In August 2011, Attorney General Holder and the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced a new initiative called the Supportive School discipline Initiative to address the problem of “zero tolerance” policies that impose harsh punishments – such as expulsion – for relatively minor infractions. Recent studies show children punished in this manner are more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. The initiative is a collaboration between the two Departments.
On January 8, 2014, the Department of Justice and Department of Education announced the jointly devised School Discipline Guidance Rollout, addressing the issue of “zero tolerance” policies in the nation’s schools.
Speaking at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Maryland, Attorney General Eric Holder explained:
As it stands, far too many students across the country are diverted from the path to success by unnecessarily harsh discipline policies and practices that exclude them from school for minor infractions. During critical years that are proven to impact a student’s later chances for success, alarming numbers of young people are suspended, expelled, or even arrested for relatively minor transgressions like school uniform violations, schoolyard fights, or showing “disrespect” by laughing in class.
Too often, so-called “zero-tolerance” policies – however well-intentioned – make students feel unwelcome in their own schools. They disrupt the learning process. And they can have significant and lasting negative effects on the long-term well-being of our young people – increasing their likelihood of future contact with juvenile and criminal justice systems.
The guidance came about as the result of “close and longstanding cooperation between the Departments of Justice and Education, as well as extensive research and collaboration with school leaders, educators, and parents,” Holder added.
The guidance is intended to assist school districts, public elementary and secondary school teachers, as well as administrators “in meeting their obligations under federal law to develop and implement disciplinary policies without discrimination.”
Holder explained that the guidance will “provide useful information for school resource officers, recommendations for evidence-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline, and fresh approaches for monitoring and addressing racial and other disparities. Even more critically, it will offer new tools for educators, policymakers, and parents to promote fair and effective practices that make schools not only safer, but more supportive and inclusive.”
Seeking to avoid potential liability, schools have been hiding behind a wall of resource officers, police, and privatized security guards, explains a Dear Colleague letter sent to school officials around the nation. This does not provide the schools with the legal insulation that they desire. To the contrary: “Schools cannot divest themselves of responsibility for the nondiscriminatory administration of school safety measures and student discipline by relying on school resource officers, school district police officers, contract or private security companies, security guards or other contractors, or law enforcement personnel. To the contrary, the Departments may hold schools accountable for discriminatory actions taken by such parties.”
It is gratifying to see leadership at the federal level beginning to take a serious interest in matters that greatly impact on youths. Far too many have been turned into “offenders” for trivial offenses that at one time may have merited little more than a minor reprimand.
The “school-to-prison pipeline,” as it has been called, is tantamount to a black hole that sucks the very lifeblood out of children, their families, and their communities.
It is time that the educators begin educating, and stop acting as the sentinels for the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Our schools continue to do too little of the former, and too much of the latter.
For a literature review and more information about rthe school-to-prison pipeline, see Zero Tolerance Programs at liftingtheveil.org.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Fifty one years ago, an Arizona legislative committee produced an 86-page report on the Arizona Department of Public Welfare, harshly criticizing legislators. The report noted the disjointed service delivery, a chronic lack of funding. and employee mutinies that threatened the well-being of the children and families under state care.
Chaos was engulfing the state’s child-welfare system, as population increases and declining family values were pushing caseworkers to the breaking point. Even with substantial budget increases, it would be difficult to get ahead of the problems.
“Like Alice in Wonderland, we will have to run twice as fast just to stay in the same place,” the committee warned.
That report was issued in 1962, and little has changed since.
In January of 1995, The Arizona Republic published the results of its three-month-long investigation into the State’s child welfare system, reporting that: “Arizona’s child-welfare system, now under the umbrella of the mammoth Arizona Department of Economic Security, is still in chaos.”
As staff writers Carol Sowers, Norm Parish and Richard Robertson summarized the key findings of their investigation:
- Forty-six percent of Arizona’s foster children – almost the maximum allowed by law – remain in “temporary” homes for two years or more, according to a fact sheet prepared by state
child-welfare officials. They idle in the system until they are too old to be adopted. The result is increased costs for taxpayers and mounting caseloads for the state’s Child Protective Services agency and the courts.
- The state suffered a net loss of 50 foster families a month from September to March, forcing cast-off children to be placed in day-care centers or held longer than necessary in hospitals.
- On the front lines of the child-welfare system, caseworkers bail out at an alarming rate. In Maricopa County, which has the most demanding child-welfare problems, nearly one-fourth of the caseworkers left in 1993, 2 1/2 times the average for the entire DES.
