Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Who’s afraid of Paris Hilton?


It turns out, Paris Hilton knows more about "residential
treatment facilities" than at least one self-proclaimed
"child welfare scholar." (Photto by Peter Schäfermeier,
via Wikimedia Commons)

In a previous post, I noted the increasing desperation of Richard Barth.  The former Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work and self-proclaimed “child welfare scholar” seeks to run from the fact that the system he’s done so much to build and maintain – the family policing system – has failed. 

Among other things, I discussed in that post how he couldn’t cope with the rigorous scholarship of Prof. Kelley Fong, author of the landmark study Investigating Families. 

But now it turns out, Barth also can’t cope with Paris Hilton. 

Late last month, Hilton testified at a Congressional hearing. The topics included the horrors inflicted on thousands of young people, herself included, by “residential treatment facilities” (RTFs).  The hearing followed the release of a scathing report from a United States Senate committee on those horrors and the entire residential treatment industry.  

So how did Barth respond?  By pretending that this industry has nothing to do with his sacred, beloved “child welfare” system.  It’s not a matter of ill-motivation. Barth has always genuinely wanted to help vulnerable children.  This issue is his failure to face the reality that his approach has backfired. 

So in a post on his increasingly shrill feed on the site formerly known as Twitter, he tells us that Hilton: 

has very reasonable grievances but, just to be clear, she was not in the "child welfare system".  Her treatment was privately arranged by her family.  

In another tweet, he tells us: 

@ParisHilton story is about private residential treatment--another, distinct, service ‘system.’" 

And then he throws in a story about saintly foster parents in order to distract us from what the system – and it is one system – is really like. 

So, time for a fact check. 

For starters, to characterize what Hilton and so many others have been forced to endure in these hellholes as merely “very reasonable grievances” is a disturbing understatement.  

But more to the point: Residential treatment facilities collect their victims from two sources.  Yes, sometimes desperate parents are fooled into sending their children there voluntarily.  But a large source of victims – and revenue – for these places is foster children. They’re dumped into institutions by family police agencies (a more accurate term than “child welfare” agencies) when they run out of foster homes because they take so many children needlessly. 

Professor Barth may not understand this.  But Paris Hilton does.  As she testified: 

“For children who do end up in foster care, we cannot allow them to grow up in cold facilities that act like kid prisons.” 

Another speaker at the same hearing, not a celebrity but a former foster youth, Tori Hope Petersen, made the same point. 

But if that’s not enough for Barth, the Senate committee report itself singled out the warehousing of foster youth in such places as a particular problem.  According to the report: 

[A] significant portion of foster children placed at RTFs have no demonstrated behavioral health needs, so family court judges should be dissuaded from placing children in RTFs … 

The report goes on to note that at least two states are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, in one case by placing disabled foster children in substandard facilities, in the other by dumping them in RTFs when they didn’t need to be placed in such places at all. 

Citing an excellent report from the group Think of Us, the Senate report notes that “a child described being mocked by a staff member who said, “[t]hat’s why your mom didn’t want to keep you. That’s why you’re in foster care.” 

And it’s those family police agencies, so beloved by Barth, who are responsible for investigating abuses in these horrible institutions – and repeatedly turning a blind eye. 

Pretty much everyone knows it's all part of one “child welfare” system – except apparently Richard Barth, who’s made this same claim before.  As we noted in that previous post:

For some reason, the federal database known as the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System has a whole category for “institutions” Similarly, this excellent database from ChildTrends includes “Group Home or Institution” under “Placement settings and stability for children in foster care.” [Emphasis added.]  

And apparently [if Barth is right] the entire federal government got its regulations wrong, too.  Because federal regulations define foster care as 

“24-hour substitute care for all children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the State agency has placement and care responsibility.”  

Barth also seems to think it’s significant that RTFs are mostly privately run; as if this somehow makes them separate from his precious foster care system.  But most group home and institutional care has always been privately run – with all of us taxpayers providing most of the money.  In many states family foster care also is overseen by private agencies. 

And no, it doesn’t matter that a lot of the RTFs are run by for-profit corporations – nonprofits also have a hideous track record. 

So no, Prof. Barth.  Residential treatment is not some separate system that appeared out of nowhere and has nothing to do with foster care.  It’s an integral part of the “child welfare” system you helped to build and you continue to defend.