In the past, I’ve excoriated various commentators in the news media for whom state child welfare officials are too hesitant to take children from their parents and place them in foster care. I’ve pointed out that numerous studies show foster care to be, on average, considerably worse for children than is parental care. That’s not just true for the run-of-the-mill parents, but even for those who, to an extent, abuse or neglect their kids. Even for children of those parents, foster care is not an upgrade.
Of course most foster parents strive to do their best, and many succeed admirably, providing stable, loving homes for children in desperate need. But on average, foster care is the wrong way to go and that’s when the kids are in care. When they turn 18, they “age out” of the system. That’s bureaucratic slang for “we quit paying the parents, so the kids are on their own, ready or not.” Most aren’t.
At one point I even asked journalists like Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic to consider the Daystar group home near Houston, Texas. From 2002 to 2010, six boys in the “care” of Daystar were killed by Daystar employees. This was well known to state Child Protective Services who went merrily on their way, assigning kids to Daystar until, after the final killing, the state finally shut them down.
So, as is usually the case, the State of Texas promised a thoroughgoing review of the foster care system that’s so dangerous to children who’ve been taken from their parents. Now the results of that review are starting to trickle in. Read about it here (Texas Tribune, 7/16/12). It looks like the state Department of Family Protective Services plans to outsource much of the foster care system to private contractors. How will that prevent abuse, injury and death to children in foster care? Well, it won’t as far as I can see, and, into the bargain, that doesn’t look like it’s a goal.
Now, it’s true that the change may solve one problem; because foster homes tend to be clustered rather than spaced more evenly across the state, a child taken from its parents may be placed in a home two hundred miles away. That means he/she would be out of touch of parents, relatives, neighbors, friends and familiar schools. Clearly, that needed to be changed, and the privatization of care promises to make available homes nearer to the child’s community.
But by taking the services out of the hands of CPS, the state is making CPS responsible for taking the children, but not giving it the authority to monitor foster care providers. That separation of responsibilities looks guaranteed to make mischief down the road, with CPS pointing to private contractors and vice versa when something goes wrong.
But more importantly, in reviewing the foster care system, the state apparently neglected to ask adults who’d come up through the system for their input. Among all the issues about who has responsibility for what, how each party gets paid, whether the state is creating incentives on the part of foster care providers to make children look better off than they are, the likelihood that large providers will muscle out smaller ones, no one thought to ask someone who’d grown up in foster care what he/she thought. Well, actually, they did ask one.
The last witness of the day was Laquinton Wagner, the only person to testify who had formerly been in the foster care system. Wagner said that from the testimony he had heard Monday, most witnesses were too focused on money and not on the real problems with the foster care system.
Wagner, 23, said he was abused in foster care, put on too many anti-psychotic drugs at too young an age, and provided with virtually no resources to help him get on his feet once he aged out of the system. Wagner said he was homeless after getting out of foster care and got into trouble with the law.
He added that he had no idea there was a college tuition waiver for former foster-care children until three years after he aged out.
These are the issues lawmakers should be discussing, Wagner said.
“I think foster care focuses far too much on pockets, and far too little on the well-being of children and parents,” Wagner said.
Oh, that. The actual well-being of children wasn’t brought up. Neither was aging out of the system and what happens to kids when they do. Neither was the over-medication of foster kids to control their behavior. Neither was neglect and abuse in foster care. The simple fact is that everything Wagner mentioned is an ongoing problem with foster care around the country. The same problems crop up again and again, but here we have a statewide review of the foster care system that failed to address the most basic – and the most important – issues that face children.
Wagner put his finger on why that happened – money. From the state’s desire to spend less of it to the private contractors and individual foster parent’s desire to get more of it, money is the driving force in the foster care system. That’s why states like Texas give no thought at all to what’s arguably the best solution to the problem of parental abuse and neglect – redirecting money away from foster care and to providing services to mothers and fathers to teach them better parenting skills. That certainly won’t solve all problems of parental abuse and neglect, but it could go a long way toward improved parenting and keeping children in their homes. But private contractors of foster care want no part of such a change and lawmakers are too timid, too ignorant of the issues and likely too in need of campaign donations to even consider changes that could benefit kids.
So, despite promises that may have seemed sincere back in 2010 when the latest fatality in foster care hit the headlines, it’s business as usual in the foster care system. They forgot to deal with the real problems. I wonder what they’ll say when the next child dies. I know what Laurie Roberts will say – nothing. Parental abuse gets her attention, as it should, but abuse in foster care? Not so much.