Category Archives: Children and families

A Horrible Abuse Case. The Daily Reality Behind It.

Click for larger view. Source: Families Forward

The news today is horrifying – the death, possibly from sexual abuse, of a 17-month-old. Our distracted minds are focused, for a while, and we all go into a collective shudder and wonder what monster could do such a thing.

The daily reality is worse and doesn’t get enough attention. In the fiscal year ending last June, Virginia child abuse and neglect investigations resulted in 6,485 “founded” reports. The standard for a founded report, out of the 37,000 complaints involving more than 55,000 children, is that a preponderance of the evidence supported the claim.  Continue reading

Replacing One Inequity with Another

Governor Ralph Northam vetoed a bill yesterday that would have imposed mandatory minimum sentences on repeat domestic abusers on the grounds that racial minorities would be disproportionately affected.

I nearly headlined this post, “Northam to Domestic Abuse Victims: Drop Dead.” I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. But I wouldn’t be surprised if many people interpret his action that way.

Thanks to Northam’s veto, Virginia might be “fairer and more equitable” to perpetrators of domestic violence. But will it be “fairer and more equitable” to victims? The data is patchy, but considerable evidence suggests that African-Americans are roughly twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence as whites. One could argue that creating racial “equity” for African-American criminals creates inequity for African-American victims, primarily females. Continue reading

Foster Care Reform: This Just Might Work

Governor Ralph Northam at foster-care bill-signing ceremony, sitting in the company of Carlos Johnson, who recently aged out of the foster care system. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the Age of Donald Trump and the Resistance, it’s hard to find anything that most Americans agree upon. But one is that society — working through government and nonprofits — can do a better job of helping kids removed from the custody of unfit parents. In Virginia, unfortunately, the state’s foster care system is the very stereotype of dysfunctional government. Accordingly, great stock is being placed in a foster-care reforms and a public-private partnership highlighted by Governor Ralph Northam yesterday.

The cynic in me wonders how well these initiatives are thought through. Do they address symptoms or underlying problems? Will they benefit the intended beneficiaries or just create a new self-perpetuating bureaucracy? I lean toward the view that the programs will help. I see no downside, no potential for harm. And unlike many social-engineering schemes, they require only modest sums of taxpayer money. 

In the wake of a devastating indictment of the foster care system by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), the General Assembly approved $3.7 million in added funding for child welfare agencies. A new director-level position in state government will oversee the health and safety of children in the state’s care. The state also has new powers to intervene when local child welfare agencies are botching the job. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Incompetence and Failure Everywhere You Look

Where are the social justice warriors? SJWs are super sensitive to subtle signs of “institutional racism.” Perhaps they should focus on the widespread incompetence in Virginia’s local foster care systems. For instance: A Virginian-Pilot investigation has found “a pattern of mismanagement, retribution and poor performance” in Norfolk’s foster care program. “Employees say they saw the foster care program go from bad to worse. It started with  children languishing in foster care for years, with little done to get them adopted. In more recent years, case workers say they’ve been pressured to get kids off the foster care rolls by any means necessary, even if that sometimes meant putting the children in harm’s way.” Sometimes foster children have been placed in situations where they have been assaulted and sexually molested. These children are disproportionately African-American. Why hasn’t this failed system become a cause celebre of the Left? Could it be that it doesn’t fit The Narrative?

Metro free falling. Ridership on the Washington Metro system continues its steady decline, sinking to fewer than 600,000 average weekday trips for the first since since 2000, according to the Washington Post. Ridership peaked in 2008 at 750,000 weekday trips. The passenger rail system, plagued by safety and maintenance issues, has been engaged in a SafeTrack rebuilding program that may account for some of the loss. But the system suffers chronic problems, such as too few trains, too many service disruptions, and the emergence of ride-hailing alternatives such as Uber and Lyft.

Why so few starter homes? Why are home builders constructing so few starter homes (defined as those selling for $200,000 or less)?  Continue reading

Assisted Conception Option For The New Realities

Rick Olson, Jay Timmons and children at their McLean home.

A major revision of Virginia’s assisted conception laws has fought its way through to a final vote in the State Senate Monday, pushed by a former Virginia official who has gone public with his unconventional and very 21st century family.

Jay Timmons and his husband Rick Olson faced a major legal battle in Wisconsin a few years back over the surrogacy agreement they had with the mother of their third child.  The child was conceived using a frozen embryo from a couple that had used a similar method to build a family of four, didn’t want to use the remaining embryos themselves, but also didn’t want them destroyed.   Continue reading

Asian Family Values

Data source: Virginia Department of Social Services

A few days ago I posted data showing that “Asians” in Virginia are a diverse group whose country of origin include India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines and many other nations. Some groups are very well-to-do, some middling. But none, regardless of the circumstances of how they arrived here, are poor.

In the past, I have attributed part of the superior educational and income performance of “Asians” to the strong, family-oriented culture of the diverse immigrant groups lumped into that broader racial classification. Recently, while poking around Virginia adoption data, I have uncovered one measure of how Asian family values make life better for children. Continue reading

Foster Care: How Big a Problem in Virginia?

