Florida's Shame
April 9, 2014 8:21 PM   Subscribe

"After Florida cut down on protections for children in troubled homes, deaths soared. The children died in ways cruel, outlandish, predictable and preventable."

Full project, including links to the database, information on the reporting, and case studies.
posted by quadrilaterals (60 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:22 PM on April 9, 2014 [19 favorites]

That database of reports is harrowing reading. I was surprised how many were mothers shooting their children.
posted by unliteral at 8:48 PM on April 9, 2014

So basically they decided that the solution to "too many cases" was to stop investigating cases.

"Maybe we got it backwards, in that we tried to reduce out-of-home care before having those safety services that are needed."
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:55 PM on April 9, 2014

Florida should be put under federal conservatorship.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:56 PM on April 9, 2014 [75 favorites]

DCF leaders made a decision, nearly 10 years ago, to reduce by as much as half the number of children taken into state care, adopting a philosophy known as family preservation. They also, simultaneously, slashed services, monitoring and protections for the increased number of children left with their violent, neglectful, mentally ill or drug-addicted parents.

Family preservation is a fine thing when done with a lot of support and oversight and monitoring. All of which cost money. Florida isn't the only state that will try to save a buck on the backs of the most vulnerable.
posted by rtha at 8:57 PM on April 9, 2014 [20 favorites]

Maybe we got it backwards, in that we tried to reduce out-of-home care before having those safety services that are needed.

Trying to keep families together and focusing on getting the parents resources is a fine goal, but with the state offering inadequate services and slashing funding for programs that could help, this becomes a disaster. Just another way these children learn nobody really cares about them.

a purge that eliminated 72 percent of DCF’s child welfare “quality assurance” watchdogs.

I mean...

Money won't solve all of these problems. Some of these parents cannot be helped and there will be "cracks" for children to slip through. But money would help. A lot. Starting with paying DCF workers a lot more because what they do is highly skilled and critical.

This whole situation reminds me of deinstitutionalization. Yes, like the foster care system, mental asylums could be horrific and unfair and leave permanent scars on some who went through it. Even the most well-meaning are not ideal. Trying to keep people within their own communities, a fine goal. But turning them out on the streets and simultaneously slashing services is the worst of both worlds. Also, deinstitutionalization has undoubtedly contributed to child neglect and abuse.
posted by Danila at 9:05 PM on April 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

I couldn't read past the first few sentences.

The first murdered child case I responded to was of a three year old who was also a twin, and the same age as my own child at the time.

He was three. He had been playing and didn't make it to the bathroom in time. He defected in his pants, happens thousands of times a day all over the world, right?

His mother took him to the bathroom, grabbed him by the ankles and swung him into the walls and toilet over and over. She then cleaned the entire house with Springtime Fresh bleach and drove his body to the ER.

The family had been cleared in a Protective Services investigation three months prior.

Sixteen years gone. I will never forget his name. I don't use scented bleach. And I judge us all by how well we protect those least able to protect themselves.
posted by 1066 at 9:08 PM on April 9, 2014 [126 favorites]

The first murdered child case I responded to

This is one of those sentences that should just not exist in any language.
posted by rtha at 9:22 PM on April 9, 2014 [104 favorites]

So this isn't something that someone is explaining away with the old "free market will fix that right up" chestnut, is it? They've really devolved to straight up "fuck those poor kids"?
posted by kjs3 at 9:31 PM on April 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

The same cuts to services are ongoing everywhere that "austerity" is holding sway, which I mean to say, everywhere neoliberal or conservative politicians are out there saying they are gonna cut taxes by God.

Just like deregulation, these things are memes that infect governments, "do more with less" "more efficiencies" "like a business" never really understanding that Government is not a business and as such doesn't need to do things like turn a profit. The "profit" of Good Government is Good Governance, not saving a few dollars.

People as a whole, and by people I mean the voting public as a body, don't seem to understand this. They vote for "Me" and "Mine" and as such only the candidates who serve the voters own goals or wants get voted in. A truly public minded egalitarian candidate and party couldn't be voted in, there would always be some idea that someone, somewhere else was getting something that someone, somewhere else didn't believe they deserve and we can have that; can we?

Then people suffer and those same self-serving, venal, navel gazing idiots blame the government that they helped make, they abetted by demanding things be run ever more cheaply and save themselves so little taxes, then they demand more "efficient government" which as I've said before always seems to translate into shoddier and more slapdash efforts than before.

In the minds of this selfish voter, this is evidence that Government has failed.

As it's Government's fault when the Government is made up of people who don't believe in real Governance, of course.

We're just individuals, but together we can really destroy a place. Can't we?
posted by NiteMayr at 9:40 PM on April 9, 2014 [60 favorites]

NiteMayr - I would take that "efficient government" more seriously if we could see a comparative database of how many police departments got whatever their budgetary hearts desired in that same time frame for holding off that next al Queda infantry attack....government always seems more ready to find funds for new ways to murder people instead of protect them.

On the other hand, it is Florida. Ya never know when the bad guys are going to have bazookas and no respect for life because they were poorly raised, because protection services couldn't afford to protect them, so now we have to protect everyone else from them.

Segue: poor little Milo. He had just as much right to be here and have a happy life as any of the rest of us do.

The next neo-Randian dipstick (or Kid Rock) who tells me people get what they deserve should read that excerpt of hell and then go perform an anatomical impossibility.
posted by lon_star at 9:51 PM on April 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

The hook is a drug. The drug is called "self-righteousness". It's a huge problem. People don't vote in their own interest, that's the problem. They vote in a way they've become convinced is "righteous". Like voting for "less government".

