Wednesday, June 19, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, weeks ending June 18, 2024

● You know how every time there’s another expose of a Residential Treatment Center, defenders of institutionalizing children say the problem isn’t RTCs per se, just a few rotten apples?  The Imprint reports on a Senate committee study that makes it abundantly clear: No, we’re talking rotten barrels.  Oh, and by the way, the report notes, the whole concept of residential treatment doesn’t work.  (Not that we’d ever say we-told-you-so.) 

● Earlier this year Minnesota lawmakers refused to be stampeded by the Minneapolis Star Tribune into fostering another foster-care panic.  Now there’s another example of lawmakers getting smarter: Remember how the Massachusetts “Child Advocate,” Maria Mossaides, spent more than a year propagandizing a commission she chaired in an effort to get it to recommend further expanding mandatory child abuse reporting?  Remember how, after hearing what Mossaides didn’t want them to hear, the commission rebelled and recommended nothing?  Well, now Massachusetts legislative leaders are actually proposing to narrow mandatory reporting.  As the Boston Globe reports

Massachusetts House leaders are pushing a proposal that would free doctors, hospital officials, and others from requirements to report suspected neglect to child welfare officials solely because a baby is born exposed to drugs, offering a dramatic shift in the state's approach to child welfare reporting. … 

The measure marks a rare instance in which lawmakers are seeking to pare back, instead of expand, the state's mandated reporter law, under which critics say Black and Latino families are disproportionately the target of abuse and neglect allegations. 

Even Mossaides now claims to be for it.  Funny, though: She never mentioned supporting this idea in all that time she was running a commission on this very topic. 

● Though the journalism of child welfare is generally improving, there still are some monumental failures.  A case in point: Four years ago, Sen. Tom Cotton´s appalling, extremist rant on the New York Times op-ed page prompted outrage inside and outside the newspaper, and ultimately led to the resignation of the editorial page editor. But apparently, as long as the topic of your fearmongering is child abuse, the Times will let you get away with anything.  I have a blog post about it.

● Colorado is making it official: codifying in law a rule change that bans the family police from forcing parents to pay part of the cost when their children are thrown into foster care – payments that properly should be called ransom. 

● In Nevada, even the family police agency in metropolitan Las Vegas wants to stop having to take calls for so-called “educational neglect.”  As the Nevada Current explains the director of family services for that agency told a legislative committee 

“What we’re finding is that in a system that is overtaxed and overburdened where workers are getting sometimes two or three reports a day, getting an educational neglect report is adding to a workload that is really, in our view, taking them away from being able to do the work they need to do.” 

● At the federal level, legislation has been introduced to modestly strengthen the Indian Child Welfare Act

● Things have not gone as well in New York this year.  The Imprint reports on a series of excellent bills that failed to pass.  But just a few years ago, these bills never even would have been introduced.   

By now we all know about how governments sometimes swipe money that rightfully should go to foster youth in the form of Social Security Disability and Survivor benefits. But governments aren’t the only ones who sometimes cash in. The New York Daily News reports on efforts to close a loophole in New York State law that lets adoptive parents keep collecting subsidies for older foster youth who’ve decided they can’t stand living with them - and leave. 

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

Hawaii News Now reports that 

A new lawsuit accuses the state and Catholic Charities Hawaii of negligently placing another child in the same home where a little girl was allegedly tortured to death. 

● And WMUR-TV in New Hampshire reports that 

Olivia Atkocaitis claims … said she was subjected to years of abuse, slavery and torture at the hands of her adoptive parents when she was a child.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

The New York Times platforms the Tom Cotton of child welfare

Four years ago, Sen. Cotton´s appalling, extremist rant on the Times op-ed page prompted outrage inside and outside the newspaper, and ultimately led to the resignation of the editorial page editor. But apparently, as long as the topic of your fearmongering is child abuse, the Times will let you get away with anything.

Were there a hotline to which one could report "statistics abuse"
Naomi Schaefer Riley of the American Enterprise Institute 
would have her rights to her pocket calculator terminated.

On May 14, after The New York Times published an extremist rant calling for tearing apart more families, I sent a long email to the newspaper´s op-ed editor, Vanessa Mobley.  On May 17 she sent a terse reply, saying: “I will read it carefully and share with colleagues here.” On May 31, I followed up.  I have heard nothing.

