Thursday, April 11, 2024

NCCPR in West Virginia Watch: West Virginia: Child removal capital of America

I have followed the harm done to children by America’s child welfare systems for nearly half a century, first as a journalist, now as an advocate. In all that time I have never encountered a state so mind-bogglingly fanatical about tearing apart families that even foster care agencies think it’s too much – until now.

Yes, even agencies typically paid for each day they hold a child in care say West Virginia is taking away too many children. They’re right. Year after year, West Virginia is the child removal capital of America. ...

Read the full column in West Virginia Watch

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 10, 2024

● Last week, in a column for The Imprint, I wrote about how, though the journalism of child welfare is improving, some places are still promoting the big lie of American child welfare.  They scapegoat family preservation for child abuse deaths and encourage foster-care panic. I cited the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a prime example.  They’re doing it for the second time in a decade – but this time state legislators don’t seem to be buying it. 

More evidence that lawmakers are not being suckered came at a dramatic public hearing on a new, expanded version of the Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act.  The Star Tribune didn’t cover the hearing.  Fortunately, The Imprint did 

● In 2022, the worst foster-care panic took place in Louisiana.  I have a column about how that’s hurting the state’s children in the Louisiana Illuminator. 

● Typically, when I compare New York to Philadelphia, Philadelphia is on the losing end.  But this time, some New Yorkers want to cave in to threats from private foster care agencies, but Philadelphia won’t.  The issue is accountability, in the form of lawsuits against the agencies by children abused on their watch.  In New York, the agencies want taxpayers to fork over up to $200 million to bail them out – otherwise, they threaten to go out of business.  They seem to think that would be a bad thing.  Some New York lawmakers who don’t know any better are proposing to cave in.  

In Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, agencies sought a similar bailout.  But to her great credit, the head of Philadelphia’s “child welfare” agency, Kimberly Ali, said no.  Though it will cost her agency a lot in time and money, she refused to cave.  “What the provider wanted the city to do was pay to indemnify them for their own negligence,” she said, “and that is what the city was not going to do.” 

And the sky has not fallen.  In fact, a whole lot of other agencies are lining up to replace the quitters.

● Philadelphia isn’t the only place pulling ahead of New York in some ways.  In 2023, Texas passed a Family Miranda law – so families know their rights when the family police are at the door.  It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.  Andrew Brown of the Texas Public Policy Foundation was in Albany, explaining how it was done on Spectrum News Capital Tonight.  He was joined by Angela Olivia Burton, a leader of the fight to pass such legislation in New York.   

● One of the worst things family police agencies do to children is to take them away from domestic violence survivors because those survivors “allowed” the children to “witness domestic violence.”  Under these circumstances, the trauma of removal is compounded.  Now a Mississippi prosecutor is taking it a step further.  The Mississippi Free Press reports the prosecutor is trying to take away a mother’s children because, in effect, she allegedly allowed her 11-year-old to get in the way of a police officer’s bullet. 

WBUR Public Radio has more on that significant change for the better in how the largest hospital system in Massachusetts is handling issues involving pregnancy and substance use. 

● Change also is coming to Washington, D.C., where the Washington Post reports on a guaranteed income pilot program aimed specifically at mothers under surveillance by the D.C. family police agency. 

● And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Missouri Legislature is coming closer to prohibiting the state from swiping foster children’s money. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

NCCPR in the Louisiana Illuminator: Louisiana children pay the price of foster care panic

Faced with one revelation after another about tragedies involving children previously known to the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, that agency has come up with a knee-jerk response that is simple, obvious and wrong: a worst-in-the-nation mad rush to tear far more children away from their families. 

As a result, in 2022, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, while almost everywhere else in America recognized the enormous harm of needlessly sundering families and reduced entries into foster care, in Louisiana, they skyrocketed 23% over the previous year — the biggest percentage increase in the country. 

There is a term for it: foster care panic. … 

Read the full column in the Louisiana Illuminator

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

NCCPR news and commentary round-up, week ending April 2, 2024

WABE Public Radio in Atlanta and ProPublica have another story about children kept from their families for months, sometimes years, only because their parents can’t meet housing requirements vastly more stringent than anything necessary for health or safety.  

The story includes one small example of what passes for “thinking” in family policing: The closest thing to justification for this odious practice comes from a longtime juvenile court judge who says, well, if we send the children back too soon they might have to be placed again and that’s traumatic. 

