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Nov. 16th, 2008

4th of July


Who will be the new Assistant Secretary for Children and Families?

I know, you're probably trying to figure out why that even would matter. Honestly, I hadn't heard of the position myself until I started doing some research last night. 

According to Wikipedia:

"The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It is headed by the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, which from 2001 to 2007 was Dr. Wade F. Horn. It has a $47 billion budget for 65 programs that target children, youth and families. These programs include assistance with welfare, child support enforcement, adoption assistance, foster care, child care, and child abuse."

So, this is the position that has the most direct power over the DHS/CPS, and thus the lives of poor families. Who knew an assistant secretary could be this important? 

Bush appointed Dr. Horn, who believed strongly in abstinence until marriage, and that for women, finding a husband was a better way out of poverty than getting the skills needed for a good job. Since he left, Daniel Schneider has stuck with the same idealologies as Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families.

Now, it's Obama's turn. I trust that he will pick someone who understands the struggles of families trying to get out of poverty, and the relationship between poverty and child maltreatment, and who views all people as having basic human dignity. In other words, someone with a clue.

I know Obama doesn't believe the stereotypes about "Welfare Queens", and I'm sure he understands how broken our child protection/foster care system is.  I know that in the last decade, Illinois has drastically reduced the number of children in foster care, while keeping children safe. Wouldn't it be great if Obama could appoint someone who'd get the rest of the country to follow Illinois' lead?  

He's probably got some ideas already, and I'm sure that anyone he picks will be a huge improvement, but I'd like to suggest Richard Wexler or Martin Guggenheim. Both of them get it. They understand that it's not that poor people are stupid and lazy and don't love their children, it's that being poor SUCKS, that minor problems become major catastrophes when you don't have the money to fix them, and it's hard to be a good parent while dealing with all the stress and instability that are an inevitable part of poverty. At very least, consult Mr Wexler and Mr Guggenheim about who to put in charge of the Administration for Children and Families, and what changes need to be made. They'll have some great ideas, and it will be very much in line with Obama's basic policy of "We'll do what works." 

Nov. 9th, 2008

4th of July


changing bureacracy to wikiocracy

Last night, I was reading Wikinomics, and thinking about the implications of the news that mybarackobama.com is staying up and active, even though the election is over.

How could the tools and concepts used on sites like wikipedia, livejournal, ravelry knitters, ok cupid, gather, youtube  and mybarackobama be used to revolutionize the way the government is run?

OK Cupid lets users create quizzes, take each others' quizzes, and keeps track of the results. Couldn't that tool be used for more meaningful purposes than "Which Star Wars character would you be?"? Ravelry lets users set goals, keep track of their progress, and show off their successes. That could be useful for goals that are completely unrelated to yarn. Wikipedia lets users add and edit information, resulting in the largest compilation of human knowledge ever, with a comparable accuracy rate to printed encyclopedias- the difference being that wiki errors can be caught and corrected. Many sites allow user to rate content and post comments in reaction.

 Different branches of government don't even share information freely with each other yet, resulting in redundancies that cost tax money. It's a waste to pay someone to sit in a cubicle and enter information into his computer when the same information is already on file in another county or state, or with another government agency. Why does DHS waste time making people provide proof of income when the IRS and Social Security already know how much money that person has made in their whole life? Why can some people manage to get away with collecting food stamps in several different states when all the agencies involved require documentation and have internet connections? So, government bureaucracies need to evolve, connect with each other, and allow more input from citizens.

Look at DHS (or DCFS, or CPS, or whatever it's called where you live). It's a dinosaur, still being run on a model from the Victorian Age: nice educated charitable middle-class people go out to solve poor people's problems, by force if necessary, while making judgements of the poor people based on their own personal biases. Why not let the poor people get involved with fixing poverty? Who else understands it more? Everyone is an expert on something, and if everyone can chip in, and we all can vote on which ideas are awesome and which just won't work in the real world, and we can give feedback about why. 

Sure, there's confidentiality laws, so it'd be important not to use real names in public forums or profiles, but have the legislators who created those laws actually talked to the people affected by the laws lately? Generally, no. Too often, laws are changed in reaction to horror stories in the news, without knowing the whole story behind the blood-drenched headline, or if the situation was typical or an abaration?