Mine was not the only letter.  At least 11 other scholars and advocates sent letters to the Times and/or Mobley.  Three were published.  I am not aware of Mobley responding to them.

 So I ´m sharing it with a wider audience.  Aside from cleaning up some typos and clarifying some terms, this is the letter as sent.  The letter is followed by a specific example of how the author of the op-ed abuses statistics.


 May 14, 2024

 Dear Ms. Mobley: 

Nearly six years ago, the New York Times Editorial Board took a bold, courageous step on a fundamental issue of stereotyping, stigmatizing and racism: It acknowledged the enormous harm done to poor families, particularly poor families of color, by media-fueled myths concerning so-called “crack babies” and their mothers in the 1980s. In particular, the Times commendably singled out its own failures and, in effect, apologized: 

The Times amplified the “damaged generation” theory, too. This editorial page argued in 1989 that it would cost more than $700 million to prepare fewer than 20,000 children for school in the state of Florida alone — a figure that was clearly drawn from myth. The former executive editor Abe Rosenthal, in a column entitled “The Poisoned Babies,” urged the authorities to suspend the parental rights of crack-addicted women, a course of action that had already been shown to drive women away from treatment and provide substandard care for many children. 

But apparently memories are short.  On May 9, the page you edit indulged another round of stigma and stereotype about poor families of color.  This time the racism was outsourced – to someone who proudly compares her book attacking family preservation to the work of Charles Murray, to someone whose racial bias is so extreme she was kicked off a place as a regular contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education, to someone who dismisses and demeans the lived experiences of the very youth she claims to want to protect, and someone who, when writing virtually the same commentary for a far right think tank headlined it “Wokeness has come for Child Protective Services.”  (Would you have been so willing to consider it if she hadn´t been slightly more subtle when submitting it to the Times?)  In short, the author Naomi Schaefer Riley of the American Enterprise Institute, is the Tom Cotton of child welfare. 

Yes, in the column in question, in the obligatory “to-be-sure graf,” Riley says that “there was a sense” that authorities “overreacted” to crack – a sense she apparently does not share.  And then she plunges right back in. 

As is discussed below, such writing doesn´t just damage the fabric of family life in poor communities of color.  It doesn´t just encourage more use of traumatizing foster care.  Commentaries like this make all children less safe.  I hope that at some point you will reconsider and retract it. At a minimum the scholars and advocates who were shocked to see this get past the fact-checking apparatus at the Times would like to meet with you and others on your team to set the record straight. Such commentary is all the more damaging given the Times rule that any rebuttal must be confined to letters to the editor that typically don´t go over 200 words. 

Although I am going to go into great detail below about the misrepresentations in Riley´s commentary, I have to think you already know – and have known the real story of how these systems work for longer than most.  Your bio mentions that the books you have edited include one by Prof. Dorothy Roberts, a member of my organization´s Board of Directors: Shattered Bonds.  Did Prof. Roberts’ trenchant analysis not give you pause or a willingness to check further into Riley´s claims? 

The issue involves fact, not opinion 

Let us be clear at the outset. I and the advocates and scholars with whom I have worked for decades know the difference between an editorial, a news story and an oped/guest essay.  We respect the concept of giving voice to a broad range of views grounded in fact.  The problem with Riley´s column, however, is that it is rife with distortion and misrepresentation of fact.  

Child abuse fatalities

 In a remarkably imprecise sentence when it comes to time frame, Riley tells us that “In recent years, the number of children in foster care fell by nearly 16 percent while the fatality rate from abuse and neglect rose by almost 18 percent.”  But she doesn’t say what happened when the number of children torn from their families was increasing year over year.  In those years, child abuse deaths also went up.  And then there are the years when foster care went down and child abuse deaths went down. 

The federal government has been measuring both figures since at least 1999 (though doing a poor job of it). Cherry-pick the years you want and “prove” the point you want!  That long has been Riley´s approach.  I would be glad to supply other examples in which she has done the same, along with data sources and context. [I’ve added one example at the end of this post.] The New York Post and the Wall Street Journal find Riley´s kind of statistics abuse acceptable, I am surprised to see it in the Times. 

