Wednesday, March 27, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending March 26, 2024

● Any family caught up in the politics of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Massachusetts “Child Advocate” Maria Mossaides is in for hell.  Neither was directly involved in a case in the news this week, but both did a lot to create the climate of fear that prolonged a five-year-old boy’s anguish.  The New York Times did a superb job telling the story.  I have a blog post about the lessons it teaches, with a link to the Times account. 

● Speaking of multi-state failure, Honolulu Civil Beat reports it turns out it took incompetence – or worse – in two states for Geanna Bradley to be taken from loving relatives and wind up in the foster home where she died, allegedly at the hands of her foster-parents-turned-legal-guardians. 

● There is somewhat happier news in Florida where, WFTS-TV reports, a mother whose children were wrongfully taken has gotten most of them back – though one child remains in Florida foster care. 

● Similar fights are ongoing everywhere, including North Carolina, where they are the topic of a documentary, To Be Invisible: 

I only found out about it, when I saw this from Prof. Dorothy Roberts:

● In Colorado, lawmakers wisely changed the law to reduce the number of cases in which doctors are required to turn in new mothers to the family police instead of giving them help.  But, the Denver Post reports, many medical personnel aren’t aware of the change. In the story, Dr. Kaylin Klie, a family practice and addiction medicine physician in Denver, explains some of what they need to know: 

Most doctors come from relatively privileged communities and struggle to understand that patients skip prenatal care because of fear their children will be taken away, Klie said. Children of color and those from low-income families are more likely to be part of an abuse investigation than white and more affluent children, according to nationwide data. 

While many people think babies and toddlers are too young to experience negative effects from being separated from their parents, taking them away puts extra stress on the brain in an important developmental window, she said. 

Parents “are making a reasonable choice to try to avoid detection unless we make a change, where labor and delivery units are seen as a safe haven,” she said. 

Making prenatal care a safe environment for people with substance use disorders also increases the odds that they will pursue medication treatment, which makes them more likely to succeed in quitting illicit opioids, Klie said. 

● Nothing sums up the problem of states swiping foster youth’s Social Security benefits better than this headline on a St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial urging lawmakers to stop the practice: 

Missouri legally steals from foster kids. Lawmakers can end it. Why haven't they?

The editorial continues: 

If Missouri’s elected representatives can’t get it together long enough to agree to stop stealing from the most vulnerable kids in society, what are they even doing in office? 

Fortunately, the Missouri Independent reports, prospects for passage now look pretty good. 

● At long last the federal government released foster-care data for 2022. It turns out a top candidate for the dubious distinction of foster-care capital of America is now – Vermont.  And that makes the bill discussed in this story from VT Digger a big step in the right direction. 

● One of the most common forms of so-called neglect is “lack of supervision.”  Children may be torn from their parents because the parents had to leave them alone since they couldn’t afford child care.  So what happens then? Rather than help the family with child care, the children are placed in foster care.  If the foster parents have to work, they may get special additional payments for childcare!  But in Kentucky, lawmakers decided that wasn’t enough coddling for foster parents.  Now, the Kentucky Lantern reports, they’ll be eligible for childcare aid even when they’re working remotely from home! 

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

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reports on a lawsuit against the New Mexico family police agency and a private foster care agency.  The case concerns a young boy who was 

hospitalized for two months, during which he told doctors he had been physically and sexually abused by his foster parents. He told doctors they pulled his tongue and kicked him.

The claims were later substantiated by CYFD, according to the lawsuit. … [A lawyer for the child’s grandparents] said before the child was placed in foster care, his grandparents offered to take him in, and even underwent a home evaluation by CYFD personnel. “Why was this boy not placed with his grandparents when at least, theoretically, CYFD prioritizes family placements over non-family placements,” he said.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Profiles in cowardice: Terrified of demagogic politicians, family police agencies in two states prolong the agony of a five-year-old and his mother.

All of the love, compassion and common decency in this case came from people not employed by family police agencies.

Massachusetts "Child Advocate" Maria Mossaides was not involved in this
case. Had she been asked, she probably would have made the right call.
But, though it wasn't her intent, she's fomented a climate of fear
that helped prolong this child's agony. 

