Baltimore DHS Director: “Stop the Insanity;” “Kids ought to be in families.”

4 Sep

Over the years, this blog has sought to get Arlington County to rethink its approach to protecting children.   Instead of removing children from their families as a primary tool, this blog has argued that its primary tool should be to keep families together and, using other tools, solve the particular threat to the child.

In this TED talk, Molly McGrath Tierney, the Director for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, explains what is wrong with the current child welfare system and how she has worked over the past six years to change it in Baltimore.  She has led a massive reform effort to dramatically improve the impact of services to vulnerable citizens of Baltimore. Molly’s work is considered a national model for modern social services.

In this TEDx talk she advocates what this blog has been advocating.   Here are her key observations:

  1. “Kids who grew up in foster care…. You know what they want? They want to go home

  2. Now, there are over 50 child welfare agencies in the country, and the funds to underwrite them are in the billions.  There is not one among them that’s reputed to be working well.

  3. Awful things happen to children in foster care. Short term, their outcomes for important things like health and education are abysmal, and long term it just gets worse. Kids that grow up in foster care [are] overwhelmingly destined for the penitentiary, the morgue, or the child welfare system when their own kids come into foster care.

  4. the agency she runs now was once considered among the worst in the country;  during her tenure it reduced the number of children in foster care by 58%, reduced the number of kids living in orphanages by 89%, increased adoptions 59%, and increased the number of kids that left foster care for families by 47%.

  5. She did it by articulating a mission and repeated it like a broken record,  “Kids ought to be in families.”

  6. The reason child welfare isn’t working is because there are children in foster care.

  7. “Why would we do such a thing?”

    “first, it feels good to save kids. We get a great injection of adrenaline when we rush in, and our brain responds to that stimuli. Just like we do anything else that feels good, we want more of it. And when we figure out how to keep returning to that good feeling, we start thinking that, in and of itself, is success. We’re mistaking something that feels good to us for something that is actually helping other people, because if it feels so good, we must be doing the right thing.”

    Second, child welfare is an industry, and industries are self-protecting ecosystems. Think about it. The only time the federal government pays me is when I take somebody’s kid. And as soon as that kid’s in foster care, they instantly become a commodity, and the industry starts to wrap around – doctors, lawyers, judges, social workers, advocates, whole organizations. The industry is committed to this intervention, this taking other people’s children, ‘cause that’s what it needs to survive. And it’s on auto pilot, and it’s going to do whatever it has to do to stay alive.  And this industry, to stay alive, needs other people’s children. And this industry, to stay alive, needs other people’s children.”

  8. Child welfare is mostly driven by DHS workers, guardian ad litems, and family court judges soothing their own egos and wanting to feel good about themselves, rather than doing what is best for the family and child.

Read the complete comments of Molly McGrath Tierney.

Related: Listen to the Kids

Judges Are Not Supposed to Question Witnesses

25 Aug

Biased Judge ResignsA lesson for Arlington Judges comes from Texas.  There State District Judge Elizabeth E. Coker–who sits on the bench over Trinity, Polk and San Jacinto counties– resigned under fire in a texting controversy, according to a voluntary agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.   Coker, 46, had been on the bench for 14 years and is the third generation in her family to serve on an East Texas bench. Her father and grandfather also served.

Her resignation stems from complaints and media stories alleging that Coker “had engaged in improper ex parte text communications with Polk County Assistant District Attorney Kaycee Jones while Judge Coker presided” over a criminal trial in August of 2012.   With those complaints, “the commission commenced an investigation into allegations that Judge Coker used Assistant District Attorney Jones to privately communicate information” about the case “to suggest questions for the prosecutor to ask during the trial” among other issues. The agreement also said the commission looked into other complaints that Coker allegedly engaged in other improper communications and meetings with Jones, other members of the Polk County prosecutor’s office, the San Jacinto County District Attorney and certain defense attorneys.

The agreement goes on to say “the parties agree that the allegations of judicial misconduct, if found to be true, could result in disciplinary action against Judge Coker.” As a result, the parties sought to resolve the matter “without the time and expense of further disciplinary proceedings.”

Under the agreement, she will be disqualified from sitting or serving as a judge in Texas.

Arlington County court observers have noticed that it is the habit of some Arlington Judges to suggest to a party’s attorney questions to ask a witness (outgoing Judge Wiggins was one judge who was known to do this), engage in ex parte contacts with parties, or, even worse, to directly act as a party to the case before them by asking the witness questions directly.    Such practices are clearly improper under the code of judicial contact and show extreme bias in the cases before them.

