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.