FOSTER CARE NATIONWIDE:
Reports from major national media, and investigative
November 13, 2000
The Shame of Foster Care
from the table of contents blurb:
"A TIME investigation enters into the quagmire that is spawning a generation of
forsaken and forgotten children. Thousands are being neglected, abused,
even murdered under what is ostensibly government protection."
- * * *
- The incidence of neglect, physical and sexual abuse in the various
foster-care systems is feared to be significantly higher than the incidence in
the general population. Nobody bothers to keep an accurate count, but in
round numbers, more than 7,500 children are tortured under what is technically
government protection. Together with the many more who linger as long as
10 years in protective-custody systems, they are America's lost children,
forsaken and forgotten.
- * * *
- "In virtually every state, there is no accountability," says Don Keenan,
an Atlanta attorney who has sued Georgia posthumously on behalf of children
who have died in foster care. "This is a meltdown. This is
"States put kids' lives on the block"
Part 1 of a 3-part series
Sept. 26, 1999
by David Jackson & Cornelia Grumman
- In what amounts to a vast social experiment, government is retreating from
its historic role of caring for orphaned and delinquent children, and is
parceling them out to an expanding private industry of youth jails and
foster programs. ...
- But the lucrative private programs, which were touted as an antidote to
the wretched conditions found in state institutions, are rife with corruption
and abuse, and are scantily monitored, a Tribune investigation has
- * * *
- "The more kids they can get, and the longer they can keep them, the more
money they can make, and that's a dangerous thing," said former Massachusetts
child welfare administrator Jerome G. Miller.
- Once the exclusive province of local charities, small churches and child
advocates, the youth services industry of the 1990's ranges from a handful of
multi-state corporations that dominate the market to a smaller start-ups that
win million-dollar contracts with little more than a shabby bungalow and a few
- * * *
- Some non-profits were every bit as avaricious as their profit-making
- * * *
- Children's case files examined by the Tribune point to a fundamental
collision between the traditional mission of child work -- to normalize youth
and move them out of the system -- and the profit motive, which seeks to keep
them in. Even in the non-profit sector, many fee-per-child contracts
give private companies no incentive to discharge children or reduce their
level of care or confinement as functioning improves, because doing so would
cut revenues, government studies found.
- * * *
- And the government-managed child welfare systems of Illinois and 11 other
states [(Kansas was the second such state)] are operating under court-ordered
consent decrees because of class-action lawsuits alleging system-wide abuse of
wards. "It's not as if the public sector has lived up to its mission,"
said Ira M. Schwartz, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social
from "Lifting the Veil"
a report on
child-protection in the U.S.
by analyst Emerich ("Rick") Thoma:
- The consequences of vague statutes, increased reporting, and poor decision
making among child protective services caseworkers are everywhere to be found.
- In Illinois, researchers for the Child Welfare Institute in Atlanta
examined cases in three Illinois cities in 1994, conducting interviews with
parents, foster parents, and caseworkers. Again, the researchers reached
exactly the same conclusion. Reports the Chicago Tribune:
- "The Child Welfare Institute determined that in one-third of the cases,
there was absolutely no reason for the children not to be home with their
parents. The children were in foster care for the protection of their
caseworker, not for their own safety."
- (source: R. Bruce Dold, "Kids Suffer Under DCFS Reform Efforts," Chicago
Tribune, (September 22, 1995) )
- Defensive social work of the variety identified by the Child Welfare
Institute would appear to permeate the field. In 1997, for example, removals
of children from their homes in the Tampa Bay area of Florida reportedly
doubled after a child known to the CPS system died.
- (source: Sally Kestin, "Sibling Separation Traumatic for Kids," Tampa
Tribune, (November 23, 1997).)
- * * *
- Children entering the shadowy world of foster care are often assigned
labels arbitrarily and on a bed-available basis. They may end up spending some
time in conventional foster homes, only to find themselves shuffled through
group homes, residential treatment facilities, mental hospitals and prisons.
- Scant attention is given to the needs of these children, and the
conditions they are forced to endure are often far worse than those endured by
prisoners in some third world nations.
- * * *
- THE WILDERNESS CAMPS
- California probation officer Dennis Lepak found himself introduced to
abuses in the system when he visited the Rite of Passage Wilderness Camp, a
group home for California boys located on an Indian reservation in the high
desert of central Nevada.
- "Boys were intentionally denied clothing adequate for the harsh
conditions, routinely assaulted by staff, and deprived of meals," he
- * * *
- HOW SAFE THE SERVICE?
- * * *
- Child welfare departments are rarely forthcoming with information about
the actual extent of harm that comes to children in their care. It is largely
through audits and casereadings associated with legal actions that the actual
extent of the abuses in the foster care system come to light.
- The reasons for this may not be as complex as they are made to appear.
Child welfare officials who have managed to entrench themselves in lifetime
civil service positions in the more desirable nooks and crannies of the child
welfare system have a vested interest to protect, and those who run public
bureaucracies have devised their own "rationalized myths" to protect their
interests, argues John Hagedorn (1995)
- The myths of "doing good" benefit those who are advantaged by existing
institutional arrangements. Even as politicians are constantly criticizing
"bureaucracy" and "bureaucrats," they approve millions of dollars worth of
public funds to keep the bureaucracies running. As Hagedorn explains: "It's
simply too risky for bureaucrats to admit that their agency may not be 'doing
good.' The erosion of that myth may lead someone to investigate them or even
propose cutting their budgets" (p. 99)
- In Florida, caseworkers in the Florida Department of Health and
Rehabilitative Services reportedly ran files relating to a botched
investigation through a paper shredder. "Documents were being altered,
shredded," testified a former HRS employee who watched the destruction of the
documents. "It went on and on and on . . . It was nothing but a cover-up"
- (source: Mathers, S., "Horror stories about HRS fill workshop." Orlando
Sentinel, January 24, 1996)
- [NOTE: State and federal audits continually cite Kansas's
child-protection agency, the "SRS ,"as failing, utterly, to keep honest and
accurate records of its actions, and of the status and handling of children
under its control. State auditors have repeatedly warned that their
audits are largely hampered by the SRS's denial of essential information --
even reliable aggregate summary data. Stonewalling by SRS officials
finally so infuriated legislators and press that it became one of the key
factors in the overwhelming passage of the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) a
few years ago, which threatens consequences for officials withholding public
more information, ask a current or former foster child -- in confidence -- to
tell you about life in state