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

As the General Assembly ponders how to reform Virginia’s sometimes-dysfunctional foster care system, I thought it worthwhile to present some data on the stakes involved.

The number of children in the system decreased between 2007 and 2013, then ticked up again in recent years. One reason for the increase, according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report, “Improving Virginia’s Foster Care System,” was the creation of the Fostering Futures program, which raised the age at which children exit foster care from 18 to 21.

At the same time, notes JLARC, Virginia has the lowest rate of foster-care placement of any state in the country. In September 2016, the proportion of children in foster care was 2.6 per 1,000 children. States JLARC: “The precise reasons for Virginia’s low rate are unclear.” Continue reading

Lawsuits, Fiscal Stress and the Autism Epidemic

Junior Matthews with his mother and father, Gregory and Tonie Matthews. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Gregory  “Junior” Matthews, Jr., 16, has been diagnosed with severe autism. He is nonverbal and classified as disabled. Providing for his education is very expensive. His parents, who until recently lived in Henrico County, sought to send him to the Faison Center, which specializes in educating children with severe autism. But Henrico County balked at its share of the cost — about $23,000 annually, covering about one-third of the tuition. (The state covers the rest.)

The Henrico County School Board filed a lawsuit February to overturn a hearing officer’s decision that the county had not been meeting the boy’s needs and should pay to send him to a private school that could. Now a federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

Tracing the Epidemic of Children with Disabilities to Its Source

Source: Virginia Child Protective Service

Virginia public schools are swamped by an increasing number of children afflicted with disabilities, the vast majority of which are emotional or cognitive in nature. Schools are experiencing a silent crisis as they try to accommodate a growing cohort of students who have a legal entitlement under the law to a greater share of resources and who, when mainstreamed, often disrupt the education of their classmates. Given society’s commitment, born of compassion, to educating children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, schools are caught in a tightening vice.

How did we get here? Why are there so many needy children? Has it always been this way? Have American schools always had a large percentage of children whose needs simply went unrecognized — or, as it often feels, are things getting worse? And if they are, why? Continue reading

Disadvantaged, Disabled and Homeless

In the last post I pledged to explore, and hopefully to explain, the social epidemic of broken kids. For all our rising incomes and for all our advances in health care, the number of children suffering from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as the number diagnosed with autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other cognitive and emotional disorders appears to be on the rise. The problem cannot be attributed to one single cause. It is multi-factorial and complex.

I’m certainly no expert, just a journalist trying to understand what’s happening. One place to start is to look at numbers generated by the Virginia Department of Education and made accessible through its searchable Build-a-Table database of Standards of Learning test takers. VDOE tracks the number of kids designated disadvantaged (eligible for free school lunch programs), disabled (falling within one of 10 sub-classifications), and homeless. All are associated with higher failure rates in SOL tests, and all are associated with behavioral problems that disrupt classes for other children.


Continue reading

A Rising Generation of Broken Kids

Claiborne Mason, president of the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, talks to students at the John G. Wood School.

In the 15 years Brendan Folmar has worked at the John G. Wood School, a private day school for emotionally handicapped children, he has witnessed a disturbing change in the kind of children admitted to the school.

When he first joined the Wood School staff, many of students were comparable to students today who are mainstreamed in Virginia public schools. Today the condition of students at Wood, says Folmar, the school principal, is more acute and more challenging to treat than ever. Continue reading

Measuring Outcomes for Private Schools that Teach Kids with Disabilities

Location of schools belonging to the Virginia Association of Independent Specialized Education Facilities. See member list here.

There are more than 90,000 kids classified with disabilities in Virginia’s public school system. They typically require more resources than other students — smaller class sizes, educational assistants, and the like — and local school districts are struggling to pay for them. Not all of the funds spent by the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of kids with disabilities goes to public schools, however. Millions of dollars support the roughly 80 private day schools that specialize in educating children with specific disabilities from autism to dyslexia.

Not surprisingly, when state resources are finite, not everyone agrees on who should get what. Some say that many children with disabilities could be schooled effectively but at less expense in public school settings than in highly resource-intensive private schools. Private school advocates counter that their higher staff ratios and specialized training, though more expensive, provide better outcomes. But nobody knows for sure because the private schools don’t collect data in a way that would inform the debate. Continue reading

Autism and the Twitter Outrage Mob

My tenure as an editorial and op-ed writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch may have been brief but I learned a lot. My first unsigned editorial ignited the wrath of protective mama bears who have children with autism. I got my first up-close look at the awesome power of a Twitter Outrage Mob. It was quite a spectacle.

As I’ve had a chance to reflect upon what I wrote, I feel partially penitent. Living with a child with autism isn’t easy. Parents often rearrange their lives, moving to locales with better school resources, dropping out of the workforce to provide at-home care, living with the fear that their children might never become independent, functioning adults. Autism can become an all-consuming issue. Had I known, I would have expressed more sympathy. But I wouldn’t have changed the thrust of the editorial.

