eligible for federal aid, and it probably is, we all paid to wreak havoc on this family. 

● Hope this isn’t a spoiler, but the best part of a Texas Monthly story about that long-running McLawsuit against the state’s horrific foster care system comes at the end.  The plaintiffs want to put the Texas system into receivership.  That almost never happens, so the Texas Monthly reporter thought it would be a good idea to check with a family law expert who’s actually seen one.  From the story: 

Matthew Fraidin, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, watched receivership play out in the Washington, D.C., foster care system, following a lawsuit similar to the one in Texas. Six years of federal oversight there produced scandal and mixed results. Many argued that the foster care system was in no better shape after the federal takeover. The case ended in 2021, after more than thirty years. The only real change came, Fraidin argues, once the district focused on removing fewer children from their homes to limit the size of the foster care system. About a decade ago, his law students represented parents whose children were removed to foster care, he says, “and in sixty percent of the cases they were returned home without ever being found abused or neglected.” 

In Texas, that hasn’t been part of the reforms Jack has ordered, but Fraidin says it may be the only way out of the quagmire. Lawsuits like the one before Jack “are doomed to leave agencies as bureaucracies that are focused on the wrong thing.” 

● In Arizona, NCCPR explains in the AZ Mirror, it’s a good news, bad news story: 

Here’s the good news: Contrary to what one state legislator seems to believe, the Arizona Department of Child Safety is not in the grip of a global satanic sex trafficking cabal. Here’s the bad news: The real problems at DCS are way worse. 

● NCCPR has released a new Issue Paper.  It’s all about the enormous harm of mandatory child abuse reporting laws. 

● Last week’s round-up included a news story about a surprising report from a commission studying those laws.  I have a blog post about it. 

● And private foster care agencies in New York are trying to sucker the State Legislature into giving them a $200 million bailout.  No clickbait here; you absolutely will believe why they say they need it.  It’s in this blog post. 

In this week’s edition of The Horror Stories Go in All Directions: 

The Sacramento Bee has an update on the tragic death of a child in an Arizona group home. 

And WJAR-TV in Providence has an update on that scathing report on conditions at a residential treatment center in Rhode Island.