PLACE A MORATORIUM ON REMOVING CHILDREN FOR ALLEGATIONS OF NEGLECT
End the Detention of Children by Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services based on:
Allegations of “general neglect”
A parent or guardian’s experience of domestic violence
Positive drug tests of parents or children during pregnancy or at birth
Detentions of children based on general neglect allegations, domestic violence, and/or pregnancy-related drug testing do not support families or protect children.(2) Instead, they create an overbroad net that harms families by trapping them into the system. The Reimagine Child Safety Coalition demands the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) stop such detentions.
There is much evidence to show that there is serious trauma associated with family separation and being placed in foster care.(1) Of all of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that interfere with children’s relationships with their caretakers, forced separation is “the most significant independent predictor of risk for emotional and behavioral problems in childhood.” In fact, the harm of separation is so widely recognized that it led Congress to pass the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which was specifically enacted in 2018 to turn the focus of the current child welfare system toward keeping children safely with their families to avoid the trauma that results when children are placed in foster care.(3)
We are asking the Board of Supervisors to:
Direct DCFS to stop detentions of children based solely on allegations of general neglect in Los Angeles County to keep more families together. The Board should instead shift resources to positive, community-based supports for families that address root causes of “general neglect” and ensure free voluntary support services and/or appropriate resources are offered directly and in a timely manner.
Direct DCFS to stop detentions of children based solely on a parent or guardian’s experience of domestic violence in Los Angeles County.(4)
Direct DCFS to stop detentions based solely on a positive drug test result in a pregnant or birthing parent or newborn child.
Implement a family support network that exists separate and apart from DCFS, where in lieu of DCFS involvement, community organizations will conduct outreach to families who may be experiencing domestic violence and provide resources and services directly to the family in order to alleviate system-involved trauma and poverty-related trauma, and to enable survivors of domestic violence to access safety. Families should be able to access this system directly without a referral from DCFS.
Decrease funding currently associated with large caseloads of general neglect allegations and invest in prevention services geared towards stemming the root causes of general neglect. For example, the county should explore providing more resources at mutual aid centers in public community-centered locations such as parks, recreation centers, and libraries.
Ensure resources available address families in a trauma-informed, holistic way to alleviate both system-involved trauma and poverty-related trauma.
Provide Universal Basic Income to impacted families and connect them to services- see related Reimagine Child Safety Demands number 6 and 11.
END DETENTIONS OF CHILDREN BASED ON GENERAL NEGLECT
Detentions related to “general neglect” harm families by separating them rather than addressing the root causes of poverty and lack of access to resources. DCFS must end the practice of removing children based on allegations of “general neglect” and instead provide meaningful access to resources families want and/or need.
What does it mean to remove a child for “general neglect”?
Under California law, “general neglect” is broadly defined as “the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.”(5)
General neglect does not include situations that are otherwise considered “severe neglect.” The law defines severe neglect as situations where a person willfully causes or permits a child to be in a situation that endangers their health, including intentionally failing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.(6)
As a result of this broad definition, general neglect often serves as a proxy for poverty and results in the reporting of a wide array of situations that could otherwise be addressed by providing resources to families. For example, a child attending school in dirty clothes or who has not washed because they are living in a car might trigger a referral for general neglect. Despite poverty and lack of resources being the clear root of such issues, general neglect continues to make up the primary reason for removing children and incentivizes DCFS to surveil and punish families based on their socio-economic status. Several studies have found that family income, rather than severity of abuse, is the most predictive factor of a child being placed in foster care.(7)
Why is it harmful to remove children from their families for “general neglect”?
It is extremely harmful to both children and their families to remove children from their homes for general neglect. Instead of providing resources directly to families to allow them to stay together, DCFS sends children to strangers and facilities who are paid to care for them. Separating children from their families based on their socio-economic circumstances, even for short periods of time, results in irreparable harm and trauma to families. Studies show that keeping children with their families reduces trauma.(8) Providing resources to families experiencing poverty instead of removing children therefore not only alleviates the traumatic effects associated with system-involvement, but also serves to reduce poverty-related trauma overall.
In addition to over-investigating low-income families, investigations for general neglect are also used to disproportionately target Black and Indigenous families. Eighty-nine percent of all children involved with DCFS are children of color.(9) A lack of cultural competency and the subjective and overbroad nature of what constitutes general neglect feeds this pipeline.(10)
For these reasons, both parent and child advocates alike support limiting removals on the basis of “neglect.”
How many children are being removed from their families for general neglect?