Making the figures even more suspect: The way child abuse fatalities are counted varies enormously from state to state, reliability among those states and criteria for labeling a death abuse or neglect vary – and they can be surprisingly subjective.  Was a death due to an accident or “neglect”?  That may depend on the race and income of the child and family and the biases of the child protective services agency. 

And then there is the reason to use better measures for which we all should be grateful: Though each is the worst possible tragedy, the numbers of child abuse fatalities are small enough to be strongly affected by all these variables of whim, prejudice and competence and even by random chance. 

However, if you want to insist on using this measure, you can filter out some of the bias if you can find a single state that is consistent in its approach to measuring – and large enough to, maybe, detect a pattern.  There is such a state: Texas.  By overwhelming bipartisan majorities, that state passed a series of laws curbing the power of child protective services.  Entries into foster care went down.  And so did child abuse deaths. 

Over the past 50 years or more America has built a massive child welfare surveillance state, even bigger than the one Prof. Roberts described 22 years ago in Shattered Bonds.  One-third of all children and more than half of Black children will be forced to endure a child abuse investigation before they turn 18.  Can you really be surprised that child protective services agencies don’t find every child “known to the system” in time in a system where seven million children become “known to the system” in some way every year? 

That´s why one of the most distinguished scholars in the field, an early architect of this system is having profound second thoughts. Dr Richard Krugman, former director of the C. Henry Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect wrote: 

we now have 40 years of experience with this approach and have made no progress in reducing the mortality from physical abuse of children (decades with 1500-2500 children dying annually). … Doing the same thing for 40 years that doesn't seem (or can't be shown) to be working was someone's definition of insanity. 

Still another example of the failure of Riley’s logic is revealed by the localities she singles out: Santa Clara County, California and the state of Minnesota. 

The cherry-picked national data are the thin reed Riley uses to justify extrapolating from a horrible death in Santa Clara County.  See? They reduced foster care and look what happened!  But then she turns our attention to Minnesota, and seeks to make the same claim.  But what she doesn´t say is that for decades, Minnesota has torn apart families at a rate vastly above the national average. 

So the lesson from Riley´s own examples boils down to: Take away fewer children and sometimes children die.  Take away more children and sometimes children die.  

So why in God´s name should we keep taking away more children? 

Better measures 

There are ways to measure changes in rates of child safety that, while also flawed, are better than trying to measure fatalities.  One of them is to compare over time rates of what state child protective services agencies deem to be child abuse or neglect,.  This time let´s start with the long view.  The number of children taken from their parents over the course of a year peaked in 2006.  It has, mostly, slowly and steadily declined since (though it has not declined nearly enough). Overall rates of child abuse also have, mostly, slowly and steadily declined ever since.  Did taking fewer children make children safer? We would argue yes, because it gave workers more time to find the relatively few in real danger.  But at a minimum Riley simply diverts us to the unreliable measure of fatalities because they are so gut-wrenching – and because she doesn´t want us to notice what´s really happening. 

There is special irony in Riley pulling the wool over the eyes of  readers now – just when a gigantic real world experiment is proving that curbing the coercive power of child protective services and bolstering concrete help to families really does make children safer.  The experiment goes by the name COVID-19.  

Remember all those predictions, at the start of the pandemic that it would be followed by a “pandemic of child abuse”?  On the contrary, one study after another has found that when CPS agencies were forced to step back, community-based community-run mutual aid organizations stepped up and government stepped in with no-strings-attached cash, child safety improved. 

When looking at individual systems there are two standard measures of child safety: Reabuse of children left in their own homes and the percentage of children returned to foster care after reunification.  If you’ve read this far you can probably guess what happened to those measures when Santa Clara County curbed needless foster care.  But here’s the link. (I'd be glad to walk you through the data tables.) 

Who really is in the system 

All this is not as surprising as it may seem.  It comes down to something else Dorothy Roberts explained decades ago, but Riley dismisses in another “to-be-sure graf” – the confusion of poverty with neglect.  When scholars and advocates point out that the overwhelming majority of cases involve the broad, vague category of “neglect” we often hear – “Oh but maybe it wasn’t just neglect.”  The answer to this can be found by looking at what the allegations that lead children into the nightmare of foster care placement are not.

