WHEN THE MASK SLIPS

WHEN THE MASK SLIPS:

Some suggestions from Richard Wexler, Executive Director, National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

The case that offers the best indication of how America’s child protection system has
gone wrong comes – and goes – very quickly, toward the end of The Caseworker Files.

That’s because, on the surface at least, not much happens.

A mother “voluntarily” leaves her children ages one-and a half and two and a half at the Bangor-office of the Maine Department of Human Services.  She did not beat them!  She did not torture them.  She did not sexually abuse them.  Her only crime was lack of housing.  A caseworker tells the camera DHS will help the mother “get her act together” Meanwhile the children wind up in foster care.  Eventually they are returned.

Nothing much happened.  Except that, given the ages of the children, they have undergone an experience, which to them, may feel no different than being kidnapped.  The amount of damage done depends on any number of factors.  How long were the children kept from their mother? How often did they get to see their mother? How good was the foster home? Some are excellent, the majority are good, a significantly and possibly growing majority are abusive.  Did the children at least get to stay with each other?  Yes, this time but it was a very close call.

The caseworkers appear genuinely saddened by the fact that they almost had to tear the children from each other, but there is no such sadness about taking them from each other, but there is no such sadness about taking them from their mother (After all, if you can’t afford a decent place to live in the state with notorious housing shortage, there must be something wrong with your “act”) At no point does any worker or supervisor suggest that the money used to keep the children in foster care should be spent instead to help the mother pay the rent on a decent apartment.  The case of this mother represents one of the most pervasive, and least recognized, problems in child welfare: The confusion of poverty with child “neglect.” Indeed, the one thing each of “The Caseworker Files” has in common is that each could be filed under “P” for poverty.

Had this case occurred in Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County, Pa. there might well have been a different outcome. Allegheny County has a total population almost identical to that of the State of Maine. The child poverty rate in Allegheny County actually is higher. But Allegheny County has one-third fewer foster children.

That’s because, starting in 1996, the county began rebuilding its system to emphasize safe, proven programs to keep families together. The foster care population was cut by more than 30 percent. And child safety actually improved – re-abuse of children left in their own homes declined.

Some of the changes were big and complex; others were simplicity itself: In every child welfare office in Allegheny County there is a housing counselor, whose job is to help child welfare workers find housing for people just like the mother who walked into the office in Bangor.

Allegheny County is one of the few places in America that has embraced best practices in child welfare. Most places don’t. Most places are like Maine. In Maine, a take-the-child-and-run mentality and a pervasive hostility to families dominate the system. That’s made clear by federal data which indicate that only four other states have a higher proportion of their children trapped in foster care. And because Maine is hostile to extended families as well, when “kinship care” placements with relatives are taken out of the mix, Maine’s proportion of children in foster care may well be the highest in the nation. It was these data that prompted NCCPR to take a close look at the child welfare system in Maine and issue a comprehensive report, Safe at Home: An Action Agenda for Child Welfare in Maine, on the first anniversary of Logan Marr’s death. It’s easy to mask the hostility to families when the cameras are rolling, especially when the workers are young, fresh-faced, attractive, calm, middle-class, and articulate, and the families are none of these things. The real face of DHS is more apparent in the caseworker logs and e-mails written in the case of Logan Marr – material no one outside DHS was supposed to see. But occasionally, in The Caseworker Files as well, the mask slips.

The mask slips when we see all those caseworkers oohing and aahing about the children, and throwing away their mother, neither helping her on the spot with housing, nor even lamenting their inability to do so. The mask slips again in the case of Beth and her two-year-old son. They are living with other adults in a home so messy it’s considered a firetrap.  One of the adults is a step-grandfather who may have molested a teenager. Where? How long ago? We don’t know. But we are told “the department’s most pressing concern is the condition of the house.” Perhaps alleged sex offenders are considered less dangerous in spotless homes. This case is reminiscent of one described in Lizbeth Schorr’s excellent book, Common Purpose. In that case, the worker sent to the door is from an Intensive Family Preservation Services program, in which traditional “counseling” and “parent education” are combined with hard services to ameliorate the worst aspects of poverty. When the worker arrives, the mother says: “If there’s one thing I don’t need it’s another social worker telling me what to do. What I need is someone to help me clean this house.” To which the family preservation worker replies, in effect: “Should we start with the kitchen?” But Maine has no such program. Not surprising in a state where a very young caseworker on her very first case can dismiss all the special burdens and pressures of poverty by saying: “If you are below the poverty line, I think you can still keep a house clean.”