There is currently an epidemic of children being removed from their homes for general neglect. In fact, general neglect cases make up the majority of child welfare cases:
From 2016-2018, nearly 90 percent of first entries into foster care in California were due to neglect allegations.(11)
One-third of children referred to Los Angeles DCFS in 2021, or 644,771 children, were referred for general neglect.(12)
In Los Angeles, more than 5,000 children were removed by DCFS in 2021 because of general neglect.(13)
By ending detentions based on general neglect, the number of child welfare cases in Los Angeles would reduce significantly, freeing up resources to focus on providing prevention services and other alternative community resources that families need. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office recently published a report questioning removals based on neglect and encouraging law makers to rethink the definition of neglect.(14)
END DETENTIONS OF CHILDREN BASED ON DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Routinely Separates Children from Parents or Guardians Experiencing Domestic Violence
Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has the power to remove children from their home when a parent fails to, or is “unable” to, adequately supervise and protect their child and the child therefore suffers, or is at substantial risk of suffering, serious physical harm or illness.(15) Under this definition, domestic violence is grounds for the separation of families.
Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, can be defined as a pattern of abusive behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.(16) Abuse includes, but is not limited to, physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions.(17) In cases where domestic violence is alleged, DCFS justifies the removal of a child by charging the parent experiencing domestic violence with “failing to protect” their child because the child is living in a household where domestic abuse is present.(18) DCFS removes children from their parents’ care even if the parent experiencing abuse takes affirmative steps to keep themselves and their children safe, for example, leaving the home or seeking a restraining order from the parent who caused harm.
As of September 2020, over half of all DCFS open cases involving allegations of domestic violence result in children being removed from their family home.(19)
SEPARATING CHILDREN FROM A PARENT OR GUARDIAN WHO IS A VICTIM/SURVIVOR IS HARMFUL
Harm to Children
The intersection between domestic violence and the welfare of a child is more complex than how DCFS currently handles these cases. DCFS removes children from parents and guardians on the sole basis of “failure to protect” due to the child witnessing domestic violence, despite the absence of enough research to support witnessing domestic violence as causing more significant and lasting mental or emotional harm to children than family separation.(20) This policy is so arbitrary in practice that DCFS has been found to remove children from their parents without any substantial evidence that domestic violence occurred in their presence or that they were in serious danger of physical harm.(21)
Harm to Public Safety
While California’s response to domestic violence is underfunded and incomplete, there are some services available to victims/survivors largely provided by nonprofit organizations.(22) Nonetheless, data shows that victims/survivors of domestic violence are less likely to reach out to these resources because they fear help will result in them losing their child.(23) Even if a victim/survivor wants to reach out for support, the current status of California mandated reporting laws in practice are a disincentive for them to do so. Many of the entities that victims/survivors access for assistance report domestic violence to DCFS without any domestic violence training, including educators, health care professionals, counselors, and law enforcement.(24) Until mandated reporting laws are changed, Los Angeles must adopt local policies that support and encourage survivors to seek help, not punish them for reaching out.
DCFS’s removal of children from a parent who is a victim/survivor of domestic violence on the basis that they “failed to protect” that child fundamentally misconstrues the dynamics of domestic violence. It fails to consider that victims of domestic violence are often forced to stay in abusive relationships because, amongst many reasons, a well founded fear of greater harm, the control exercised against them, lack of economic resources,(25) and an “underfunded and administratively fragmented” response to domestic violence on behalf of the state of California.(26) At least one other jurisdiction has considered this issue and held that parents cannot be found responsible for neglect simply because they have been the victim of domestic violence and their child has been exposed to that violence.(27)
Separating children from their caretaker solely because of the caretaker’s status as a victim or survivor of domestic violence is the opposite of promoting child welfare and public safety.
Supporting Families Instead of Separating Them Has Been Shown to Be Beneficial to Children
Currently, DCFS’s policy on handling domestic violence cases is limited to guidance on assessment of the case and providing information and referrals to the victim/survivor.(28) These referrals are provided in the form of a list; the policy does not include assistance in connecting families to the services, or assistance paying for these services. This is not enough. Families thrive when they are provided with a community-based system of care that promotes their development and decreases their susceptibility to negative influences.(29) Los Angeles needs a community-based model where families can directly access supportive services, without the fear of separation or criminalization.
Financial and emotional support give parents more resources to protect their family from high levels of stress.(30) Data shows that the highest rate of economic returns comes from the earliest investments in prenatal care(31) as well as child care and early childhood education.(32) Victims and survivors of domestic violence need employment support and economic assistance to succeed as well as an increase in free or affordable resources - such as legal aid, medical and mental health treatment, counseling, and access to housing.
Connecting families to community-based organizations independent of the child welfare system help victims and survivors feel more comfortable, and as such, increase the connection of immediate and appropriate services.(34) Los Angeles County houses a number of community-based organizations that already provide domestic violence service, mental health service, counseling, etc. Communities must invest in those services and ensure that families have access to them free of charge, in their neighborhoods, and without the risk of separation.