 Of all the children forced into foster care in 2022 (the most recent year for which data are available) 83% did NOT involve even an allegation of physical abuse or sexual abuse.  Nearly two-thirds (66%) did NOT even involve an allegation of drug abuse.  

In publishing Riley´s column, do you think you left readers with an honest impression of who is in the system and why? 

Why do you publish reruns? 

The Times and other national news outlets insist that commentary submissions be original and exclusive to them.  While this commentary does not violate the letter of that rule, it seems to violate the spirit.  Riley has published the same commentary over and over and over again.  It´s always the same formula: Find horror story (check), cherry-pick a stat (check) smear family preservation (check).  Why did your readers need to see in the Times what Rupert Murdoch’s publications and other like-minded media have allowed Riley to dish out so often before? 

Who really advocates for safety? 

When Riley claims that those of us who want to finally do things differently favor family preservation “at almost any cost” she is repeating the Big Lie of American child welfare – that child safety and family preservation are opposites that need to be balanced. 

On the contrary, it is Riley´s take-the-child-and-run approach that makes all children less safe.  And that´s not just the because of the enormous emotional trauma of foster care, which she fleetingly acknowledges in another “to-be-sure graf.” It´s also because of the high rate of abuse in foster care itself.  And it´s because all that time, money and effort wasted destroying families is, in effect, stolen from finding the relatively few children in real danger. 

I am surprised and disappointed that the Times would help a disciple of Charles Murray try to steal the concept of child safety and use it as a smokescreen for a racist not-so-hidden agenda built on the idea that, after all, wouldn’t those Black kids be “better off” with affluent white people? 

The Times looked back at its crack coverage and reconsidered.  I hope you will do the same now. 

I would be pleased to discuss this further with you at any time.


Richard Wexler

Richard Wexler

Executive Director

National Coalition for Child Protection Reform


Riley's M.O.

 In this excerpt from NCCPR’s 2023 testimony before the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, we analyze Riley´s abuse of statistics.  

New York data 

            You would never know from Riley’s presentation that child abuse deaths due to homicide in New York City reached a ten-year record low in 2020.  But they did.  Here’s how Riley avoided facing facts. 

            She cites what is said to be an increase in child abuse and neglect fatalities, statewide, from 69 in 2019 to 105 in 2020  She rushes to suggest this was caused by too much concern about racism and too much desire to keep families together.  Or as we have noted above, in her words: “Wokeness has come for child protective services.” 

Riley got the data on child abuse fatalities in New York State from the federal government’s 2020 Child Maltreatment report, specifically this table on page 60:

The part of Child Maltreatment 2020, Table 4-2 that Riley wants you to see: 

                      2019                        2020


 Even if you could draw any conclusions from the data, Riley left out some context.   Take a look at the entire line for New York on that same page in that same table, which goes back all the way to 2016. 

The part of Child Maltreatment 2020, Table 4-2 that Riley does not want you to see:

                                 2016         2017         2018       2019         2020

 So the actual trend from 2016 to 2020 was mostly down.  In 2021, the New York figure increased again to 126, but that’s still lower than 2017.  (Riley didn’t know that, since the 2021 report had not yet been released.  I’ll share that here because, as I noted above, we’re not afraid of context.) 

In fact, the relatively low numbers and their volatility mean it’s impossible to draw sweeping conclusions.  Often, you can make a trend look any way you want just by picking the  start date and end date you prefer. 

As for that outlier in 2019: A lot has to happen for these data to reach the federal government. In New York, individual counties and New York City must report their data to the state Office of Children and Family Services, which reports them to a federal database.  Reporting to this federal database is voluntary; there is no penalty for failing to report data or reporting them in error. 

So it’s entirely possible that the 2019 figure means only that someone copied the number from the wrong box on a spreadsheet.  In addition: 

● These data are totals for New York State, not just New York City.  That means they represent results from scores of different systems with widely differing approaches and, probably, significantly different rates of child removal. 

● These data are for all fatalities allegedly due to abuse or neglect, not just those where the child was “known-to-the-system.” 

In contrast, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services does have such a breakdown in its own annual reports on child abuse fatalities, the most recent of which is from 2020. 

These data show that child homicides among children known to the system have fluctuated between 6 and 11 in every year since 2011 – with an increase to 15 in 2012.  But in 2020, the same year Riley cites as having a huge spike in fatalities, homicide fatalities among children “known to the system” in New York City fell to a ten-year record low of five. 