- The seasoned managers, caseworkers, and volunteers who do stay are routinely forced to subvert the bureaucracy in order to serve their clients. Faced with shortages of foster homes, caseworkers have been forced to place some children in day-care systems. But because state law prevents leaving foster children in day care for more than 24 hours at a time, caseworkers must pick them up and drive them around for an hour before bringing them back.
- The state Department of Economic Security, the parent agency of the CPS, has had 16 director changes in 22 years, causing a crisis of consistency in leadership.
- Even conservative lawmakers agree that the DES has been dangerously underfunded, yet legislative commitment to children has been so marginal that the committee that oversees child welfare failed to meet for nearly two years.
- The DES has an outdated and inefficient record-keeping system. Officials don’t know how many caseworkers they need to handle the increasing number of abused and neglected children coming into the system, and it recently took a researcher an entire week to find out how much money is being spent on children.
- The DES has been so financially mismanaged that it went 20 years before the state auditor general could certify that the agency is keeping track of the $2.5 billion in funds and benefits it manages. The agency’s financial picture is so muddy that it didn’t even know it until several months ago that it had $14 million to use to help people find jobs.
John Hagedorn, who tried valiantly to reform Milwaukee’s troubled child welfare system, describes the transformation of a once-helping institution into one that in later years saw most federal social service dollars “going to create an expensive, punitively-inclined child protection apparatus which was to take over Departments of Social Services.” Social service bureaucracies grew and sustained themselves by adapting to the ideology of child protection “which in effect meant investigating child abuse and placing kids out of their homes,” Hagedorn explains.
Arizona’s child welfare bureaucracy provides a textbook perfect illustration of this phenomenon.
According to Marsha Porter, a former CPS director, part of the problem is that children and families too often don’t get help until it is too late, the Arizona Republic explained.
“There is only one child-welfare agency in the state, and its main function is investigation. The problem is that the only way for kids and parents to get services then is for someone to be labeled a victim and someone a perpetrator,” said Porter.
The retention of foster parents has always been an issue in child welfare, due in no small measure to those foster parents who would dare to advocate for the children in their care being pushed out of the system.
“Good foster parents are outspoken about incompetence and negligence, so they get threatened by the licensing agencies. DES likes to put kids in places that aren’t problems,” Francis Beseden, an attorney and legal guardian, told the Arizona Republic news team.
The bureaucratization and debureaucratization of child welfare service agencies are often pointed to as part of the magic key to reform. Agencies have been sub-divided, decompartmentalized, recompartmentalized, and pulled back together once and again “under one umbrella” in a never-ending effort to find the proper bureaucratic balance.1
Arizona provides no acception to the rule, its current Department of Economic Security having been assembled in 1972 by combining several departments in order to eliminate what the industry commonly describes as the “fragmentation of service delivery.”2
In 1995, when these problems were investigated and identified by Arizona’s press, the child welfare bureaucracy had already grown to tremendous proportions, as the journalists explained:
If the DES were a corporation, its 8,800 employees would make it the third-largest in the state – smaller than Motorola and Allied-Signal but larger than Honeywell, Arizona Public Service and America West Airlines.
On October 7, 2011, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Executive Order 2011-06 establishing the Arizona Child Safety Task Force.
“Child Protective Services caseworkers and staff perform critically important and exceptionally difficult work, and their margin for error is thin,” said Governor Brewer in a press release. “So I commend DES Director Clarence Carter for identifying immediate reforms that can help the agency perform more efficiently and effectively.”
In a subsequent release issued on November 1, 2011, the Governor announced the members of the Task Force, which included a diverse array of professionals with claimed expertise in the field of child welfare. The recommendations of her Task Force were to be in addition to a series of immediate reforms the Arizona Department of Economic Security intended to “improve its operations, transparency and accountability when it comes to the safety and welfare of children under the state’s oversight.”3
The Governor took the unusual course of appointing Clarence Carter – head of the Department of Economic Security – and Gregory McKay, an outspoken Phoenix police detective who had expressed criticism of the Department’s operations, as co-chairs on the Task Force.
NOVEMBER 12, 2013
The catalyst for Gov. Brewer’s push to investigate all reports called in to the Arizona CPS hotline, regardless of whether or not they necessarily merit investigation, is said to be a confidential memo sent to her by Gregory McKay, the Phoenix police detective overseeing criminal investigations at CPS, dated November 12, 2013. The memo from McKay concerns his discovery of thousands of uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports, saying the issue is “clearly one of failed child safety and protection multiplied by 5,000.”
Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter said the chief of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations brought the issue to his attention on Nov. 12, the same date as that on the memo to the Governor.
Carter said 6,000 cases were “misclassified” as not requiring investigations beginning in 2009. The number of cases escalated as the caseloads increased, and even as a new hotline process was being put into place. “What is clear to me here is that determination was made in many instances where it never should have been made,” Carter said.
The end result of the univestigated cases bears repeating.
“I don’t know of any fatalities,” said Gregory McKay, according to an AP report of November 21, on the uninvestigated cases.
“No deaths have been connected to the lapses,” the AP reported in a subsequent article published on November 25.
On December 3, in its coverage of the events the Payson Roundup similarly reported that “the review has so far uncovered no deaths.”
Depending on which news report one may read, the number of univestigated cases was, at a minimum, 6,000, with other reports putting the figure at 6,100 to as many as 6,500. The actual number isn’t as important as this one: Among the entire cohort of uninvestigated cases, there was not one child fatality to be found.
A CLOSER LOOK
According to a report released in August of 2013, the Department of Economic Security received 32,300 calls over the course of the six-month period. Of the total calls received, 10,139 (31.4 percent) did not meet the statutory criteria for a CPS report. The report continues on the explain that:
Calls that did not meet the criteria for a CPS report included: requests for information or referrals for services; questions about current cases; and allegations of abuse or neglect where the alleged perpetrator was not the child’s parent, guardian or custodian.
The report continues on to note that: “Every call that does not meet the criteria for a CPS report is reviewed within 48 hours by quality assurance staff to ensure the accuracy of that decision.”
According to a CBS 5 News report, Carter said investigators had gone through nearly 3,000 cases and found 1,700 cases that needed further investigation. Of those, they found only 10 that needed immediate attention.
That is to say that only 10 out of 3,000 reports appeared to require immediate attention. That does not necessarily mean that children were genuinely endangered, as the reported severity of a report may – at least in some instances – be attributed to the ingenuity of someone deliberately calling in a false or malicious report.
In February of 1998, I interviewed a whistleblowing former caseworker from Arizona who told me that it was painfully obvious to her at at least one third of the cases that appeared on her desk for investigation were deliberately false, and that they should never have been passed on for investigation. This was particularly true of the anonymous call-ins.4
What she said echoed the writing of Keith Richards, an eight-year veteran of Long Island’s child protective services system and author of Tender Mercies: “People try to manipulate the CPS system all the time. You know, schools and hospitals calling to protect their behinds when a kid has a hangnail, neighbors harassing neighbors, estranged spouses trying to zap it to their ex.”
Richards sin’t the only former CPS caseworker to write book. Former New York City caseworker and Turning Stones author Marc Parent explains:
Once in a while, cases generated by anonymous callers proved to be true, but not usually. Reported crack houses with children locked in small crates covered in bruises and urine often turned out to be buildings with doormen and well-cared-for children tucked tightly in bed. The toll of the false reports was exhausting. It was sickening to to visit families in the middle of the night, make parents wait outside, wake up children and strip them naked to look for bruises that were never there.
“More often than not,” he adds, “victims of false reports turned out to be people in the midst of completely unrelated feuds with a neighbor or two. Strange coincidence.”
THE NEW TEAM
On December 12, 2013, the AP reported that a “new team” dubbed “CARE” by Governor Brewer reported that over 550 reports from the past four years had now received responses, and nearly 200 children had been visited by police or social workers.
You read that right. Some of these cases were over four years old, and the police and the caseworkers were only now knocking on the doors.
But should they have been knocking at all?
On December 19, the AP reported that: “A new team assigned to review more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect reports that weren’t investigated by Arizona child welfare officials says they’ve now assigned more than 2,100 of those cases to investigators.” The so-called CARE team, as it was named by Gov. Jan Brewer, said that over 1,100 children identified in the reports had been seen, and more than 1,000 cases have had a response.”
Progress was being made. But where was it all leading? Were there children out there truly needing to be rescued? Were there any lives to be saved?
On January 3rd of this year, the Arizona Capitol Times reported that: “The team assigned to check on the safety of children associated with abuse calls that went without investigation has found no ‘significant’ cases after seeing more than 2,000 children in the first month of work.”
With one third of the cohort of uninvestigated cases now behind them, the team found no child fatalities whatsoever, and no “significant” cases.
In other words, the screeners at the hotline had it right. They had engaged in the necessary and appropriate triaging of reports. Yet it was precisely that action – the triaging of reports – that had brought the agency under fire.