As opposed to prolonging foster care and putting the children at greater risk of being moved from foster home to foster home – which, of course, is no problem at all.  

● Also in Georgia, Reason reports on the case of a family repeatedly harassed by police and child protective services because their seven-year-old stopped in at the local grocery store for a free cookie while walking about two blocks home from the YMCA, and also for a "flagrant act of unaccompanied bike riding."  The case illustrates the need for Georgia to join the other states that have passed "reasonable childhood independence" laws.

● Still in Georgia, WXIA-TV truly honors Child Abuse Awareness Month by reporting on families who say they were needlessly torn apart due to the actions of  “child abuse pediatricians.” 

● On this blog we have our annual reminder about why it really should be called Child Abuse Hype and Hysteria Month.  

● And the Associate Commissioner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in charge of the Children's Bureau, Aysha Schomberg, reminds us that making sure families know their rights is, in fact, a crucial part of child abuse prevention. 

● The Georgia stories reflect how the journalism of child welfare is improving.  But some places are still promoting the big lie of American child welfare, and in the process encouraging foster-care panic.  I have some examples in this column for The Imprint. 

● There’s better news in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reports that the largest hospital system in that state 

will no longer report suspected abuse or neglect to state child welfare officials solely because a baby is born exposed to drugs, targeting a practice hospital leaders say has long stoked fear in women in recovery from addiction. 

Sarah Wakeman, the system’s senior medical director for substance use disorder, explained what can happen without this change:

She recalled a patient roughly six years ago who had an opioid use disorder; because she feared being reported to DCF once she gave birth to her baby, she declined the medication offered to help her recovery. She later overdosed, Wakeman said, and “both she and the fetus died.” 

“I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than getting reported with the possibility of losing one of my babies,” said Wakeman, a mother of three. The current approach to reporting, she said, has had “a chilling effect on access to the most effective treatment we have for opioid use disorder.” 

● For journalists who want to do better, pediatrician and journalist ChrisAnna Mink writes about what she learned exploring the issue of children taken from survivors of domestic violence in this essay for the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. 

● Think you know all about the harm the “troubled teen industry” does to kids?  There’s still plenty to shock the conscience.  You can hear some of it in this documentary from Reveal.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

NCCPR in The Imprint: Foster Care Panic in Minnesota? Not So Fast; Legislators Don’t Seem Fooled by Recent Media Coverage

Former Illinois DCFS director Jess McDonald's "EKG chart"

More than 25 years ago, when he was running the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Jess McDonald created what he called his “EKG chart.”  Resembling an electrocardiogram, it tracks huge spikes in the number of children caseworkers were tearing from their families immediately after stories about deaths of children “known to the system” are on newspaper front pages. 

McDonald was charting one of the nation’s early foster-care panics. Sometimes these panics are set off by misleading news coverage, sometimes by politicians. 

Most of the time, those who set off foster-care panics, like most who work in the system itself, mean well but don’t know any better. Less often, reporters sacrifice nuance for prizes — what legendary journalist David Simon calls “Pulitzer-sniffing.” 

But as our understanding of what should be called family policing has matured, things are starting to change. … 

Read the full column in The Imprint

Monday, April 1, 2024

If it's April Fools, it must be Child Abuse Hype and Hysteria Month


UPDATE, 2024: given that the child welfare establishment has no shame, expect the usual op-eds to have token boilerplate statements about racial justice – even as these establishment groups propose making a profoundly racist family policing system even bigger and more powerful. 

Indeed, this year, the leading group of one time "health terrorists" (that's their own term!) Prevent Child Abuse America will be proclaiming its supposed interest in racial justice while campaigning to expand the so-called Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.  This horrible federal law laid the foundation for America's child welfare surveillance state, contributing to the trauma inflicted on millions of children.  You can read here about how awful this law, so beloved by PCAA really is.


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED APRIL 1, 2010 , UPDATED APRIL 1, 2018, MARCH 31, 2020, AND MARCH 31, 2021, MARCH 27, 2024.

Back in 2003, one of the groups most responsible for fomenting hype and hysteria about child abuse came remarkably close to admitting that they did just that – and that it had backfired. 

