Report Shows Little Progress for Child Welfare Reform Effort; DFCS, Advocates Agree to 30 Days to Develop Remedial Plan

Independent Monitor: There Are ‘Substantial Shortcomings … That Put Children at a Continuing and Unreasonable Risk of Harm’

(New York, NY)— Representatives from Mississippi’s Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS), national advocacy group Children’s Rights and Jackson law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP will take the next 30 days to develop a legally binding plan to address failures in the state’s child welfare reform effort. According to the most recent independent report charting DFCS progress, the pace of child welfare reform “must be accelerated.”

Children’s Rights and co-counsel filed suit against the state in 2004. The class action, known as Olivia Y. v. Barbour, cited dangerously high caseloads, untrained caseworkers, a shortage of foster homes, and a widespread failure to provide basic health care services. A modified settlement agreement, approved in 2012, contained an action plan to address the state’s consistent failure to meet court-ordered performance standards, but thus far the Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) has met few of those goals.

The monitor was unable to make any findings about performance in approximately one third of the 33 statewide requirements because of concerns about data reliability or completeness. In the 23 areas where performance could be assessed, DFCS only met or exceeded portions of 10 of the MSA requirements.

“It is deeply concerning that, ten years into this effort, the agency’s capacity issues remain profound and progress has been so limited,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director for Children’s Rights. “This month-long effort is critically needed to jump-start reform.”

As a result of a court order entered almost a year ago, Mississippi has improved its data management practices, and for the first time is able to accurately report on some aspects of its performance. However DFCS has not been able to produce reliable data on caseworker caseloads statewide, a critical safety measure that indicates whether a state has the capacity to effectively supervise and ensure the well-being of all children in its care.

And, while the independent monitor was unable to determine the condition of caseworker workloads, it is clear that some supervisors – the “lynchpin” of the state’s reform – are overstretched. More than 20 percent of supervisors oversee more than 5 caseworkers, in violation of the settlement agreement.

When data is reliable enough to draw conclusions about performance, it reveals some alarming deficiencies. According to the independent monitor, these are “substantial shortcomings in the defendants’ performance that put children at a continuing and unreasonable risk of harm. These findings underscore the need for defendants to act with urgency on identified priorities.”

For example, the state is falling far short when it comes to investigating allegations of maltreatment in care. As of June 30, 2013, only 36 percent of maltreatment investigations were initiated within 24 hours and completed with supervisory approval in 30 days, time periods required by the court order. Such delays put children at risk of ongoing maltreatment while in state care.

The state has also been unable to improve longstanding issues around the handling of investigations of maltreatment in care; the independent monitor noted that the state failed to conduct required quality assurance reviews of more than 100 investigations.

“It is unacceptable that the state’s ability to keep abused and neglected children safe remains so limited,” said Lowry. “These young people deserve nothing less than safe and supportive homes, with caseworkers who are able to meet their needs. If we are unable to agree on a plan during the 30 days, we will be compelled to act. A motion for contempt, while extreme, would be the only remaining option.”

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Family charity criticises government’s fostering for adoption plans

Photo by Jayson Lorenzen via Flicker under a Creative Commons License

Photo by Jayson Lorenzen via Flicker under a Creative Commons License 

Charity the Family Rights Group has criticised government plans to introduce a ‘fostering for adoption’ scheme.

In a recently published consultation entitled Adoption: Getting It Right, Making It Work, the Department for Education outlined regulations and guidance designed to accelerate the adoptions process. These include ‘fostering for adoption’. The now closed consultation stated:

“…new Regulations require local authorities, when they are considering adoption, to consider placing the child with foster carers who are also approved prospective adopters and who could go on to adopt the child if adoption becomes the plan and the court makes a placement order or where there is consent.”

The document continued:

“The new Regulations and guidance make clear that the local authority must have considered and given preference to suitable family/friend carers before they consider adoption; and when it would be appropriate (and not appropriate) to consider this provision for children who are voluntarily accommodated.”

The consultation asked reviewers:

“Does the…statutory guidance set out clearly the need to consider and give priority to family and friend carers?”

In its response to the question, the Family Rights Group claimed:

“We support the Government’s intention to reduce delay, to minimise disruption for children, especially babies, who are unable to be raised by their parents, and to help them form secure attachments to their long term carers as early as possible.

