Maija McManus

The Hill: Both parties have failed to protect our children

Maija McManus
The Hill: Both parties have failed to protect our children

BY ROBERT C. FELLMETH, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 10/17/18

The latest report by the Children’s Advocacy Institute (CAI) reveals that both Democrats and Republicans have engaged in “bipartisan neglect” in protecting and supporting our nation’s most vulnerable children.

The report documents multiple failures across the child welfare system that demonstrate a lack of understanding of the underlying causes of abuse and neglect. The system remains woefully underfunded, worsened by counterproductive flaws in the funding formula, and an inability or unwillingness to hold states accountable for violating federal laws. While two bipartisan efforts over the past decade — including the Family First statute — made some positive strides in adding more flexibility to fund prevention, the Congress has fallen woefully short.

This should be a nonpartisan issue. Liberals should want opportunity and a better future for impoverished children. Conservatives should understand these children are not the children of “others,” but of our national “family.” We, the state, have seized them. How we treat these children — our children — will be a fair test of the conservative “family values” shibboleth.

Democrats invariably seek social worker-based solutions. Although these solutions are well-intentioned and sometimes helpful, children who need a caring family ideally are not relegated to the caseloads of public agencies. Democrats have not invested in “evidence-based” accountability for programs to the extent it’s warranted. They identify primarily with adult groupings, such as those who have suffered unfair discrimination, be it by race, disability, sexual preference, or other factors.

Accordingly, they tend to ignore as an issue the impacts of real causes of child neglect — especially the failure of adults to simply plan for a child, as well as the denigration of marriage.  They are also not fully cognizant of the significant role that parental alcohol and substance abuse addiction has in child abuse cases.

Republicans can be even worse. They do not look at root causes either, including child poverty and the absence of parenting education in schools. While many of us don’t call upon our trigonometry lessons in daily life, most of us became parents without any lessons or exercises about the health, safety and education of children — certainly a more useful and compelling subject.

Conservatives also cling to the classic lie of “revenue neutrality,” which contends that keeping raw spending numbers the same year after year is “neutral.” Without adjustments for population and inflation, this formula is no more neutral than a python wrapped around a child’s neck, contracting slowly but cumulatively.

Republicans also invented the shameful tactic called the “look-back,” which deprives children of federal support if the family from which they were removed earned an income over the federal poverty line as it existed in 1996 — $12,980 per year for a mother and two children. Of course, they have not adjusted that either, although they now argue for inflation adjustment of capital gains to lower taxes for the rich. This arbitrary “look-back” artifice has resulted in federal financial abandonment of close to 50 percent of foster children since 1996 — as more and more children become ineligible each year.

Adding to this abuse are states that divert Social Security survivor and disability benefits that rightly belong to these children to their own general fund coffers, a now widespread and brazen embezzlement.  

Through both Republican and Democratic administrations, our government has neither represented nor created remedies for these vulnerable children to enforce their legal rights — even under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

So what are the outcomes for our children who emancipate from foster care? Ten times the arrest rate of other children, seven times the addiction rate, an unemployment rate of 60 percent, and — by age 19 — 90 percent earn less than $10,000 per year. And by the way, the median age of self-sufficiency in America is age 26, not 18 or 21.

Both parties have had a hand in creating this disgraceful system of failure. CAI’s previous report, "Shame on U.S.,” documents the violation of many federal floors meant to protect foster children by most states in this area of the law. (See Children’s Advocacy Institute, "The Fleecing of Foster Children,” documenting the embezzlement noted above.) Importantly, these failures have remained unaltered through the Obama administration’s nonfeasance and into the current Drumpf administration’s malfeasance.

Children cannot vote or contribute to campaigns. Lobbyists in Washington, D.C., receive billions of dollars in the financial, insurance and public employee sectors. Even AARP spends $10 million to $20 million a year. Resources dedicated to lobbying on behalf of children pale by comparison.

America, we have a problem.

Robert C. Fellmeth is Price Professor of Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law and executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law. He has served as a deputy district attorney for San Diego County and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice in San Diego.