In order to solve a problem, you need to understand what happened, why it happened, how often it happens, and how likely it is to happen again.  Even DHS know this, so they collect lots of data on how many kids are in foster care, why they're in foster care, the socioeconomic status of families involved with DHS, the color of the foster children, how long they stay in foster care and so on. There's plenty of data, but it doesn't give a lot of insight into why these things happen, or what could be done to change it. So, why not let everyone involved have a voice? Professors teaching in ivory towers are not the experts on foster care- the real experts are the parents and children who have BTDT, and the workers who are actually out dealing with people every day.

If you like this idea, re-post it, link it, whatever works best to pass it on. 

Nov. 8th, 2008

4th of July


WTF is wrong with us?

Great blog entry overall, but this is my favorite part:
Bigots, in making the case for why some people don't deserve the same rights as them, routinely attack and interrupt family units. The history I've taught this semester is full of examples. Enslaved parents who had their children sold away from them. The Chinese Exclusion Act which made it impossible for many Chinese men who came here to work to bring over their families. Indigeneous people whose nomadic family life and communal living were affected by the Dawes Act. Mexican and Mexican Americans who were "repatriated" to Mexico despite the ties and communities they'd built across the Southwest. Interracial couples who were denied the right to marry for so long.

The fact that we are still doing this shit leads me back to the title of this post.

Nov. 2nd, 2008

kids sleeping


This makes me want to hurt someone, throw up, or both.

Last December, Michelle Kehoe was driving down North Dubuque street, and managed to end up in the Iowa River. She claimed she'd been distracted by her children. They were rescued.
Apparently, no one really thought much of it at the time, but in retrospect, it seems pretty suspicious. Thinking about it, the only explainations I can come up with are that she either was so easily distracted or incompetent that she was not safe to drive a car with young children, or that she had deliberately driven into the river in an attempt to kill her children and possibly herself while making it look like an accident.
Either possibility would seem to warrant DHS follow-up, and some kind of psychological evaluation. But that didn't happen.
Instead, Michelle plotted to fake her children's kidnapping and murder, without facing any suspicion from anyone. She wrote the first draft of the kidnapping note a month before she followed through on it, killing 2 year old Seth, and injuring his older brother. She also made some kind of attempt to make it look like she'd been attacked.
I'm just trying to figure out why the warning signs had gone unnoticed by everyone.
Oh, and remember that this is the same town where just 7 months ago, a man was facing felony embezzlement charges after years of lies and deceptions, but no one thought to question his overall mental state until after he'd killed his wife, his children, and then himself.
So, how many kids will die before Johnson County DHS realizes that when a parent does something crazy enough to make the news, maybe there should be some investigation into the children's safety, and some kind of follow-up? Oh, but that might deter from their major purpose for existence: to get parent's rights terminated so adoptable children can be put into "forever" families.

Sep. 7th, 2008

Devonian Fossil Gorge


Welcome to new members

The last few months have been really hectic for us, so I'm not sure how long people were waiting for membership without me noticing. I apologize, and hope you didn't urgently need our support in dealing with a crisis. While I was at it, I sent out invitations to some people whose stories I'd heard about elsewhere. When my kids got put in foster care, I would have been lost if I hadn't known anyone who'd been through it and whose experiences I could learn from, so now I want to pass that on to other people who are currently going through it.

Jul. 15th, 2008

Devonian Fossil Gorge


Lynch mob mentality

I keep up with the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog http://www.nccpr.blogspot.com/ and the last few posts have dealt with the Washington DC CPS and a couple recent infant deaths, including links to Washington Post articles http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/14/AR2008071401044.html  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/09/AR2008070902237.html  Both articles have a bunch of comments at the bottom, the majority of which are some variation on the theme of "Poor people shouldn't breed". 

Now, I don't know Jesus Garcia or Morgan Herrara-El, so they might be horrible people who kick puppies and vote for George W Bush, but the people posting those comments don't know them either. However, many Post readers are more than willing to go back to Buck Vs Bell based on a few facts:

1. They have had 4 children in the last 4 years.

2. They are low income. 

3. They aren't white.

4. They've had some relationship problems. 

5. Their baby died of unknown causes. 

Somehow, these facts jelled together into a stereotype of BAD PEOPLE WHO SHOULDN'T BE ALLOWED TO BREED, and people have responded to Baby Isiah's death with all the sympathy of blood-crazed sharks at a feeding frenzy.  