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, weeks ending June 10, 2024

The Imprint has an excellent overview of that landmark report on racism in family policing produced by the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. 

From the story:

A number of the group’s eight recommendations focus on shifting away from the longstanding, nationwide practice of “mandated reporting.” Advocates and parents who testified at public hearings over the past two years say that system has produced a flood of baseless abuse and neglect allegations phoned in to authorities, with terrified families left in the wake of visits from child protective services.

● Speaking of civil rights and family policing: In her former job as New York City´s Public Advocate, Letitia James did all she could to undermine efforts to curb family policing in the city. You can read all about that here. But now, in her current job as New York State Attorney General, perhaps she´s seen the light.  The Imprint reports she´s launched a large-scale investigation of the harm to children and families when pregnant patients are drug tested without their consent. The story also takes a close look at a lawsuit, originally reported in The Buffalo News, by one such mother in an unusual position to fight back.

The Imprint also has a fascinating look at efforts to increase the proportion of New York foster children placed in kinship foster care instead of with strangers.  In New York, individual counties and New York City are in charge of family policing. Part one of the series looks at the counties doing a lousy job and reports their excuses. Part two looks at the counties that do best, in the process showing that the poor performers´ excuses have no credibility.

● Most of the attention finally being paid to the horrors endured by Native American children forced into so-called “boarding schools” has focused on those run directly by the government.  But the horrors of “child welfare” always have been, and remain, the ultimate public-private partnership.  The Washington Post examines the sexual abuse that pervaded institutions run by the Catholic Church.  And no, this isn´t ancient history. They existed until 1969.  (Of course we don´t have places anything like this today, now they´ve rebranded as “residential treatment centers.”)

●Despite that legacy, there are still ongoing efforts to undermine a law enacted in part to stop it from ever happening again, the Indian Child Welfare Act.  The Imprint reports that the latest challenge was defeated in Minnesota – though other elements of a state court decision are troubling.

● Speaking of legacies of abuse by private child welfare agencies, the ones in New York seem to want to force survivors to choose between compensation and justice.  I have a blog post about it.

● After the Vermont Center for Parent Representation documented case after case of families wrongly listed on that state´s blacklist of alleged child abusers, the former head of the state family police agency itself, Bill Young, was so shocked that he came out of retirement to help change the law.  As WCAX-TV reports:

“After about two months, I realized oh my god, it’s true. These stories are true,” he said.

Young says the story that struck him the most was that of a seven-year-old girl taken into custody by a judge after she got a bruise on her back from sledding. DCF was convinced the mother was abusive even after the sledding story was corroborated by the school nurse. “{We} have a situation where people begin to think, you know, in the interest of protecting a child, you can skew the evidence a little bit, something that people who raised me would have called lying.”

The law has now been changed. The new law also has the potential to improve standards for deciding when to initiate an investigation.

● For the authoritative health news site Stat, a psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner specializing in addition write:

Pregnant people and new mothers who are being treated for opioid addiction often have to fight to keep their children out of the hands of child protective services. But it’s a fight they shouldn’t have to face.

They’re active in treatment. They’re not using illegal drugs. Yet child protective services (CPS) often take their babies away — not because they’re unfit mothers, but because they’re being judged on falsehoods.

WFTV in Florida has the story of still another case in which an alleged rush to judgment by doctors is destroying a family.

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

The Columbus Dispatch reports that

Children sent to a state-licensed facility for mental health care are subjected to chokeholds and slaps, being pinned to the ground and verbally abused, and are regularly leaving the campus, according to an investigation conducted by Disability Rights Ohio.

Disability Rights Ohio Director Kerstin Sjoberg said neither Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services nor the center, Youth Intensive Services, are working to correct the problems. …

WMAQ-TV reports that

The death of a 10-year-old boy living in foster care in Northwest Indiana has been ruled a homicide according to a coroner's report issued this week.

According to a report from the St. Joseph County Coroner's Office, 10-year-old Dakota Stevens' death occurred as a result of "mechanical asphyxia," and is being investigated as a homicide.