But it's worse than that even, because they easily convert to believing whatever they are told by the people who push the required buttons by saying the catch phrases ("Less goverment!", for example). So they vote in fact for more government, while spouting the rhetoric of less government. You see this especially with regard to drug wars and the newer war on terrorism.

The very process of democracy has been made a sham. Not because of interference with the voting (plenty of that, too!) but because the body politic has been lied to and programmed to believe in ways that go against their self-interest. And it keeps getting worse.

The warning signs are all there. Somehow people decided to ignore them. Like my #1 favorite example, "freedom of religion". Supposedly a very serious important American Value. What happened to that? It isn't freedom of religion when we mess with people just because they follow Islam, or because they are LDS, or some weird religion of which we disapprove.

Equality: Oh, that GREAT American value! Oops, only for white folks. And then, they better get an education, or their 'equality' isn't going to be as great as the folks that go to Harvard. Some are more equal than others. Hehehehehe.

The system was designed to work in spite of human flaws. Being human, we worked our ways around that. Oops.
posted by Goofyy at 10:14 PM on April 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Weird. I'm a tiny admin cog in a large Data Analytics company that has been working with the DCF. There was a small report about this on our company intranet. Something that stood out for me was this little section:

  • Prior removal due to physical abuse increases the odds of death after reunification by a multiple of 14.
  • Prior removal due to parents who have abused alcohol or drugs increases the odds of deaths after reunification by a multiple of nearly 15.
  • Prior removal due to sexual abuse increases the odds of death after reunification by a multiple of 67.
  • The child having a physical disability increases the odds of death by a multiple of 17.
  • 75 percent of child deaths occur between the ages of 0 and 2.

  • My brain can't even come to terms with these figures. It's heartbreaking.
    posted by ninazer0 at 10:35 PM on April 9, 2014 [19 favorites]

    I think the people making these decisions are getting what they wanted. Lower taxes and dead "other"-types? Two birds with one stone. It's a sociopathic mindset that has taken root in parts of our society.
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on April 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

    I wonder if we will hear from the commenters in the previous domestic violence thread who asserted that we all have a "breaking point" and if we were angry enough, this could be any of us. I'm sorry, but there is NO POSSIBLE state of anger that could cause me to torture an infant or toddler to death. None. Ever.
    posted by Mallenroh at 10:45 PM on April 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

    I stopped reading at "family preservation".

    "Family preservation" nearly got me killed. The only reason I am here today is that my instinct for SELF preservation was strong enough to get me out of the house and across the alley before I fell into unconsciousness. My parents tried to kill me. Children's Services KNEW I wasn't safe, but kept sending me back. It took a skull fracture, a subdural hematoma, the attendant surgery, two weeks comatose, and a suicide attempt while still hospitalized until someone finally listened and allowed my grandparents to get me the fuck out of there.

    I am 44 years old, and STILL suffering. Thanks, mom and dad, for the chronic insomnia and night terrors and MDD and PTSD. I'm eternally grateful for the escitalopram, which keeps the MDD and insomnia at bay, and has rendered me unable to remember any of my dreams now. My poor husband, though. I don't remember crying and screaming in my sleep, but he has to wake me up several times a week because I am.

    Fuck family preservation, and fuck Florida, and fuck everyone who votes to decrease social services funding.
    posted by MissySedai at 11:03 PM on April 9, 2014 [116 favorites]

    Mallenroh: "I'm sorry, but there is NO POSSIBLE state of anger that could cause me to torture an infant or toddler to death. None. Ever."

    I believe your sincerity, and I wish that sincerity was enough. But I bet that most of the people who did that very thing didn't believe themselves capable of it...until they did it.

    Intentions are important, but demonstrated behavior has to be the standard. At the same time, you have to give people the opportunity to reform their lives, and when does that trust come back? Should it never come back in certain circumstances, probably. But the cutoff should probably come before actual harm takes place.

    It's a very difficult conflict and not easy to solve by buying sniper rifles and night-vision goggles, so it gets left to fester.

    You can blame drugs, but drugs just numb the pain of the self-control required to maintain the safeties between our urges and our actions.

    The urges are inborn; I heard a radio story where a commentator said that the only reason families endure is that two-year-olds aren't strong enough to kill a person with their bare hands.
    posted by lon_star at 11:48 PM on April 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

    MissySedia: fuck everyone who votes to decrease social services funding.

    Money is a lot of it, but there's a portion that's about attitudes. Like they say in the article, the parents aren't always (in fact they're usually not inclined) to accept a lot of input about changes they could make.

    When and what does the state have the right to do? When your kid takes off during a bath and runs outside without clothes on, is that protective services time? If dad watches some porn? A little porn? Certain kinds of porn? If mom gets caught with some coke, is that a lose-your-kids situation? Some times your kid really did fall down the stairs.

    What about if the older/younger kids are doing the abusing? Are they the ones who go?

    And to where - is fostering always the best solution?

    To me, that's the intractable part; being able to find the signs and act on them, and choose a side to come down on. We loves us our freedom to speed and shoot guns and raise our kids as we think they need to be raised - how does the state preserve those rights as well as the right of a kid to not be taken for a walk and beaten to death?

    I know money is most of it, but it's got ot be more than body count - you need those geniuses who are designing ways to separate us from our money on Wall Street or for West Coast hipsterati to spend more time fingering their phones to help set up the rules and systems of this game.

    It's got to be about more than body count; it's also what rights/incentives/punishments the state is able to grant and take away and when and how. Little Milo wouldn't have been helped by 10,000 civil service workers if the laws don't change; it would have just been a bigger audience for the tragedy.

