A Journal for Family Well-Being | Winter 2022 A Journal for Family Well-Being | Spring 2022
The Harm of the Adoption and Safe Families Act
Family Integrity & Justice W RKS
UNINTENDED BIAS & CULTURAL COMPETENCE
This course is designed to introduce the child welfare professional to the principle of unintended bias and explore its meaning, enabling them to see that, while unintended bias is part of the normal human experience, it must be recognized and transformed into cultural competence in order to neutralize its impact on the delivery of child support services.
Duration 45 minutes Target Audience All child welfare professionals Custom Content Available upon request
This course encourages child welfare professionals to identify their own unintended bias—first by examining the seven types of bias and how it impacts their work as service providers. Then, cultural competence is introduced, which is the healthy acknowledgement of how one’s own cultural viewpoint, attitude, and behavior can impacts others. Learners are guided to practice this cultural competence through scenario-based activities using enhance graphics and animations. Our goal is to empower child support professionals towards constructive interactions with those of differing cultures and worldviews.
(800) 776-4229 pubknow.com
Spring 2022 | Vol. 1 | Issue 2
A Journal for Family Well-Being
Editor-in-Chief Jerry Milner Director of Family Integrity & Justice Works Public Knowledge ® _____________________ Editor-in-Chief David Kelly Director of Family Integrity & Justice Works Public Knowledge ® _____________________ Publisher Stacey Obrecht President Public Knowledge ® _____________________ Managing Editor Christie Matlock Management Consultant Public Knowledge ® _____________________ Copy Editors Kristin Baughman Copywriter Public Knowledge ® Stephanie Meisner-Maggard Senior Marketing Specialist Public Knowledge ® _____________________ Design
Editorial Board Members Justin Abbasi Co-Founder, Harbor Scholars: A Dwight Hall Program at Yale Zabrina Aleguire, JD Family Defense Practitioner Laura W. Boyd, Ph.D. Owner and CEO, Policy & Performance Consultants, Inc. Melissa D. Carter, J.D. Clinical Professor of Law, Emory Law Kimberly A. Cluff, JD MPA Candidate 2022, Goldman School of Public Policy, Legal Director, California Tribal Families Coalition Kathleen Creamer Managing Attorney, Family Advocacy Unit Community Legal Services of Philadelphia Angelique Day, Ph.D., MSW Associate Professor Faculty Affiliate of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute Director of Federal Policy for Partners for Our Children School of Social Work, University of Washington Seattle Adjunct Faculty, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance Yven Destin, Ph.D. Educator and Independent Researcher of Race and Ethnic Relations Paul DiLorenzo, ACSW, MLSP National Child Welfare Consultant Carmen Hidalgo Parent Advocate, Family Defense Practitioner J. Bart Klika, MSW, Ph.D. Chief Research Officer, Prevent Child Abuse America Heidi McIntosh Principal, LGC CORE Consulting, LLC Jessica Pryce, Ph.D. Director, Florida Institute for Child Welfare Florida State University Delia Sharpe, Esq. Executive Director, California Tribal Families Coalition Mark Testa Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Elizabeth Wendel, MSW, LSW International Consultant, Family Well-Being and Mental Health Systems _______________________________________________ Advisory Board Members Jamole Callahan Director of Training and Development National Center for Housing and Child Welfare Angelique Day, PhD, MSW Associate Professor Faculty Affiliate of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute Director of Federal Policy for Partners for Our Children University of Washington Seattle Jude C. Louissaint, MSW, CPC Management Consultant, Public Knowledge® Glenda McMillan, MSW, LMSW Regional Vice President, Public Knowledge® Dr. Melissa T. Merrick President and CEO, Prevent Child Abuse America Stacey Obrecht, JD, CWLS, PMP President, Public Knowledge® Vivek S. Sankaran Clinical Professor of Law, University of Michigan, Michigan Law Shrounda Selivanoff, BAS Director of Public Policy, Children’s Home Society of Washington Victor E. Sims, BA Management Consultant, Public Knowledge®
Janelle Shields Graphic Designer Public Knowledge ®
© 2022 by Family Integrity & Justice Works. All rights reserved. Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly is published quarterly by the Family Integrity & Justice Works (ISSN 2770-6982). For information visit fijworks.com
Paul Vincent, MSW Independent Consultant
FIJ Quarterly | Spring 2022 | 3
Spring 2022 Issue | Vol. 1 | Issue 2
A Journal for Family Well-Being
6 | All I Needed Was A Little Help Jerry Milner and David Kelly FOREWORD 10 | Why End Mandated Reporting Dorothy E. Roberts 16 | News from FIJW Coming Soon Lifting Up Allies MY PERSPECTIVE 18 | Hope VanSickle's Story: Through the Eyes of a Mother Diana VanSickle's Story: Through the Eyes of a Child FEATURES 22 | Perfectly Imperfect: How Imprecise Definitions of Child Neglect and Poverty Reinforce Anti-Black Racism in the Child Welfare System Sharon L. McDaniel
38 | Trapped in the Web of Family
Policing: The Harms of Mandated Reporting and the Need for
Parent-Led Approaches to Safe, Thriving Families Imani Worthy Tracy Serdjenian Jeanette Vega Brown
▶ 50 Why?