The mask slips even in a case where DHS had to act, but where the hostility to families added to children’s burdens instead of easing them. Shirley Mitchell’s boyfriend is accused of abusing her 14-year-old daughter. A younger child says he saw the boyfriend enter his sister’s bedroom. But the girl recants the accusation; in fact she goes back and forth depending on her relationship with her mother at the moment.   Shirley does not believe the allegations, the caseworkers do. If caseworkers always believe such allegations are true, the laws of chance say they will be right about half the time. This is one of those times, the boyfriend ultimately pleads guilty.

Long before the guilty plea, the caseworker and her supervisor tell Shirley she must get the boyfriend out of the house or all her children will be taken. Shirley’s response shows enormous strength and makes her priorities clear: She puts her love for her children first. Even though she doesn’t believe the allegation, she throws the boyfriend out and refuses to have any further contact with him. And she doesn’t stop there.  Shirley jumps through very hoop. She goes to the mandated “non-offenders” group, and to individual therapy with a counselor chosen by DHS. Shirley is smart enough to ask, in essence, how she can be expected to bare her soul to a counselor who is effectively doubling as an investigator – if the counselor is subpoenaed, everything Shirley says can be used against her in court. The caseworker is smart enough to duck the question.

Best practice in child welfare says that Shirley has shown strength and courage that can be the basis for rebuilding her family. Had DHS seen Shirley’s expulsion of her boyfriend as a turning point, and extended a helping hand instead of a wagging finger, Shirley might well have faced the truth about her boyfriend much sooner, without her children having to fear being torn from their mother at any moment. DHS could have offered therapy that was something more than interrogation-in-disguise, and concrete help to ease her financial problems.

But that’s not what happened.

As I watched the case unfold, I kept thinking of a scene in George Orwell’s 1984, in which a functionary of the ruling party explains to Winston Smith how their society has advanced control over dissent beyond that of the dictatorships of the past.  “We are not content with negative obedience, nor even the most abject submission,” he says. “When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will.”

As DHS saw it, Shirley still was committing what Orwell would call “thought crime,” and unless her mind was cleansed of its bad thoughts and she was firmly convinced in her own mind that DHS was right and her boyfriend was abusive, her children would be thrown into foster care. The actions of the worker and the supervisor in this case are so colored by hostility to families, that they flunk the “balance of harms” test. There is no recognition of the emotional upheval the children would likely endure if they were taken from their mother, separated from each other (as probably would happen) and then bounced from foster home to foster home. The behavior of the caseworkers in The Caseworker Files is a result of years of public pressure and unquestioned assumptions.
The most fundamental mistake is the myth that wrongful removal of a child may harm the parents, but at least the child will be safe. Over and over again, workers will say they’re just “erring on the side of the child.” There probably is no phrase in the English language more harmful to children than “erring on the side of the child.”

When a child is needlessly thrown into foster care, he loses not only mom and dad but often brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, friends and classmates. He is cut loose from everyone loving and familiar. Some children feel they must have done something terribly wrong and now they are being punished – a feeling Shirley’s children might well have experienced had they been taken away. The emotional trauma can last a lifetime. How is that “erring on the side of the child?”

And that assumes the foster home will be a good one. The majority are. But the rate of abuse in foster care is far higher than generally realized and far higher than in the general population. The record for institutions is even worse. Several studies, cited in NCCPR’s Issue Papers, suggest there may be abuse, including child-on-child abuse, in one fourth of foster homes. Had Shirley’s three boys been sent off to three different homes, then moved to one or two more homes each, the odds are easy to calculate. And while cases like Logan Marr’s are rare, a child is more than twice as likely to die of child abuse in a foster home as in the general population. Furthermore, the more a foster care system is overwhelmed with children who don’t need to be there, the less safe it becomes, as agencies are tempted to overcrowd foster homes and lower standards for foster parents. If a child is taken from a perfectly safe home only to be beaten, raped or killed in foster care, how is that “erring on the side of the child”?

