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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

January 17, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Few commentators take a backseat to me when it comes to criticizing state child welfare agencies. They’re an unfortunate but necessary part of our society. Some people abuse their kids and can’t change their ways. Sadly, those children need to be elsewhere, with adults who can care for them properly. We all understand this.

But because some system of child welfare is necessary doesn’t mean the one we have is the right one or even good. In fact, encouraged by much federal largess, state CPS agencies all too often over- or under-respond to reports of abuse or neglect. That’s of ten because caseworkers are overworked and underpaid. Underpayment by states also tends to mean that CPS doesn’t get the cream of the crop of social work graduates. It also means they move on to something better at the first opportunity. That in turn means that state agencies have alarmingly high rates of personnel turnover.

And of course mistakes can lead to the worst of all possible outcomes – fatally injured children.

That child welfare workers do their jobs in almost complete secrecy, beyond the view of the press, the public and state legislators, only allows malfeasance to grow.

Then there’s the foster care system that’s such an integral part of state childcare. Study after study demonstrates foster care to be more dangerous to children than even moderately abusive parental care. Yes, most foster parents should be lauded for their efforts at taking care of kids who have no one else and many of them do first rate jobs of that most difficult and needed of tasks. I’ve written before about some of those parents.

But the fact remains that foster care has a long track record that’s not pretty to look at. This is well known.

Finally, when we discuss the child welfare/foster care system, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that, at its base, that system is one of state intervention into what was once considered a sacrosanct realm – the family. Whatever else may be true, we should always tread with caution when giving state agents the keys to the nursery.

Little of this is known to Beth Woodruff who penned this article (Iowa State Daily, 1/11/16). She reads the same data I’ve presented to readers many times, but, far from finding it cause for hope, does the opposite. For Woodruff, data from the Administration for Children and Families demonstrating that kids in this country are far safer than news reports might lead us to believe, are cause not only for increased alarm, but increased state intervention into families as well.

As readers of this blog may recall, the Administration for Children and Families released data on child abuse and neglect for 2013. That year there were about 3.2 million allegations of abuse or neglect, but only about 676,000 proved founded. That’s about 20% of the allegations, and fewer than half of those were findings of abuse. Given that there are over 74 million children under the age of 18 in this country, that means a less than one-half of one percent chance that one will be abused in a 365-day period.

To a lot of people, that would be cause for rejoicing, but Woodruff isn’t in a celebratory mood. No, for her, the numbers indicate a dire need for greater intervention by the state between children and their parents.  For one thing, she doesn’t like all those findings of non-abuse and non-neglect.

Given that these individuals are mandatory reporters of child abuse because of their frequent contact with children, the reason for these reports is not something to be taken lightly.

No report should be taken lightly and there’s little evidence that caseworkers do so as a rule. But what Woodruff fails to grasp is that the child welfare system is set up to over-report, and those mandatory reporters are the very core of that system. Many people including teachers, doctors, nurses, the police, etc. are required by law to report anything they regard as possibly indicative of child abuse or neglect. That means mandatory reporters can lose their job for failing to report abuse or neglect. Inevitably, those people err on the side of reporting, whether there’s any real threat or not. That goes a long way toward explaining the 80% of reports that are found to be meritless by state agencies.

What Woodruff also fails to understand is the breadth of the definition of “abuse.” She seems to conclude that every finding of abuse is of a threat to the child’s well-being. It’s not.

The report states that 88.6 percent of abuse happens from a child's biological parent, yet the majority of said abused children — 251,000 of the 396,000 — were given only in-home services. This means CPS chose to leave the child in a situation that was identified as unhealthy and unsafe.

Wrong. What’s termed “abuse” can be anything from an occasional spanking to the most horrifying of physical brutality. Now, most child welfare experts agree that spanking is not a good way to discipline a child, and, if done routinely, can be emotionally or perhaps physically injurious. But if done occasionally, spanking is far better a subject for training parents than taking the child into care.

But for Woodruff, foster care is nothing but a walk in the park for the child. Is the child traumatized by being taken from its parents? Of course it is, as countless studies indicate and every caseworker knows. Woodruff fails to mention the fact. Are children sometimes abused, sexually assaulted, ignored or killed by foster parents? They are, but again, Woodruff has never heard of such a thing.

Has she read about the scandal I recently reported on out of Oregon in which unlicensed foster homes run by a staff, all of whom had criminal records were allowed for years to abuse their charges under the noses of caseworkers? I suppose not, because for Woodruff, every foster placement is “safe.”

This is just one reason why children taken from their abusive homes should remain in a safe foster care environment despite claims by parents of "change."

For Woodruff, that’s the “bottom line.” She believes that even when parents have changed, have learned the error of their ways, they and their children should be ignored in favor of foster care. Yes, the overwhelming weight of data demonstrate that the kids will be worse off in foster care, but what matter? Woodruff is ignorant of that data, and her opinions show it. And yes, as veteran child welfare worker Molly McGrath has said, if we ask foster kids what they want, “they want to go home.” Why would they want to return to an abusive environment from the safe, loving one Woodruff believes every foster home to be? Woodruff doesn’t know, but the rest of us do. They want to go home because they have attachments to their parents and siblings that they’ll never have to anyone in the foster care system.

Last, has Woodruff heard of the Constitution? Does it occur to her that that document has something to say about parental rights? Does she know that, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, unless parents have been found to be unfit by due process of law, that the state has no power to take their children from them?

No, for Woodruff, the state can do anything it wants to, including taking and keeping kids whose parents have never been found to be unfit and may be considered to be abusive by only a single poorly educated and trained caseworker. Such an astonishing extension of state power is nowhere contemplated by American law and rightly so. The next time Woodruff decides to write about children’s welfare and the foster care system, I’d encourage her to read some of the literature on foster care and one or two Supreme Court opinions on the matter. Then maybe, just maybe, she’ll have a greater appreciation both for parents and for the law of the land. But for now, her article is little but an argument for ever increasing state power at the expense of parents, families and ultimately the children she believes she’s protecting.

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#fostercare, #childabuse, #childneglect, #statepower

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