Utah’s Real Family Values: State Cuts Vital Support for Adopted and Foster Children; Number of Homeless Children Skyrockets

Jodi Jacobson

Utah is cutting support for special needs children in adoptive and foster families, forcing some families to return those children to the state. Meanwhile, the number of homeless children has skyrocketed. But of course, the far right wants to restrict women's ability to decide whether, when and with whom to have children.  It's all about "life."

In the broader debates about women’s rights to determine whether, when and with whom to have children, members of the far-right anti-choice movement insist that once pregnant, a woman must carry a pregnancy to term and give birth, no matter how untenable the pregnancy for her, her partner, or her family.

And they paint a rosy picture of options like adoption, even of severely disabled children.

Well the realities are very different and one of the most anti-choice states in the union, Utah, now shows it’s real colors by cutting Medicaid assistance to families who have adopted or foster special-needs children.

As of July 1, Medicaid no longer covers “therapeutic supervision” costs for in-patient mental health treatment. At the same time, state budget cuts reduced a supplemental subsidy fund that the Division of Child and Family Services used to help parents with such expenses.

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Utah, you may remember, passed an anti-choice law earlier this year that is so restrictive it can be used to prosecute women who experience a miscarriage.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that these cuts have saddled some families who have adopted special-needs foster children with unexpected expenses and difficult choices.  The funding changes affect an estimated 40 to 50 children statewide who receive adoption subsidies. At least 12 children have been returned to state custody so far by adoptive and foster families could no longer afford the expense of their care.

“Now the state is going back to adoptive parents and asking them to make up the difference in cost [for special-needs care],” Jennifer Gardner, president of the Utah Foster/Adoptive Families Association, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It is just hard when these were the state’s kids to begin with.”

An adoptive mom of three, Natalie, tells this story:

She and her husband adopted two brothers as infants; both were exposed to methamphetamine during their mother’s pregnancy. At the time they adopted the second boy, the couple also adopted an older sibling. 

The couple had a simple motive when they adopted three children from state foster care: They wanted to help.

But Natalie, tells the Tribune, she feels let down — even misled — about the children’s needs and the state’s ability to help her family meet them. The two boys have since been diagnosed with autism. But the biggest challenge has come with the older sibling, whom they returned to state custody recently because of severe — and undisclosed, Natalie says — behavior problems.

Meanwhile, the state has see a whopping 48 percent increase in the number of homeless school-age children since 2008, according to state data released last Wednesday and reported in the Tribune.

Nearly 12,000 children were homeless in January 2010, meaning their families had lost their homes and were typically staying with friends or relatives, officials said at the annual Homeless Summit in downtown Salt Lake City.

Statewide, the numbers of homeless children jumped from 8,016 in 2008 to 10,388 in 2009 and 11,883 in 2010.

These are issues of reproductive justice.  To ensure that every child born is a wanted child requires sustained and meaningful investment to ensure that every person has access to effective and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health education.  It requires sustained investment to ensure universal access to reproductive health services, including those that enable people to avoid unintended pregnancies, and to make meaningful choices when those pregnancies occur.  It means ensuring trusting women, and their partners when relevant, to know whether bringing a child into the world is the best thing for that family and that child.  It means understanding that some people are not equipped and do not have the resources by themselves to fund the intensive care required by many children with profound and special needs. It certainly means that when the state makes a promise to care for children with disabilities or to “celebrate every life” that children not be left homeless, on their own, out of school, without food and clothing.  It means that the state and society have a responsibility to every born child to meet their most basic human needs for medical and social care when parents are unable to do that, and that it is not okay to promise adoptive parents help that later becomes “optional” in the eyes of the state.

In a telling–and chilling–interview with Rose Aguilar, Utah State Representative Carl Wimmer (R) underscores that he feels it is the state’s right to force women to bear children, but it is not the state’s responsiblity to assist in supporting children in need.

RA: You say you care about life, so what programs will you put in place to make sure all of those children have a decent life?

CW: I’m not sure the government needs to be doing that. There are plenty of volunteer organizations that help. We need to work hard to get resources where they need to be. We might need to look at rural areas. We definitely need to make sure that counseling is in place for young women who get pregnant.

It appears there is a small gap in what those volunteer organizations in Utah are providing to the special needs children and homeless children throughout the state.

What the case of Utah tells me is that state representatives governed by and kowtowing to the ultra right talk a lot about responsibliity, but in the end take none.  And that they want women to sacrifice all of their rights, with no sustained effort by the state to meet its own obligations.  Wimmer wants to use his legislation as a “model” for other states. It’s a chilling model for all of our futures.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

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In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.

News Law and Policy

Lawmaker Takes Aim at Anti-Choice Misinformation in Nurse Courses

Nicole Knight

A California state senator is calling for legislative reforms and an inquiry after an investigation by Rewire revealed that national anti-choice groups were teaching nurses dubious science with the tacit approval of the state.

A California state senator is calling for legislative reforms and an inquiry after an investigation by Rewire revealed that national anti-choice groups were teaching nurses dubious science with the tacit approval of the state.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, chair of the Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development, said in a phone interview Wednesday that “we’ll be exploring all avenues, whether it’s legislation or hearings, to be sure the Board of Registered Nursing is approving continuing education providers that only teach accepted scientific principles to nurses.”

An Rewire investigation published Tuesday found that some of the nation’s largest abortion opponents, such as Heartbeat International and Care Net, had gained approval by the state Board of Registered Nursing to teach continuing education courses to nurses. The classes covered such medical myths as abortion pill reversal, a treatment rejected by the medical establishment, and other biased subjects.