But even that isn’t the worst of it. Everyone knows how badly caseworkers are overwhelmed. They often make bad decisions in both directions – leaving some children in dangerous homes, even as more children are taken from homes that are safe or could be made safe with the right kinds of services. The more that workers are overwhelmed with children who don’t need to be in foster care, the less time they have to find children in real danger – so more such cases are missed. That’s almost always the reason for tragedies like the one now making headlines in Newark where three children were starved and tortured, and one of them did not survive the ordeal.

The public pressure comes from the fact that most people believe the “err on the side of the child” myth, and they believe it even more after a case like the one in Newark. So workers face enormous pressure to remove children. I have observed child welfare systems for more than 25 years, first as a journalist and now as an advocate. In all of that time, I have never seen a worker criminally prosecuted, fired, suspended, demoted, or even slapped on the wrist for taking away too many children. All of these things have happened to workers when they have left children in their own homes and something went wrong. Workers often say they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, But in truth, when it comes to taking away children, workers are only damned if they don’t. What, then, can be done?

Contrary to popular belief, there never has been a serious commitment in this country to safe, proven programs to keep families together. During most of the 1980s and 1990s, a time when family preservation supposedly dominated the system, the foster care population more than doubled. Children don’t languish in foster care because agencies
do too much for families, they languish because those agencies do too little. Again, George Orwell would understand how such misconceptions arise. He wrote about how history can be sent down the “memory hole.” But a few places, like Pittsburgh have defied recent trends. Alabama is another. Thanks to a lawsuit that led to a landmark consent decree, Alabama is rebuilding its entire child welfare system to emphasize keeping families together. In the counties that have reformed their systems, far fewer children are taken away, the rate of reabuse of children left in their own homes has been cut in half, and an independent, court-appointed monitor has found that children are safer now than they were before the changes.

The State of Illinois and the City of New York also are making progress. All of these places have one thing in common: They have rejected the notion that “child protection” and “family preservation” are opposites that must be “balanced.” They have discovered
that you can’t have child protection without family preservation – and the only way to fix
foster care is to have less of it.

Richard Wexler is Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, based in Alexandria, Va.

Richard Wexler
Executive Director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
53 Skyhill Road (Suite 202)
Alexandria VA 22314
Phone/fax: (703) 212-2006
http://www.nccpr.org

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About gacoalition4childprotectionreform1

For the past 10 years I have been researching family law, constitutional law dealing with deprivation and DFCS/CPS. While I am not a lawyer, I am a special family rights law Advocate; advocating families who have been disrupted by the department of family and children services.
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One Response to WHEN THE MASK SLIPS

  1. On individual experience, knowledge, belief, hard evidence, firsthand eyewitness testimony, demonstrative and a myriad of other evidence that is actually published on the public Internet (as literacy is, for the vast majority of Americans, an ancient custom in the traditional sense), government has been designed, from Day # 1, to operate as a racketeering-influenced corrupt organization. Make no mistake, they imprisoned the mob and stole their bag of tricks for themselves (See “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars,” the first meeting of the famed “Bilderburger Group” that was held in 1954).

    This includes joint public-private ventures, “community ‘stakeholders,'” “community partners,” “faith based organizations” most likely recruiting for the Office of Child Support Enforcement (“OCSE”) run by the state attorneys general under the US Secretary of State, pernicious “non-for-profit,” by law, at least in Texas, one hundred percent (100%) non-transparent government recruiting fronts to sell out the alleged “vulnerable” population (the terms themselves reeking of Social Darwinism and Eugenics that is certainly laughing at its employees who are hired solely for the fact that they have below average intelligence and won’t rat on their stealing because they, too, steal because the government does not hire honest people, at least not anymore, only those who can be bought and blackmailed all the while keeping their mouths and eyes wide shut). Currently police officer applicants/candidates, as a matter of policy, are not considered ideal fits if they have an IQ over 100).

