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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.  

February 27, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Back in 2015, the Arkansas Department of Department of Children and Family Services took seven children from their family on the slimmest of pretexts. The parents complained to their state senator, Alan Clark, who decided to investigate. That proved harder than he expected. It seems even a state senator’s power doesn’t rate very highly at the DCFS. Of course, to the rest of us, the secrecy with which child welfare agencies operate is nothing new. If one of us were to seek information about a suspicious case, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we weren’t entitled to any.

But a state senator? You’d thing that, if nothing else, the DCFS would simply be more politic than to tell such a person to take his request and, well… But figuratively speaking, that’s just what Department officials did to Senator Clark. That decision didn’t sit well. Here’s what Clark wrote last October:

Most do not know that I had to hold the DCFS budget to get that information and the whole Arkansas legislature had to back me to force them to comply. They are clearly more secretive than they have to be. They are clearly more secretive than the law allows.

Now, I’ve heard about how close to the vest child welfare agencies function, but forcing the state Senate to stop the funds to their agency with the backing of the entire Senate, is as astonishing an act of arrogance as I’ve witnessed in a long while. If the legislative body that pays their bills can’t get a peek at the inner workings of the agency in a single case, who can? The answer of course is “no one can.” And that is just the way child welfare agencies like it.

Time and again I’ve written about the almost total resistance to basic notions of public awareness and agency responsibility on the part of child protective officials. The excuse invariably given is that public knowledge of individual cases risks trauma to already-traumatized kids. But as I’ve explained before, the overwhelming majority of cases would never see the light of day anyway and secrecy shields agency incompetence far more than it protects children.

And that of course is why these agencies so vigorously avoid the sunshine – they don’t want their own misdeeds known.

But Clark eventually got the information he sought. That’s what the power to withhold funding can do. He was none too pleased by what he learned. This past December, Clark posted his “Child Welfare Manifesto to his Facebook page. He gets a lot right.

The new rule in child welfare should be borrowed from Hippocrates. First, do no harm.

There is so much argument about how often the government/state should intervene, how much we should intervene, how we should intervene, should we intervene.

We know or we should know of the intense psychological, often permanent trauma that can be and is inflicted by removing children from their families and placing them with strangers.

How many child welfare caseworkers keep in mind that the very act of removing children from their parents, even for a few days, causes harm?

We cannot continue to make the decision that a child’s current situation is not acceptable, only to move them into another unacceptable situation. That is child abuse perpetrated by the state.

It should be elementary, but CPS workers routinely seem not to understand that simply because children live in a problematic household, doesn’t mean that the state has something better to offer. I understand that the tendency to be “proactive,” to do something rather than nothing, is very real. But against every bad family situation must be balanced the trauma of removing the child and the potential problem of a foster placement that may be worse. Clark gets it.

We do not just need to reform the system. We need to rethink the very nexus of the system. We cannot continue to assume that the new situation for the child is superior to the old situation, simply because it is the best the state can do today.

And he offers a clear, but seldom heard solution:

We either must intervene in less cases or we become a much more intensively, caring, compassionate, thinking nursery to the children we profess to care so much about that we took them in the first place.

Right. Either grasp the fact that the state does a poor job of caring for kids - poorer on average than even somewhat abusive parents, according to one study – or spend the type of money it would take to truly care for children, i.e. to provide better parenting and better environments than they have at home.

What Clark doesn’t mention is that no state will ever spend the money to actually improve children’s lives. Given that, his first alternative – intervene in less (sic) cases - remains. But of course, with the federal largess flowing to states for each child taken from a home and each child placed for adoption, what are the chances?

 

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National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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#childabuse, #childneglect, #DepartmentofChildrenandFamilyServices, #fostercare, #Arkansas

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