by Elizabeth Gibbons
The Florida School Shooting, Upcoming Protests, and Legislation
The devastating Parkland, Florida mass shooting, like many other tragic school shootings, has rekindled the debate over gun control. As a quick recap: gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, had a history of mental health issues, and multiple calls had been made to authorities regarding his health and propensity for violence. The authorities never followed up, and the family with whom he had been living with never recognized the severity of his violent behavior.
On February 14, Cruz killed 17 people at his old high school using an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that he had purchased legally. Many gun advocates want legislation to focus on mental illness, not on gun restrictions, but the problem is twofold and stricter gun restrictions must be a legislative priority. Measures called “extreme risk protection orders,” which have been passed in four states, are now pending in Congress and both President Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have said they will review gun restrictions. These “extreme risk protection orders” give judges the power to hinder access to or ownership of guns in emergency situations, but such measures are not failsafe and require someone else to report their concerns and provide probable cause.
Connecticut has had these measures on the books since 1999, but this did not prevent the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Some legislation in the Florida House and Senate include amendments to concealed carry laws and a bill to allow registered employees to conceal and carry weapons in schools. This addresses the moment of violence, but it does nothing to preempt the violence.
Are you educating yourself? Take a minute to read more about gun law with this fact sheet, the history of gun legislation, what Congress might do in the wake of this latest shooting, the legal precedent that allowed a teenager with mental health issues to purchase a gun, and President Trump’s stance on gun policy.
Are you taking action to help solve this problem? Support the young people who are organizing. Students are planning marches and walkouts across the country, and protesters on social media are demanding accountability and circling petitions. On March 14, there will be a nationwide walkout for students and teachers. March 24 also will be a day of marches—spearheaded by the March for Our Lives in downtown Washington, DC—as will April 20th, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. Already, we’ve seen students lying on the wet ground outside of the White House to symbolize those slain by preventable gun violence. March and April will bring more visible and large-scale responses to the Parkland shooting and its underlying causes.
Read CWLA’s recent Statement on School Violence, as well.
New Innovations in Child Protection: For Better or Worse?
Earlier this year, CWLA published a small post about the Allegheny County’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families’ use of a new public predictive analytics program in their screening of families who are vulnerable. The Allegheny Family Screening Tool is a predictive analytics program that compiles all available data from public records, digitized archives, previous child protective reports, and police records to determine the risk of abuse or mistreatment. An independent ethics review showed that the use of such an algorithm in child protective services was ethical and less bias than human screeners. It should be emphasized that this program does not replace clinical judgment, nor does it make the choice to investigate. It makes the screening process arguably more objective and allows child protective services to use their staffing and financial resources more efficiently while helping families who are the most at risk.
Child protection agencies across the United States are beginning to implement similar programs in the hope of making their work more effective. However, critics note the tendency of automated government services to routinely fail the very people who rely on such services. Human bias in public assistance systems has created deep inequalities for people of color—if the system is automated, will those inequalities, in turn, also be “automated”? Some argue that the bias is not necessarily removed with automation, but is rooted more deeply into the system. Automation allows limited staff and limited resources to more effectively handle overwhelmed government services, but it also removes human empathy from the equation and potentially entrenches bias.
Faith and Medicine
Does parental denial of medical care on the grounds of religious freedom constitute neglect? As discussed in a recent Washington Post feature, child advocates estimate that close to 200 Idaho children have died due to the withholding of medical treatment since the enacting of a statewide exemption for “faith healing” during the 1970s. Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty, a nonprofit that organizes and tracks medical neglect notes that more children die of faith-based medical neglect in Idaho than any other state. Efforts to repeal faith-healing exemptions in medical laws has led to clashes between child welfare advocates and religious freedom advocates. In Idaho specifically, the GOP’s reluctance to legislate on religious issues has stymied efforts to repeal this law or create legislation that will allow judges to intervene on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, some parental rights and religious freedom advocates are attempting to use religious freedom laws to prevent teens who identify as transgender from seeking medical treatment.
The most recent related case comes from Cincinnati, Ohio, where custody of a teenager was awarded to his grandparents who support his transition. His parents objected to his treatment plan, which was suggested and prescribed by his doctors, on religious grounds. This case has prompted Ohio legislators to create new rules regarding minors who identify as transgender to help spare families from long court battles and breakups. Will these new rules clash with faith-healing exemptions? When does the medical professional trump the parent in cases of child welfare?
Elizabeth Gibbons is CWLA’s editorial intern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.