Punishing the Poor

Child abuse and neglect would seem to be color blind issues until one look behind the curtain and observed the “Wizard” at work. Consider the case of Eric and Charlotte Kaufman and Shanesha Taylor. Their real names are used her due to the extensive media attention they garnered as a result of placing their children “at risk of harm” due to suspected poor parenting issues. The politics of poverty and plenty can be compared with both cases and what MNSBC host Chris Hayes, Up With Chris Hayes, calls examples of “Punishing the Poor.”

The Kaufmans decided to take their 1-year old daughter and her 3-year-old sister not on a two-hour tour like Gillian Island, but a tour around the world in a 36-foot sailboat. The 1-year-old became ill at sea, approximately 900 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. With a child sick and a sailboat taking on water, the California Air National Guard and the US Navy respond to the satellite call for help. The media, networks and cable covered the event as four National Guards parachuted out of a plane into the Pacific Ocean to rescue the 1-year old, her 3-year old sister and their parents. The family was saved and later found themselves on the USS Vandegrift, receiving medical attention for the 1-year-old and was transported to San Diego. The media covered the event in detail as some observers called for the parents to be charged for child neglect for placing the minors “at risk of harm” to used the term of the Child Protective Services System. To date the parents have not been arrested or charged for child abuse.

Shanesha Taylor, 35, of Scottsdale, Arizona, was arrested on child-abuse charges for leaving her children, aged 2 and 6 months, in a hot car while she was on a job interview. With the windows left up in the 100 degrees weather and no air conditioning running, the infant was found crying and sweating inside of the SUV. The police and child protective services were called to the rescue and Shanesha, unlike the Kaufmans, was jailed and the minors went into protective custody (foster care). There exist little doubt that Shanesha placed the minors at “risk of harm” as her children, like the two minors of the Kaufmans could have died as a result of the parents’ judgment and parenting decisions. Eric Kaufman, reportedly is a Coast Guard-licensed captain and Taylor reportedly was once in the United States Air Force. Well wishers for Shanesha have donated more than $100,000 for her aid and defense and have petition the prosecutor to drop the charges against her. Both the Kaufmans and Taylor have been identified as “good parents” but each experienced different consequences for their respective decisions that lead to the rescue of their children.

Hayes cited the lack of federal funded programs for child care and other programs for the poor as federal and state budgets cuts in Arizona and other States have cut mostly all supportive child care programs except child protective services, the unit responsible for investigating child abuse and neglect reports. Here’s where Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley, (R-Iowa) come in as the “Wizard” from behind the curtain who focused on federal funds to the Child Welfare Agencies.

In the early 90’s a former director of The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Illinois presented and overview of future changes to the Child Welfare Agency which actually had turned into a Child Welfare Industry. Grassley was supporting a reduction of federal reimbursements to Child Welfare Agencies as it related to the foster care system and children locked into the system. The federal reimbursements were crucial revenue streams associated with measures that kept the child welfare industry going. Illinois had more than 50,000 children in care in the early 90’s. Black children constituted more that 50% of the children in care even though blacks made up less than 19% of the total state population. The child welfare rolls skyrocket after several federal lawsuits were successful against the DCFS and changed child welfare services as it was then known. Earlier relatives sued DCFS in federal court to receive the same pay for taking care of DCFS wards as non-relative foster parents. Parents, many lacking employment, education and equal opportunities and access to social services became caught up in the child welfare system. Parents later learned and took advantage of a system that paid approximately $70 for a child at home on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to more that $200 for the same child if the child was in a foster home. The monthly rates increased even higher depending upon the age of the child. Grassley was warning the States that reimbursements at a “dollar per dollar basis” would gradually be reduced downward and downward. With the financial incentives removed from the foster care system, the total number of children in care was reduced down to less than 20,000 children within years after this proposed change in federal reimbursements. Reports of suspected child abuse and neglect to CPS increased while the number of children in foster care and institutional placements (especially black children) decreased.

Senator Grassley is known for cutting federal spending with little to no exceptions. In fairness to the Senator, if the government was spending a million dollars a year on a program and not getting anything in return, then slashing the budget by half really was not all that bad if you continue to get the same dismal results. “If there is one thing American policy towards the poor is skilled and efficient at, is unrelenting, it is punishing the poor” Hayes stated as he signed off on Taylor’s story.

Poor people seldom turnout to vote and many feel that there is nothing to vote for, hence they become a people without a voice in the public eye, giving rise to policies frequently designed for them but end up punishing them. Children do not vote and hence are without a voice and there exist a good chance that many parents who do not vote and are cynical of the political process pass this cynicism on to their children. The population that fills the foster care system and the correctional system find themselves at the mercy of the benevolent State culminating in two different sides of the same coin.

Taylor may be facing seven years in prison for placing her children at risk of harm. The Kaufmans may get a movie deal or a reality television show. It was reported that Shanesha Taylor could have been homeless. The Kaufman’s home, their 36-foot sailboat the, Rebel Heart, had to be sunk at sea as it was taking on water. The police and CPS rescued Taylor’s two children. The California National Guard and the US Navy rescued the Kaufmans and their children. If Chris Hayes and America only new the half has not been told. Who said, “Let them eat cake? Hmmm…