    And his sisters, who survived - what got better for them? How do you address the risk of those kids of those parents turning into those very same parents?
    posted by lon_star at 12:28 AM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    posted by benzenedream at 12:39 AM on April 10, 2014

    Awesome reporting by the Miami Herald on a horrible topic. Nice to see real journalism still exists.
    posted by brokkr at 1:33 AM on April 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

    Horrific! Yet another symptom of the breakdown of the cohesiveness of community - i.e. it DOES "take a village", but what happens when most members of the village are fragmented and stressed out; when most members of the village don't know each other - even the person next door? What happens when behavior begins to get modeled after what people see in the media? What happens when - instead initiating family *into* community - the coming of a newborn results in Mom and Dad (assuming two in-home parents) results in the nuclear unit becoming even MORE isolated? Everything is on the backs of the new parent(s) - child care, economic sustainability, job security, etc. etc. The stress points become more insidious and more intense by the decade.

    We did not evolve to raise children in isolation. We're a tribal species. Yet, here we are with our "evolved" nuclear families - just 2 parents (and often one), left to fend for themselves and their offspring - worried about keeping a job; stressed out about money; no help raising the kids. Add to that the significant minority of persons who bring mental health, addiction, anger, (and recently) a newly intensified narcissism into the picture. How do kids even have one iota of a chance to thrive inside of a system like that?

    We're in trouble, and not just in Florida. I don't know what the answers are, but my sense is that we are just beginning to see and experience unanticipated blowback from the specious cultural priorities that we have adopted as the "American Way". We'd better get to changing this without going whole-hog into "back-to-the-earth", "New Age", "family values", or some other simplistic answer. We'd better get busy.
    posted by Vibrissae at 1:45 AM on April 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

    I think you're at least right to look for deeper issues, Vibrissae. Not to disagree in the least with anyone who calls for adequate social services, but when many people kill their own children there's surely something else more fundamentally wrong going on.

    Not sure what kind of busy we need to get, though. I'm kind of conscious that in Dickensian London strong community values - including, inevitably, strong community disapproval - led to mothers killing themselves as well as their babies in significant numbers.
    posted by Segundus at 2:04 AM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    I believe in family preservation for difficulties families are facing that do not involve violence or sexual abuse or deliberate acts negligence/psychological harm. I think once violence is involved we need to just move the children with their siblings to a permanent new family with an option for the child to choose a group care situation (abuse in adoptive families can also be a problem and I think the child needs an option to get out and to have a say in it before the adoption,) I think a lot about how to help families in crisis but if the parents have committed horrible abuses to their child your past considering family preservation. I do believe in helping the parents be rehabilitated so that they can be available and healthy for their child if the child wants to have a relationship with them when they get older.
    posted by xarnop at 4:31 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    And yes providing community and services and financial support could drastically influence the number of people who lose control of themselves or turn to drugs to cope lowering their awareness and impulse control. Not to mention can get help with drug abuse before they do something awful.
    posted by xarnop at 4:37 AM on April 10, 2014

    Yeah, family preservation is a real thing that really works. It's important because children who go into the foster care system typically do not do very well in the long term. It's important to distinguish between the goal of family preservation and the ways in which that gets used to bad ends, or without appropriate assessment of when it will work and when it won't. There is also, as with all social service issues that are entangled with some version of "self-determination" (in quotes because we are talking about children, not because there is no such thing) a pendulum effect that makes it very hard to hit the sweet spot between something like child removal and family preservation. Sometimes removal is favored, sometimes preservation is favored, but rarely is the proper balance achieved. You can see the same kinds of swings around the institutionalization or not of people with severe mental illnesses. My point is certainly not that Florida got this right. I know several people who worked the bulk of their careers in child welfare in Florida who have been decrying the state of affairs there for a long time. It's no mistake that the vulnerability of the population here makes cutting funding "acceptable." But there are serious questions about how to best do address child endangerment.
    posted by JohnLewis at 4:56 AM on April 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

    ...but when many people kill their own children there's surely something else more fundamentally wrong going on.

    There's a deep and cancerous anger lying just beneath the surface of American life. It's built from frustration and a general feeling of powerlessness. Sadly, when it bubbles to the surface, it's often children who bear the brunt of the explosion.
    posted by Thorzdad at 5:14 AM on April 10, 2014 [12 favorites]

    I don't know if you guys looked at the database (and I'm not sure I recommend doing it, because it's one of the saddest, most upsetting things I've seen in a while), but, while a lot of the kids did die from physical abuse, an awful lot of them died in other ways. The one that comes up over and over again is accidental drowning. 100 of the 477 kids died from drowning. 249 of the 477 deaths were ruled accidental. 154 were labeled homicides. (Most of the remaining deaths were labeled "undetermined," but there were also 21 deaths of natural causes and 5 from suicide. Physical abuse was a factor in some of the deaths from "natural" causes, but some of them were cases of "medical neglect" where you've got to wonder if the neglect was on the part of the parent or on the part of the people who determine how we distribute health care.) It's probably worth keeping in mind that not all these children were beaten to death.
    posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:40 AM on April 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

    How long is it going to take for people to figure out that when you cut funding for social services, society suffers? How have we gotten to the point where the general populace just goes along with it?
    posted by caution live frogs at 5:46 AM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    As long as it takes for people who aren't in the system to realize and understand it doesn't work how they think it does.
    posted by sio42 at 6:02 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    How have we gotten to the point where the general populace just goes along with it?

