Friday, November 26, 2010

Improving the Foster Care System - Part II

In response to Improving the Foster Care System - Part I, LK posted a rather lengthy comment. I won't quote the entire remark, but a very valid point was made:
So the problem is that they are taking too many kids from their parents who should not be removed. Therefore they have to lower the standards in order to house them all.

There is no doubt that child welfare services does a better job in taking kids away from families than they do caring for them once they are taken. Budgets are too small, social workers have too many kids on their caseloads, and there aren't enough foster homes to go around. There are too many kids in the system, and the resources are simply spread too thin.

So how do you fix it?

Take fewer kids.

I know that sounds obvious and way too simple, but the truth is that it's way too easy for social workers to take children in many states. Although our state is a little more stringent in requiring documented proof of abuse, and some social workers are becoming less picky because they realize there aren't enough beds for the children who are already in care, there are still cases where kids are taken for silly reasons.

One example of this profound silliness is the case out of Los Angeles where social workers tried to take a child because she was exhibiting out-of-control behavior. Even though everyone agreed the mother wasn't being neglectful in her parenting, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services filed a neglect petition anyway. Thankfully, this case was overturned on appeal.

And of course we can't forget the latest mishugas that's going on with Rachel/Tudusamom. To think that a family might lose custody of their children over a blog is pretty darn shocking.

We also can't forget our own situation, where we had a social worker issue a removal notice because we admitted our foster child was having problems in our home and dared ask for help. Granted, this is a somewhat different situation because we weren't the legal parents of the kid in question, but it illustrates how social workers are quick to remove and slow to find real solutions to problems.

To address the problem of too many children being taken into foster care, we really need to address some larger social issues. In our county, more than 80% of the children in foster care are there because of their parents' involvement in the illicit drug trade. Some children find themselves in foster care because their parents end up incarcerated because they are using, selling or producing illegal drugs. Other kids are taken because their parents are simply too intoxicated to ensure that the house is sanitary, there is food available, or that the kids are clean and go to school. Kids in our county end up physically or sexually abused because their parents are too high to be rational, or they pimp their children out so there is money for the next hit.

It's a difficult situation. How do you keep kids at home with their drug-using parents when so many treatment centers fail at helping people achieve permanent sobriety? One adoptive family I know has two kids because the birth mother consciously decided (and told her worker) that she would rather get high than work her case plan and get herself sober for her kids.

How do you combat that? How do you fight addictions that are so strong parents would sell their children for that next high?

I think the real truth is that you can't. Addressing this issue is far more complicated than drug treatment programs which often do not work. Once a parent has started using meth, it's too late. At one of our foster parent training programs, a county sheriff reported that in her 20+ years of law enforcement experience, she knew only one person who was able to kick meth for any length of time. Although her experience is probably anecdotal, one study, which included residential and outpatient treatment modalities, found that 60% of methamphetamine users had relapsed within 12 months.

Those odds aren't good.

I think the reality here is that child welfare services is fighting a losing battle. Until we can find programs that address the deeper societal issues which trap families in poverty and drive people to use drugs, there will always be more kids in foster care than the system can properly handle.

Money certainly would help, especially if it were used to keep families together before they were separated, but it's not the entire solution. There will always be children who will not be safe at home no matter how many interventions are given. There will always be families who can't or won't be able to care for their children properly.

Although I largely disagree with our county's behavior as a whole, most of the cases I know where kids were removed were for legitimate reasons. One child was boiled to the point of third degree burns in a hot shower, another had a sibling beaten to death in front of her eyes, a third was born off-the-charts high on methamphetamine to a mom who refused to get sober and another was a teenager who had been living on the streets, with no parental supervision or support.

How do you decide which of these children should not be in foster care?

I don't know.


  1. Here's where I gotta disagree with you.

    Drug court programs have proven to be very successful.

    Number of kids in foster care down 20 percent in past decade

    and 8% in the last year nationwide.

    There have been a ton of studies coming out recently in support of various services both in terms of cost and effectiveness. And as it turns out, preventive services tends to be the one where the kids have the best overall outcomes and there are more of these cases than you may think.

    I would also like to respectfully challenge your view that many parents can't change or can't be helped, etc. In many cases this is true but in many cases this is not true. Too much focus is placed on the parents who can't be helped and not enough on the parents who can.

    This is a common myth in many of the foster parent blogs that I read, and about 99% of the news articles that I come across. For example, you see a lot of focus being placed on the system, foster parent recruitment campaigns, national adoption month, etc, but very rarely do you see the cases where a parent successfully completed a program and got their kids back. So there is a kind of child abuse hysteria going on and a skewed view being presented. Simply by being labeled as an abuser, or loosing the kids, becoming involved with child welfare, whatever, parents are suddenly lumped into a single category.

    That's a stereotype and it's not fair because every case is different in both situation and severity.

    If they can't be helped, you protect the child. If they can, you help them to do that because it's what's best for the child, and it costs less money than foster care. It's as simple as that. Is that what they're doing? In some cases yes, but in many many cases, no.



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