An Original Poem Jawanza Phoenix
Sherri Simmons-Horton Ervin Dyer, Yven Destin Kathleen L. Gima Anthony R. Sosso, Jr. Jay Kadash James T. Freeman James A. Stratford Constance Iannetta Katherine Buckley
52 | Justice-Centered Child and Family Well-being Systems to Address Neglect Priscilla A. Day, Angelique Day,
Mary McCarthy, Corey Best, Katharine Briar-Lawson and Jessica Pryce
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70 | "Like a Trap": Mandatory Reporting and Dilemmas of Help-Seeking Kelley Fong ▶ 80 Normal? An Original Poem Timothy Dennis 82 | Rethinking the Community Response to Child Neglect in the 21st Century From Mandatory Reporting to Mandatory Supporting of Families Amy Jantz Templeman Romero Davis
132 | Help Not Hotlines: Replacing Mandated Reporting for Neglect with a New Framework for
Family Support Shereen A. White Shanta Trivedi Shakira Paige Meredith Giovanelli Makena Mugambi
A BETTER WAY 144 | NEEDED: A Different Path for Child Welfare Judge William Thorne Karan D. Kolb ▶ 156 I AM An Original Poem C.G. REFLECTIONS 158 | A Call for Inspired Thinking Victor Sims and Julie Breedlove
▶ 92 What Happens After An Original Poem Suzanne Laliberté 94 | Addressing the Root Causes of Child Neglect Jennifer Jones Bart Klika Melissa Merrick 106 | Let CPS Focus on Child Safety,
Not Everything Well-Being-Related Mathangi Swaminathan
120 | The Challenge of Changing Amorphous, Limitless Neglect
Laws in a Family Surveillance Society Diane L. Redleaf
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All I Needed Was A Little Help Jerry Milner and David Kelly
FOREWORD This group of parents was not unlike the many others we have spoken with over the past few years. People who have told us their emotional stories of involvement in the child welfare system peppered more often than not with feelings of being overwhelmed, afraid, and hopeless within a system that has the power to split up their family, sometimes permanently, and sometimes subjectively. A system that too often feels punitive and experienced as racist by too many people of color. They talked about the stigma of being involved with child welfare—the judgment, the demands to do better, to be better—the stigma that can add pressure to remove children from environments deemed undesirable by a social worker, a judge, a law enforcement officer. As we listened, story after story reflected the parents’ lack of essential resources and their frustration and shame over being unable to meet even basic needs—the lack of access to needed services, wait lists, unclear or conflicting expectations, complicated eligibility requirements, not knowing what is available or where to get it. Vulnerabilities such as lack of safe, affordable childcare, or transportation led to the inability to hold a job, which led to inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, which led to a well-intended but unknowledgeable mandatory reporter calling child welfare. Cascading challenges running one into the next. Clear patterns emerged of calls to child abuse hotlines due to lack of supervision, children coming to school dirty, hungry, sometimes dressed inappropriately for the weather, or overtired. Reports of children not keeping up with their virtual homework—forget that the family must share one laptop computer with four children each night. We heard about struggles with stable employment, inadequate income, horrible housing situations, and parents trying their best. We heard about depression, loneliness, and struggles with
addiction. We repeatedly heard that help was needed and needed sooner but that there was no safe place to go—no place they could trust. One parent’s words continue to resonate now months later; they were haunting in their clarity: “All I needed was a little help . . . and they took my children away.” Words powerfully delivered by a single Black mother who was trying her best to start over after leaving an abusive husband. She had multiple children and was now on her own. She was doing everything she could to keep her kids safe and meet their needs. She had been brave in leaving, an act of protection and love. It was painful for her to make the trip to social services to seek financial assistance; she’d always worked beginning in her early teens. She knew a little assistance now could help her get on her feet. She recounted the reaction of the intake worker when she answered the question about how many kids she had and that they were all staying in a one-bedroom apartment in the wrong part of town. She told of the sinking feeling recognizing the look in the eyes of the woman across the desk and her curt replies; the meaning behind both was clear. The stigma the mother had feared was taking shape before her eyes, stereotypical dots being connected and stereotypical beliefs overshadowing recognition of her individual struggles, her reality, and humanity. But the intake worker couldn’t see any of that. She saw a poor black woman with “too many” kids and no income. And the mother asking for help could see the thought processes occurring on the other side of the intake desk: how could this mother possibly meet even their most basic needs? The judgment visible in expressions and laced into every question and response. So, a hotline call was made. The child protective service investigator that
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responded to the report couldn’t see that this mother was demonstrating strength and love by seeking help to stay afloat without the essentials that all families must have and had reached out for help as a protective act. People who are legally bound to report such concerns may not be able to see the love and bonds that the children have for and with their parents, even when, maybe especially when times are tough, and how critical those bonds are to the child’s and parents’ feelings of worthiness, safety, and belonging. Policymakers and advocacy groups that are singularly focused on increasing surveillance in the name of safety do not see the collateral damage it causes to real people that care about their children and children themselves. Damage that includes unnecessary separation, trauma, the inclusion of names on registry lists that will forever limit employment opportunities and economic mobility, and countless other indignities and ongoing threats to well-being for children and parents. They do not see how “better be safe than sorry” approaches create so much sorrow. So, given this chain of events—knowing the risks of asking for help, why would we expect a parent, especially a poor, single Black mother to feel safe asking for help Why would she trust public agencies whose mission it is to help alleviate poverty, strengthen families, and enable parents to care for their children adequately when any or all might be required to report her situation to a hotline? So, then, why couldn’t she ask someone else—a service provider, a mental health counselor, an economic assistance worker, a daycare provider—for help? Why not admit that things are tough, beyond tough, and that you need help? Because the risk is there, too. These potential helpers are also the very people who are legally bound to report you, me, or this poor, single mother to the public agency. Because if I am unable to put food on the table or buy good shoes for all of my children or cannot keep up with bills or rent, I may fit the definition of a neglectful parent because these
people have seen me all through the years and know that I struggle chronically. Because we have told those professionals over and over again – you must report, and if you don’t, you’ll be in trouble. And so, she waited until things were very bad. Until her earnest attempts at recovery were hampered by everything else going wrong in her life. Until the demands of the child welfare system to do this and do that, and the requirement to hold a steady job became impossible to carry out. Until someone called child welfare, “. . . and they took my children away.” There is a better way.