    Yes -- but there's no "point" to reach because we've always been there. We haven't liked to admit it, but we've always been there.
    posted by aramaic at 6:08 AM on April 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

    I wonder if we will hear from the commenters in the previous domestic violence thread who asserted that we all have a "breaking point" and if we were angry enough, this could be any of us. I'm sorry, but there is NO POSSIBLE state of anger that could cause me to torture an infant or toddler to death. None. Ever.

    There was a time with my first child, after 6 months of being woken up every 45-90 minutes, when I literally felt my hand tingle with desire to hit as I'd been hit as a child. I am well-educated, financially stable, with practically infinite resources at my disposal. And yet, there I was, pushed to the breaking point, and fighting desperately to not repeat the patterns I'd been taught.

    Reading through the database, the words "he/she wouldn't stop crying" crop up over and over. I am sincerely happy for you that you know with such certainty that you would never hit an infant. But when you grow up as that infant who was hit, and you survived... well, you can't take it for granted that your anger can be controlled. It has taken years of hard (and expensive) work for me to get where I am. How many of those parents had access to those resources?
    posted by snickerdoodle at 6:35 AM on April 10, 2014 [26 favorites]

    Where are the "right to lifers"? Don't these children have a right to life?

    If half the energy and fervor of the anti-abortionists and anti-marriage equality movement went into actually helping kids live, safely and in loving homes, maybe we'd see some progress.

    Florida has no sense of shame.
    posted by kinnakeet at 6:37 AM on April 10, 2014 [29 favorites]

    Access to resources is a huge valid point.

    I hope this doesn't across the wrong, but for those who were lower income or didn't have insurance, what if that child was the product of rape or abuse, perhaps that was never reported and now that mother is having to deal with not only all the issues of child rearing but dealing with all the psychological issues that go with trauma, without having access to talk therapy?

    Most therapy available for low income folks is for drug and alcohol, not helping someone deal with trauma in the past of any kind. Or else it just pays for psychiatric visits. Or if there is talk therapy, it's super regulated to one visit a month or so many per year total. Hopefully the ACA will help some of this.

    It's dehumanizing for the system to act like someone in the system wouldn't have need of a just plain old therapist.
    posted by sio42 at 6:56 AM on April 10, 2014

    Seriously, we should give Florida back to Spain or the Seminoles, as was suggested in the last "You'd think this was a Carl Hiaasen novel but nope it's actually real life Florida" thread.
    posted by Aizkolari at 7:03 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Not trying to open a whole 'nother can of worms kinnakeet, but I suspect that free and ready access to birth control could help reduce the number of kids put in risky situations. I don't know about Florida specifically, but it's pretty republican, and the republicans have been fighting the good fight against access to pre-emptive abortio- I mean, "birth control" - for years. People are going to have sex, people with reduced income are not going to have as many options with respect to pregnancy prevention. Which means those least able to cope with raising an unplanned kid are also those most likely to have to raise an unplanned kid. Is this the case with every parent in the FPP? Who knows. Odds are, at least some of them.

    This wouldn't help the kids that are already in terrible homes, of course. But at least it would give people the option to not have a kid unless they actually really wanted to. I don't know if unplanned kids are more likely to end up as targets of abuse. Maybe. Maybe not.
    posted by caution live frogs at 7:05 AM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

    Normally I'm one of the most insensitive guys in the room, I don't have kids, and I'm hardly in the system. Selfish hedonist with poor impulse control is me. But I saw this article, and it makes me...I don't know. The thing is I don't expose myself to this kind of stuff at all, I'm not the type concerned enough about social justice to do anything beyond handing the occasional beggar my change, you know? I actually congratulate myself for that. And I don't remember the last time I've been this frustrated, saddened, disappointed, or just crushed by...anything. Not career, not breakups, not anything that happens to me personally.

    When my dad hit me, the neighbors called the cops, and they came. He got taken away, and he stopped after a weekend in jail. The cops, the system cared enough about me to stop the violence before it got really bad. I've never returned a blow. I avoid fights. I know what abuse looks like and I call it out and it pisses me off. Many of my friends are victims of it, and I feel kind of helpless around it, but I know better than to make it worse. And I vote for increases on my taxes to stop exactly this kind of shit. It's just I guess that I'm used to thinking of it as an abstraction. I think I'm mostly on the right side of morality, but I do not face this every day, and while I know it goes on, my god. To actually have to think of it, to face it. How horrible must that be?

    What am I trying to say? I don't know. But the day the cops came and took my dad away, I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders, because I knew the world didn't approve. I also knew he'd be back, but I saw the system at work, and I knew my perceptions about dysfunction were correct, and I knew there was a shield between him and me (even if he only drew blood once, even if he only slapped me twice, even if he only ever spanked me the rest of the time). I knew there were other paths. I knew that if I wasn't safe permanently at that moment they took him away, I would be one day. The "system", at its best, turned me away from anger that no one saw what an asshole my dad was sometimes. The state knew, like I knew, that people get hurt when you let anger and violence go unchecked and unaddressed, and that sometimes people need help (getting scared straight in the clinker for a weekend for my dad; not much when you think about it) to turn their lives around.

    Since then I don't think of it much, but the fact that I've never raised a hand to anyone, despite getting punched in the face a few times, or despite being accused of unfair things...I owe, and the world owes, tax dollars and a functioning police force and widespread awareness of social justice for that. Now, I get older and wiser while Florida slashes their budget at the cost of children's lives. How is this acceptable? I don't know what I can do for them from here except vote, donate, and volunteer, but this cuts very deep.

