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As is almost always the case when the journalism of child welfare fails, this massive project was not undertaken to “sell newspapers” or generate pageviews. It was undertaken for the most noble of reasons – to save lives. It won’t. In fact, it is more likely to trigger responses that, directly and indirectly, will increase child abuse deaths.
There are a great many highly credible sources who disagree with the individuals and groups to which the reporters seem to have done most of their outreach. I have suggested some of the most distinguished authors and scholars in the field, people such as my board member Prof. Dorothy Roberts of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of the definitive book on child welfare and race, and Lisa Sangoi, a Soros Justice Fellow specializing in the issue of the intersection of child welfare and substance abuse.
I’ve suggested many others, … I’ve urged the reporters to reach out. Occasionally, and for limited purposes, they have. By and large they have not.
In contrast, the reporters have reached out to those I view as most extreme in calling for more intervention into families and more removal of children, and used documents and reports that also reflect this point of view. My point is not that they should be left out of the discussion but that those who disagree should be brought into it.
The spectrum of acceptable viewpoints, for Ms. Palmer and Ms. Huseman … appears largely limited to those who view families in the system as evil versus those who view them as sick. The full spectrum of informed opinion is far wider.
So, for example, advocates of the “plan of safe care” rule will say: We don’t want to automatically take away these children, we just want them checked and overseen. But the people I have recommended, and who the reporters seem to have ignored, believe “plan of safe care” has devolved into take-the-child-at-birth and therefore expanding the requirement is harmful. They believe that the judgment on whether to call in child protective services is best left to medical professionals, case-by-case. That perspective appears to be absent.
Similarly, among parents caught up in the system and among children who are in it or have been through it the range of opinion and experience are enormous. Will there be room in your series for perspectives like those in the two articles I sent to the reporters in my most recent emails. This one, written by a mother and this one, by a social worker who was, herself, a foster child. Will there be room for families like those profiled in The New York Times story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow.”
I would be glad to send you a list of people and organizations I think you would agree are vital to any discussion of child welfare policy and practice, which you can compare to those the reporters have contacted.
As you may know, Teen Vogue has been running a series, “Fostered or Forgotten” written largely by former foster youth.
The entire series to date is here: http://bit.ly/2xo2xOC But to me, the most notable story so far is from a woman whose parents were heroin addicts. She writes about why she would have been vastly better off had she been allowed to stay with them: http://bit.ly/2snzrsT
So as you prepare to write about states not complying with the “plan of safe care” provision of CAPTA, consider that what this young woman got *was* in effect, a plan of safe care, albeit at age 14 – and it nearly ruined her life. Consider that the people who resist this requirement often know that “plan of safe care” is a euphemism for take-the-child-and-run and, in many cases, that just makes things worse for the children. …
Back in 1971, President Richard Nixon vetoed a bill called the Comprehensive Child Development Act. It would have aided low-income families by providing an array of services including developmental day care. The lesson for Democrats was clear: Whatever you do, don’t connect what you want to poverty. And so was born the
CAPTA was built around surveillance and policing – even though the overwhelming majority of cases involve the confusion of poverty with neglect and require neither. But Huseman and Palmer’s stories emphasize a supposed need for tougher enforcement of surveillance and policing. And, as is discussed later, in their misuse of a basic statistic, they contribute to the confusion of poverty with neglect.
State responses to the survey suggest that many treat strict compliance with the federal law as optional … As a result, vulnerable children across the country are left in the lurch.
A modest but important step forward in promoting compliance with the law.
For many advocates, however, CAPTA has become a cruel joke — and not just because Congress provides so little money to fund it. In addition, they say, many mandates are too vague to be enforced, making them little more than political aspirations.
In 2003, when the “meth epidemic” was the “worst drug plague ever,” Congress amended CAPTA to deal with it — in the worst possible way: It required medical professionals to set aside their professional judgment and turn in to child protective services any mother of an infant “affected” by illegal substance abuse or a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Someone — it’s not entirely clear who — is then supposed to create a “plan of safe care” for the infant. Of course, as mandated reporters, doctors already must report when they actually suspect a child is in danger. But CAPTA aimed to take all discretion out of their hands.
Somehow Congress concluded that a child protective services caseworker, whose qualifications often consist of a bachelor’s degree in anything, a quickie training course and an understandable dread of being on the front page if she lets a child go home and something goes wrong, will be in a better position to judge what is safe for the infant than the medical professionals caring for that infant.
[O]bstetric care providers have an ethical responsibility to their pregnant and parenting patients with substance use disorder to discourage the separation of parents from their children solely based on substance use disorder, either suspected or confirmed. In states that mandate reporting, policy makers, legislators, and physicians should work together to retract punitive legislation and identify and implement evidence based strategies outside the legal system to address the needs of women with addictions. [Emphasis added.]
Perhaps Ms. Palmer views CR as somehow neutral and above the fray, kind of a League of Women Voters of child welfare. But they are not. They hold strong views, views with which I and many leading advocates and scholars in the field often disagree, and they wield a lot of power to turn those views into policy and practice. Ms. Palmer’s actions leave the impression that she has a particularly strong affinity for CR, their point of view and their approach to these issues. They leave the impression she’s made up her mind and will exclude other points of view.
Suppose the series were about gun control. Suppose, while working on it, one of the reporters also wrote a “fact sheet” for the NRA – or for Everytown for Gun Safety. Would it be unreasonable for someone who disagreed with the group for which the fact sheet was written to have concerns?
Kids who could have stayed in their homes take up beds in good foster homes that are needed for severely abused and neglected children whose safety is in jeopardy. Because of that, kids from Oregon to Florida and states in between are forced to sleep in child welfare offices or homeless shelters.
These inconsistencies make it virtually impossible to use NCANDS to compare numbers from different states or even to spot trends or trouble areas within states, experts say.
Without reliable information on child abuse, officials are unable to craft fact-driven policies and prevention efforts, said Vincent Palusci, a professor of pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine and a nationally regarded expert in child abuse. Instead, they are left to react to the most extreme, headline-grabbing cases with little notion of broader, systemic patterns or warning signs within individual families. [Emphasis added.]
The problem is not that the Spotlight Fellows created a cake mix. The problem is that there are so many missing ingredients. Had they told stories that illustrated how CAPTA’s worst provisions encourage errors in all directions, had they looked at other possible reasons for child abuse deaths, in particular deaths of children “known to the system,” had they raised the possibility that it is actually intervening too much in some families that overloads systems so they don’t intervene enough in others – the point made by the Dayton Daily News – then the database could have advanced the journalism of child welfare, and opened new avenues for finding better solutions.