Poverty is not neglect. Poverty is rarely a willful attempt to deny children their basic needs. Poverty is not a reason to remove children from their parents. The availability of a financially better-off relative or foster family is not a reason to separate children from their parents or to keep them separated. While many state definitions of child neglect expressly prohibit removing children solely due to poverty, the reality is that it happens every day. It happens because we allow poverty to go unchecked until things become very bad. We can say we are not removing due to poverty when, in fact, the inability of the family to meet basic needs underlies whatever other reasons we may put forward for removal. We have meticulously built a system of mandatory reporting that allows unfettered
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access into the lives of struggling families, using the tools at our disposal—investigations and removal. And, we will not intervene until things become very bad, which justifies our use of these tools for what we call neglect in the same ways that we justifiably use them in horrific cases of physical and sexual abuse. We must realize that poverty, trauma, and illness are not parental shortcomings and to stop treating them as such. We have time and time again codified contempt for poor families, parents that have suffered trauma, mental health, or substance misuse disorder. We have done so in the name of protection or providing safety nets, but these structures have, in reality, provided neither and often done great damage. We have an opportunity to look beyond the limits of our perceptions of parents in the child welfare system, beyond what we want them to look like, and to look at them as they are—human beings with serious struggles. People who have too often had bad things happen to them and experienced trauma with lack of support, with generational histories of difficulty—but mostly human beings who love and want the best for their children. Legislators at the federal level can demonstrate that they see and value families by converting Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act
from a tool of surveillance and assurances that states are doing the right thing into an altogether new vehicle funded to allocate funds to actually allow states and tribes to do things that benefit families. As evidence, one need only read the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities report issued several years ago; the most poignant findings are that investment in upstream prevention and a true investment in familial supports are the best ways to prevent serious child injury and fatalities. We can get to the point where dramatically fewer calls to abuse hotlines are necessary and assure that those reports that do involve serious abuse are treated seriously. We can replace surveillance and harm with investment and support. And, when we can successfully replace our own privileged and uninformed perspectives and judgments, perhaps we can replace the things that are built on those perspectives—overly broad definitions of child neglect, required reporting as maltreatment those situations that reflect genuine struggles and needs for assistance, and a lack of compassion for those parents who want the best for their children, just as we say we want. It begins with truly seeing the person sitting across the table.
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© Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com
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Why End Mandated Reporting Dorothy E. Roberts
In Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World , I argue that the U.S. child welfare system is part of a larger carceral regime, which includes prisons and police, that is designed to control marginalized and disenfranchised communities, especially those that are Black and Indigenous. Child welfare authorities claim to protect children from parental maltreatment by investigating, monitoring, and punishing families, and they exercise power over parents by wielding the threat to take away their children. In other words, the main function of child protective services (CPS) is to police families. A critical aspect of the family policing system is its enlistment of professionals to report their suspicions of child maltreatment to state agencies. By federal edict, every state must identify people who work in professions that put them in contact with children—such as teachers, health care providers, social services staff, and day care workers—and require them by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect to government authorities. As an arm of the family policing system, mandated reporting is based on the system’s carceral logic, targets the marginalized communities under the system’s control, and promotes the harms family policing inflicts on children and their family caregivers. The articles in this important issue of Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly elucidate how mandated reporting enables state surveillance, how it works in conjunction with vague definitions of child neglect, and how ending these prongs of child welfare law can facilitate the transformation needed in our approach to supporting families and keeping children safe. Mass Discriminatory Surveillance States began enacting reporting laws in the 1960s in response to the “discovery” of child abuse in 1962 when pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleagues published a paper coining the term “battered child syndrome.” Almost every state had passed mandatory reporting provisions by 1967. As the meaning of what constitutes child abuse broadened beyond severe cases of child abuse and mandated reporting expanded, the number of maltreatment reports skyrocketed—from ten thousand in 1967 to more than two million annually two decades later. Some states have passed “universal” reporting legislation that requires all residents, with few exceptions, to convey their suspicions to CPS or police. Family policing relies on this expansive network of monitoring families that spans the school, health care, public assistance, and law enforcement systems. The confluence of social services and child protective services directs state surveillance against poor and low-income families, especially Black families, who are more likely to rely on public service providers. Using social services, receiving welfare benefits, and living in public housing subject families to an extra layer of contact with mandated reporters. Public professionals are far more likely to report maltreatment than are private professionals who serve a more affluent, paying clientele. Several of the articles point to an alarming statistic: More than half (53 percent) of Black children and more than a third (37.4 percent) of all children in America are the subject of a child maltreatment investigation by the age of 18. 1 ______________ 1 Kim, Hyunil et al. “Lifetime Prevalence of Investigating Child Maltreatment Among US Children.” American Journal of Public Health vol. 107,2 (2017): 274-280. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303545.