Continue reading

Virginia’s New Incivility

Hate the man, hate his children.

A month ago Fox News television host Tucker Carlson was dining at the Farmington Country Club, just outside Charlottesville, with two of his children and family friends. In a tweet yesterday, he described the following incident:

Toward the end of the meal, my 19-year-old daughter went to the bathroom with a friend. On their way back through the bar, a middle aged man stopped my daughter and asked if she was sitting with Tucker Carlson. My daughter had never seen the man before. She answered: “That’s my dad,” and pointed to me. The man responded, “Are you Tucker’s whore?” He then called her a “fucking cunt.”

My daughter returned to the table in tears. She soon left the table and the club. My son, who is also a student, went into the bar to confront the man. I followed. My son asked the main if he’d called his sister a “whore” and a “cunt.” The man admitted that he had, and again became profane. My son thew a glass of red wine in the man’s face and told him to leave the bar, which he soon did.

Immediately after the incident, I described these events to the management of the Farmington Country Club. The club spent more than three weeks investigating the incident. Last week, they revoked the man’s membership and threw him out of the club.

I love my children. It took enormous self-control not to beat the man with a chair, which is what I wanted to do. I think any father can understand the overwhelming rage and shock that I felt seeing my teenage daughter attacked by a stranger. But I restrained myself. I did not assault this man, and neither did not son. That is a lie. Nor did I know the man was gay or Latino, not that it would have mattered. What happened on October 13 has nothing to do with identify politics. It was a grotesque violation of decency. I’ve never see anything like it in my life.

Once upon a time, Virginians prided themselves on their civility. But many today deride the virtues of courtesy and self-restraint as tools of social oppression created by privileged elites. It’s nice to know that at least the Farmington Country Club is willing to enforce basic norms of behavior. Had the incident occurred anywhere else, I doubt the man would have been chastised in any way.

Virginia as a Low “Sexism” State


Women of Virginia, great news! Your home state is the least sexist in the South and, though hardly a leader in workplace feminism, comparable in social attitudes to such havens of enlightenment as Maryland, California and Oregon.

That’s according to a new research paper, “The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination,” which examines how sexist attitudes in women’s home town (“formative sexism”) and their current residence (“residential sexism”) affect their workforce participation and earnings. The Washington Post uses the data today to publish the map atop this post in an article entitled, “The most sexist places in America.”

The study is both fascinating and infuriating. It contains some intriguing data about variations in social attitudes toward the role of women in society and displays an extraordinary bias to which the authors seem oblivious. Without a hint of irony they label “sexist,” a pejorative term that has no place in social science, beliefs others might call “traditional attitudes.” I am not competent to critique the authors’ statistical reasoning, but it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that deep and pervasive bias infects the study’s conclusions.

Write the authors:

In principle, sexism might take many forms but we focus on negative or stereotypical beliefs concerning the appropriateness of women engaging in market work rather than home production. Our analysis defines prevailing sexism in a market as the extent to which its residents believe: (i) that women’s capacities are inferior to men’s; (ii) that the family unit is hurt when women focus on activities outside the home; or (iii) that men and women should occupy specific, distinct roles in society.

The authors argue that the “sexist” beliefs of people around her “might affect a woman’s tastes, expectations, and beliefs, and thereby her choices and outcomes.” That’s another way of saying that a woman’s values and priorities are influenced by the culture in which she was raised and in which she is living. When stripped of the pejorative labeling, that’s not a terribly controversial proposition.

For the record I hew to the view that women should be free to pursue whichever path they choose, whether it is in the workplace, at home, or a balance of the two, in a manner that is consistent with their own values. I also think it is perfectly reasonable for women to take into account the views of friends and family members. I consider it extraordinarily demeaning to label as “sexist” a belief that there is value to a woman focusing on raising children, especially young children, at home.

That said, the questions in the national General Social Survey reveal interesting regional variations among both men and women. Consider the following scattergraph:


This contrasts the “sexism” — or traditional attitudes towards women’s roles — of men and women by state. Virginia falls below average in traditional attitudes for both men and women, although it is not far from the center. Also of note, the attitudes of men and women tend to be more similar than many other states.

(I would predict that if it were possible to break down Northern Virginia versus the Rest of Virginia, the great sociological divide in the state, NoVa would look more like Connecticut and RoVa would look more like Georgia.)

As for the study’s conclusion, can anyone doubt that the authors found what they expected to find? They wrap up their article this way: “Prejudice-based discrimination, undergirded by prevailing sexist beliefs, may be an important driver of womens outcomes in the U.S.”

Another way of expressing the data might be: “Women raised with traditional values and living in communities where traditional values predominate are more likely to spend more time raising children and keeping house, to spend less time in the workforce, to advance more slowly up the career ladder, and, accordingly, to get paid less than men on average.” If that constitutes “prejudice-based discrimination undergirded by prevailing sexist beliefs,” then so be it.