Why Shame the U.S.?

A report came out in January called “Shame on U.S.: Failings by All Three Branches of Our Federal Government Leave Abused and Neglected Children Vulnerable to Further Harm.” Many people heard about the report on public radio. The report was created by the Children’s Advocacy Institute, which is a research and academic nonprofit, and a part of the San Diego School of Law. The report was also done in collaboration with First Star, which is a national nonprofit advocacy group located in Washington D.C.

As the title suggests, the report walks through each branch of government and explains what needs to be improved. The scope of the report is just staggering both in terms of the ground it covers as well as the information it shares. “Combine weak, inconsistent, underfunded, and piecemeal laws from the legislative branch with ineffective executive branch implementation, oversight, and enforcement, and add a judicial branch that seems increasingly willing to reject private efforts to protect our children’s rights and interests, and you have the U.S. child welfare system.” Frankly, I’ve never read something so directly critical of child welfare at the national level.

The report then continues with their concerns and recommendations. The authors’ acknowledge that many laws have been passed by congress to keep children safe, but that it is a “patchwork” requiring a “major overhaul.” Another concern with the legislative branch is that it is not holding the executive branch accountable for its role in child welfare. The executive branch, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other government agencies, is faulted for not enforcing federal laws and enacting consequences when they are not met. With a lack of federal enforcement, many individuals turn towards private litigation. Yet litigation is expensive and timely and extremely difficult because it requires bringing a case to federal court. And so it goes with no real change or improvement for kids.

As I read the report, I felt conflicted. The people and organizations behind the report have clearly done their research and understand the issues. Yet if you are like me and viewing this from the local level, you tend to see the state legislature, Denver Human Services, and the Denver Juvenile Courts as partners. We can disagree or see things differently, but in the end we all want the same thing: kids to be safe. So where do systems end and human beings intervene?

What I do know is that when I read reports like this I think that’s exactly why we need CASA Volunteers. We might not be able to change the federal government quickly, but at least we can do everything within our power to help the kids in our community right now. I also think CASA volunteers are great for systems. CASA Volunteers bring a different perspective. I believe that when systems are open to people outside of them that they are stronger and more relevant.