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Dorothy E. Roberts
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Poor and low-income families are more likely to come in contact with professionals who are mandated to report child maltreatment. Receiving social services, relying on welfare benefits, living in public housing or shelters, and using public clinics or hospitals all subject parents to an extra layer of surveillance by government workers who are quick to call a hotline or 911 when they suspect maltreatment or a family’s need for services. Thus, the authors from Rise write, “[M]andated reporting is an extension of the racist, classist, ableist family policing system—making the system unavoidable in Black and brown low-income communities.” White et al. reaches a similar conclusion, “Taken as a whole, mandated reporting laws have done more harm than good, and as applied to people experiencing poverty, particularly Black families, these laws have given the state license to destroy their communities.” By contrast, wealthy parents avoid the home inspections, drug testing, and psychological evaluations that the government imposes on poor and low-income parents. As child welfare departments increasingly incorporate computerized databases and risk assessment tools, they can amplify the reach of reporting by individuals. Digitizing family policing worsens the problems caused by mandatory reporting. “Mandatory reporting will soonbeacontributingfactor towhathasbecome known as algorithmic racism (Noble), and therefore must account for the racial bias in the informationcollected,”McDaniel,etal.,observe. Vague and Amorphous Neglect Statutes Although mandated reporting laws were originally intended to encourage physicians to identify hard-to-detect cases of physical child abuse, they now mostly lead to reports of child neglect. As White, et al. point out, “Issued in 1963, the Children’s Bureau’s model legislation placed a clear emphasis on reporting of child abuse by physicians… embrac[ing] the view that physicians were ‘in an optimum position to form reasonable, preliminary judgments’ as to how physical injuries occurred.” As states expanded the breadth of mandatory reporting laws, they also “expanded definitions of child abuse and neglect in their reporting laws to
meet federal funding requirements.” Parental neglect—and not only physical abuse—became a reportableoffense. Thus,mandatory reporting became entangled with definitions of child neglect, creating “a false equivalency between intentional physical harm and conditions of poverty that impact the welfare of children.” Several of the articles in this issue discuss the state power enabled by vague and amorphous neglect statutes. For one thing, extending mandated reporting to child neglect vastly expands the reach of CPS surveillance because at least 73 percent of cases involve allegations of neglect. 2 The reach afforded family policing is exaggerated by the vagueness of state neglect statutes. “Child neglect reports have become so prevalent that it has become nearly impossible to get a clear picture of what ‘child neglect’ actually means,” writes Diane Redleaf, pointing to categories such as “Injurious Environment” and “Lack of Supervision.” “Neglect’s boundaries are invisible. Just about any act or omission related to a child could qualify as neglect.” To make matters worse, the expansive reporting net captures mainly impoverished families because many state definitions of neglect conflate it with poverty. “Often, child neglect is confused with poverty even in states that prohibit the use of removal due to poverty alone,” Jones, Klicka, Merrick note. The conflation of neglect and poverty exacerbates the system’s racial inequities because “Children and families of color are more likely to be impacted by poverty and to come to the attention of the child welfare system for neglect and other forms of child maltreatment.” Moreover, the vagueness of neglect statutes gives caseworkers and judges wide discretion, giving them leeway to make decisions based on biased assumptions and stereotypes. “In practice, these definitions lead to disparate application of child neglect reporting (McDaniel, et al.).” For these reasons, Mathangi Swaminathan concludes that educational neglect should be “diverted away from CPS to culturally appropriate community- centered resources.” ______________ 2 AFCARSReportNo.27,U.S.DEP’TOFHEALTH&HUM.SERVS., ADMIN.FORCHILD.&FAMILIES,CHILDREN’SBUREAU(2020), https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/report/afcars-report-27. 27-34.doi:10.1080/19371918.2011.619449
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Harming Children and Families
contribute to family safety and well-being— even if they’ve never experienced a report.” This culture of fear has negative repercussions for the entire community. “Beyond the negative impacts to families, mandated reporting of neglect weakens communities by creating barriers to authentic supports and services,” write White, et al. These observations are backed up by Kelley Fong’s extensive ethnographic research. “In my research with low-income mothers in Rhode Island, I consistently heard about the dilemmas this set-up created,” Fong recounts. “The mothers I met expressed confidence in their mothering, but recognized that professionals could easily misconstrue their best efforts to care for their children. In response, mothers proactively distanced themselves from educational, healthcare, and social service providers.” Enlisting service providers in CPS surveillance then weakens their capacity to improve children’s welfare. McDaniel, et al, give tragic examples of multigenerational harms experienced by children and their families as a result of investigations that led to taking children from their families instead of providing them with the concrete resources they needed. This articles’ illumination of mandatory reporting’s role in policing families and the harms that the surveillance inflicts on children, families, and communities exposes the profound problems with family policing itself. This issue, therefore, begs a deeper question: if mandatory reporting is an extension of a fundamentally repressive system designed to monitor, control, and punish disenfranchised communities, is it enough to reform the system by endingmandatory reporting? While ending mandatory reporting will curtail the power of CPS to police families, it will leave intact the system’s foundational logic, design, and purpose. In Torn Apart , I argue that the ______________ 3 Raz M. Unintended Consequences of Expanded Mandatory Reporting Laws. Pediatrics. 2017 Apr;139(4):e20163511. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-3511. Epub 2017 Mar 14. PMID: 28292874. Is Reforming the System Sufficient?