The New York Times published a deeply reported, deeply moving story Sunday about one immigrant mother’s desperate quest to find and reunite with her five-year-old son.  It is almost a miracle that she ultimately succeeded. 

Olga fled her abusive husband in Honduras, with her seven-year-old daughter.  Her son was cared for by his grandmother – until the husband took the child by force and also made his way to the United States. 

Olga settled with a relative in Florida.  The husband wound up in Massachusetts – and the boy, Ricardo, wound up in foster care – because the father was abusing him too. 

When Olga finally tracked Ricardo down, things should have been simple.  She was a fit parent with a steady job and a good home.  Massachusetts could have reunited mother and son immediately.  But then the ugly politics of two states got in the way. 

Climate of fear 

Let’s start with the ugliness in Massachusetts.  As the Times story explains, in that state 

the child protection system was at that very moment embroiled in a cross-border custody scandal. 

It involved a 5-year-old girl named Harmony Montgomery, a ward of the state whose father, a New Hampshire resident, had sought her custody. Abiding by its internal regulations, the Massachusetts [Department of Children and Families] asked New Hampshire to approve the move under a 62-year-old agreement called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. But the judge disagreed with this request, considering it an infringement on the father’s right to parent his child, and did not wait for New Hampshire to respond. 

The interstate compact was created primarily to govern cross-border foster care moves. Whether it applies to fit parents has been widely debated across the country, and high courts in at least a dozen states have said it does not. 

The National Association of Counsel for Children agrees. “Applying the compact to parents who simply live out of state, when there is no finding or even allegation of wrongdoing, is unconstitutional and harmful to children,” said Allison Green, its legal director. 

But in late 2019, two years after the Massachusetts judge awarded custody to Harmony Montgomery’s father, the authorities in New Hampshire revealed that the girl was missing and presumed to be dead. 

Her shadow hung over Ricardo’s case. Nobody in the Massachusetts child-welfare system wanted to take another potentially deadly risk involving the interstate compact. 

But that climate of fear didn’t create itself.  It’s been nurtured at every turn by the state’s foremost advocate for a take-the-child-and-run approach to “child welfare,” Maria Mossaides.  She runs the state’s “Office of the Child Advocate.”  Yes, the same Maria Mossaides whose own commission studying mandatory child abuse laws rebelled and refused to accept her recommendations after they realized she hadn’t told them the whole story about these laws and their consequences. 

Mossaides has taken every opportunity to exploit the tragic death of Harmony Montgomery to undermine efforts to keep families together – and even to try to effectively silence children in court.  (In fact, Harmony Montgomery almost certainly would be alive today had Massachusetts not rushed to take her from the one person in her life who truly loved her: her mother). 

Mossaides had no direct involvement in Ricardo’s case.  I suspect had she been asked even she would have urged that the family be reunited.  But, while it never was her intent to make things worse for Ricardo, or any child, she shares a lot of responsibility for the climate of fear in Massachusetts that prolonged this family’s agony and the agony of many others who have not caught the attention of the media.  Indeed, though Massachusetts media are doing a notably better job of covering these issues in general, year after year, they still give Mossaides a free pass. 

Florida fails, too 

With Massachusetts DCF too cowardly to do the right thing, they invoked the ICPC and sought direction from its equally execrable counterpart in Florida, also called the Department of Children and Families.  They too were too cowardly to do the right thing.  As the Times story explains: 

When Olga’s advocates phoned her caseworker’s supervisor, according to Nick Herbold, the boy’s first foster father, the woman told them: “Hey, we’re in Florida. She’s undocumented. There’s no concern about the home. There’s no concern about safety with the mother. It’s just the fact that politically we cannot sign off on it.” 

And where might that come from? Again, from the story: 

Asked whether it was now Florida’s policy to refuse custody based on immigration status, Miguel Nevarez, press secretary for the state’s Department of Children and Families, neither answered directly nor denied it. “Cases regarding one’s legal or illegal status wouldn’t exist if the federal government enforced our immigration laws,” he said. 

In Olga’s case, that line of thinking trickled down to South Florida from Tallahassee, where Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill last spring that he proudly called “the strongest anti-illegal-immigration legislation in the country.” 

The people who did the right thing 

The other key lesson in this story involves who did step up – time and time again.  