The Leader-Call in Mississippi reports that

A pair of foster parents in Ellisville are facing four counts of felony child abuse after Ellisville police found four children living in what were described as horrific conditions on Saturday night.

And The Salt Lake Tribune reports that

A Utah treatment center for “troubled teens” has been sued by two parents who say their daughter was sexually assaulted by other girls at the facility after staff failed to conduct regular bed checks. …

.…And a bonus: News of the Weird

● This week, we close with a category best called News of the Weird.  Malcolm and Simone Collins are a white couple who are prime movers in the “pronatalist” movement, which encourages people to have lots and lots of kids, in order to, in Malcolm´s words “set the future of our species."  While being interviewed by a reporter at a restaurant, one of his own children, a toddler, pushed against their table so hard he nearly knocked it over. Malcolm immediately slapped him in the face.  He acknowledged this was a regular form of discipline in such situations. 

As Business Insider reported, this provoked an angry response on social media.  And then (and this is the weird part) Malcolm Collins branded the response “racist.”  Why? Because, you see, “minorities often hit their children without facing the same backlash.”

I hope the next follow-up story is in an astronomy publication – because I´d love to know what planet this guy is on!

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Victims of abuse in foster care shouldn´t have to choose between compensation and justice

Private foster care agencies in New York tell victims of abuse on their watch: If we don´t get a taxpayer bailout, you might not get compensation for what was done to you.  A lawyer for survivors apparently agrees.

 Last month, I wrote a column for the New York Daily News about the attempt by New Yorks´s private foster care, group home and residential treatment agencies to get a taxpayer bailout of up to $200 million.  Why do they say they need it?  To pay settlements in some of the hundreds of lawsuits filed by survivors of abuse in their foster homes, group homes and institutions, going back decades. Otherwise, the agencies say, the could go out of business.

 They say the going-out-of-business part as if it´s a bad thing.  On the contrary. The group homes and institutions are harmful even when they´re not rife with physical and sexual abuse.  The whole model is a proven failure and there are far better alternatives.  But these giant, greedy, well-connected agencies are scarfing up all the money for such alternatives. (And when I say greedy: Have you seen Ron Richter´s salary for running one of them?)

Losing a few of these places would be a net plus, something I discuss in detail (along with Richter´s salary) in the Daily News column.

Fortunately, New York State lawmakers rejected the bailout. They didn´t buy the agencies’ b.s. – though, unfortunately, some media that should know better did.

And, it seems, the agencies have at least one lawyer for the survivors on their side.  According to the child welfare trade journal, The Imprint:

“These victims’ lives have been ruined forever. They deserve justice,” Helene Weiss, a lawyer whose firm is representing dozens of survivors suing under the Child Victims Act, said in an email. “It is incredibly disappointing that New York State decided not to prioritize the needs of survivors of sexual abuse — survivors who were harmed under the State’s watch.”

No, Ms. Weiss.  The state decided not to prioritize the very agencies on whose watch these survivors were abused. It would be perfectly reasonable to create a bailout fund that would apply to survivors of a given agency only after that agency had gone out of business – but not one to keep the agencies alive.

The story also claims that “All sides of the lawsuit [sic] had urged passage” of the bailout.  It´s not clear if this means all survivors bringing all the lawsuits, those represented by Ms. Weiss or something else.

No survivor is quoted. But certainly for those who haved endured the unendurable, if presented by their lawyers with a claim amounting to something like: “look, if the agencies´ claims about going broke are true, this may well be the only way you´ll see any compensation for what was done to you” no one could begrudge them supporting it.

But what if it were presented a different way?  What if it were presented like this:

If the agencies´claims about bankruptcy are true and if bailout fails, your payment will be delayed: it´s possible you´ll never see a dime.  But if the bailout passes, the message to the agencies will be: You can let this keep happening to children on your watch over and over and over, for decade after decade after decade.  The agencies will get the message that they´re too big to fail and they can get away with anything.” 

In that scenario, the survivors get payment – but would they view that as justice?

I hope no survivor ever has to make such a choice.  But if it came to that, I would begrudge no survivor any answer they chose to that question.  I just hope someone asks.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Federal advisory committee issues a blueprint for child safety in New York

The committee concludes that yes, New York, your family policing system is racist, and offers ways to fix it.  (And please keep in mind: New York probably is less bad that most states.)