    Also, yeah, good to see journalism still exists.
    posted by saysthis at 7:07 AM on April 10, 2014 [20 favorites]

    kjs3: "So this isn't something that someone is explaining away with the old "free market will fix that right up" chestnut, is it? They've really devolved to straight up "fuck those poor kids"?"

    No, see, we can remove constraints on child labor thus leasing them out to businesses, lowering wages via competition, making money for the family, even better if we can remove minimum wage, since, you know, only dumb kids have jobs with minimum wage, anyways, according to FOX NEWS.

    Honestly, what makes me sad is that I feel like these results are a "feature, not a bug" to those who implement it. And I know it's horrible to think that way, but...
    posted by symbioid at 7:29 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Where are the "right to lifers"? Don't these children have a right to life?

    Nope. Your warranty runs out once you're born.
    posted by GenjiandProust at 7:30 AM on April 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

    "Not trying to open a whole 'nother can of worms kinnakeet, but I suspect that free and ready access to birth control could help reduce the number of kids put in risky situations."

    I completely agree with you this is a needed thing, but most of the kids I know who were abused had married parents when they were conceived and were planned/wanted. I do feel like having stronger community education about what is really expected of parents, what resources exist and how to use them (as well as making sure those resources exist and are financially accessible) combined with birth control access for people who aren't ready to really commit to meeting children's needs themselves and using any existing resources to get in a place where they can meet those needs if any problems come up would help.

    I feel like teaching a basic family wellness and psychological health section in required middle and high-school health classes might help because many people don't go on to college and won't learn about peaceful discipline, or evidence based parenting methods, or what sorts of behaviors are considered dysfunction and what resources they could use to heal or prevent that from being part of their families.
    posted by xarnop at 7:36 AM on April 10, 2014

    (The mothers often became single after running away from the abuse, but... ) Anyway that's sort of a tangent because I agree that there are plenty of people who definitely know they can't parent and don't want kids but assume they should should do so anyway simply because they got pregnant and don't see any other options. And we should basically address the known causes of these situations we can see, which are plenty, there's plenty we know we could do that would help. And yes, those things tend to require financial investments.
    posted by xarnop at 7:39 AM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    That was one of the most horrifying things I have ever read. If we're not going to regulate who is allowed to be a parent/caregiver, can we at least, ffs, give money, power and responsibility to those who are supposed to protect those children?
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:51 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I remember the first time I crossed the border from Ontario into New York when I was fairly young and very naive. I had been told through various means that the States was a first world progressive society. The moment I crossed the border I couldn't believe the disrepair of the streets and buildings and soon after crossing the border, the racial and class divisions.

    Small government just means government for the wealthy and a reduction in social programs is only going to encourage more chaos. That there isn't a massive level of chaos is quite astounding. It's baffling that we see the rise of the Tea Party and similar, and they take power and initiate changes, while most of the "we, the people" can't seemingly find anyone or any group to represent them.

    In my own country more and more people are "rising up" to embrace U.S. style conservatism (or whatever the hell you want to call it). Infrastructure is beginning to go to shit and somehow this is now irrelevant or even celebrated.

    Very sad.
    posted by juiceCake at 8:11 AM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Daniela, JohnLewis, I think the comparison to deinstitutionalization is right on. The disaster of deinstitutionalization was that bureaucrats rightly concluded that institutionalization was often worse than in-community care, but when the institutions closed, the money just vanished rather than being transferred to community resources. Similarly, "family preservation" makes a lot of sense as a goal---kids in foster care do very poorly, especially older kids, and it's worth doing everything to prevent that. But in order to make it work, you need to pour significant resources into helping the family, and the kids---monitoring, at-home visits, counseling for the parents, etc. Instead, it was treated as free money for the state to take back, and the victims piled up.
    posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:43 AM on April 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

    This is really tough, and I agree with folks saying that the lack of resources is a huge problem, because I think that finding a reliable one-size-fits-all solution here is really complicated, if not impossible.

    This country has a long history of specifically targetting low-income families and families of color (and, famously, indigenous families) and taking children away from their parents--and then often terminating those parents' rights permanently--for reasons that would never fly for upper-class white families. Sometimes for things as simple as "smokes marijana." A lot of it intersects with mass incarceration, too, because having one parent incarcerated can in some cases be enough. I know that social workers disasterously fail to act when it is really necessary, but there are also examples on the other side, where they act when it wasn't, and do permanent damage to parents, children, and whole communities.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I absolutely support "family preservation" policies, provided they consist of more than neglecting-to-investigate; it's a real crime when it becomes a euphemism for cutting social services.
    posted by likeatoaster at 9:32 AM on April 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

    Safety plan -- there's a phrase I haven't heard in a while. They're often worse than useless: All the gratification of pointing out that you've Officially Done Something with exactly none of the concrete effort required to actually do anything at all.
    Safety plans are supposed to work like contracts: The parents, step-parents or grandparents agree to stop whatever it is they are doing to endanger a child — overindulging in pain pills, getting drunk, engaging in fistfights around the children, cohabitating with a dangerous beau. In return, DCF agrees not to take their kids.

    In theory, they are a way to make parents face up to their demons, be they drug abuse, mental illness or family violence. Such plans are supposed to provide detailed roadmaps to recovery, and hold parents accountable when they fall short.

    Except the plans often don't hold them accountable, because the agency has a track record of not noticing — or not acting — when the contract is broken. Except to impose another safety plan.
    My childhood was a walk in the park compared to those discussed in the OP, but we were still blessed with near-constant visits from CPS, and the utter fucking futility of that week's agreed-upon "safety plan" was never too far from my mind. It might have worked better if they would've just outlined the specific instruments my dad would be allowed to hit us with as opposed to reiterating their ineffectual handwaving about eliminating corporal punishment altogether.