Had the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families set out to deliberately traumatize Ricardo,  it couldn’t have done better than it did, with decision after decision that would have undermined his stability.  He was saved from DCF’s lousy decisions by two truly extraordinary foster parents, his teachers and his school principal.  They showed the courage, tenacity and generosity that family police agencies in two states did not. 

Indeed, in the entire story, there is no hint of compassion, caring, or sacrifice from anyone within the family policing establishment.  Please think about that the next time anyone in that establishment blathers about children’s “well-being.” 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

AFCARS report is out at last: At first glance, the numbers are encouraging

At long last the federal government has released state and national foster care statistics for the year ending September 30, 2022.  Yes, 2022.  Instead of being a year behind, as usual, this time they’re nearly a year-and-a-half behind. 

But for what it’s worth, it appears that, slowly but surely, the pressure on systems to stop tearing apart families needlessly is starting to make a real difference – with one crucial caveat: We don’t know how much of the decline in the latest figures is real and how much represents “diversion” into hidden foster care; entries which states supposedly don’t have to report.  (It’s not clear if they’re violating regulations the federal government won’t enforce or if the states actually have found a loophole.) 

But with that caveat: 

Officially reported entries into foster care over the course of Federal Fiscal Year 2022 reached the lowest level since the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) started counting in 1999.  But children still were torn from their homes 187,000 times.  That’s down 20,000 from FFY 2021.  It's a nearly 40% decline from the worst year on record, 2005, when children were taken more than 307,000 times.

The snapshot number of children in foster care on any given day, also declined, from 392,000 on Sept. 30, 2021 to 369,000 one year later. 

The report also includes some new caveats about methodology.  But the in-care numbers are sufficiently close to data gathered by The Imprint to suggest that, aside from the hidden foster care issue, the figures may be close to the mark. 

A preliminary look at the state-by-state data indicate, as expected, that most states saw fewer children taken away (again, assuming they were not simply sent to hidden foster care).  But children in Georgia and Louisiana were victims of foster-care panic - sharp sudden spikes in removals of children after high-profile child abuse deaths.  

This was not the result of explicit scapegoating of family preservation in either state.  Unfortunately, the rush to take away children has become the knee-jerk response to such tragedies - and, because foster-care panics further overload systems, they only make it likely that there will be more such tragedies.  There also was a tragic spike in removals in Maine - and that is due to demagoguery by public officials.

Fortunately, more and more places are starting to understand that when we curb needless foster care, children get safer!  Let’s keep the momentum going.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending March 19, 2024

It’s stories like this, from ProPublica, that make me glad someone invented the word “gobsmacked.”  If you drop everything and read it right now, you’ll thank me. No one excerpt does it justice, but here’s one that gives at least a hint: 

Had she considered or was she even aware of the cultural background of the birth family and child whom she was recommending permanently separating? (The case involved a baby girl of multiracial heritage.) Baird answered that babies have “never possessed” a cultural identity, and therefore are “not losing anything,” at their age, by being adopted. Although when such children grow up, she acknowledged, they might say to their now-adoptive parents, “Oh, I didn’t know we were related to the, you know, Pima tribe in northern California, or whatever the circumstances are.” 

"The Pima tribe is located in the Phoenix metropolitan area." 

There’s also a fascinating discussion of the internal disputes roiling the very prestigious and very influential Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect.  As that suggests, the story focuses on cases in Colorado – but it’s happening everywhere. 

● In California a bill would chip away at one of the most odious practices in family policing – tearing children from their mothers because those mothers are themselves victims of domestic violence.  The bill would make clear to “mandated reporters” that they are not required to report battered mothers to the family police.  (Yes, that should be obvious – but, in fact, it’s routine.)  

As the Orange County Register reports: 

With looming threats that they could lose their child, even temporarily, or be charged with child neglect, oftentimes domestic violence victims opt against reporting abuse, said Chris Negri, the associate director of public policy strategies at the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. (The coalition has signed on to support the bill.)  And abusers can use that threat — the fear that their children will be taken away — to coerce victims from reporting abuse, he said. 

“The current system is really counterproductive. It punishes survivors, and it encases them in this Catch-22,” said Negri. “We’re saying you have to leave, you have to get out of this situation so your child doesn’t witness a domestic violence situation, but if you do, your child might be taken away from you.” 

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he said. 