We must stop detentions based purely on allegations of domestic violence against a parent or guardian and shift resources to positive, community-based supports for families that address root causes.
END DETENTIONS OF CHILDREN BASED ON PREGNANCY-RELATED DRUG TESTING
Drug Tests Are Not Predictors of Child Abuse
A drug test is not a parenting test. State law supports that a newborn testing positive for drugs “is not in and of itself a sufficient basis for reporting child abuse or neglect.”(35) Yet attorneys who represent parents report that pregnant parents or their infants who test positive for certain substances are routinely referred to DCFS. This is so even though no study has demonstrated a causal link between drug use and child abuse.(36) Nor has research isolated the effects of prenatal drug exposure from other factors such as poverty or poor nutrition that may have a far larger role in developmental outcomes.(37) Indeed, removing children from their families and placing them in foster care “is more toxic to children, parents and families than the alleged effects of drug use on pregnancy and parenting.”(38)
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has taken the stand that seeking prenatal care should not expose a person to criminal or civil penalties, like the loss of custody.(39) Punitive policies for substance-using pregnant people can actually lead to increases in low birthweight or preterm birth babies.(40) Requiring health care providers to drug test and report pregnant people turns providers into arms of the police state,(41) erodes providers’ relationships with their patients, and interferes with the provision of effective care.
The systematic removal of children from parents who use drugs has its roots in the failed “war on drugs.” Concurrent with the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people that resulted from the war on drugs was a similar increase in the number of families under surveillance by the family regulation system.(42) Huge funding streams reimbursed states for removing children from their parents and placing them in foster care or adopting them, with no similar investment in drug treatment, health care, housing or childcare for families in the system.(43)
1. Children’s Rts. Litig. Comm. of the A.B.A. Section of Litig., Trauma Caused by Separation of Children from Parents: A Tool to Help Lawyers, A.B.A. (Jan. 2020) https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/childrens-rights/trauma-caused-by-separation-of-children-from-parents/ ; UCLA Pritzker Ctr. for Strengthening Child. & Fam., Child Welfare and Domestic Violence: The Report on Intersection and Action 3 (2021), https://pritzkercenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Pritzker-Domestic-Violence-Report-Endnotes_final.pdf.
2. UCLA Pritzker Ctr. for Strengthening Child. & Fam., supra note 1, at 7 (citing Kristen R. Choi et. al., The Impact of Attachment–Disrupting Adverse Childhood Experiences on Child Behavioral Health, 221 J. Pediatrics 224 (2020)).
3. Child Welfare Info. Gateway, Family First Prevention Services Act, https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/federal/family-first/ (last visited Feb. 9, 2022).
4. Related to this policy change, we are also asking the Board to end law enforcement partnerships with DCFS, in part by amending DCFS and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) policies that cause families dealing with domestic violence issues to be funneled into the system. Those demands include calls to:
Amend DCFS policy to end the requirement that law enforcement and DCFS conduct concurrent investigations in any instances of domestic or family violence.
Require LASD to draft a new mandated reporting policy that states deputies will not make mandated reports to DCFS unless a child is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or being intentionally deprived of food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.
5. Cal. Penal Code Section 11165.2(b); see also Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1).
6. Cal. Penal Code Section 11165.2(a). see also Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(1).
7. Andrea Charlow, Race, Poverty, and Neglect, 28 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 763, 784 (2001).
8. See, e.g., Thomas E. Keller et. al. “Competencies and problem behaviors of children in family foster care: variations by kinship placement status and race,” 23 Child. Youth Serv. Rev.12 (Dec. 2001) (finding children in non-relative foster care experienced higher rates of problems compared to children in kin care), available at https://doi.org/10.1016/S0190-7409(01)00175-X.
9. County of Los Angeles, Department of Children and Family Services, Child Welfare Services Data Fact Sheet, 2021
10. Andrea Charlow, Race, Poverty, and Neglect, 28 Wm. Mitchell L. Rev. 763, 788–89 (2001).
11. Kids Data at First Entries into Foster Care, by Reason for Removal - Kidsdata.org
12. County of Los Angeles, Department of Children and Family Services, Child Welfare Services Data Fact Sheet, 2021.
13. California Child Welfare Indicators Project, California Child Welfare Indicators Project, “Entries to Foster Care," available at https://ccwip.berkeley.edu/childwelfare/reports/Entries/MTSG/r/ab636/s.
14. Legislative Analyst’s Office, Initial Analysis and Key Questions: Racial Disproportionalities and Disparities in California’s Child Welfare System (2022) at 5,available at https://lao.ca.gov/handouts/socservices/2022/CWS-Analysis-Questions-030922.pdf.
15. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(b)(1) (West 2021).
