by Elizabeth Gibbons
March For Our Lives
On Saturday, March 24, one of the largest protests in American history took place outside of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Reminiscent of the students marching against the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to exclaim “Never Again”! The largest demonstration—upwards of 850,000 people—occurred in Washington, but the streets of Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Atlanta, Berlin, Paris, and London were also packed with people demanding action.
After an amazing show of solidarity and commitment to gun regulation, we have to ask: What comes after the march? Conversation, legislation, and voting. Student activists and Democratic senators have been vocal in their attacks on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and on their desire to create effective, common-sense gun regulations. However, President Trump and Republican members of Congress are still taking meetings with the NRA and have backed down on their propositions since the march, saying that “taking away rights” will not solve the problem. However, the rhetoric that all Democrats are out to “steal your guns” is fearmonger; it stalls the conversation and creates massive tension between gun owners and those affected by gun violence. The majority of the American public believes common-sense gun regulations are reasonable and should be put in place; however, Congress, due to the funding and lobbying efforts of the NRA, refuses to put any such measures in place. After the march, we must maintain our momentum at the polls, where we hold our elected officials accountable and demand change.
Arizona’s Department of Children and Families, with the support of the Arizona Star and hopefully the Arizona State Legislature, is waging a battle to fix the foster care crisis and reform all CPS policies to fix the root cause of the crisis. Reporters from the Star spent a year traveling the country and learning about how other states have successfully reformed their systems and created long-term improvements. The main takeaways: partner with parents, instead of punishing them, do what is scientifically proven to be best for the kids and the family, and do whatever it takes for that individual case. You can read more about the Star‘s investigation and findings here.
The Arizona State Legislature is not necessarily helping the Department of Children and Families reform their methods. One very unhelpful example of this is Bill SB 1473, which condemns mothers facing addiction and requires that all infants born addicted be immediately removed and put into the (overwhelmed) foster care system. Research has shown that babies who are born addicted do much better when kept with their mothers; when placed in foster care, those same babies fare significantly worse and face greater stigmatization as they grow up. Children and families need personalized help and resources from trained caseworkers, not punishing legislation that demonizes their struggles and does nothing to help.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has cut $170 million from New York City’s child welfare agency. Officials from that agency are not publically calling on state officials to withdraw those proposed cuts, which would affect all of the Administrations for Children’s Services programs—specifically assistance to juveniles who have been accused of crimes.
Before these newly proposed cuts, the Interagency Foster Care Task Force had made recommendations to bolster services to youth in foster care. Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokesperson for the governor, stated that funds for New York City have been boosted, and the city funds the ACS; therefore, she said, the ACS is not being cut. Rotherberg further stated that other critical aspects of infrastructure in the city are in desperate need of funding.
Kansas state lawmakers are debating creating a watchdog agency based outside the state’s child welfare agency with access to inside information in order to review the state’s Department for Children and Families. This watchdog, created by the passage of a bill, comes after years of children experiencing abuse, being reported missing, or dying while in state custody.
The Department of Children and Families already has an ombudsman—an official appointed to investigate complaints—but relatives of children who died due to abuse claim that it is not enough. The ombudsman reports to the DCF; this new watchdog would report to the Kansas department of administration. The DCF has expressed opposition to the potential watchdog, stating that since they have made accountability and transparency top priorities, an advocate outside of the department would constitute an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. The watchdog’s powers would include investigation, access to confidential records by request, and ability to subpoena documents to review how the state protects children. This is not the only action Kansas lawmakers are debating; a bill to release information about the deaths of children in state custody and make such information more transparent has been passed. This bill would require the DCF to release information about the child that dies as well as any information about the DCF’s involvement and investigations when requested. This will ensure transparency and accountability from the Department.
The Office of Program Evaluation in Maine is currently investigating the state’s Child Protective Services after two high-profile deaths by abuse captured the sympathy of Maine residents. One critical aspect of this investigation will be determining how CPS judges the severity of an allegation and determines how to investigate a potential abuse situation: Is CPS responsible for dropping the ball on these cases, or are other factors at play? How can the department be reformed to better serve Maine’s most vulnerable?
Child Protective Services has implemented reforms in the past; last year workers implemented a tool called “Structured Decision Making” to help determine if allegations of abuse warranted investigation. It makes the process more uniform and insured that every worker had the same training and information and could make accurate, consistent decisions. Maine adopted this tool to reduce the amount of child welfare cases the department took on, superseding their intention to improve child safety. As of this writing, there is no balance between improving and ensuring child safety and reducing unnecessary investigations or removals. The department-wide investigation currently happening will hopefully help strike that balance.
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at email@example.com.