    The pitch toward "family preservation" at all costs is ten kinds of bunk, but the prospect of being placed into foster care is absolutely chilling for any kid who's old enough to think, especially when you have siblings. Would you rather stay with parents who hate, hit, and yell at you, or risk being separated from the only other people in the world who know what you've already had to live through? What about having to face the possibility that you'll be placed somewhere even worse than where you're already living? Or the possibility that your new caretakers will also see that you're a horrible monster who deserves to be treated terribly? Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, right? It almost makes you want to force out a smile and a nod when the friendly CPS lady asks if everything is all right at home...

    Most of the abused kids I encountered growing up had parents who were adamantly morally opposed to abortion and absolutely all forms of birth control. No amount of earnest education or free condom distribution would have helped: Jesus would get mad at them if they intervened with conception in any way, so they just let nature take its course, which is at least part of the reason why so many people who were never even capable of caring for a single child wind up with a half-dozen or more. Shit, I would've been the oldest of at least eight (rather than five) if good old Mother Nature hadn't stepped in a few times, but my parents shouldn't have ever been entrusted with even one. I've known numerous kids just like me, some of whom were not able to make it out.

    These are the parents who would always pontificate about their children like we were invincible collectible things rather than human beings with wants, hopes, dreams, and needs: They believed we were not merely the result of a simple and entirely avoidable biological imperative, but rather personalized, specific gifts sent directly from God to the mother- and father-to-be, even if there was absolutely no way said parents would be able to provide adequate care to said children once we were born.

    "God never gives you more than you can handle," they'd say, especially when we ran out of food and food stamps toward the end of the month. It was like they thought that the statement itself automatically rendered our struggles meaningful, inconsequential, or even noble -- again, a gift from God. They never seemed to experience any kind of cognitive dissonance as they yammered on about how a given child was a very special present from Jebus only to mercilessly scream at, neglect, or beat the everloving shit out of same. There are so many parents like this. This quote sums it up so perfectly:
    "Every parent feels like that's their child — their child is almost like their property, you know? They don't want anyone to tell them anything."
    posted by divined by radio at 9:37 AM on April 10, 2014 [13 favorites]

    I think if we're going to start regulating parenting with the claims we should have the right to regulate parenting behavior if there is a risk of fatal injury we ought to start banning kids from riding in automobiles the leading cause of child death ages 2 to 18. And I'm not saying that because to make a point against regulations, I am saying that because we really OUGHT to care about the lives of children and we selectively choose when to do that based on convenience and perceptions about personal freedom that are very subjective, as well as anger and judgement of people we want to punish.

    Regulations based in fear and anger or hatred "how can those people do that they need to be banned from parenting!" are often not well thought out and this is problematic. I do believe removal can be necessary, but it is a DEVASTATING thing to do to a family, including the children, and abuse statistics are not great in foster or adoptive homes with older children. The research has acutally

    Implementing policies like no spanking or zero tolerance on hitting, which I think ideally we should do as a long term goal, should also come with a nuanced understanding of whether the solutions your putting forth really serve the cause the way you want. For example I think we should ban spanking, but if we have a zero tolerance policy on any hitting consider this concerning if accurate statement:

    "While there are laws against child abuse, it's legal in all 50 states for parents to hit their children, and for schools in 19 states to physically punish kids. About 80% of American parents said they've hit their young children, and about 100,000 kids are paddled in U.S. schools every year, researchers said."

    While anyone anywhere who has been abused would likely think "Anything would be better than this!" it's unfortunately not necessarily true that anything is better.

    A lot of research has found the kids who stay in inadequate homes rather than being removed do better.

    Adopted kids get abused too, and what then?

    I think in order to reach a point where we can really ask parents to do peaceful parenting and intervene on behalf of children, we need to be supporting and educating families to begin with, not just with more regulations, but with tools and supports to parent well.

    And really so long as we are ensuring people have access to resources and supports to be good parents, to heal from mental illness/addiction... to build strengths or skills they are struggling with--- and financial and emotional support when needed- the people responsible for hurting their kids are the people that do it. And no we can't ensure that no one will ever do such a thing however strict regulations we make or however much we monitor and regulate parents. We can ensure that we add up the dots of all the known variables that put families at risk of abusing and that we address those things with resources and supports and that we do have an effective removal process when needed. But really if a child has been hit once, considering that is considered normal discipline, immediate removal might be harmful given that most parents use spanking or beating without ever committing child homicide or more grotesque acts of child abuse.

    The thing that is so horrifying about all of this is that there are people voting to reduce funding to help families stay healthy and use peaceful discipline-- and statistically yeah that is people who claim to be "pro-life". That people can really be this ignorant and think they are empathetic good people is truly horrifying. That some parents are turly monsters is also terrifying but when you consider the level of trauma and past abuse many of those parents have been through-- and the lack of services they have available, defining who is really the monster gets a bit more complicated. Sometimes monsters are "nice" people who go to church and bake pies for charity. And vote against providing the extensive supports those in need really desperately need to be available.