16. See What is Domestic Abuse?, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/what-is-domestic-abuse [https://perma.cc/P5MU-L2YA] (last visited February 2, 2022).
19. UCLA Pritzker Ctr. for Strengthening Child. & Fam., supra note 1, at 7.
21. In re Cole L. et al., No. B310319, at *17 (Cal. Ct. App. 2d filed Oct. 19, 2021) (Justia US Law).
22. Little Hoover Comm’n, Beyond the Crisis: A Long-Term Approach to Reduce, Prevent, and Recover from Intimate Partner Violence 6 (2021), http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/dvcouncil/research/Docs/LittleHooverCommissionReport256.pdf.
23. Carrie Lippy et al., The Impact of Mandatory Reporting Laws on Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Intersectionality, Help-seeking, and the Need for Change, 35 J. for Fam. Violence 255, 261 (2019), https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10896-019-00103-w.pdf.
24. UCLA Pritzker Ctr. for Strengthening Child. & Fam., supra note 1, at 10.
25. Fla. State Univ., Why Victims Stay, Know More, https://knowmore.fsu.edu/helping-healing/why-victims-stay/ (last visited Feb. 9, 2022); Nat’l Coal. Against Domestic Violence, Why Do Victims Stay?, https://ncadv.org/why-do-victims-stay (last visited Feb. 9 2022).
26. Little Hoover Comm’n, supra note 22, at 6-7.
27. Nicholson v. Williams, 203 F. Supp. 2d 153, 250 (E.D.N.Y. 2002); Nicholson v. Scopetta, 3 N.Y.3d 357 (2004). The Nicholson court ultimately held that child welfare agencies that remove children from a parent simply because the parent has experienced domestic violence violates the United States Constitution. Nicholson v. Scopetta, 3 N.Y.3d at 368.
28. Dep’t of Child. & Fam. Serv. Pol’y, 0070-537.10, http://policy.dcfs.lacounty.gov/Content/Assessing_Domestic_Viole.htm (last visited Feb. 10, 2022).
29. Andrew J. Schneider-Muñoz et al., Reducing Risk: Families in Wraparound Intervention (2015), https://ncfie.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Bound-Reducing-the-Risk-Families-in-Wraparound.pdf.
30. Carrie Masten et al., Helping Families Meet Basic Needs Enables Parents to Promote Children’s Healthy Growth, Development, Ctr. on Budget & Pol’y Priorities (Oct. 28, 2021), https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/helping-families-meet-basic-needs-enables-parents-to-promote.
31. James Heckman et al., Nurse Family Partnership Programs: An Analysis of the Memphis Nurse-Family Partnership Program (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Rsch., Working Paper No. 23610, 2017), https://heckmanequation.org/www/assets/2017/07/NFP_Final-Paper.pdf; C.T. Ramey et al., Infant Health and Development Program for Low Birth Weight, Premature Infants, 89 Pediatrics 454, 454 (1992), https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1371341/.
32. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek & Peg Burchinal, Supporting Families Supports the Economy: Social Nets Are Economic Foundations, Brookings Inst. (Sept. 27, 2021), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2021/09/27/supporting-families-supports-the-economy-social-nets-are-economic-foundations/.
33. Little Hoover Comm’n, supra note 22.
34. Child Welfare Info. Gateway, Guiding Principles of Systems of Care: Community-Based Services, https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/management/reform/soc/history/community/ (last visited Feb. 9, 2022).
35. Penal Code section 11165.13.
36. Movement for Family Power, Whatever They Do, I’m Her Comfort, I’m Her Protector: How the Foster System Has Become Ground Zero for the U.S. Drug War (2020) 19 at https://www.movementforfamilypower.org/ground-zero.
37. Id. at 20.
38. Id. at 19.
39. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, Substance Abuse Reporting and Pregnancy: The Role of the Obstetrician-Gynecologist,” Jan. 2011.
40. Meenakshi Subbaraman & Sarah Roberts, Costs associated with policies regarding alcohol use during pregnancy: Results from 1972-2105 Vital Statistics, PLOS One (2019) 1; Sara Roberts, Terri-Ann Thompson, & Kimá Joy Taylor, Dismantling the legacy of failed policy approaches to pregnant people’s use of alcohol and drugs, International Review of Psychiatry (2021) 502.
41. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, Opposition to Criminalization of Individuals During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period (2020) at https://www.acog.org/clinical-information/policy-and-position-statements/statements-of-policy/2020/opposition-criminalization-of-individuals-pregnancy-and-postpartum-period
42. Movement for Family Power, Whatever They Do, I’m Her Comfort, I’m Her Protector: How the Foster System Has Become Ground Zero for the U.S. Drug War (2020) 15 at https://www.movementforfamilypower.org/ground-zero.
43. Id. at 17.