If you witness such behavior — or any other irregular behavior — on the part of any Arlington Judge — regardless of which court they preside over — file a complaint about that behavior with the Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission and send a copy of your complaint to Judicial Watch and the Washington Post Investigations.

Its Arlington County Fair Time

6 Aug

Arlington County Fair is on again this year, August 5 through the 9th.  Shuttle buses take you to the fair grounds from Ballston Metro, the Arlington Career Center, Pentagon City Metro, and the I-66 parking garage.   Price for the shuttle $2, and runs every 30 minutes.

Read more Arlington County Fair 2015

Try Listening to the Kids Next Time

4 Aug

Arlington County, like a lot of other local governments, have a gestapo-type attitude towards the treatment of children.   Although they say they do things “in the best interests of the child,” they rarely care what the child wants — in fact, they rarely give the child an attorney to represent them in proceedings that will determine their future.

Two brave children (now adults), Hope and Elizabeth Loudon, recently wrote a great and touching piece for the Washington Post.  They make the case for CPS and family courts to listen to the children — not simply a  bunch of adults (including poorly qualified GALs who answer to no-one) about what to do with them.  Their article should be required reading for every social worker, GAL, family court judge, and circuit court judge before they touch another case!

These two children were willing to go to jail to protest for what they wanted for themselves… which was what was in their best interests!

Here are some excepts:

When we entered high school, we hoped the court would believe we were old enough to decide to live with our mother. When our father arrived to pick us up from school one day, we refused to go. We called for the school police officer, foolishly believing he and a school administrator would protect us. We were wrong. They scorned us for the way we were treating our “loving father” who “just wanted to make things better.” Instead of allowing us to leave with our mother, the police officer gave us a choice: Go with our father or be arrested. We chose the latter.”

“[S]ocial workers acted as though our mother had brainwashed us. They accused us of causing a fight between our parents and treated us like criminals. At the detention facility, we were forced to remove our clothes and replace them with stained uniforms. Authorities separated and interrogated us. When we tried to explain that we felt mistreated and depressed in our father’s home, the man processing us said, “Stop giving me these evasive answers! Did he or did he not leave a mark?”

“At the juvenile facility where we were taken, authorities bullied us just as Judge Gorcyca bullied the Tsimhoni children. We were held as voluntary walk-ins, but were free to walk out only into our father’s hands until we turned 18 or a judge ordered otherwise.”

“The detention facility staff did everything possible to break us down, adding to the trauma we had experienced from our father. We were not allowed to touch each other, even to hold hands in prayer. If we spoke too loudly, the staff yelled at us; if we spoke too softly, they forbade us from speaking at all.”

“It was a dehumanizing experience, but still less frightening than returning to our father. So we tried to make peace with our new reality.”

We passionately resent that the court system forced us to live in a house where we didn’t feel loved and protected. Over time, the law has decided that people are not property, unless they are children. An adult cannot incarcerate his “defiant” employees, parents, or romantic partner, but the law will readily incarcerate his children for him. If the court protected us as it protects adults, we would have had much healthier and happier childhoods.”

“Like the judge in Omer Tsimhoni’s case, our father invoked the concept of “parental alienation syndrome” to discredit our charges of mistreatment. It’s a claim parents in custody battles often exploit to accuse their ex-spouses of brainwashing their children to turn against them, convincing mediators that the children have been coached to lie. As a result, bad parenting and abuse go uninvestigated and children are returned to violent and emotionally damaging homes. In extreme cases, the child or the protective parent is incarcerated for refusing to obey the court’s custody or visitation order.”

Children should never be incarcerated without being found guilty of a crime. Spurious charges like “incorrigibility,” for which only children are prosecuted, are inherently discriminatory and should be abolished. Children should be represented by an attorney in custody cases at the expense of the state. Currently, they’re given a guardian ad litem, often a volunteer with only a few days’ training.”

“Further, courts should never overlook children’s complaints of abuse or mistreatment. Whether emotional or physical, such charges should be thoroughly investigated before custody or visitation orders are made. Courts exist to protect citizens’ rights, including children’s — and children should have the right to live in healthy homes.”

Dear Arlington CPS, GALs, and family court judges….read this article and learn from two very bright individuals!*

Read more:  We were sent to juvenile detention for refusing to live with our father

*:Hope Loudon holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from the University of Nevada, Reno.   Elizabeth Loudon is a social justice activist with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and geography from Stetson University