Proponents of mandatory reporting claim that this vast family surveillance machinery that targets the most disenfranchised families is necessary to ensure their children’s welfare. This argument, however, is false: mandated reporting harms children and their families in multiple ways. As Templeman and Davis put it plainly: “Mandatory reporting, as it stands, isnot an evidence-based policy. 3 There is very little evidence that mandatory reporting benefits children and families in need of support.” Contrary to the asserted rationale, reporting concerns about children’s welfare to child protection authorities does not result in a beneficial response. Instead, CPS treats these calls as accusations to be investigated, not requests for support. Most reports are unsubstantiated by CPS caseworkers, so the families receive no response at all, other than being needlessly traumatized by an investigation. According to White, et al, “[b]ecause broad reporting requirements encourage professionals to call in anything they find suspicious, even though not everything suspicious is indicative of maltreatment, mandated reporting often places unnecessary scrutiny on safe, healthy, and functional families.” Substantiated reports launch even more intrusive oversight that does nothing to meet families’ enduring material needs like secure housing, a reliable income, and decent health care. Although many calls to the child abuse hotline are completely frivolous or vindictive, many professionals turn to CPS as a way to address the hardships they see families facing but are not equipped to handle themselves. It may be the only avenue they know for getting help to children in need. Yet mandated reportinghas theopposite effect: it drives family caregivers from seeking services for fear the professionals who work there might turn them over to CPS, thus thwarting the potential for schools, health care clinics, and social service programs to be hubs of care for children. As the Rise authors write: “Mandated reporting creates a culture of fear that prevents parents from accessing resources and support that
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family policing system should be entirely dismantled and replaced with a radically reimagined way of supporting families and keeping children safe. Ending mandatory reporting is an important reform toward that vision—not to fix the family policing system, but to abolish it. Several of the articles in this issue point the way toward abolition. In addition to ending mandated reporting and other laws that prop up the system, abolitionists should advocate for diverting resources away from CPS toward material resources and practices that would actually improve children’s welfare. As Day, et al. write, “[w]ith a vision of family preservation, resources that are currently used for child removal can be shifted to keep children at home safely, reducing trauma caused by removal and resulting in better long-term outcomes for children and families.” In addition, “we can leverage existing relationships to create new pathways to services without involving the family regulation system,” recommend White, et al. Giving examples from its Participator Action Research report, the authors from Rise aptly summarize this abolitionist approach,
aberrational appendages that can be clipped to fix a fundamentally benevolent system. Rather, they are reflections of the carceral logic that animates family policing, and they help to demonstrate why family policing itself must be abolished. _________________________ Dorothy E. Roberts is a professor of Africana studies, law, and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is an internationally-recognized scholar and social justice activist, whose books include Killing the Black Body, Shattered Bonds, Fatal Invention, and Torn Apart.
“Abolishing the system — and ending mandated reporting — requires divesting from family policing and disentangling family support from family policing, so parents do not have to be involved with oppressive systems to access resources. Funding shifted away from family policing can be invested in community-led approaches to family and community safety and wellness. We must invest in community-led innovation to explore, adapt, and expand existing and promising healing, restorative, and transformative justice approaches to creating safety and accountability.”
Starting with this issue’s critique of mandatory reporting and vague definitions of neglect, readers may find themselves questioning the entire system that relies on these discriminatory and destructive laws. Many may conclude as I have that these practices are not
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Dorothy Roberts, an award-winning scholar, and seen here holding her book, exposes the foundational racism of the child welfare system and calls for radical change. Many believe the child welfare system protects children from abuse. But as Torn Apart uncovers, this system is designed to punish Black families. Drawing on decades of research, legal scholar and sociologist Dorothy Roberts reveals that the child welfare system is better understood as a “family policing system” that collaborates with law enforcement and prisons to oppress Black communities. Child protection investigations ensnare a majority of Black children, putting their families under intense state surveillance and regulation. Black children are disproportionately likely to be torn from their families and placed in foster care, driving many to juvenile detention and imprisonment. The only way to stop the destruction caused by family policing, Torn Apart argues, is to abolish the child welfare system and liberate Black communities. This publication is available for purchase.