The Imprint reports on legislation in New York that would add new curbs to another odious practice of family policing: making some parents Upstate pay what should be called ransom to the state when their children are in foster care.  (To its credit, New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services has already put a stop to it.) 

● But ACS still does a whole lot of other awful stuff. And though they say they’re doing it in the name of “children’s rights” and “child protection” the lawyers who actually represent New York City children in these cases disagree.  They write about it in City Limits, citing both the groundbreaking report from the NYC Family Policy Project discussed here, and the groundbreaking lawsuit against ACS from the Family Justice Law Center 

They write: 

[T]he aggressive and coercive tactics ACS employs to investigate, and the volume of children and families that it investigates, have created an apparatus that harms more children than it protects.

● And in AMNY, Eve Stotland of the New York Community Trust explains why they’re supporting the Family Justice Law Center suit

● There's some good news in Massachusetts, where, NBC10 Boston reports, a federal judge is allowing a lawsuit by parents whose young children were dragged out of their home in the middle of the night based on a false allegation from a hospital. 

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

● Lawmakers in two states have responded to allegations of horrendous abuse in residential treatment centers with laws that sound good but do almost nothing. 

In Alaska, Mother Jones updates an expose of a residential treatment center where 

Despite the facility’s troubling track record of assaults, escapes, and improper use of seclusion, state officials have admitted what foster youth have long suspected: Foster children are warehoused at North Star when there’s nowhere else for them to go. 

So what do lawmakers propose to do about this? One bill would require a hearing within 72 hours of placement to determine if children really need to be there.  But, of course, everyone already knows they don’t need to be there, but there’s supposedly “nowhere else to go.”  But that’s because, for decades, Alaska has torn apart families, especially Native Alaskan families, at one of the highest rates in America – currently more than two-and-a-half times the national average! 

Another bill would require unannounced visits by state regulators – twice a year.  And each time they’d have to see at least half the children.  So, one visit per year per child?  And remember, because there’s supposedly “nowhere else to go,” officials have an enormous incentive to ignore any abuse they may see or anything an inmate – which is really the best term for those forced to live in these places – might tell them. 

● The response to Indianapolis Star revelations of abuses at RTCs in that state is, if anything, even more pathetic. Indiana takes away children at a rate that’s merely about 50% above the national average.  But fear not!  The same state authorities who investigated and ignored abuse of children under age 18 for all these years will now be authorized to investigate and ignore abuse of youth aged 18 to 21. 

Reading quotes from lawmakers bragging about this is offensive.  For those victimized, it must be like rubbing salt in their wounds.  And the Star, which did a good job exposing the problems, should know better than to pretend this means anything, just because some politicians praised their stories. 

● Remember all those revelations about horrors at a residential treatment center in Rhode Island? Remember how a gullible lawmaker was fooled by the scent of Pine-Sol?  Now, the Boston Globe reports, the state's Child Advocate was only partially fooled.  She still believes such places should exist - but at least she doesn't believe this one has cleaned up its act.  The Child Advocate said the institution's response 

minimizes the profound concerns raised and deflects attention away from those who this should truly be about, the children

● In New Jersey on the other hand, where New Brunswick Patch reports on a $25 million settlement for a victim of abuse in one foster home after another in the 1990s, they’ve done the one thing that makes it less likely that the same will happen today: They’ve significantly reduced the number of children they take away.  

● And in Augusta County, Va., WHSV-TV reports:

Jessica Duff, 44, of Raphine, pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse charges in Augusta Circuit Court and was sentenced to five years in prison. The victim of the abuse was Duff’s adopted daughter.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

NCCPR News and commentary round-up, week ending March 12, 2024

● Last week, we noted a fascinating study by the NYC Family Policy Project revealing that New York State’s child abuse hotline screens out far fewer cases than the national average, inundating the localities that investigate the screened-in calls with false allegations, trivial cases and poverty-confused-with-neglect cases.  The Imprint has a good story on the report.  So does the New York Daily News And I have a blog post on the pathetic response from Jess Dannhauser, commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services. (Be sure to see the response from the ACS flack at the end!)

CNN has a story about the civil rights complaint brought by Children’s Rights and the Minneapolis NAACP against the family policing systems in Minnesota’s largest counties. 