    It's of course, all really horrific. If a parent gets reported for "beating their kids" it's much easier for a family with a fancy house, picked up by their maid, fancy schools and great care in many other aspects (paid for with MONEY) to say they use responsible spanking as discipline, whereas if a poor family gets reported for hitting their kids and the house is falling apart and messy and they don't have "adequate toys" or adequate food-- the bias leans toward persecuting low income families. Whether it's defined as spanking or beating can depend on the race, income, and other assets of the family to the point what many families are really getting persecuted for is being disenfranchised and without resources.
    posted by xarnop at 9:49 AM on April 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

    Please correct me if im wrong but in most jurisdictions, the one parent has to agree to press charges against the other in order for that parent to be taken away forever.

    That is something across all socioeconomic strata...the denial of the reality of abuse.

    Like that thread the other day, the woman loved this man and had happy memories. Then several years he turns into an abuser.

    No one wants to see someone they love taken away in handcuffs or bear the shame of the whole situation, your private life out there for everyone to see.

    There are so many sides to this it needs many solutions, not just one.
    posted by sio42 at 9:52 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    This country has a long history of specifically targetting low-income families and families of color (and, famously, indigenous families) and taking children away from their parents--and then often terminating those parents' rights permanently--for reasons that would never fly for upper-class white families

    Totally understood, but how many chances do you get? Many of these dead children had families that were investigated upwards of 10, 20 times.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:04 AM on April 10, 2014

    but what happens when most members of the village are fragmented and stressed out; when most members of the village don't know each other

    Boy is this my favorite foster care soap box right now. We've had 2 children reunited with bio families and 1 sibling pair that is in kinship care with fictive kin. I have not seen or heard from a single one of those children since they left our home.

    I really think it's because foster care is such a fucked up adversarial system that bio families HATE foster parents because they represent that system. I would be happy to offer emotional support, babysitting, money for extra curricular activities and transportation services to any of our former kids and their families but the system makes that impossible for those parents to accept. And our help would come free to the state! If they just made it a little easier we would offer some of the support that the families need to be successful!

    We had a two year old who was removed from the home when her pre-adoptive mother called the police to get help with a crisis unfolding at her house. She did the RIGHT thing. You should call the police when dangerous things are happening around your children. And the system rewarded her by yanking the kid (for three months spanning both Thanksgiving and Christmas as insult to injury) and then returning the child to pre-adoptive mom months later with no real explanation for why it wasn't safe and now was.

    So all they taught her is: if there is an emergency, do not call for help or else. And here we are willing to support her but she kind of hates us and probably would rather not open her home to more strangers who she feels judged by.

    That's what a "focus on reunification" looks like in Texas.
    posted by Saminal at 10:36 AM on April 10, 2014 [11 favorites]

    I think a lot of people don't realize that a lot of kids are in foster care for reasons other than violent abuse or sexual abuse. And really we shouldn't be removing kids for their families lacking resources or needing help.

    ALSO- we should NOT be giving people who commit violent acts on their kids 20 chances to stop beating them. If a parent has a violence/aggression problem, we should probably let the kids be moved to an adoptive- not foster- home.

    I think we should essentially cease leaving kids in foster care for years at a time, it shouldn't be done. They should go to a permanent adoptive family which they can leave on request if it's not working out (again group home option).

    Non-violent drug users can go to drug treatment and bring children with them, we actually have that available here in my city.

    I don't know why you would see rehabilitation as the goal to return a child to a home where the child has been sexually abused or violently injured by the caregiver in question. (Though I was putting forth some of the reasons it's come to that and why the issue becomes more gray the harder you look- in addition to that sometimes we literally just don't have enough quality and loving adoptive families willing to adopt older children.)

    I also think we should have live in family communities where parents can get parent training and support and healthy enriching and bonding activities on site as well as help with any disabilities or skill deficits they're dealing with; to help with issues that are not violent or sexual abuse related.
    posted by xarnop at 10:48 AM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I was abused as a child. The first time I remember being hit or thrown around I was three.

    The last time, which literally involved my father hitting me across the face so hard that that my head bounced off the doorframe a foot away, resulted in my first real suicide attempt and first hospitalization. (And yet, somehow, CAS STILL didn't get involved.)

    Cops were called to my home more than once when my father and I got into screaming matches. They didn't do shit. It's not like you're going to say "NO PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE" when your 250 pound father is standing right there while the cops are asking you if you're okay.

    He was smart about it, too. Never left marks where other people could see. But I had to beg out of gym class a few times. Because no matter what anyone says, what anyone tells you, you feel like it's your fault, like you did something wrong, not that you are living with a capital-M Monster.

    I grew up with all the Good Touch/Bad Touch stuff at school. I knew there was help out there. But as awful as my home situation was (and at times, especially as a teenager, it was fucking dire), it was still home. I was helpless. Home sucked, but God only knows where I would have gone had I been removed from the home. After leaving hospital, we tried me living with my sister for a bit, but she had two toddlers and no energy. I could have lived with my grandmother, at the cost of losing my entire support network of friends.

    As it was, I had to go live with my despised mother in a tiny little town nobody has ever heard of. I had to uproot my entire life, start at a new high school, lose all my old friends.

    I don't know what else to say. I didn't go through the horrors alluded to in that database--and boy howdy am I not going to read it. Maybe I had it relatively 'lucky.' Maybe I just had to get this out for the first time ever.

    But no child should be hit, ever. Children should only ever be touched with love and affection.

    Use your words, not your hands.
    posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

    Seriously, we should give Florida back to Spain or the Seminoles, as was suggested in the last "You'd think this was a Carl Hiaasen novel but nope it's actually real life Florida" thread.

    Spain has already become Britain's Florida.

