Fiber for CWS Discussion

Adding Some Fiber to the CWS Discussion 120810

The Prospect, and the Mountain Messenger, have gotten a lot of community support for writing “expose” pieces on Sierra County Child Welfare Services.  There seems to be a swell building, but before everyone becomes too clear in their goals, let’s chew the issue a little more to see how tough it is going to be.

It isn’t too hard to find a parent, child, or grandparent with a “cws story”.  Sometimes they’re just little stories, like an hour of heart pounding, gut wrenching questioning over a nasty bash you didn’t see your kid get.  (By the way, here’s what’s nice about that accident your kid had:  1.  If you did it, you’re going to fry; if you didn’t do it, you should have prevented it; if you didn’t see it, you were neglectful.  See?  There’s almost no way for it to simply have been an accident you didn’t see.)
Other parents and grandparents have detailed stories of endless hoop jumping and posturing to get the kids back and CWS off the family’s back so it can, perhaps, return to the sense of normalcy it had prior to being redefined by CWS.  Very often, perhaps most often, the parent who was not involved in the originating incident suffers more than the “offending” parent.  The first parent is known by the negative of the second: the “non-offending parent”.   See, no parent gets to be completely, objectively innocent from the get-go.  Likewise, nothing anyone says can ever be unsaid, and if the person recants, the recantation repeats the recanted words. Language is key to the classification and manipulation of the family.  It determines the “services” and “case plan”.   Once you are actually “in the system” there is literally no where to hide.  Should you also be on probation, you might as well live in the public square, the Constitution protects neither you nor your family.

So, clearly, something needs to be done, and in a democracy, the people and their representatives do it.  The “Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children” group* isn’t going to be pleased about citizens meddling in their holy cause.

This photo of Helen is undoubtedly copyrighted somewhere, but it has been reproduced
so often we couldn’t find the original source.  We stole it from this rather INTERESTING site

However, it isn’t going to be easy to change very much, even in our little county.  Here are just a couple of reasons why:
1. Whatever action is taken, the last thing we want to do is disable child welfare services in the county.  Like many of the cobbles on the road to Hell, good intention drives the program and the agency.  Most people would agree that there needs to be some reasonable protection for children from significant neglect and abuse.  Reasonable people, once fully informed on the subject, would likely insist on some moderated form of governmental “help” in the family.  Until we empower aunts and grandmothers again, CWS is all we have.
2. It may not be possible to take very much action at the county level because someone may sue.  As always, when citizens attempt to govern themselves, someone may sue on behalf of the other citizens.  In a recent lawsuit, the Children’s Rights (of course) organization sued Michigan and whipped it soundly.  Most of the demands were for better treatment of kids in foster care, but part of the deal is that Michigan would become California.  Read all about it HERE.
3. There are a number of ways the state and feds control what happens in a CWS case.  Many of the worst problems with the system, for example, background checks on relatives who get kids, or housing requirements which make it impossible for families to take relative kids (like number of children to a bedroom).  There is not very much we can do from the county about these family-destroying regulations.  

However, all is not lost, indeed, among the various constraints a reasonable approach might be found.  

It is possible the Board of Supervisors might pinch of the flow of funds, and starve the agency out, but attorneys from five hundred miles around would smell that and circle the county in great dark flocks until something went wrong, even just a kid who claims to have been abused.  The county would hemorrhage money.  More likely, the insurer would pull the plug on insurance and shut the county down.  

There are likely other things the county could do though.  

The Board can require a certain standard of operation from local CWS.  They can very likely determine what “community standards” are for the county.
Community standards could be realistic standards.  It would be great if all kids had a wonderful life.  In truth, the huge majority of children in the county are better off than the vast majority of children in the world.  It simply isn’t possible, nor really desirable, for the state to give every kid a perfect life.  In truth, when the state tries to replace substandard parents with state approved parents, the outcome is often not that good.  Indeed, the problem of CWS in the county and in California is that kids are pulled from blood relative homes that aren’t that bad and placed into foster homes that aren’t that good.  
The Board could set as a community standard a more moderate level of interference, one closer to the original intention of the law, before bureaucrats went crazy with it.  They might be able to insist that the percentage of children involved in CWS cases in the county not exceed the percentage statewide.  They might also insist that children be returned in 6 months unless there are significant problems. There are several ways they might do this.

They might appoint members to a CWS subcommittee, which would review cases with names and other significant details redacted.  There are a host of problems with this, not the least of which is that the agency and the court might object.  The objections could include the low population and so high likelihood of recognition of families.  More destructive to the purpose of the subcommittee would be their insistence that “qualified people” fill the committee.  “Qualified people” means “fellows of the cloth.”  The purpose of the subcommittee would be subverted.  Never let an industry regulate itself on the assumption that everyone else is too stupid to recognize sheep from goats.  

The Board could give clear policy direction to staff.

The Board could require the department to “improve” on the standards set forth by the state.  The Board could recognize iatrogenic effects.  These are negative effects caused by the treatment or behavior of the system itself.  Originally used in medicine, the term refers to the number of people who suffered, instead of benefited, from the system.  See good, although dated, examples HERE.   If everyone who got an owie received medical treatment more people would die of iatrogenic effects.  Indeed, over-prescription of antibiotics has done that.

In short the Board could set a standard of not removing children, but of making sound, early efforts to leave the family alone.  The Board could also recognize that poverty is a significant contributor to substance use and other family systems issues.  Since the state clearly doesn’t have the power to significantly impact poverty in the county, it might be best to leave the family to work out its problems instead of destabilizing it.  Going to “services” costs money and time, increasing the burden on families.  

There are other complaints with Health and Human Services, and those, too, fall into the category of things concerned community members should discuss.  

The burden falls on citizens, too, to be realistic.  Instead of being frustrated because a neighbor drinks too much and her kids run outside at night (a very common source of complaints from citizens) ask yourself: how deep do we really want the government in our community’s families?  

Let’s not throw the infant dependent out with the bath water, the best, most likely solution will come from a cooperative effort.  The most destructive outcome will come if the various power factions in the discussion harden their positions and become balkanized.  

If everyone in the discussion can agree on a single goal, the best possible services with the lowest level of intervention in families, perhaps, or a similar goal, then a solution is certainly possible, and likely one we don’t have to be sued over.  

The Board meets to discuss Health and Human Services in January.

*Interesting how far Helen Lovejoy’s phrase has penetrated into the culture: if you do a “google” search for the phrase, you get as far as “won’t some” before the phrase is suggested.  If you do a google image search, you only get as far as “won’t”.  This is a tribute to the power of The Simpsons to influence culture, but Homer only provides the seeds.  It is the fertile soil of the people, their readiness to accommodate the icon which gives it the power of nearly 2 million references on the internet.  
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