The worst thing is that I've seen the same mentality over and over in place after place. When the Detroit Freep ran a series about Isaac Lethbridge, the same kind of readers posted almost exactly the same horrible comments about his mother, Jen. I do know her (at least online), and if people were saying that she can be really snarky and intolerant of stupid people, I'd have to admit they're right. However, no one who knows her at all would accuse her of not loving her children, or of even vaguely fitting the Bad Mommy stereotype.

So, where does this mind-set come from? Why does a dead child suddenly make such rabid classism and racism acceptible? Jesus said"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". If the majority of people in this country claim to be Christain, shouldn't more of them be willing to see that all parents make mistakes, and have compassion for parents who have lost a child, even if that loss is linked to a mistake?

When I was a little girl, there was a family in our congragation. The mom was driving home with her 16 year old daughter in the front seat, and her mother in law and a young woman who was a friend of the family in the  back. She stopped before she crossed hwy 169, but somehow she just didn't see the semi truck until it was too late. The daughter's seat belt wasn't buckled and she was thrown through the windshield. Her neck was broken, and she died instantly. Her grandma's injuries were severe, and she was DOA. The friend was trapped in the car, it took hours to get her out and she needed multiple surgeries to repair the damage to her legs so she could walk unaided.  The mother- the driver- had only minor scratches and bruises. Of course, she was white, middle-class, lived in a small town and was married to her child's father, but how much do details of identity matter when you've made a mistake that cost your child's life? Because everyone has made errors while driving, everyone understood, and no one blamed her for the accident except herself.

I don't know what happened to either of the babies in DC who died, but I'm sure that both mothers are hurting worse than any stones that could be cast at them, and I'm sure they are both wishing they could go back and do things differently.

Feb. 19th, 2008

Devonian Fossil Gorge


Nixmary lived in a clean house!

Former child services worker says Nixzmary Brown's home was clean

She was malnourished, and the mother kept a miscarried fetus in a jar in the bedroom, but the house was clean so the case worker didn't see any need for further investigation or services.

Feb. 13th, 2008

Devonian Fossil Gorge


In the news...

DHS in Michigan is overflowing with bovine excrement

Feb. 5th, 2008

Devonian Fossil Gorge


Parents as Partners

Parents as Partners is a similar program to CWOP in NYC
There is an orientation coming up on February 25th.

Feb. 3rd, 2008

Devonian Fossil Gorge


Survey for birth parents

Copied from Birth-First Parent Blog:
"The Surrender Survey Project is for parents (mother and fathers) who have voluntarily relinquished and/or had their rights (involuntarily) terminated. And so, in that way, it is all inclusive. More over, the questions pertain to both parents in closed and open adoption, not just one or the other. I know that there are some things that try to exclude one group or the other but this survey acknowledges both. In fact, this survey's success depends on answers from both closed and open adoption birth parents.

Of special note: for parents that have relinquished more than one child, you are asked to take it once for each child relinquished. (Meaning, if you have placed two children, please take the survey twice, answering specifics for each individual child on each individual survey attempt.)"
It's a step in the right direction! What I would REALLY like to see (or help do) is a study comparing TPR'd parents with RU'd parents with parents who had CPS involvement but whose kids were not put in foster care, to see what the differences are, looking at everything the major/obvious (race, income) to the minor/seemingly trivial (musical tastes, favorite color, home town). Then have all the data analyzed by people who have some common sense, with the goal of figuring out how to avoid foster care or speed TPR if it can't be avoided. I'd be afraid of how some child abuse experts would interpret the data (ie, "Living more than 100 miles from the parents' home town is a risk-factor for children being put in foster care, thus we should investigate all parents who live more than 100 miles from their hometown and put their children in foster care before they are abused!") Honestly, after seeing the story on CNN about the baby and the microwave (don't Google it, I didn't put a link because you don't want to read it, if you do anyhow, don't come crying to me for brain bleach.), I wouldn't be surprised if some child protection advocate made a case for requiring microwaves to have a safety device to prevent anything like that from happening again- hey, it requires less thought than figuring out how to convince all moms that it's a bad idea to get really drunk and fight with their boyfriend while taking care of their baby.
I'd also love to see an interdisciplinary think-tank brainstorming on how to prevent child abuse. Not just the usual suspects, like social workers and psychologists, but professionals including primateologists, economists, evolutionary behaviorists, historians and anyone else whose specialty might give a new perspective on the subject, as well as adults who were abused as children, foster parents, and parents who have been accused of child abuse. 
If our culture was willing to put the same kind of money, thought and energy into preventing child abuse and helping parents be good parents as we put into the Superbowl, this world would be a better place.

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