    And the Seminoles don't really want all those McMansions with great rooms..
    posted by ocschwar at 12:05 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I was reminded of Davion Only, the Florida teenager who received worldwide attention for his plea to finally, at the age of 16, have a real family. Of course it's a complicated issue, especially around an older child, but he still hasn't been adopted. At least he's alive and he seems relatively safe.

    Those poor children. Those poor, poor children. We have failed them all so thoroughly.

    posted by jetlagaddict at 12:32 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    This makes me seethe. Because there are plenty of opportunities in this world to help the less fortunate.

    You take all those sanctimonious pro life marchers, abortion clinic protesters, right wing asshats who plaster "protect religious freedom" signs on their lawns, and support the right of Hobby Lobby, and others, to not provide birth control for their employees, and put them all in a big pot -- and you have more than enough people to make a difference in the lives of children. They can volunteer at a Head Start program, drive poor parents to classes and drug abuse counseling, become foster parents, provide babysitting to foster parents, hold crack babies at the hospital while their moms get clean, the list goes on and on.

    But do they? Oh, no. It's easy to be pro life before the life actually needs tender loving care.
    posted by Kokopuff at 1:12 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Not to derail too much, but as has been discussed here before: those people are not 'pro-life,' they are 'anti-slut.'
    posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:24 PM on April 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

    What about having to face the possibility that you'll be placed somewhere even worse than where you're already living?

    Especially when, as my mother did, the abuser taunts you with it as an additional threat.
    posted by winna at 1:48 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Jesus, between this and Florida's Medicaid-refusal death count... Jesus.
    posted by psoas at 2:02 PM on April 10, 2014

    the parents aren't always (in fact they're usually not inclined) to accept a lot of input about changes they could make.

    You don't say! Tell me something I don't already know from years of violent, life-threatening personal experience, including multiple hospitalizations and getting my ass kicked extra hard for being so selfish as to need serious medical attention after some beatings.

    When and what does the state have the right to do?

    When the kids show up to school so badly beaten that they can't sit down and can only see out of one eye because the other is swollen shut? The state needs to step in, get the kids medical attention, and get them someplace safe. And the state needs to not send the kids back again and again for renewed and redoubled abuse.

    "Family preservation", my ass. Bitter? You betcha.

    We're not talking about Junior ripping off his diaper and streaking merrily across the yard. Hell, that was Elder Monster's favorite pastime, complete with shrieking "I NAKEY!" at the top of his gleeful little lungs, me in hot pursuit yelling "Alexander! Get your little ass back here!". We're talking about kids who've been abused.

    Yeah, sometimes your kid really does fall down the steps/bust his yap open playing "Ninja"/fall off the swing/walk into the door jamb because he was walking and reading at the same time. They don't do that every Wednesday afternoon when the old man gets home from work and immediately snorts up, though.

    How do you address the risk of those kids of those parents turning into those very same parents?

    You get the survivors into counseling immediately. It requires money, time, and people who give a shit. I am so thankful that my grandparents had good insurance so I could get the therapy I needed, and grateful that when I left home to go to University, there was a free counseling service available.

    I have spent decades in therapy, and thank Bob for my therapists. They had their hands full, but they taught me that 1) what happened to me was not my fault, 2) I didn't have to be held prisoner by my experiences, I didn't have to visit those horrors on my own children, and 3) the cycle CAN be broken.

    I've raised two awesome young men without raising a hand to them. I've always been open with them about my own childhood, and they trust me enough to know that if they opine "Damn, Moo, that's fucked up.", they're going to get a nod of agreement, not the back of my hand. When the shit hits the fan with them in their school/work/personal lives, they come to me for help and advice. They don't hide anything from me, because they know that I've always got their backs. They've got what I never had.

    Safety plan -- there's a phrase I haven't heard in a while. They're often worse than useless:

    Yep. "Safety plan" at my house meant harder punches and things like extension cords and the hook end of the dog's leash, and the wooden paddle from those paddle-ball toys that show up in pre-made Easter baskets and such. Took me until I was in my 20s before the sight of one of those didn't trigger a panic attack. Yep, the State's plan for my "safety" was to do sweet-fuck-all.
    posted by MissySedai at 4:30 PM on April 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

    “We saw the increase in infant deaths, but we attributed it to the economic downturn, rather than to family preservation"

    There's a lot of things wrong with that statement, but the one that jumps out most is the Florida CPS would assume that children would die in an 'economic downturn.' In what is still the world's richest country, where there is plenty of money to go around (would that it did), that children would just die because of a lack of money.

    When future generations condemn how we lived, I'm sure global warming will be right at the top but damned if how we treat poor children in this country isn't going to be high on that list, too.
    posted by librarylis at 8:27 PM on April 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Please correct me if im wrong but in most jurisdictions, the one parent has to agree to press charges against the other in order for that parent to be taken away forever.

    I was hoping someone else who knows more would jump in, but I guess I'll respond, because I know a brief spattering of family law. (If someone knows better, by all means.) IANYL, this is not legal advice.

    That is not correct, no. Parental rights can be permanently terminated by "clear and convicing evidence" at a hearing, or automatically following certain convictions (generally, child abuse and its ilk, but in some states even domestic violence against a partner or spouse). Getting those convictions does not require the other parent to press charges in a lot of jurisdictions, although it certainly helps the prosecution case, obviously. But regardless of the automatic-termination clauses, getting terminated after a hearing does not necessarily require the instigation of the other parent (although it generally does require the initiation of social services).

    Practically speaking, you're really only going to see permanent termination of one and not the other if they don't co-habitate; if they do, you're probably going to see permanent termination of both parents, or neither.
    posted by likeatoaster at 7:30 AM on April 11, 2014

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