Presented with Rewire’s findings, the state Board of Registered Nursing said in a written response that the law required it to approve providers, not courses.

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“This was astonishing,” Hill said of the results of Rewire’s six-week investigation. The state board, he continued, “needs to look at what is actually being taught. This is really a problem that we need to address.”

The San Mateo Democrat said he intends in the next couple of months to convene a hearing of the Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development, which has oversight over the Board of Registered Nursing, to investigate the extent of the problem with continuing education.

Calls for reform of the state Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) are not new. Last year, a scathing oversight report listed more than a dozen recommendations, including tightening the standards applied to continuing education (CE) classes and continuing education providers (CEP):

ISSUE #14: (OVERSIGHT OF CONTINUING EDUCATION FOR LICENSEES) The BRN has not provided appropriate oversight of its continuing education program despite admonition to do so in the previous review.

The BRN should review its criteria for CEPs and require content to be science-based and directly related to professionally appropriate practice. The BRN should continue to pursue additional staffing for CE auditors, but should simultaneously rebalance its existing workload and prioritize ongoing CE and CEP audits.

The report noted the infrequency of audits, concluding the “BRN completed only 200 RN CE audits from 2011 to 2014 and no CEP audits since 2001, citing lack of staff.”

Rewire in its investigation learned that three of the anti-choice organizations approved by the board had never been audited, although two had been approved years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. The third was approved in 2012.

Hill said he will push to amend state code to require audits of providers every five years and to make sure classes adhere to “accepted scientific principles.”

Continuing education credits are required of nurses and doctors to maintain licensure in California. State law requires the Board of Registered Nursing to vet nursing continuing education providers, which range from private companies to universities. Class content, by law, “must be related to the scientific knowledge and/or technical skills required for the practice of nursing, or be related to direct and/or indirect patient/client care.” But the board leaves it to approved providers to ensure the class material abides by the law.

“We do not approve courses, we only approve the providers,” Christina Sprigg, chief of licensing and administrative services with the state board, previously told Rewire.

Hill questioned the adequacy of the screening process, and said applications from major abortion opponents like Heartbeat International and Care Net should have raised red flags.

“Someone should have been suspicious from the start and looked into it,” Hill said.

A quick Google search reveals that Heartbeat International is behind the nationwide billboards—“Pregnant? Scared? Need Help? Call us…”—designed to ensnare women seeking abortions. The Ohio-based organization is the umbrella group for 1,800 CPCs on six continents with the goal of “saving babies.”

Rewire found that the organization appears to be teaching dubious medicine to nurses with the class “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic.” And although Heartbeat International is offering continuing education credit for the course, the organization failed to list “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic” on its application to the state.

Screenshot 2016-01-15 10.34.35

An “Abortion Pill Reversal and Your Clinic” course was among those available for health-care workers at the Heartbeat International conference in St. Louis.

Heartbeat International, and other abortion opponents, have treated the notion of abortion pill reversal, or undoing a pill-induced abortion, as a medical fact.

A statement sent to Rewire from a Heartbeat International representative asserted, “There are 150 children alive today—and 80 more on the way—because of the RU-486 reversal process. Why not celebrate the introduction of a medicine that further empowers a mother to make the healthiest choice for everyone involved in an unexpected pregnancy?”
The statement continued, “It might be helpful to add that those ‘accepted scientific principles’ one generation has thought unmovable have been thoroughly disproven and discredited by the next. ‘Scientific principles’ always allow for innovation and progress. Women deserve to know the whole truth about abortion, parenting and making an adoption plan for their child.”

But the science behind abortion pill reversal is scanty, at best.

single 2012 paper in Annals of Pharmacotherapy claimed to have reversed the medication abortions of four of six women included in the study. Experts say the six cases cited in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy paper are insufficient to draw conclusions.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a professional organization of 58,000 OB-GYNs and women’s health-care professionals, is dismissive of the purported treatment.

“There is really no clear evidence that this works,” Dr. Daniel Grossman, ACOG fellow and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a research group at the University of California, San Francisco, said in an interview with MedPage Today.

Care Net, another anti-choice organization approved by the state Board of Registered Nursing, has offered the class, “Fetal Pain: What’s the Evidence?” for California continuing education credit.

A class available for continuing education credit at a Care Net conference.

A class available for continuing education credit at a Care Net conference.

Fetal pain is a notion embraced by anti-choice lawmakers in Arizona and elsewhere in failed attempts to ban abortion after the first trimester.

The medical establishment agrees that the fetal nervous system lacks the development necessary to feel pain until the third trimester. ACOG has said that fetal pain is unlikely before the third trimester and “no studies since 2005 demonstrate fetal recognition of pain.”

Dr. Sandra Christiansen is the instructor for “Fetal Pain: What’s the Evidence?”; her name also appeared on Care Net’s nine-year-old state application. But the application neglects to mention the fetal pain class, making it difficult to say precisely what Christiansen may have taught nurses.

What is clear is that Christiansen gave testimony two years ago in support of Maryland’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, an attempt to ban abortion care after 20 weeks.

Care Net did not respond to requests for comment.

Dr. Pratima Gupta, a reproductive health advocacy fellow with New York City-based Physicians for Reproductive Health, previously expressed concern that these classes are introducing bias or worse, at a time when evidence-based reproductive health care is under attack by legislators and powerful, well-funded anti-choice organizations.

“It’s obviously going to impact women’s health in that a nurse is receiving information that he or she is then disseminating to their patients,” Gupta said. “I think that’s the concern.”

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include a statement from a Heartbeat International representative.

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