WHY THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM IS BROKEN
April 15, 2014
Summary: Whether it’s an individual issue with the Foster Care system, the lack of leadership within them, or a combination of both, the reality is that foster homes and foster care programs provides a breeding ground for sexual abuse – abuses that become exponentially worse when these institutions fail to provide full details into allegations. The system needs a massive re-haul, stocked with leaders that have child safety in their forefront.
“Every child deserves permanence, safety, and well-being.”
– Massachusetts Department of Children and Families
It would be convenient if the enforcement of institutional safety and leadership could be carried out by putting a neat little quote on their website – all they would have to do is write the words, and child safety would just magically happen. Unfortunately for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) – as well as many other foster care programs in the U.S. – protecting children requires more than putting pen to paper. Foster care systems rarely receive fanfare when they are doing things correctly; however, their failures tend to loudly speak for themselves.
Yesterday, a sexual abuse story broke within Massachusetts’ DCF foster care system. Specifically, the story centered on a troubled teen (himself a previous victim of abuse within the foster care system), that coaxed six toddlers into inappropriately touching him. DCF found out about it when the teen reported it to them. Yet, the DCF failed to disclose the teen’s admission to all the families involved – but it still gets worse. There were other organizations (including DCF) that knew about his sexualized past; yet, left him unsupervised around other children. Later on, it was discovered that the care center was in violation of several state regulations, including the owner allowing three of her children to supervise day care kids…if that wasn’t bad enough, each of the three kids had sexualized pasts, and two of them were abused in the foster care system. If that situation looks entirely wrong to you – it’s because it is.
Even if you pay no attention to the fact that the Massachusetts DCF has been in hot water as of late with a string of negligence and abuse cases, there is a clear problem in foster care systems. This begs some questions looking into the problem:
– How can the foster care system choose child care centers that haven’t been fully vetted?
– Where is the supervision?
– Are the employees and foster parents fully certified before working with children?
If the DCF case study is any indication, it would seem that the requirements for fully certified adults, care centers, or other employees are there; but are loosely enforced. Perhaps another concern is the heavy cost incurred by the state to provide adequate staffing for these programs. Let’s be clear; the lack of money is the roots in which these sexual abuse cases grow from. Yet, the lack of morality within these programs is what might explain why organizations like the DCF ‘failed’ to mention this particular story about the troubled teen. Institutions have a moral obligation to keep family members fully aware of major issues – especially so in foster care programs, as they provide a necessary function in our society.
Don Beck, a San Diego-based attorney that practices in sexual abuse, provided perhaps the sharpest critique – and the most accurate summary – of the current state of foster care: “Foster homes are snake pits of sexual abuse, with minimal if any supervision. The foster care system is a human junkyard of kids thrown away.” To understand why Beck’s strong assertion is accurate, you need to know that the amount of children in foster care has doubled in the past 20 years. Further, kids stay in this system for two years, on average. There are thousands of kids that never get adopted that end up aging out of the foster care program. Consider also that many more of these children are arriving to foster care as victims of sexual abuse. These factors, coupled with the fact that there is little money to address significant staffing issues and that certification processes are loose at best, and you can see why Beck is spot-on with his assessment.
Our President has taken notice, and has pledged to include provisions in the national budget to assist with child welfare programs. That could address the staffing issues, but this is only part of the problem; there is no guarantee that those new employees hired with this inflow of federal money will be certified to do the job. The best antidote in the foster care system is leadership, and not just any type. Foster children need the leadership within the system to be staunch advocates for child safety – leaders willing to enforce the rules and mission statements so cleverly written on their websites and rulebooks. Certifications need to be validated, and routinely maintained by care givers and employees of the foster care system. Background checks – thoroughly conducted and including a social media check – is crucial in hiring the right people to fix this problem.
Ultimately, these children need heroes. The hero can be in the form of the engaged leader looking out for their safety within the foster care system, a mentor, or a foster parent – heck, it could even be you.
At Estey & Bomberger, our stance is to hold institutions accountable for the safety of all children in their care. Failure to do so has significant costs; it ruins the victim’s life, it reduces the community’s confidence in our institutions, and if left unresolved, offenders can repeat their abuses. We hold wayward institutions accountable by hitting them hard in the wallet. We pride ourselves in advocating for child safety, yet our hope is that institutions have the same pride in protecting children as we do.