Category Archives: Children and families

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.


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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.

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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.

The Social Cost of Domestic Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) accounts for more than one in seven violent crimes in the United States. Between 16% and 23% of American women experience IPV while pregnant. Social science researchers have suggested that domestic abuse affects not only the mother-to-be but her unborn children, but the social cost of the problem has been difficult to measure.

A new study by three women, two economists and a health policy researcher, have found a way to compare the outcomes of women subjected to assault while pregnant versus those suffering violence up to 10 months after the estimated due date. They estimate the social cost per assault during pregnancy of nearly $42,000, implying a total annual cost to society of more than $4.25 billion.

“We find that prenatal exposure to assault is associated with an increased likelihood of induced labor, which is likely a response of the healthcare system to injuries sustained by pregnant victims of abuse,” write the authors of “Violence While in Utero: The Impact of Assaults During Pregnancy on Birth Outcomes,” a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There’s something in this study for everyone. For law-and-order types, the study shifts the prevalent preoccupation with the injustices of mass incarceration to the victims to crime. In addition to the obvious victims, the women subjected to assault, there are invisible victims: the lower birth-rate babies. Oh, and let’s not forget the general public, which winds up paying the medical bills to treat those  babies.

For social justice warriors, the authors remind us that “violence in utero is an important potential channel for intergenerational transmission of poverty.” Indirect costs come from increased childhood disability, decreased in adult income, increased medical costs associated with adult disability, and reductions in life expectancy. “Our results imply that interventions that can reduce violence against pregnant women can have meaningful consequences not just for the women (and their children), but also for the next generation and society as a whole.”

The authors don’t address the oft-noted observation that the American medical system has higher infant mortality rates than other developed countries. But their research sheds light on that phenomenon. The implication is that the higher incidence of infant mortality represents a failure of the U.S. health care system. But perhaps it really represents a higher rate of domestic violence than in other countries.

Virginia’s Child-Immigrant Non-Scandal

The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center

In the fall of 2017, three migrant children detained by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center filed a class action lawsuit alleging abuse by guards. This June, amidst national media coverage of the separation of children from parents on the U.S. border, news media discovered the lawsuit and reported on the allegations.

As I summarized the charges in a blog post: “Allegedly, teenagers were restrained, handcuffed, and made to sit with bags over their heads. Some were stripped of their clothes. Some were locked in solitary confinement, some beaten, left with bruises and broken bones and kept shivering in concrete cells.” I added: “The claims, if true, are shocking and must be addressed immediately.”

Well, the Northam administration promptly looked into the issue and has published its report. The findings? As I should have surmised from the hysterical, almost apocalyptic nature of the immigrant-children coverage by the national media, the state Department of Juvenile Justice “found that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect.”

DJJ staff interviewed all of the federal residents of SVJC. The team was unable to substantiate the conditions described in the lawsuit concerning the operations of SVJC or the mistreatment of residents. After obtaining permission from ORR, the team returned on June 25 and reviewed case files, medical files, room confinement forms, and other documentation to assess compliance with regulations relating to the quality of care.

The immigrant children held at SVJC aren’t toddlers separated from their parents. They are unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 with no parent or legal guardian in the U.S. Many have suffered trauma; some belong to gangs such as the infamous MS-13. Many display behavioral issues presenting disciplinary challenges.

One technique used by SVJC is “room confinement” to “ensure the safety and security of residents, staff, and the facility.” The DJJ found no incidents where residents were confined longer than 24 hours. With the exception of one 23-hour incident, confinements typically lasted four hours.

SVJC staff also used, though rarely, a “restraint chair” for out-of-control residents “who cannot be safely restrained by less intrusive methods. While in the chair, a mesh spit guard can be placed on the resident’s head to prevent spitting or biting.”

