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Pandemic sidelines social workers, puts children at risk

Family | The lack of face-to-face visits enables abusers
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 8/14/20, 03:20 pm

The coronavirus lockdown has made it more difficult for social workers in California to make in-person visits to vulnerable children, in some cases leaving them in abusive environments.

In Fresno County, almost one-third of child welfare workers took leaves of absences during the pandemic. Understaffing allowed twin infant boys to remain with their meth-addicted mother. The agency received hotline tips concerning the boys in February but did not take them out of the home. More than a month later, an employee noted their mother had posted about one of the boy’s death on Facebook. Only then did social services take custody of the surviving twin.

Experts warned early on in the pandemic that lockdowns could increase hidden child abuse and neglect because of isolation, added stress, and reduced contact with people who might spot the problems. Hotline tips fell by 50 percent in some California counties. Then it got worse. As the state’s child welfare offices closed and social workers began working from home, investigations stalled and crucial in-person visits plummeted, a New York Times investigation found.

Face-to-face observations help ensure safe home placements, but the Service Employees International Union successfully lobbied California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, to drop mandatory in-person visit requirements. The state Division of Children and Family Services deemed social workers essential, but many had trouble obtaining protective equipment to make in-person visits and had to work from home.

The change, which lasted three months, affected 60,000 foster children and 14,000 recently abused or neglected kids still living with their families. Many Los Angeles children at high risk for abuse went months without visits.

All of the changes added risks to a child welfare system already showing signs of brokenness. A troubling 2018 audit of Los Angeles County found children were in “unsafe and abusive situations for months longer than necessary” because investigations took too long. Auditors also said “safety and risk assessments were frequently inaccurate”—and that was after the county hired additional caseworkers.

In July, a judge dismissed charges against social workers accused of falsifying and mishandling evidence of abuse in the case of Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend in 2013. Despite evidence of poor performance, a union agreement protected Fernandez’s caseworkers from criticism, suspension, and demotion once caseload caps were reached.

Southern California attorney Roger Booth has seen similar failures in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. He has sued social service agencies a dozen times or more on behalf of child victims and won $14 million in settlements against Riverside County. He filed a new lawsuit in July connected to the death of 8-year-old Noah McIntosh after multiple abuse complaints.

“What we’ve seen is circumstances where it seems the social worker is looking for an excuse to move on. Close the file. Be done with the situation,” Booth said. “That shouldn’t happen.”

Child welfare researcher Naomi Schaefer Riley said all states should consider child welfare investigators first responders and equip them appropriately. She also has argued that a cultural shift in social work through better training and different recruitment strategies would better protect children.

“I think they need to be trained much more like law enforcement,” Riley said, adding that abuse investigators need to know how to protect themselves from physical violence, assess evidence of risk, and recognize when they are being lied to. “We need to be recruiting people who want that job.” University of Texas at Austin sociology professor Mark Regnerus

Flawed findings

Researchers have walked back the findings from a study claiming sex-change surgeries improved gender dysphoric patients’ mental health. The study’s authors issued a correction on Aug. 1, saying there is “no advantage” in the mental health of patients who undergo surgical attempts to change their sex.

Proponents touted the study, published in October 2019 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, as evidence that sex-change surgeries help curb disproportionate suicidal ideation and depression among transgender individuals. Authors Richard Bränström and John E. Pachankis initially said their report “lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them.”

In their correction, Bränström and Pachankis acknowledged their conclusion was “too strong.” They said patients who had the surgeries were more likely to seek treatment for anxiety disorders.

Mark Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, criticized the authors’ “skewed interpretation” of data in a November 2019 article for Public Discourse. He noted that, according to the study’s findings, for every 49 sex-change surgeries, a clinic could only expect one additional person not to need subsequent mental health treatment. It also found no mental health benefits for patients who took cross-sex hormones—a point the authors and mainstream news outlets largely overlooked.

Regnerus called the authors’ conclusions “an abandonment of scientific rigor and reason in favor of complicity with activist groups seeking to normalize infertility-inducing and permanently disfiguring surgeries.”

So far, the correction has received little media attention.

“The neglect is not only misleading; it’s tragic given the incredible rates of mental and psychological suffering of those who struggle with gender dysphoria,” wrote John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. —Mary Jackson

Associated Press/Photo by Rebecca Boone (file) Associated Press/Photo by Rebecca Boone (file) The U.S. courthouse in Boise, Idaho

Back and forth over birth certificates

A federal judge struck down Idaho’s new law restricting changes to residents’ biological sex on their birth certificates.

The pro-LGBT group Lamba Legal immediately challenged the Vital Statistics Act after it passed in March. Supporters of the law expected a legal fight because a federal judge had overturned a similar state law earlier, citing the equal protection clause found in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

When the new law took effect on July 1, the state’s Department of Health and Welfare modified its application process to require applicants who want to change their documented sex to get a certified court order.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale on Aug. 7 ruled this was “directly at odds with the clear intent and mandate” of an earlier court order. In 2018, she imposed a permanent injunction stating the Health and Welfare Department could not reject applications or prohibit transgender people from changing the biological sex listed on their birth certificates.

“The legal battle over the Idaho Vital Statistics Act is far from over,” said Blaine Conzatti of the Family Policy Alliance of Idaho. “We have confidence that our judicial system will agree that this law is necessary to protect the safety and health of the people of Idaho.” —M.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Ron Harris (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ron Harris (file) Drew Adams (center) outside the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta

A threat to sex-separated restrooms

A federal appeals court on Aug. 7 ruled it unconstitutional for schools to require students who identify as transgender to use restrooms that match their biological sex. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling stating that “a public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity.”

A 19-year-old female student who goes by the name Drew Adams and identifies as a male sued Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla., in 2015. Adams said she felt “alienated and humiliated” after being made to use gender-neutral facilities at school.

The judges agreed 2-1 that the school board’s restroom policy singled Adams out “for different treatment because of [Adams’] transgender status.” In his 28-page dissent, U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the majority opinion would have “radical consequences for sex-separated bathrooms.” It is unclear whether the St. Johns County School District will take any further action. —M.J.

Transgender fund moves forward in California

The California state Senate Health Committee voted 7-1 on Monday to set up a fund using taxpayer dollars to provides grants to hospitals, healthcare clinics, and other medical providers for “gender-affirming healthcare services” such as cross-sex hormones and sex-change surgeries. The bill now moves on to the Appropriations Committee before it is considered by the full Senate.

Lawmakers approved the $15 million Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund despite the state’s $54 billion budget deficit. Some senators described an inundation of calls from voters arguing the fund will cause more minors to become sterilized. Puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones have known links to infertility.

“At best, these senators are ignorant of how California gender clinics are already sterilizing children and young adults,” said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. “If not, they are flatly refusing to acknowledge how this bill will fund these dangerous procedures.” —M.J.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia is a correspondent for WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and worked in communications in the Washington, D.C., area from 2005 to 2019. Julia resides in Denver, Colo. Follow her on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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