● It doesn’t get as much attention at the pervasive racism but there is another group of families who automatically have targets on their backs.  The Guardian has been following that issue for years, and has an in-depth report from a state that’s notorious for this kind of discrimination: Oregon. 

● Many people, especially in New England, know at least part of the story of Harmony Montgomery.  She was taken from her mother in Massachusetts and placed with her father in New Hampshire.  Then she disappeared. Her father has been convicted of killing her.  The case has been exploited by the Massachusetts “Child Advocate” Maria Mosaides as she seeks to make the family police even more powerful and even effectively silence children in court. 

What Mossaides wants us all to forget is the one person who truly loved and cared about Harmony: The person no one would listen to; the person who was written off from the start: Crystal Sorey — Harmony’s mother.  Now, the Boston Globe reports, Sorey is getting ready to sue those who really let Harmony down. 

And in The Hill, a call for radical change – from foster parents who write that such change should include: 

We should stop mandated reporting — doctors, teachers and social workers shouldn’t be acting as agents of the police. And we should discourage the use of child welfare hotlines, which all too often are used not for reporting real abuse but as means for harassment of a former intimate partner, a tenant or others. Keep reports confidential but not anonymous, and stop terrorizing already vulnerable children and parents, because this largely happens to poor people.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Is this guy the most helpless “child welfare” leader in America? His own comments suggest the answer is yes.

New York City Administration for Children's Services
Commissioner Jess Dannhauser


Poor Jess Dannhauser.  The head of New York City’s family police agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, says he’s really, truly concerned (though apparently not much more) about all those families and children traumatized by needless investigations and strip-searches resulting from all those false allegations, trivial cases or cases in which family poverty is confused with “neglect.”

But sheesh, all that whining!  Over and over again he offers the same response: It’s not my fault!  That mean old state government makes us do it!  And yet, Dannhauser ignored the obvious solution.  That should make us wonder if he really just wants to keep things as they are. 

The latest example to emerge from Dannhauser’s whine cellar is a letter to the editor in the New York Daily News.  That newspaper published an excellent commentary from the city’s family defense providers calling on the City Council and/or the State Legislature to pass a “Family Miranda” law – requiring ACS to tell families their rights.  Because if you don’t know your rights, you don’t have your rights. 

Dannhauser (or some flack in the ACS p.r. department) wrote a letter to the editor that regurgitated his standard excuse.  He writes: 

Anyone can make a report to New York State’s child abuse hotline. If a call about a New York City child is accepted by the state, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is required by state law to respond to allegations and assess the safety of the child. ACS can’t choose which families to respond to but must, under law, respond to reports the state accepts. 

He continues: 

A Black child is seven times more likely than a white child to be in a report to the hotline. This is concerning. 

Let me interrupt here: just "concerning"

ACS can’t control calls made or reports accepted, 

Yes, you already said that. 

so we have been retraining mandated reporters on when to appropriately make a report and when, instead, they should connect the family to support. 

Because training is what you do when you don’t want to make real change. 

Here’s what Dannhauser never mentions.  Laws can be amended.  If he doesn’t want to be “required by state law” to do something, why doesn’t he go to the New York State Legislature and ask them to change the law? 

Perhaps if I say that more slowly ACS will understand: Ask. Them. To. Change. The. Law. 

Perhaps I need to say it louder: Ask. Them. To. Change. The. Law. 

The change would be simple: Authorize ACS and its county counterparts across the state to set up their own mechanisms to screen calls and decide if they need to be investigated. 

Of course, asking for such a change doesn’t mean he’ll get it.  But not asking guarantees he won’t.  So I figure there are three possible explanations: 

● It never occurred to him to ask.

● He’s asking but it’s top secret because he wants it to be a surprise and he hates spoilers.

● He likes things the way they are because they enable Maximum Feasible Buckpassing. 

I’m thinking it’s the third one. Because it so benefits both ACS and the state agency that runs the hotline, the Office of Children and Family Services.  That means it also benefits the mayor and the governor.  Here’s why: 

As things stand now, the state has an incentive to screen out fewer cases, since all those false reports become the localities’ problem.  The localities get to go full Dannhauser and say: It’s not our fault that we traumatized all these families with needless investigations and strip-searches, the state made us do it!  And both are in a position where it’s less likely they’ll wind up on the front page of the New York Post for wrongly screening something out.  In short, it works for everyone – except the children and families. 

