YSI: A Rocky Road to No Consensus for Fatalities Commission

The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities finished its report to Congress at the last minute. It is already clear that the path to completion left some commissioners and staff with a bad taste in their mouth about the process.

First, there is the fact that two commissioners refused to sign off on the report. Both took particular umbrage with the commission’s recommendation to conduct five-year reviews of maltreatment-related deaths, and then review open cases armed with the findings. At recorded commission meetings, this concept was referred to as “the surge” and was attached to $1 billion in federal funding.

Cassie Statuto Bevan, a former congressional policy advisor and current child welfare fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, penned a letter of dissent that was attached to the report:

“The commission is claiming that spending one billion dollars on an experiment reviewing previous deaths will IMMEDIATELY SAVE LIVES. This claim is not supported by evidence and the claim should not be made.”

Bevan also disagreed in general with the commission making recommendations, specific or general, about federal spending.

“Injecting more money into the current failed child protection funding streams, or into services that are currently ineffective or duplicative will not save the lives of very young children,” she said in her letter, which she entitled: “Minority Report.”

Youth Services Insider was not surprised by Bevan’s dissidence, as she had voiced concerns about the commission’s agenda back in January. She told us then that the $1 billion proposal was attached to “convey a sense of urgency,” but that her fellow commissioners “don’t understand that money comes with bureaucracy.”

Judge Patricia Martin, who heads the dependency court in Chicago, went beyond a letter and actually paid out of pocket to publish her own dissent and set of recommendations.

Martin, like Bevan, took issue with the notion of “the surge” and derided it in her dissent:

The Commission declares, “Unless these steps are taken by the Administration and Congress, the Commission believes the same number of children will continue to die each year from child maltreatment fatalities. They are essential to reduce the number of fatalities that will otherwise occur this year and next if we fail to act.”

The Consenting Report reads like a tabloid or infomercial relying on sensationalism to convince Congress and the Administration to eschew their good sense and spend an additional $1 billion annually on this recommendation.

It is worth noting that in the final product issued today, the “surge” rhetoric had vanished and the report made it clear that some commissioners favored the $1 billion and others did not.

Martin also chastised the commission for what she viewed as a myopic focus on very young children.

“Tragically, the consenting Commissioners were content to ignore preventing fatalities for 30 percent of the population it was statutorily charged to study – children 5-18,” Martin wrote.

Others have come forward with concerns about the way the commission did its work. Thomas Morton, the founder of the Child Welfare Institute, was hired out of retirement to lead the commission’s staff on practice issues. Morton spent his career helping states and counties undertake reform efforts through the institute, and then became child welfare director for Clark County, Nevada.

He resigned early from his post, frustrated with his belief that the commissioners were indifferent to the briefing papers and other work produced by staff. Two other lead staffers – Marci McCoy-Roth and Hope Cooper, both partners at nonprofit consultant True North Group – also resigned at the same time.

“As a staff, our background research was overwhelmingly ignored by commissioners,” Morton said, in an interview with YSI. He described an air of “anti-intellectualism” among some commissioners about the commission’s entire process.

“One thing I heard was, ‘I’m tired of hearing from researchers that don’t have a clue about what needs to be done.’ There’s a legitimate side to that. The other side is, ‘I don’t understand research.”

He recalls specifically attempting to get a the commission to examine a Texas child fatality study that looked at cases in which a child fatality occurred after families were identified as low-risk by CPS. The study sought to distinguish that cohort from those where a fatality did not occur.

“It went nowhere,” Morton said. The sentiment, he described, was, “It was very complex, so let’s dismiss it. A whole lot of information got ignored because it was too complex for some to understand.”

Not surprisingly, Morton was mostly unimpressed with most of the recommendations in the final report.

“Many of the recommendations amount to saying that someone else should come up with a solution,” Morton said.

Martin, in the dissent she published, took issue with the way the final product came together as well. She said that commissioners were allowed to make changes and add materials after the process was closed, and that those changes “were incorporated into the Consenting Report without being seen, deliberated, or voted upon by the entire Commission. … A simple comparison of the voted upon draft and the final report reflects substantive changes.”

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
About John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change 1212 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at jkelly@chronicleofsocialchange.org.