    As much as I admire the good faith and naivete that is admirable in humanitarians and truly altruistic activists, the same idealism that I, too, tragically, yet virtuously had, but then did lose in six and one half hours of horrific torture, lose on May 08, 2012 when my only child, then age 5 1/2 years old, a little boy with whom I have had no meaningful contact with since said abduction under the color of law and in deprivation/violation and conspiracy against our reciprocal US Constitutional and unalienable and natural rights for the state of Texas in Pearland (Brazoria County, just outside of Houston/Harris County, TX) after he made plausible and repeated allegations of sexual abuse/misconduct/assault while at the newly married “Daddy’s” house with “The Visitor”–“a runaway, homeless teenager with black spiky hair who always spent the night at “Daddy” and “Nancy’s” house (where “Nancy,” who I hear my son had to take classes to forget me and call he/r “Mommy” called “family integration therapy” to “grieve the loss of alive and well, loving, fit mother).

    After re-reading every law and code, statute, Founding document, and policies and Federal Precedent that I have been able to get my hands on since that fateful day, and collaborating and networking with so many others all across this Republic USA, I have learned to read through the lens of the most shrewd and Machiavellian attorners and “Texas Superlawyers” and “policy specialists and directors” and corrupt legislators who are in fact some of the primary beneficiaries (unlawfully, though legally since they write the corrupt laws to “immunize” themselves from fear of impunity and true justice in the divine manner of God Almighty).

    To all of the Real Mommies and Daddies of the Real America out there, and to their children and families who may or may not have already fallen prey to the old discredit the “crazy, hysterical, rolling-pin wielding, whip-cracking, slave-driving woman” allegations and archetypal fabrications of art that are designed to commit even more bodies to “facilities” for which they get double, triple, and even quadruple vigorish by the month, quarter, annum (and that is excluding the bribes and kickbacks and “favors”), to hose who can still kiss their offspring–their literal real property being a humanly expressed (First Amendment) extension, or, “arm” of the state on which he or s/he was “berthed,” “birthed,” on he/r waters by he/r vessel, please put on your lawyer lens and get thee to a law library and read, read, read, and read and read some more until you get it!

    Any reform ever proposed by Child Protective Services (“CPS”), as a business and profit center –criminal enterprise–has been used as an opportunity to capitalize even more on the misery and trauma they meet several times a year to dream-up to inflict upon loving, healthy, fit families and children while taking credit for heroism.

    Forget about “reform,” “lobbying,” “publically protesting unless one loves the idea of rotting away in a jail cell.” Forget about saving the planet and the animals that the powers that be on this earth have determined deserve more human rights than humans. Forget about justice unless you can afford it–a whole lot of it in the six figures, at least. You are going to have to create your own.

    We are in spiritual warfare right now, as most of us who frequent these sites understand all too well as we have apparently been chosen to STAND as the last remnant (recall Stephen King’s, The Stand). I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve died to the fight. The Holy Bible literally and in plain English explains that we were not promised a rose garden, but rather an obstacle course down here on earth in the Devil’s lair and playground ruled by principalities and other forces of darkness not of our Light from Heaven above. Those who are privileged to “suffer” the most, like Job, are the most rewarded in Eternity. The Bible also reads to take solace in no one but God Himself. At the end of the day, it has been said, and I believe is true, that we are born into this world alone, and we must die alone. This journey is between solely us and God–The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but it was never between us and them, anyway.