However, despite S.22C (9A) [of the] Children Act (CA) 1989 requiring the local authority to consider family and friends placements before considering a foster for adoption placement for a looked after child, we are concerned that the Regulations and associated guidance in this consultation do not provide adequate safeguards to ensure that their chances of being raised by suitable family members are maximised and that the child and their family’s rights to family life are respected.”

Potential carers among the child’s extended family or friends are often late in coming forward during care proceedings because they do not wish to undermine the parents or are unaware of the involvement of social services altogether, the Family Rights Group explained.

“Yet, if an otherwise suitable relative only comes forward to offer to take on the care of the child once the child has been placed in a foster for adoption placement, it is very likely to be too late for them to successfully argue for the child to be moved in order to be placed with them. Given the positive outcomes identified for children in family and friends care as compared with unrelated care and that suitable relatives can offer exactly the same continuity of care in the short and long term as foster for adoption carers, this may well be contrary to children’s welfare. It is therefore essential that there are more robust procedural safeguards than are currently proposed to ensure that all suitable family and friends carers are sought out and assessed before a foster for adoption placement is made.”

In addition, the charity claimed that:

“Although we entirely agree that each child’s welfare needs should be considered when deciding the most appropriate placement for them, this must include their existing relationships and their identity. We are concerned that there is an unsubstantiated, underlying presumption in the guidance against siblings being placed together unless it is proven this is the right option.”

The Family Rights Group “advises families whose children are involved with or need children’s services because of welfare needs or concerns.”

Photo by Jayson Lorenzen via Flicker under a Creative Commons License

A version of this column originally appeared in www.marilynstowe.co.uk.

The Unbelievable State of Parental Rights in America

On Tuesday President Obama gave his “State of the Union” address, in which he gave his view of where our nation is right now and where we are headed.

But what about parental rights? Where are we and where are we headed? It turns out we are not as free and secure as we would like to be, and we’re heading in the wrong direction. Here is an overview of parental rights in America as we begin 2014.

Medical Freedom - Hospitals:

Boston Children’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Department of Youth and Families take another child hostage because hospital staff disagree with the parents on the child’s medical diagnosis.
In California, “Baby Sammy” was taken from his parents because they left one hospital to seek a second opinion at another before subjecting the child to open-heart surgery.
In Ohio, an Amish family was forced to flee the country to spare their daughter unwanted and dangerous chemo-therapy, including a cocktail of drugs not approved for children by the FDA. Reports indicate the girl is in remission through natural means, but the Ohio hospital and child services department are livid.

The law is not on your side. In every one of these cases the judge ruled against legally fit parents. As a result, more and more parents are afraid to even take their child to the emergency room, lest one wrong answer lead to the removal of their child and the loss of their parental rights.
Medical Freedom at Home:

But keeping your child at home doesn’t provide any protection, either.

In May, 2013, charges were reinstated against Detroit resident Maryann Godboldo, who in 2011 was arrested after a 10-hour standoff with police and CPS who claimed she was not giving her daughter proper medication. The state later discontinued the medication as well, returned the daughter, and dropped the charges – until the appeals court this year sided with prosecutors looking to go after her again.

The law is not on your side. In the last decade alone, legislatures in 26 states have made 36 attempts to increase mandatory vaccination requirements, the large majority successfully requiring the HPV vaccine for pre-teen girls.

Mental Health and Counseling:

New laws in California and New Jersey make it illegal for teenagers struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction to seek reparative therapy, even if the teen, the professional counselor, and both parents agree on the desired treatment. This viewpoint discrimination takes decision-making rights away from parents and tramples the doctor-patient professional relationship.

The law is not on your side.

Public School Access:

In Tennessee, a dad was arrested trying to pick up his special-needs daughter at the end of the school day. No fighting, no yelling. Just asking for his children and not backing down.

A Georgia Army vet was banned from her child’s school grounds for posting her newly earned concealed carry gun permit online. No threats; no plans to violate the “gun-free zone.” She simply has a permit, and was banned from the school.

The law is not on your side. Laws in a majority of states limit or entirely deny to parents any “right” to be present on school grounds where their child is in attendance. What’s more, some school districts have banned parents from sending a lunch with their child, requiring that they buy school-provided lunch instead. And a bill in New York would require that all parents attend state-provided parenting classes before their child can graduate the sixth grade.