Oh, and by the way: Nothing Dannhauser wrote in his letter is a reason not to pass family Miranda legislation.  On the contrary, if Dannhauser really believes that often his investigators shouldn’t be knocking on families’ doors at all, isn’t that more reason to make sure those families know their rights? 

The consequences were perfectly illustrated in a new report from the NYC Family Policy Project.  The report found that New York State screens out, proportionately, far fewer reports than the national average. 

As The Imprint reported

The report quotes several parents by first name. Cynthia said that as her CPS investigation dragged on, she couldn’t concentrate at work and eventually lost her job. Her 3-year-old daughter “was so nervous being interrogated by strangers so many times that she started behaving irregularly.” A mom identified as Ruth said she went through five years of “malicious calls,” leaving her anxious and depressed. 

“My daughter wet the bed for three years straight,” she stated. “There has to be some mechanism put in place so you’re not destroying families.” 

Among the report’s many great recommendations: 

“Enabling ACS and county agencies to have discretion to screen out reports” 

It’s not just Jess Dannhauser who needs to answer a question.  Reporters have published his don’t-blame-me-the-state-makes-us-do-it whine over and over.  Why has no reporter ever asked Dannhauser why Dannhauser doesn’t seem to have asked the Legislature to change the law?

UPDATE: I just had an interesting email exchange with an ACS flack:  Here it is, in full:

Kaufman, Marisa (ACS) 

2:52 PM (6 minutes ago)

Hi Richard,

We saw your blog post today.  We are not asking you to make any changes.  We did want to be sure that you were aware that the Commissioner has asked for there to be a review and changes to the state laws related to the SCR. 


As an example, please see our testimony (attached) from the September 2023 Assembly hearing where at the top of page 4 he says, “ We believe that the State should conduct a full review and assessment of SCR practice and policies, as well as mandated reporter laws, and then take actions (legislative or otherwise) to address.”


In addition, in the Imprint article about the hearing it says:


At a public hearing last fall, the head of New York City’s children’s services agency, Jess Dannhauser, said state leaders should conduct a “full review and assessment” of the Statewide Central Register of Abuse and Maltreatment, including a potential overhaul of the relevant statutes.

“We cannot make sufficient progress within the current laws that were written over 50 years ago,” Dannhauser said.


Marisa Kaufman

ACS Division of External Affairs


Richard Wexler 

2:58 PM (3 minutes ago)
to Marisa
I am well aware of that.  Asking for "a full review and assessment" is like asking for "more study," which is another classic copout.  It is not the same thing as going to key legislative leaders and saying: Can you please introduce and pass a law that lets us screen reports.  Why won't you do that?

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending March 5, 2024

● Every once in a while I’ve gently childed the group known as “Children’s Rights” for its approach to litigation.  But this week, their litigation took a big turn - for the better.  They represented the Minneapolis NAACP in filing a federal civil rights complaint alleging pervasive racism in Minnesota family policing.  I have a blog post about it, including links to the full complaint and a good story in The Imprint.   

● On the Proximity Process podcast Kathleen Creamer, Managing Attorney of the Family Advocacy Unit at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia discusses the enormous harm done to families by America’s obsession with termination of parental rights. 

● Remember when Massachusetts “Child Advocate” Maria Mossaides so misled her own commission on mandatory child abuse reporting laws that the commission rebelled and refused to pass any of her recommendations?  That hasn’t stopped Mossaides.  I have a column in CommonWealth Beacon about her latest misrepresentations. 

● In Texas, a mother dared to seek a second opinion when a doctor prescribed a particular antibiotic.  Can you guess what happened next? Stories from WFAA-TV and KDFW-TV answer that question:

 ● In 2022, the Kentucky family police took away a child from grandparents who just needed help to handle his behavioral problems.  He was institutionalized.  He ran away, and he died.  In 2024, the Kentucky family police agency took away a child whose adoptive parents just needed help to cope with her behavioral problems. Unfortunately, you can guess what happened next.  I have a column about it in the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

● In New York State, the family policing system appears designed to ensure Maximum Feasible Buckpassing.  The state runs the child abuse hotline and decides which cases to pass on to counties and New York City for investigation – and they have to investigate whatever the state sends.  So the state has an incentive to screen out fewer cases, since all those false reports are the localities’ problem.  The localities get to say: It’s not our fault that we traumatized all these families with needless investigations and strip-searches, the state made us do it!  

