I’ve had it. I’m sending this one right to them (The Globe.) Let’s see what happens.
I ask that your office read this letter in its entirety. I realize that it is rather long; I’ve included several citations and sources to substantiate my comments.
I’ve followed the Globe’s reporting of child abuse and DCF for years with a great deal of frustration. I recognize that your “heart is in the right place.” I’d like to think that the problem with your reporting is one of misguided good intentions, not just a desire for sales. In an effort to bring attention to the problem of child abuse, your reporting often lacks a thorough or objective examination of facts. One might even characterize the reporting as fear-mongering.
A seasoned reader who has with worked with and researched social services issues, I found such bias apparent in Saturday’s article, full of barely substantiated innuendo and statements from an agency without any substantiation as to their veracity.
Your description of prosecutors’ actions in the case seems one-sided. You referred to the “hesitancy” to prosecute because of defense attorneys “claims” based on medical conditions, but omitted how completely true these claims sometimes are. A layperson with little or no experience in these issues would readily infer that the reluctance to press charges is a matter of moral cowardice, not a commitment to objectively gathering facts before acting on a conclusion.
We found it assuring that prosecutors were circumspect in not engaging in prosecutorial misconduct (a charge from which social workers are happily shielded). Legal cases, when carefully and thoroughly prepared, take time.
Similarly, your article cited second-hand inconclusive statements by DCF regarding alleged medical assessments the nature of the injuries, themselves DCF speculations hedged with qualifiers like “likely,” but no direct evidence, or independent substantiation.
We’d all like to believe that employees of government agencies and government spokespeople don’t become overzealous and misrepresent or misunderstand facts. However, we all know that isn’t true. I’m disappointed that The Globe didn’t take into account the undeniable reality that those things do, in fact, happen.
The Ripples Report, an independent review of the DCF investigation and appeals process, submitted to the OCA, found that:
In our review of 32 randomly selected decisions (including documentation on the initial investigation), we found multiple instances where, in our opinion, the quality of the initial investigation was not sufficiently comprehensive.
Could the document your article cited be one of those cases? Has anyone considered that an “insufficient investigation” can result in a “false positive,” where a family is forever destroyed by supported charges of abuse where no abuse occurred?
There are wonderful DCF social workers out there, but if the media is willing to accept that there are corrupt judges, as in Pennsylvania’s Kids for Cash scandal, abusive law enforcement, as in Ferguson, can The Globe not accept that overzealousness at best and misconduct at worst exist at DCF, and approach their claims with a proportional amount of skepticism?
According to one news reports during the Peletier scandal, DCF has mishandled medical information in its successful efforts to remove a child, when the social worker withheld information from the child’s Tufts specialist from the court. We are personally aware of DCF reports riddled with false and fabricated information. It happens often enough to cast a shadow over any agency documents your reporter consulted.
As a result, an unnamed babysitter may have just had her reputation forever sullied, and her position in a community forever damaged with little or no evidence. Maybe she is responsible for what happened, but shouldn’t the fact speak for themselves, when there are some facts? And what if she was not negligent or responsible? Even though your reporter did not name the babysitter, the story was on the front page, and we can be sure that everyone in Ms. Keane’s community and circle of friends knows exactly who that babysitter is.
There are, in truth, a number of childhood diseases that can mimic child abuse, and are often mistaken for abuse, to the destruction of families and reputations.
Frontline, no less, featured a story about pathologist Dr. Michael Laposata’s work on childhood diseases that do, in fact, mimic child abuse. For us, his statement that “overdiagnosis may be even worse than underdiagnosis, because not only are we affecting the child, we are now affecting another person, a parent who is being accused of abusing the child” was especially poignant.
In 2008, a couple died in a murder-suicide directly stemming from false allegations of child abuse of their infant found to have multiple bone fractures. The baby was later diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The article quotes a medical expert as saying: “most [injuries] occurred after birth from normal handling” [italics mine]. One family member said of social services “they tore that family apart.” The infant died later. An entire family was utterly destroyed.
This is not the first time I’ve seen The Globe run articles that seem to be a knee-jerk response, rather than a thorough examination of what may be a complex issue.
On September 1, 2015, Michael Levenson wrote an article under the inflammatory headline “Scores of Mass. Children Mistreated in Foster Homes.” Unfortunately, his presentation of the contents of the report was misleading at best. A rudimentary analysis of the report’s numbers, when used with to other reliable statistics (some from Massachusetts own Office of the Child Advocate and the Ripples Report) easily showed that the report’s substance did align with the hysteria-inducing headline. I say this because I did such an analysis, which I posted online (http://wp.me/p1Tq1w-9l).
That same month, Joan Vennochi wrote an editorial responding to DCF’s failures with the position that the entire problem of a disregard for children and families could be resolved with more money and more resources. This involved the case of a child who had been starved into a coma despite social worker’s ongoing visits, after DCF had managed to amass its own body count.
Just how much someone should be paid before they are willing to save a child’s life?