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Invitation for Creative Expressions The FIJW team seeks to amplify and honor the voices of individuals who have experienced the child welfare system. Readers with lived expertise in the child welfare system as parents, children, young adults, kinship care providers or practitioners are invited to submit creative expressions for consideration and possible inclusion in future editions of the Quarterly . Original artwork, poems, and other visual works that speak to your experiences and the need for replacement are welcome on an ongoing basis. Please email Christie Matlock, Managing Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org for submission information.
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OnThe Cover The original cover art, shown here, was created by Lino Peña- Martinez. Lino lives in Washington, D.C. and works at the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce. In his spare time, Lino is the President and Board Chairman of Sun Scholars, Inc. where he dedicates his effort towards supporting former foster and adopted youth in college. Lino manages Digital Operations at Fosterstrong, a nonprofit rebranding what it means to come from or be of the child welfare system. Lino also worked at The Home for Little Wanderers, a congregate care facility, as a caseworker. As a foster care alumnus with a passion for civic engagement, Lino understands the intersection of complex trauma and social welfare and is deeply committed to transforming systems. He lives by a motto of “A world in which more is taken into account, is a world in which more can be addressed.” Coming Soon
Spring/Summer 2022 — Virtual Event: The Harm of ASFA: A National Call for Action Join contributors to the inaugural issue of the Quarterly for a national virtual event naming the harms of ASFA and calling for clear and specific replacement. Hear directly from parents affected by ASFA and leaders in the field. More information will be shared via our FIJW child welfare listserv and you can sign up by visiting www.fijworks.com to receive news about our work, quarterly journal, and national events. Summer 2022 Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly Volume 1, No. 3: The Need To Invest In Community-Based Supports The next issue of the Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly will focus on The Need to Invest in Community-Based Supports as a replacement strategy for one-size-fits-all approaches to service delivery common in child welfare. As a follow-up to our second issue on moving from mandatory reporting to systematic supporting of families to stay together, our third issue will examine the power of community to strengthen families. Among other aspects of the topic, we will explore community- based supports for kinship caregivers, primary prevention and older youth leaving foster care, as well as legislative strategies and advancement of culturally appropriate supports for families.
In Remembrance Richard T. Cozzola passed away on Saturday April 16, 2022, surroundedby hiswife, son, and siblings. Richdedicated his life and career to public service and was a fierce and dedicated advocate for the Legal Aid community particularly families involved within the child welfare system. Rich was a supervising attorney specializing in legal issues involving children and adolescents at LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation) in Chicago, Illinois. His work and legacy will live on for generations as someone who fought to make this world better. Rich had a joyful, playful spirit and sense of humor and the ability to encourage and support others like no other. Our deepest condolences to Richard's family, friends, and colleagues.
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My Perspective Hope VanSickle's Story: Through the Eyes of a Mother
knew the time was ticking and that termination couldhappenifIcouldn’tfindthe“righthousing.” It was only through a special criminal release program that I was able to get employment and housing. I often think about how the criminal sidewasmorecapableofhelpingmeandmygirls thanthechildwelfareside. Relatives Oncemygirlswere taken, I gave thecaseworkers and my attorneys my niece’s number. She was very close to the girls, and I knew it would make the girls feel safe. But DYFS wouldn’t place with them because of some criminal history for my niece’s husband. He didn’t have anything dangerous in his past, but his past would delay licensure of their home, and that was unacceptable to DYFS. It didn’t matter that I would get to see them more or spend dinners with them—none of this mattered. Shame I also was scared. My girls now lived in a beautiful home with a bedroom, backyard, and lake. They even got a dog! I was insecure and vulnerable. I hated going to court in an orange jump suit with my hands handcuffed. I would even ask my attorney to miss court because I felt ashamed. Did the judge see me as a mother or a prisoner? I didn’t look like me. Could the judge recognize that I was a good parent? That I loved my girls?