A new report from the New York City Family Policy Project confirms what everyone would expect from an arrangement like this: New York screens out proportionately far fewer allegations than the national average and investigates proportionately more families needlessly. The report explains the consequences: 

Parents have spoken of “doorbell trauma” – mothers having panic attacks, their kids stripping off clothes to be inspected – when they hear their buzzer. At a recent meeting of Brownsville families, one parent described Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) involvement in her family and neighborhood as “like someone is on fire and screaming and no one is able to help them.”… 

● Perhaps that’s one reason why this happened when some representatives of New York City’s family police agency, the Administration for Children’s Services, gave a presentation at a social work school.  As this video from Joyce McMillan of JMAC for Families makes clear, some of the students were unpersuaded.

 A Detroit Free Press story is headlined “Pilot projects will help stop the overreporting of children of color to child welfare.” But since the program relies largely on more “training” – which is what systems do when they don’t want to change, it’s unlikely to really accomplish much. 

● Something that may do a lot more good is a comprehensive guide from If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice concerning when medical professionals most report – and, more important, the wide latitude they often have not to destroy families with needless reports. 

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

● Another week another expose of rampant abuse at a “residential treatment center.” This time, the Indianapolis Star story is headed: “Sexual abuse, runaways and reporting failures: Wernle youth center had history of problems.” (No link because it goes only to the Star’s paywall). 

From NBC Connecticut: 

Another teenager has filed a lawsuit claiming she was sexually assaulted by an employee at a state Department of Children and Families facility in Harwinton last year. … 

While she lived there from March of 2023 to May of 2023, the lawsuit said the 14-year-old female was raped and sexually assaulted by a facility employee. As a result, she reportedly suffered significant physical and emotional harm. 

This lawsuit comes after other allegations of sexual assault at the facility. 

From CBS News Detroit: 

One Republican Michigan state representative says she's been working on getting answers to disturbing allegations of abuse at state-run mental health facilities for children but says her party affiliation is preventing her from gaining much traction. 

State Rep. Jamie Thompson called for action on how state-run mental health facilities operate. Thompson's latest attempt comes after a lawsuit alleges that a 9-year-old patient at the Hawthorn Center was assaulted and employees did not intervene. 

WLNS-TV also has a story about this.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

“Child welfare” and racism: Children’s Rights steps up

For the first time in its history, the group uses litigation to take on racism, needless surveillance and wrongful removal.  It’s not a full-scale lawsuit, but it’s a good start 

From Children's Rights' page discussing their civil rights complaint in Minnesota

Last week, in a post about the landmark lawsuit against the New York City family police agency for its abuses of children and families during investigations, I noted that Ira Lustbader, litigation director at Children’s Rights said “now is the time” for such litigation.  I pointed out that in its entire history, Children’s Rights had never brought such litigation, insisted it couldn’t be done, and sometimes even stood in the way of such efforts.  So I asked a question: 

Since you say “now is the time,” Ira, and now that other lawyers have shown you how it’s done, when are you going to start bringing lawsuits like this? 

I’ve got to admit, he came up with a good answer.  

It’s not a full-scale class-action lawsuit,  but it’s a good start:  Children’s Rights is representing the Minneapolis NAACP in a formal complaint to the federal Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights. The Complaint alleges that the two largest counties in Minnesota, Hennepin and Ramsey, engage in systematic, rampant, racially biased needless investigation and surveillance of families and needless removal of children. 

In recent years, CR has done excellent public policy work – but it’s stuck to the same stale litigation that rarely did any good and often did real harm.  But this time, the policy arm and the litigation arm of the organization worked together.  And this time, they’ve brought good litigation in the right place at the right time. 

The right place 

Minnesota has a particularly ugly record when it comes to family policing.  Year after year the state tears apart families at a rate more than double the national average, even when rates of child poverty are factored in.  The NAACP/CR Complaint reveals how much of that is driven by racial bias.  For example, in Minnesota Black children are twice as likely to be thrown into foster care as white children.  Biracial or multiracial children are seven times more likely than white children to be torn from their families. 