    True Christians died on the cross with Jesus. Yes, us real mommies and daddies who have had our children mercilessly and sadistically tortured and stolen from us are certainly bearing our cross. This is our own journey. I choose to FIGHT LIKE HE _ _ (DOUBLE HOCKEY STICK)!
    (RIGHTEOUS ANGER, SEE EPHESIANS 6, ALL REAL VERSIONS OF THE HOLY BIBLE). TRUE BELIEVERS ALREADY KNOW THAT WE WIN IN THE END. SO LET’S EARN OUR KEEP, BE THANKFUL WE ARE SPECIAL ENOUGH TO BE CALLED TO BATTLE, HIKE UP OUR PANTYHOSE AS GRACEFULLY AS POSSIBLE, AND I AM SPEAKING TO THE MUMMIES HERE (NO DISRESPECT TO ANY NON-MUMMIES BY NO FAULT OF THEIR GOD-GIVEN ANATOMY), AND BASK IN THE FREEDOM WHILE DONNING THE “GIRDLE OF TRUTH, THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND LET OUR FEET BE SHOD WITH THE PREPARATION AND THE GOSPEL OF ‘PEACE!'”

    HOW CAN ANYONE BE SO FOOLISH AS TO WANT TO NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS PEDOPHILES AND PROTECTORS AS DIPLOMATS SITTING DOWN AT A UN MASQUE OR TO THINK THE GOVERNMENT OR NAZI, COMMIE SS PIGS WHO BELIEVE THAT CHILDREN WHOSE PARENTS CAN’T AFFORD TO BRIBE JUDGES AND THEIR CRONIES OR COME FROM SINGLE OR YOUNG MOTHERS ARE LIVES “NOT WORTH LIVING?

    DIPLOMACY? I TAUGHT MY SON ABOUT THE WHAT WOULD JESUS DO BRACELETS AND THAT JESUS SAYS TURN THE OTHER CHEEK AND LET THEM SLAP THAT ONE, TOO, BUT STEALING MY ONLY CHILD AND HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF OTHER SIMILARLY DEPRIVED MOTHERS (MILLIONS THROUGHOUT HISTORY DURING SIMILAR HOLOCAUSTS ON VARIOUS GROUPS AND GENDERS AND “DEMOGRAPHIC POPULATIONS” SO TARGETED FOR FUNDING AN COOKED BOOKS), BUT I ALSO LIKE TO THINK I INSTILLED THE VALUE IN HIM TO BE COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO BE WILLING TO ACCOMPANY THE ARCHANGEL MICHAEL TO THE GATES OF HELL TO RESCUE ANY SOUL WHO CHOOSES TO REPENT AND BE SAVED WHEN SO CALLED TO MAKE THE FINAL DECISION.

    I ALSO LIKE TO THINK THAT FOR THIS, COMBINED WITH THE TENDERNESS, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, COMPASSION, ETERNAL FORGIVENESS AND SWEETNESS OF HIS MOTHER, HE WILL BE EQUIPPED TO MODEL WHAT A REAL MAN, A REAL DADDY TRULY HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE, THUS RESTORING AND MAKING WHOLE THIS REPUBLIC USA–GOD’S COUNTRY, ON KNOWLEDGE, BELIEF, FAITH, HOPE, AND DIVINE INTERVENTION WHICH MAY BE OBSERVED IN THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF MAN/(WO)MAN IMBUED WITH THE SPIRIT OF THE COMMANDER OF HEAVEN’S ARMIES WHO WILL HAVE THE FINAL “REMOVAL” OF THOSE IN IMMINENT DANGER OF POSSIBLE HARM IN THE POTENTIALLY RISKY DESCENT INTO THE FIRERY PIT OF . . . WELL, LET’S JUST CALL IT GOOD, OLD FASHIONED “TEXAS ‘JUSTICE,'” WELL, POSSIBLY NICER THAN THAT AFTER HAVING BEEN EXPOSED TO THE DEMONS AND BLACK-ROBED PHARISEES AND HYPOCRITES IN HARRIS COUNTY, HOUSTON, TEXAS.

    VERITATEM DILEXI–THROUGH TRUTH, KNOWLEDGE

    “TAKE HEART AND HAVE COURAGE” (THE HOLY BIBLE, REPEATED THROUGHOUT, ALL REAL VERSIONS)! SEE ALSO RICHARD WEXLER’S REPORT, IN SEARCH OF MIDDLE GROUND FOR YOUR INDIVIDUAL GEOGRAPHIC REGION OR LAND UPON WHICH YOU ARE CURRENTLY TRAVELING OR TEMPORARILY SLEEPING.

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