Rather like Dr. Frankenstein admitting he’d created a monster, in a 2003 Request for Proposals concerning how to improve their messaging, Prevent Child Abuse America wrote: 

While the establishment of a certain degree of public horror relative to the issue of child abuse and neglect was probably necessary in the early years to create public awareness of the issue, the resulting conceptual model adopted by the public has almost certainly become one of the largest barriers to advancing the issue further in terms of individual behavior change, societal solutions and policy priorities. 

In 2020, PCAA went further. They actually branded what they had done “health terrorism” – but refused to apologize for it. 

This is especially worth remembering as we begin “Child Abuse Awareness Month” – a month, which, appropriately starts on April Fools Day. 

So I’ve reprinted below our 2010 blog post on the topic – with some updates and links to newer data – since, unfortunately, aside from those data, little has changed. Because it's a lot easier to create a monster than to bring it under control.

If it's April Fools, it must be Child Abuse Hype and Hysteria Month

Get ready for a seemingly endless stream of cookie-cutter news stories and Astroturf op-ed columns (the kind written by national groups with blanks to fill in to make them sound home-grown) touting "Child Abuse Awareness Month" – based on the bizarre premise that the American people are blissfully unaware of child abuse. 

There is something appropriate about the fact that "Child Abuse Awareness Month" starts on April Fool’s Day, since it involves fooling the public in order to push an agenda of hype and hysteria that obscures the real nature of the problem, and real solutions, in favor of approaches that only make a serious and real problem worse. Your typical Child Abuse Awareness month news story or op ed column follows a standard formula: 

1.  1. Take the most horrifying case to occur in your community over the past year, the more lurid the better.

2.   2. Jump immediately from that story to a gigantic number which actually is only the number of "reports" alleging any form of child maltreatment. Ignore the fact that the vast majority of those reports are false and most of the rest are nothing like the horror story. Rather, they often involve the confusion of poverty with neglect. Or…

3.   3.  Use only the total number of cases that caseworkers guess might be true, but call them "confirmed" giving the guesses, which are simply the opinion of a worker checking a box on a form, far more credibility than they deserve. A major federal study found that workers are two- to six-times more likely to wrongly label an innocent family guilty than to wrongly label real child abusers innocent.

4.   4. Pile hype onto hype by reasserting the racist, discredited COVID-19 “pandemic of child abuse” myth.  (One hopes that, now that we know child abuse actually went down when COVID forced the family police to step back, they will knock it off, but that may be too optimistic.)

5.    5. Throw in huge lists of "symptoms" or "warning signs" that "might" be "signs" of child abuse – and might as easily be signs of any number of other things.

6.     6. Instruct us all that it is our duty to phone the local child abuse hotline with any suspicion of anything no matter how vague and how dubious – instead of cautioning us about the harm of even well-meaning false reports and advising us to report when we have "reasonable cause to suspect" actual maltreatment - not poverty -- the same standard theoretically used in law to guide "mandated reporters."  

      7. Remind us that we are welcome to call the hotline anonymously – thereby encouraging those who want to harass an ex-spouse, a neighbor or anyone else against whom they may have a grudge to go right ahead, secure in the knowledge that they'll never get caught because they can conceal their identity. 

All of this can do enormous harm to children.  

Hotlines wind up with more false reports and trivial cases; children are harassed and traumatized by needless child abuse investigations – often including stripsearches as caseworkers look for bruises - and some of those children are forced needlessly into foster care. The caseworkers wind up even more overloaded by these false allegations, so they have even less time to find children in real danger.  

Reality check 

NCCPR has some resources on our website for any journalists and others interested in putting all this into context, countering the hype and hysteria and pressing for real solutions: 

·        -- Issue papers on Understanding Child Abuse Numbers and False Allegations: What the Data Really Show

·        -- Our Solutions pages, Doing Child Welfare Right and our Due Process Agenda.

·        -- Our presentation on how to really prevent child abuse: take a social justice approach instead of a public health approach.

If the people behind "Child Abuse Awareness Month"  (also known as "Child Abuse Prevention Month") really want to prevent "child abuse" then how about campaigning to ameliorate the worst effects of poverty.  

Poverty increases the stress that can lead to actual abuse and, as noted above, poverty itself often is confused with "neglect."  This can be seen by the fact that study after study shows even small increases in income significantly reduce what child welfare systems call "neglect."

The problem of child abuse is serious and real, but the solutions have been phony. The distortion and exaggeration that typify child abuse "awareness" campaigns only promote phony solutions and make those serious, real problems even worse.

If only there were a Statistics Abuse Prevention Month.