But why do parents need to make decisions in the schools anyway? Surely they can trust the institutions where they leave their children every day, right?

Public School Content:

Tell that to the Kansas father who was livid last week over a poster in his daughter’s eighth grade classroom that lists “How …people express their sexual feelings.” Some of the examples are light enough, but others are very explicit – and in a middle school setting! The principal and school district defend the poster, saying it is part of the school’s abstinence-based sex education program, and in line with other schools across the country.

Tell it to the growing number of parents and organizations opposing Common Core, a new set of “national curriculum standards” set up by the National Governors’ Association and required for schools to qualify for federal Race to the Top education funding. The “standards” were adopted over the summer of 2010 without any review by parents or state legislatures. Last week, even the New York State Teachers’ Union voted to reject the standards, saying “We will be the first to admit it doesn’t work.”

But the law is not on your side. The Ninth Circuit in Fields v. Palmdale (2005) held that, “Parents…have no constitutional right…to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so.”

Educational Choice:

Still, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in its Parker v. Hurley (2007) decision states, “Parents do have a fundamental right to raise their children. They are not required to abandon that responsibility to the state. [They] may send their children to a private school that does not … conflict with their religious beliefs. They may also educate their children at home.” (emphasis added) But this may not be the case much longer.

A judge in Texas took the Tutts’ children away at the urging of a guardian ad litem who confesses there are no signs of abuse or neglect. Yet she implicated statutory language likely to cause the children to be removed (which it did), apparently because she opposes the family’s choice to teach their children at home.

In fact, several journals over the last few years have published articles by academic elites claiming “that public education should be mandatory and universal.” Says Emory University Law professor Martha Albertson Fineman, “Parental expressive interest could supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals.”

In the last decade there have been at least 22 attempts to expand public pre-school education, at least 31 attempts to make kindergarten mandatory, and nearly 150 efforts in 43 states to otherwise expand the compulsory attendance age range for public schools. None of these measures has been shown to improve education outcomes; they only serve to give more control to the state and less control to parents as children develop and grow.

The law here may be on your side, but it is quickly retreating. And so is the government.

The United States Department of Justice seeks to overrule the asylum status of the Romeikes, who fled Germany to keep their family together. Germany has rejected the parents’ right to choose the form of education their children receive, and the U.S. Administration actually supports Germany’s position! The case is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bureaucrats Run Amok:

In Loudermilk v. Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, a federal district court ruled that Arizona social workers were protected by immunity when they forced their way into a family’s home without a warrant using threats of taking the couple’s children away. Such threats, according to the court, do not constitute coercion, so the parents’ Fourth Amendment rights – says the court – were surrendered voluntarily.

Meanwhile, social workers in Kentucky have been found to be corrupt, then vindictive when a mother stands up to them. Social Services took her children, children of her relatives (at 3:00 in video), and even removed the children of her lawyer (at 4:15) from the lawyer’s home!

But the law is not on your side. Every state authorizes certain personnel – doctors, police, social workers (the list varies by state) – to remove your children from your care without a warrant, a court order, or any proof of abuse or neglect. Though many abuses are overturned for those who can afford to appeal, such an atmosphere in the lower courts sees abuses getting worse every year.

What Can Be Done?

There is hope! A proposed Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is already making its way through the Congress. Once adopted, the PRA will guard the fundamental right of parents to make decisions – medical, educational, in fact all kinds of decisions – for their children.

P.S. -- The above is a sampling, not an exhaustive list. This is an epidemic. Now let's get to work on the cure!

Parents NEED TO KNOW

 

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CLICK THE IMAGE

Social workers get away with what they do (unreasonably remove children, falsify evidence, commit perjury, exaggerate and/or twist the truth, place kids in unsafe foster homes, etc.)  because the court cohorts do not hold them accountable to the statutes and rules designed to make the proceedings at least somewhat fair. We must educate parents as to the laws, the rules of court, their rights and their children’s rights as well as what their attorneys can but don’t do to help families stay together. We want to produce and print materials that would help parents to hold CPS and the court cohorts responsible for doing their job correctly. Please click on this link and check out our campaign and see if you can help us help parents. You never know, it could be YOU or someone you know someday.

IF THE LINK ABOVE DOES NOT WORK TRY THIS ONE:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/397060/wdgi/3133255

A version of this column originally appeared in donnellyjustice.me.