If firefighters had stood by watching people die in a fire, or police officers had failed to act while witnessing a fatal crime, would Ms. Vennochi have been so adamant that more pay and more resources would solve a problem that, it seems to me, is more due to a scarcity of compassion and empathy than financial resources (http://wp.me/p1Tq1w-9t). I quickly “Googled” – not a comprehensive statistical inquiry, I admit – and it seems firefighters make in the ballpark of what social workers make, but I don’t think anyone would excuse their failure to put save someone from a house fire as a result of low pay.
The Globe seems to act consistently as the public mouthpiece for DCF, as well as its defender in the public eye, regardless of the agency’s transgressions. In doing so, I believe The Globe fails in its duty to the public.
Has The Globe called for legal accountability for the social workers involved in any of the deaths since Jeremiah Oliver? In Los Angeles and Detroit, social services social workers were charged in similar cases.
While I’m the last person to recommend any action that would fan the flames of overzealousness in reporting families – which seems already to be a problem – the lack of legal consequences leads to failures to act on one extreme, and persecution of innocent caretakers and parents on the other.
What is your paper’s position on Absolute Immunity for social workers, which shields them from charges that would normally address misconduct that would be criminal for a private citizen or even law enforcement?
Has The Globe ever reported that several years ago, one foster child advocacy group scored Massachusetts among the lowest five states for foster children’s rights in terms of time spent in foster care. Has The Globe ever investigated?
We have witnessed misconduct that would have resulted in charges and dismissal had they been perpetrated by members of law enforcement (who I’ve witnessed, by the way, treating people charged with crimes with more humanity and more dignity than we’ve seen from DCF social workers). We witnessed treatment of children that would have assuredly resulted in termination of custody and possible charges. However, all our efforts to call attention to these problems fall on deaf ears. The sad part is that we are not alone. The dismissive claim that we are an “isolated incident” doesn’t stand up to facts.
Did The Globe publish an equally passionate piece regarding the DOJ and HHS joint investigation that found that DCF violated one mother’s civil rights in removing a child? What was The Globe’s editorial position regarding the plight of the Peletier family, and have they continued to hold the Oversight and Audit Committee accountable for its inquiry?
How many times has a DCF source either on or off the record violated client confidentiality in providing background information for an article, even the oft-quoted “multiple allegations” (which can often arise from a single source or simply over-reporting by mandated reporters working in an atmosphere of fear and overzealousness)?
If your paper did report prominently on this or the other issues I’ve raised, please let me know, and I will apologize, and include the information in places where I’ve posted this letter.
Child Abuse has become the new Red Scare, with The Globe’s help.
Citing four professional and reliable sources, Wikipedia estimates that false accusations of sexual abuse alone is under 10%. I’ve read advocacy organizations claim overall false accusation rates ranging from 2% to 25%.
The Globe’s article, and past reporting, has helped feed the fear that under every bed is a deadly child abuser, and every injury or death is surely the result of horrible abuse. Did a kid fall off a bike? Must be child abuse. Don’t like a kid’s punk haircut? The mother is neglectful. Want to scare someone into compliance or payoff? Tell them you’ll accuse them of child abuse. Don’t like someone or their kid? Accuse them of child abuse. Disagree with someone’s values on parenting? Accuse them. Want to feel heroic and needed or just want some attention? Accuse them.
These scenarios are not far-fetched, and represent some very real experiences of parents that rarely, if ever get the kind of media attention you granted Ms. Keane.
Of course we all want to act when we hear of a case of a child dying from abuse or neglect. It’s our basic instinct. I’ve been guilty of letting myself be manipulated based on the instinct to see justice done, and became involved with someone else’s agenda or vendetta, only to find out that the facts bore little relationship to reality. I’ve been on the receiving end as well.
While that’s all very human, it’s not what journalism is supposed to be, from what I understand. Rather than being the cooler head that lead reason to prevail, The Globe, however well-meaning it may be, has repeatedly orchestrated the stage for child abuse witch hunts.
The press lately has been very indignant about any claims of bias or agenda-pushing. And I readily agree that the national claims by the alt-right are absurdly false. However, there is a kernel of truth here, where on this one issue, The Globe cherry-picks its objectivity, and quite frankly, walks in step with DCF without ever examining the facts of an issue, or the possibility of underlying agendas either on the part of the agency, or the individual caseworkers involved. Has anyone done thorough investigation into the financial incentives for maintaining children in foster care, including CAPTA funds, institutional antipathy to adoption, or bias in the foster care community?
When The Globe touted its role in the priest sex abuse scandal a few years ago, we were aggrieved by the hypocrisy, as your paper has failed to play the same role of an objective, investigative press when it comes to claims and allegations of child abuse.
I would ask you and your staff to consider this: if a member of the public came to you with a claim about DCF social workers who endangered and mistreated children, potentially violated policy, engaged in harassment, and even perjury, would you have put that story on your front page with as little research or substantiation as you did the Keane story? If that member of the public could substantiate many, if not all, of the claims, would you do that story at all?