In sum, the center faced difficult conditions. “Young people who have been frequently exposed to high levels of trauma, who are separated from their families, and who confront numerous language and cultural barriers” comprise a “uniquely challenging group,” the DJJ report says. The center should provide staff with professional development “in the areas of positive youth development, cognitive behavioral interventions and trauma informed care” and should increase “understanding and sensitivity toward the unique cultural backgrounds of the youth in the federal program.” DJJ also recommended more training in the use of physical and mechanical restraints, and in the effective use of de-escalation techniques.

Bacon’s bottom line: In other words, while the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center could benefit from some tweaks, investigators found no real problem there. What this story highlights — although you’ll never see a mainstream media outlet framing the issue this way — is an endemic feature of illegal immigration. Many children are unaccompanied by parents or relatives. Many suffered trauma — not at the hands of Americans but of their fellow countrymen (or perhaps Mexicans, which many had to pass through to get to the U.S.). And many pose special behavioral problems requiring their confinement and costing U.S. taxpayers.

The national media is largely uninterested in such issues, of course, so I anticipate zero follow-up. If U.S. immigration policy cannot be blamed, there’s nothing worth writing about.

Here’s what I would like to know. Who were the children who made the allegations and had a suit filed in their name? More importantly, who were the attorneys filing the suit on their behalf? How did those attorneys gain access to the children? Are they just random lawyers off the streets of Staunton, or are they part of a nonprofit organization? If they were part of a nonprofit, what is that organization’s aims and who is funding it? Could there have been political motivations behind the lawsuits? None of that information, as I recall, was reported by the media. What a surprise.

Update: The state report has come under heavy criticism by the people who filed the original lawsuit, including  the Washington, D.C., law firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, as well as the Henrico-based disAbility Law Center of Virginia. The Virginia Mercury has the story here. Unlike state investigators, the disAbility Law Center says it had unaccompanied access to the residents.

You Can End this Folly, Governor Northam!

Children at the Virginia Tech Graduate School Child Play Group

At the Annandale Cooperative Preschool, parents volunteer three to six hours a month to serve as teachers and class assistants. One big benefit is the pleasure of watching their toddlers mature. Another is more affordable tuition.

Now comes a proposal from the Virginia Department of Social Services that would require school staff, including the parent volunteers, to take up to 30 hours of training. The purpose of the requirement is to align preschool standards with federal requirements for providers receiving money under the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. Here’s the kicker: Cooperative preschools don’t receive block-grant funds.

Reports the Washington Post:

Parents and school directors say the training commitment would be disproportionate to the amount of time parents spend helping in classrooms, which administrators said equals about three to six hours a month.

Working families would be hard-pressed to find time to complete the training, said Marie Sloane, director of education at the Annandale school.

Without enough parents, the school would have to hire four assistant teachers for part-time slots that Sloane said are already difficult to fill — nearly doubling her six-teacher staff and probably increasing tuition. Cooperative preschools, she said, generally cost less than comparable schools because of parental participation. Monthly tuition at the Annandale Cooperative Preschool ranges from $233 to $416.

Bacon’s bottom line: What madness is this? There is a shortage of daycare workers and daycare facilities in Virginia, and even when the service is available, paying for it is financially burdensome for many families. Cooperatives that tap the volunteer labor of parents are a fantastic way to make daycare more affordable.

Regulators want to regulate. Bureaucrats want to expand their power. To borrow a phrase from GEICO, that’s what they do. Once in a while, when public safety and health is at stake, regulations are justified. But this is not one of those instances. There are 35 to 40 cooperative preschools in Virginia, a type of collaborative that has existed for at least 70 years. Parents undergo background checks and must meet health requirements, including tuberculosis testing. Social Services has proffered no evidence whatsoever that the children in these cooperatives are at any additional risk. What possible benefit can come from this?

Does Ralph Northam want to be known as the governor who presided over the demise of cooperative daycare in Virginia? Does he approve of the relentless advance of the administrative state into every sphere of our lives? I can’t imagine that he does. He needs to shut down this initiative right now.