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