Dissent Is Not Consensus: Why I Didn’t Sign the Child Fatality Commission Report

Earlier this month, I issued the Dissenting Report of Judge Patricia Martin to the final report of the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (CECANF). The dissenting report was constructed to give the President and Congress a valid perspective of CECANF’s work.

However, after an article that appeared last week, it appears that there is a need to give further clarity about my dissent.

Let it be known that I do not agree with the process imposed by commission leadership, nor do I agree with the overall context of the final report. I respect my fellow commissioners’ commitment to the children and families in need of support. Thus, in response to public statements and writings, I offer this clarity to ensure the purpose of my dissent is accomplished.

No one should be under the illusion that the key recommendations presented in the final report will save lives of children immediately. In fact, the final report clearly states that they “don’t know nearly enough about what works to reduce fatalities.”

Due to this lack of knowledge, what is offered as THE answer by the final report is simply another review of cases.  A review of cases that focuses only on children between the ages of 0-5 and completely ignores the safety needs of 30 percent of our nation’s children, requires the reorganization of the federal government, and a one billion dollar down payment.

A close look at the testimony received by the commission supports recommendations to eliminate some teen deaths, supports recommendations that do not rest on the removal of children as the answer, which supports strengthening the protective factors within the vast majority of families all without a $1 billion start-up payment.

Contrary to what the final report states, the commission heard testimony about what does work to prevent child abuse and neglect fatalities. The dissenting report highlights that testimony and those recommendations.

Chairman Sanders suggests that the recommendations that form the basis of the dissenting report were agreed to by the full commission. Contrary to statements, writings and publications since the launch of the final report, my dissenting report is far from a consensus with the final report.

The majority of recommendations in the dissenting report were incorporated within the broader proposals of the final report or relegated to an obscure appendix. Those recommendations were placed in an appendix and identified as made by “stakeholders” in an effort to diminish their profound importance.

The dissenting report completely refutes the notion of a “surge” and the need for a $1 billion dollar down payment on the surge that is principally designed to have a multidisciplinary team of retired social workers, doctors, police officers, etc., determine when to make home visits and remove children.

The dissenting report recognizes that there are recommendations for the President and Congress to consider in eliminating this nation’s teen deaths.

The dissenting report demonstrates that the reorganization of the federal government is not necessary to eliminate child abuse and neglect fatalities in our nation.

Notwithstanding the above, there are intersections within the final report and the dissenting report, and those points of intersection are a good starting point for Congress. In this commissioner’s mind, the points of intersection are the strongest and most actionable basis for an effective national strategy for the elimination of child abuse and neglect fatalities.

I took my presidential appointment to the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities very seriously. The testimonies of the experts, former foster care youth, child welfare experts, policy experts, academicians, researchers, adoptive and bio family members, provided a wealth of knowledge. They taught a great deal, and provided roadmaps for recommendations to the President and Congress.

Unfortunately, the final report fails to capture those solutions presented by the experts. Instead, it appears that many of my fellow commissioners, indeed experts in their own right, came to this process with firmly seeded plans of what they wanted to recommend, despite what was offered by the testimony. The dissenting report is an effort to highlight the effective solutions presented.

Now, let’s use the points of intersection and get busy building a national strategy that works!

Patricia Martin is the presiding judge for the child protection division in Cook County, Illinois.

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