Response to Criticism

Prospect Criticized 011911

The Prospect has been criticized by a few for its analysis and opinion regarding child welfare services.  We’ve published over a dozen articles, and the criticism rarely includes any kind of insightful analysis, let alone any reference to a specific article or paragraph.  This kind of kvetch is global, the critic simply doesn’t like our take on the issue or our approach.

Frequent readers and particularly those with the interest, time and will to get through some of the more dense articles know that our alarm has been slowly growing, and has often included not only the limitations of law, but some suggested solutions.  

It’s important to remember that, among those in CWS administration and law, one of the most sacred features of their position is that they can only be reviewed by one of their own.  There is the secrecy of the court which is rationalized by the need to “protect” the child.
In truth it is simply a cloak of darkness which makes it very difficult for anyone not part of the guild to penetrate to see what's going on in the department.  It creates an IRS like entity, a government within the government, answerable only to itself.  A chilling difference: the IRS can only take your money and property.

We’re a newspaper.  It is our job, on your behalf, to push past layers of bureaucratic bullshit and tell you what we think we see.  That is what we are doing, and again, our reportage, analysis and opinion started early and lightly, and has contained suggestions for system improvement.  Many of our early articles discussed the likely difficulties of Dr. Robert’s position in the county.

Mr. Curtis made slight references to the press during his discussion at the Board meeting.  His role has been to attempt to cement his little block into the impenetrable wall surrounding CWS.  Rather than seeking to empower the Board, he swamped them with someone else’s opinion and made no attempt to ferret out anything in the AG opinion which would empower the Board.  In direct question from a supervisor, he was unable to even begin to know how they should conduct their mandate over HHS.  We are critical of that performance.  We pay Mr. Curtis for his work, and the great majority of the time we are getting a good value for our money.  Mr. Curtis enjoys a respect that many, including this editor, reserve for only a handful of attorneys, and he earns it.  In this instance, an alert civil servant would have seen this day coming for months, but he was unprepared.  

He characterized the media’s representation of court proceedings as a “kangaroo court”.  Mr. Curtis has not read all of the pieces in the media if that is his impression.  No where in either the Messenger or the Prospect has there been the implication that the local court isn’t operating within the law.  Both sources have said, that simply isn’t good enough.  The system itself is flawed; the fact that the court drama in Sierra County is played out as it would be anywhere else means it isn’t a “kangaroo court”, but it is also not good enough.  The judicial mythology of objectivity, and the department’s mythology of science and methodology, conspire in the real world against real families.  The entire process is cloaked in a secrecy the Mafia should admire.  That is our representation of the situation.

There has been some criticism because “after all, Dr. Roberts is prevented by law from discussing any case” and so the department is at a disadvantage in the press.  This is simply not true.  The department, it is true, is not able to discuss any case.  While this obviously serves the department well, it also does serve the family and children.  
However, nothing prevented Dr. Roberts from reaching out to her critics and providing them a forum, not to obfuscate law and “guild tradition” but to listen to the criticism, and instead of pulling up the drawbridge, doing some objective investigation on her own.  She could have also, without addressing any individual case, explained not simply the justification for department actions, but the rationale.  If Dr. Roberts doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of CWS herself, and many directors don’t, she should have found someone in the department with the necessary understanding of the law and accepted procedures to explain that the department has sound reasons, not cobbled together justifications, for intervention in any family.
Either the department didn’t see the value in addressing community concerns, or there is no one in the department with those skills.  Both are reason for concern.

There is the suggestion that our discussion of the culture of child welfare services was sexist, focusing on middle-aged, middle-class women.  Attend any CWS training or legal education class and describe the participants.  Dr. Roberts has brought men into her department, but typically men in HHS fill the top roles.  It is not sexist to suggest that the social strata “middle class, middle aged female” has its own world view, and that view would be very different from that of a young male, or perhaps even a middle aged working class or under class woman.  The point is, a very few people are setting the cultural “comfort zone” for an entire nation, and that isn’t democratic.  

Finally there is the fact that many of the articles have a tone which suggests the claims and allegations against county staff are true.  We have always been very clear that the claims might not be true.  However, CWS takes your kids because they hear a rumor and assume it is true until there is clear and compelling evidence that it is not.  They are holding the parents essentially guilty until proven innocent.  They do this to “protect the children from risk.”
Here’s our rationale: God, or Providence or the Universe gave the children to the family.  Some bureaucrats gave the department to our community.  If the bureaucrats are going to hold our families to a standard that assumes they are guilty, why in the world would we hold these paid civil servants to any less standard?  To protect our community’s children from risk, and to protect parents from disturbance and economic ruin, we need to assume the allegations are true until demonstrated otherwise.
How is that not fair?

I resent the implication that CWS needs to be treated as a special case.  There is no difference between these bureaucrats and any waiting for retirement bureaucrat.  When they come to work for free, I’ll be impressed.  Neither is there any difference between these lawyers and any other attorney you’ve ever had to deal with.  They all get paid a great deal for what they do, and their labor rarely produces anything of true substance, just legal fiction.  They imagine they offer order to society, and they do, but it is lawyer order.

It is not our intention to suggest that Dr. Roberts and Mr. Curtis, for example, aren’t moved to do their very best for the children and the families, and no doubt the judges do try to be objective.  They are doing what the comfortably well off have always tried to do for social inferiors and their grubby offspring.  It’s a benefit of the job to know you’ve met your “noblesse oblige”.

Unlike Mr. Curtis, and Dr. Roberts, or the judges, the media in Sierra County do almost work for nothing.  When someone places a big ad we get the car fixed.  When we retire all we’ll get is old.  However, we news bureaucrats are motivated to comment on everyone and everything and then change the subject when our attention wanders.   That’s reward enough.

We’ll ask you, though, who is giving you the better value?

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