I always wanted to be a good mother and wife. For me, that meant surviving domestic violence from my husband. For me, that meant paying bills with money I didn’t have to protect my two young daughters, both under the age of 8, from emotional and physical abuse. I took it so that they didn’t see it or experience it. I was at a loss when I was arrested and incarcerated for my bill forgery. After I was arrested and incarcerated, I was scared and worried, but nothing could prepare me for when the state (Division of Youth and Family Services - DYFS) separated my daughters from my husband for not being able to pay the rent and for his alcoholism. It took several days for DYFS to alert me that they had been taken and it took them even longer to explain to me where they were and if they were safe. I was still their mother. I had done nothing wrong. They should have told me. Getting Them Back I was on autopilot. I found Legal Services of New Jersey, and we fought. Whatever the court ordered, or whatever my caseworker or my attorney asked of me, I did. I did it and three times more. I completed every program and obtained every certificate—so much so, I became the parent leader and guide for many of the prison programs. I completed the programs before every court hearing to make sure the judge knew I was trying to get them back. When I was released to a halfway house, I started to lead the programs at the halfway house. I gave them no reason to not return those girls to me, except for housing. Housing Because of my incarceration history, I did not qualify for many types of housing programs like Section8or other subsidizedhousing. I couldn’t get a job easily, and I did not qualify for certain times of employment and financial assistance. I had to appeal denials and locate a program that would support me and work for me. This took time. My girls, at this point, were with a great foster parent. She supported reunification. But I
Hope embracing Diana
18 | FIJ Quarterly Spring 2022
Diana VanSickle's Story: Through the Eyes of a Child
Removal My story with the child welfare agency began when I was about 7. At that time, my father was struggling with alcohol addiction that was fueled by bills and financial stress. When the stress became too much, it led to domestic violence towards my mother. My mother was stuck in a cycle of domestic violence. The cycle went something like this: the bills needed to be paid, my parents didn’t have the money, drinking, domestic violence, repeat. You could say that having money might stop the cycle, right? Well, in an effort to stop the cycle, and to keep her children safe, my mother wrote bad checks that soon after led to her incarceration. Poverty Related to Housing It did not end the cycle. My father was still sick, suffering from addiction, and left with his two daughters. I remember we were living in a motel at the time of my removal because we lost our home due to financial struggles. My father realized that our living conditions were not ideal, and he realized he needed help, so he asked for it but did not get it. It wasn’t long after requesting help with housing and being denied that my sister and I were removed. I don’t remember the exact moment of my removal and how it all happened, but what I do remember is thatmy father was very intoxicated and unconscious, and the cops showing up. First Foster Placement I was extremely fortunate to go through foster care with my younger sister because she was the only piece of home I had left. We went from home-to-home several times, and I do not know what I would have done without her. While the families we experienced were kind and meant well, they were not our family, and it was not home. From what I remember, one family wanted my sister and me to call them Mom and Dad right away, which can be extremely confusing and scary for a 5- and 7-year-old. I also remember that one of the families would make us stand in time-out and apologize to God as well as leave my sister and me in the guest room for long periods of time
as punishment. Again, I do feel these families meant well, but these situations made my sister and I miss home even more. Aside from some negative experiences, my sister and I eventually found the light at the end of our tunnel with our amazing foster parents, who ended up being our last. Seeing Our Mother During my mother’s incarceration, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit her. Those days were the absolute best days. I remember being able to see my mom would be the light of my entire week. Not to mention I think those visits are what got my mother through it all. My sister and I did not care that she was incarcerated, or that we were visiting her at a jail site, we just wanted to see her. If you asked me today if I remember anything about the jail I visited my mother at so many years ago, I simply could not answer because I was not wondering why I was at a jail at the age of 7. I was just excited to see my mother and that is all that mattered to us. Housing When my mom was released from her incar- ceration, she did absolutely everything she possibly could to get us back. What seemed to make it more difficult was finding a job and finding a suitable living situation. It was difficult for her to find housing or a job af - ter just being in jail. Either she was not ac - cepted, or it was not suitable for us. As time went on, and my mother kept looking, she finally found a steady job and an apartment. My mother’s reaction when she found out we were finally coming home was “Do you think the house will be good enough for them?” My mother felt that my sister and I would have a hard time transitioning from homes that were bigger and “nicer” to her newly found apart- ment. She was extremely wrong but what she had been through put her in that mindset. The house could have been the size of a shoe box, or the ugliest neon green, we would not have cared because that’s not what makes a home. People make a home and my parents were and always will be my home.
FIJ Quarterly | Spring 2022 | 19
My Voice Throughout my time in the foster care system, I do not remember ever really being asked what I wanted. Sometimes it felt like I did not have a voice at all.
goofy man I know. Both my parents mean the world to me despite being considered “unfit” on paper. “Unfit” to me seems that life just got the better of them at the time. The reunification of my mother, sister and I was unfortunately delayed by poverty. My mother was struggling to find housing after her incarceration. In order for my mother to not lose her children, she had to find a decent paying job and find housing right out of her incarceration in a short time frame. It just did not seem fair. While I understand it was meant to be in our best interest, I felt that delaying the reunification was more harmful. Poverty is not neglect, and keeping two children away from their mother that was doing the best she could under the circumstances is unfair. Not to mention this delay of reunification gave false hope of adoption to a beautiful foster family. The topic of adoption came up when my mother was faced with the deadline to find a job and housing. So, she was to figure it out or her children would be adopted. My mother is the most determined person I know and she made it happen. If my mother was not pestering her team on what to do next every chance she could, I am not so sure it would of worked out the way it did. While I was sheltered from it at the time, I am aware that there was concern being taken to visit my mother in a prison setting because of being a young child going into a prison. If I remember one thing from visiting my mother in prison, it was not the environment or the people that were around us but the moments we got to share. I remember the joy I felt the days leading up to go visit my mom. It was what my sister and I looked forward to, and it was what got us through it all. Without those visits, it would have been an even more difficult time than it already was. Aside from how it helped my sister and me, it most certainly helped my mother. She would write us letters from the day we left talking about the next time we would see each other. Each visit was a reminder and a glimpse of hope for what was to come after this. It pushed her to work so hard after everything was over, and we were her motivation to keep working hard. If children and even parents don’t have those visits, they may feel lost and hopeless.