Minnesota’s record of racial disparity in investigations and foster care is worse than the national average, and the disparities in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties are worse than the state average.  

The right time 

Although Minnesota’s dismal record dates back decades, a key part of the reason things remain so awful is the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Once, it was a source of some of the nation’s most insightful commentary on these issues.  But more recently it has descended to what the legendary journalist David Simon calls “Pulitzer sniffing.”    

Twice in recent years, the Star Tribune has exploited horror stories in an apparent effort to set off foster-care panics, sharp sudden increases in the number of children taken from their homes. The first time they succeeded.  But now they’re having a harder time.  Lawmakers are catching on to the fact that the deluge of false reports, trivial cases and poverty-confused-with-neglect cases encouraged by the Star Tribune actually contributes to the horror stories.  Even the Star Tribune quoted Kelis Houston, an NAACP committee leader and founder of the family advocacy group Village Arms, when she told a legislative committee:

"The worst thing Minnesota can do is keep doubling down on its failed approach," said Houston, adding that tragedies continue to occur because caseworkers are overwhelmed by "trivial cases." 

A Complaint like this can only reinforce lawmakers’ skepticism and help them understand what’s really needed to keep children safe. 

Three key causes 

The Complaint zeros in on three likely contributors to Minnesota’s dismal record:

 ● Structured Decision-Making.  This system of questionnaires filled out by investigators is essentially predictive analytics without the computers.  Reports in three states have linked SDM to increased removals of children, and analyses in Washington State and Michigan found racial bias in the SDM questionnaires. The Minnesota Complaint cites additional scholarly critiques of SDM, and offers these specific examples from the SDM Safety Assessment and Family Risk Assessment questionnaires in Minnesota. It’s relevant everywhere since SDM is so widely used. 

From the complaint: 

The SDM SA’s consideration of a caregiver’s inability to meet the child’s immediate needs for food/shelter, lack of water or utilities, and deeming space heaters for heat as unsafe, are characteristics that are proxies for both race and socioeconomic status. Minnesota’s use of these factors to support a child’s removal and/or ongoing separation due to alleged neglect discriminately and disproportionately impacts Black families who are overrepresented in Minnesota’s child welfare system for neglect-related allegations. 

Similarly, the SDM FRA’s consideration of prior assigned reports (even if not substantiated), prior CPS history (even if not substantiated), and whether either caregiver was abused as a child, are proxies for race and socioeconomic status and discriminatorily and disproportionately impact Black families in Minnesota, and in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, who experience child welfare system involvement more frequently, and are more likely to score higher under those categories. 

The specific inclusion of unsubstantiated reports and CPS histories directs the weighting of known discriminatory and disproportionate practices against Black families, as these categories by their very terms did not involve finding safety considerations justifying investigation and/or removal. 

The SDM FRA’s consideration of a household with three or more children as a maltreatment-predicting characteristic also serves as a proxy for race and has a discriminatory and disproportionate impact on Black families who are more likely to have three or more children. 

● Misuse of “emergency” removal power.  You know how family police agencies love to say “We don’t decide if a child is removed from the home, a court has to approve everything we do”?

It’s a lie. 

In every state, the police and/or the family police have the power to remove children from their homes on the spot without so much as calling a judge.  In Minnesota the power rests with law enforcement – and they abuse it constantly. All law enforcement officers need to do is think that a child’s “health or welfare is being endangered by the child’s ‘surroundings or conditions,’” or “reasonably believes” that such health or safety “will be” endangered. 

So it’s no wonder that, as the Complaint points out, between 2014 and 2019 half of all removals of children in Hennepin County took place that way.  In Ramsey County, it was 78%.  

● Lack of services to help families.  When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  Like most places, the Minnesota family police have quick and easy access to tearing apart families – everything else is in short supply.  So children and families get hammered. 

The complaint calls on the Office of Civil Rights to launch a full investigation into the state’s “discriminatory actions.”  The office should do that.  In fact, they should do more.  In addition to looking at the enormous bias against Black families in Minnesota, they also should examine what data suggest is even more enormous bias against Native American families.  No need to wait for another Complaint! 

As for Children’s Rights, for the first time in decades, I’m looking forward to seeing what their litigation arm might do next.