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has advisory committees in every state.  Each year they do a deep dive into a government entity in their state and make recommendations.  In 2022, New York´s committee decided to examine the child welfare system – or as it should be called, the family policing system.  After months of rigorous research and extensive public hearings they released their report last week. It´s a blockbuster.

The committee found that in New York, where counties and New York City run family policing systems under something vaguely resembling supervision from the state, these systems are permeated with both racial and class bias.  They have a series of outstanding recommendations to begin to fix this.  But perhaps most important is simply this: Right at the outset, they rejected the Big Lie of American child welfare, the false claim that family preservation and child safety are opposites that need to be “balanced.”  On the contrary, the committee found,

Our investigation revealed that what is often framed as a binary choice between protecting children and preserving family integrity is often a false dichotomy. Involvement in the child welfare system as it currently operates has been shown to inflict its own harms on children, and separation from family and placement in foster care generally has a profound, long-term negative impact on the child that can follow them for life.

In fact, this report is a blueprint for child safety.  If its recommendations are enacted, thousands of children will be spared the agony of needless investigations, the worse trauma of needless foster care placement and the high risk of abuse in foster care itself.  But also: With all those false allegations, trivial cases and poverty cases out of the system, workers will have more time to find the relatively few children in real danger.

Among the recommendations (With thanks to Angela Olivia Burton of RepealCAPTA who first highlighted many of them):

● Because poverty so often is, indeed, confused with neglect, emphasize concrete help for families.

 Revise definitions of neglect to prevent or avoid

conflating the attributes and consequences of poverty with child maltreatment. Prohibit the treatment of poverty-related circumstances, lack of financial resources, or parental/pregnancy substance use as factors that, standing alone, can justify or trigger child welfare interventions.

This revision includes a call to:

Limit ‘abuse and neglect’ justifying child welfare system involvement to situations involving imminent and demonstrated risk of serious harm to the child; remove educational neglect from the definition and address the latter largely via the school system, which is best situated to handle such issues.

● Repeal the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which has done enormous harm to millions of children and their families.

● Repeal or drastically curb the so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which neither prevents nor treats child abuse.  Instead, it creates the framework for family policing in which states are required to implement harmful policies such as mandatory reporting laws in exchange for tiny amounts of federal money.

● If not repealed outright, then at least shift funding from Title I of CAPTA – where you have to do all sorts of awful things to get the money – to Title II, where you don´t (and which generally funds better options than what can be funded under Title I).

● Either drastically curb, or repeal outright, mandatory reporting laws, which have been shown to drive families away from seeking help, while flooding the system with so many false reports and poverty cases that workers have less time to find the relatively few children in real danger.

● If not repealed, then mandatory reporting laws should be curbed both in terms of who is required to report and what they are required to report.

● And mandatory reporters should have an “off ramp” (My term, not the committee´s). If mandatory reporters provide actual help to families, or connect families with those who can help, they would not be required to call the family police.

● Provide high-quality family defense counsel to families from the moment the family police show up at the door.  This has been shown to significantly curb needless foster care with no compromise of safety.

● Enact Family Miranda legislation – requiring family police agencies to tell families their rights.

● Once and for all define the requirement in federal law to make “reasonable efforts” to keep families together.  It was passed 44 years ago, and ignored ever since. The definition should require

active, effective efforts to avoid family separation and promote expeditious return of children who have been taken from their families, ...

● Replace anonymous reporting with confidential reporting of alleged abuse and neglect.  The accused still wouldn´t know who accused them, but the family police would, so they could better weed out false allegations.

The committee´s charge was to look specifically at New York.  But data on entries into care suggests that most states are even worse than New York. The Committee recommends that the Civil Rights Commission itself examine these issues nationwide.  The Comittee also urges its counterparts in other states to examine child welfare systems in their states.  Committees in at least two states reportedly are considering it.

Those opposed to this report will do what those wedded to a take-the-child-and-run approach always do: throw horror stories at us. But please consider: None of those horrors occurred under the system this report recommends – because that system doesn´t exist.  All of them occurred under the system we have now; the system we´ve had for decades. So we can keep right on doing the same thing and watch as children die and families are destroyed, or we could start down a new path, by embracing this committee´s blueprint for child safety.

Read the full Committee report