"Throughout my time in the foster care system, I do not remember ever really being asked what I wanted. Sometimes it felt like I did not have a voice at all."
While I do not remember ever being asked what I wanted, I discovered a letter not too long ago from 2007 to the judge. In short, I wrote that I understood my dad was sick and that I felt more comfortable staying with my mom until he recovered. I also mentioned that the foster parents I was with were amazing, but I was ready to go home to my mother whenever that could happen. I think because my sister and I were not consistently asked what we wanted to do, it made things more difficult, felt unfair to my sister and I, and caused more trauma for everyone involved. Luckily, my sister and I were reunified with our mother. Unfortunately, that is not as common as we would want it to be for others. While we cannot change that, one thing that we can try to change is the idea of “unfit” parents. While my mother and father may have been experiencing hardships in that time of their lives, my sister and I never saw them as “unfit.” We never saw my Dad as an addict and we never saw my Mom as a criminal. We saw them as our parents and our family. Today I am 23 years-old now and still jump for joy when I see my Mom and my Dad. I don’t think of them based off of that time in their lives. I see them as my family and my only parents. Please Listen I would like to tell the world, as a daughter, to see people for who they are, not what they are on paper. On paper, my mother was incarcerated due to writing bad checks. She was seen as an unfit parent. As a person, she is the most compassionate woman who would do anything for her family and anyone she meets. On paper, my dad was an addict and an unfit parent. In person, he is the smartest, most hardworking,
20 | FIJ Quarterly Spring 2022
Hope and Diana Today, we have jobs, and we have completed schooling and college. When strangers learn about our story, they often say they can’t believe that we were one of “those” people.
Like we’re normal and look successful. We are successful but we are a mother and daughter traumatized by that system and are those people. For this reason, we wanted to write together and share our story.
_________________________ Diana VanSickle is a Legal Services of New Jersey Reunified Youth Advocate Hope VanSickle is a Legal Services of New Jersey Reunified Honored Parent
Hope and Diana VanSickle
FIJ Quarterly | Spring 2022 | 21
Perfectly Imperfect: How Imprecise Definitions of Child Neglect and Poverty Reinforce Anti-Black Racism in the Child Welfare System Sharon L. McDaniel, Sherri Simmons-Horton, Ervin Dyer, Yven Destin, Kathleen L. Gima, Anthony R. Sosso, Jr., Jay Kadash, Med, MA, James T. Freeman, James A. Stratford, Constance Iannetta, Katherine Buckley Abstract
The child welfare system, in its stated intention of protecting children, has served as a system of surveillance for Black families and has used their experiences with poverty as a weapon in family intrusion, family separation, and exclusion in the provision of resources to alleviate economic disadvantage. This paper will explore the lived experiences of professionals in the field who, as a response to personal exposure to the system’s ills, have dedicated their careers to the service of children in child welfare. Further, structural racism in the child welfare system manifests through the definition of child neglect, which falls under a broad classification of child maltreatment, labeling poor Black children and families as “at risk.” Ultimately, Black children and families who the child welfare system engages in due to allegations of neglect suffer harmful outcomes, such as prolonged trauma, oppression, and discrimination. Given the current challenges the child welfare system faces in the engagement of Black children and families, the paper will explore the historical context of race in child welfare, examining both the trends and data on how Black children and families have been engaged in the child welfare system over time. In today’s child welfare system, child neglect is considered a malevolent act by parents and caregivers and is not equally viewed for all, which disproportionately impacts Black Families. It disregards the reality that many Black families in the United States lack the support required to provide for basic needs like food, safety, and nurturance of children. Dismissing the link between poverty and neglect for Black families places the blame
Child neglect reports occur at a consistently higher rate than reports of other types of maltreatment. Black children are overrepresented in child neglect reporting and substantiation, which reflect compounded risk factors of poverty and anti-Black institutional bias in child protection systems. This paper will share the lived experiences of and draw from conversations with child welfare workers who are survivors of “neglect.” In addition, it will examine through literature reviews and research the history and biased legacy of child welfare in America, as well as the vast and vague definitions of neglect, which influence an uneven mandatory reporting system. While there is federal legislation providing minimum standards to states on how to define child neglect, these standards are broad and contribute to states’ varying authority in how to make child neglect determinations, thus giving local authorities room for racial subjectivity in child neglect substantiation and removal of Black children. This paper seeks to identify trends in child neglect legal definitions across the United States and discuss how child neglect laws and language target Black children. Connections to historical anti-Black racism in child neglect are also examined. Additionally included are recommended changes in the language and a challenge to the federal government to more clearly define child neglect, establishing a consistent standard for all states and locales that uphold equitable treatment of Black children in child neglect investigations.
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