A RAND study published in 1991 – long before the deluge of reports had attained its current proportions – explains that “CPS systems contend with chronic overload by establishing formal triage systems or, where acknowledgement of limited capacity is not permitted, de facto triage.”5
As the Urban Institute explains in its report The Decision to Investigate: Understanding State Child Welfare Screening Policies and Practices, many state agencies reported that “they had recently tightened the criteria by which they judge whether a referral should be investigated. While only one state — Connecticut — reported that its official state policy changed to exclude certain types of reports from investigation, many states reported unofficial changes in practice that produced the same result.”
By the late 1990s, the ever-increasing number of reports to CPS became a major issue of concern in the industry. The Spring 1998 edition of Future of Children featured an article that examined the problem in some detail, concluding:
State legislatures should allow, and local agencies should undertake, experiments with screening systems that differentiate between reports of maltreatment representing higher or lower risk to the child, and that build in evaluations tracking outcomes for both groups. Differentiation should guide the manner in which further information about the report is gathered, and help to prioritize cases for services and CPS oversight.
Writing in the September 2013 issue of Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, Keith Roberts Johnson explains that: “Triage works to adjust the classification decisions to the resources available.” Johnson further explains that:
Outside political forces are reactive and counterproductive, pushing the profession towards punitive actions towards families. Worst of all, there is no solution possible when this perspective is adopted, other than a never ending demand for more social workers, more resources for families, more training, more skills and more supervision.
Arizona’s politicians are no exception to this rule, as evinced by the harsh rhetoric surrounding the “discovery” of the uninvestigated cases at CPS. Some headlines around the time included: AZ leader looks into failures at CPS, AZ finds problems in more CPS cases, Community forum held to help fix CPS, and 5 AZ CPS staffers placed on leave.
Even worse, Channel 12 NBC News reported the 6,000 uninvestigated cases as a “horrible, horrible reality coming to light.”
The problem in Arizona is one of knee-jerk statutory construction born of an overreaction during a previous administration. Arizona statute 8-802.C.5 mandates that all reports of alleged abuse or neglect called in to the hotlines are to be investigated. As much as Arizona’s legislators may hate to hear it, their state is one in which, as the RAND study put it, “where acknowledgement of limited capacity is not permitted,” hence its agency engaged in “de facto triage.”6
How did this all come about? Emily Bregel of the Arizona Daily Star explains in a recent column that:
A similar scenario played out in 2003 after a series of child maltreatment deaths involving families already involved with CPS. Then-Gov. Janet Napolitano pushed through extra funding for CPS, as well as legislation mandating that all cases get investigated. The reforms also dismantled the state’s “differential response” program, a kind of triage system that refers low-risk families to voluntary support programs instead of a CPS investigation and dependency court.
THE REVMAX PROJECT
Brewer inherited far more than that particular legal mandate from prior administrations. An audit note by the state’s Auditor General dated December 1, 2005, and addressed to then-Governor Janet Napolitano, detailed a revenue maximization initiative that the Department of Economic Security had commenced some time earlier.
These financial considerations, while complicated, must be understood if any efforts are to be made to implement reforms of a meaningful nature. It is one thing to claim that federal dollars impact placement decisions and length of stay, but it is quite another matter to prove it.
The audit explains: “The Department is working to increase federal revenues and has engaged a consultant to implement three projects involving federal grants used to fund Child Protective Services operations. These projects are designed to replace state funds with increased federal revenues and are expected to bring in approximately $3 million in one-time revenues and $1.3 million annually in ongoing new revenues. As of October 2005, $2.1 million of these funds had been received.”
In outlining these events for the benefit of the Governor, the audit note continued on to explain:
In the fall of 2003, the State began developing an initiative that is designed to help state agencies identify and recover currently untapped sources of revenue for which they may be eligible. This initiative, known as Revenue Maximization (or RevMax), is a state-wide initiative and has a governance board that reviews and monitors the progress of agencies’ projects. As of September 2005, 23 projects are under operation or have been completed among eight state agencies, including three projects at the Department of Economic Security.
To implement this initiative, in June 2004 the State contracted with six vendors who have specialized “revenue maximization” skills and experience with other states. These contractors are paid a fixed fee or a contingency fee of up to 10 percent of new revenues earned or costs avoided over a set period of time based on a preestablished baseline. While federal matching funds may be used to pay fixed fee contracts, contingency fees cannot be paid with federal funds, but may be paid with state funds replaced by the newly generated revenues.
The audit explained that “management may solicit offers from any of the six approved contractors or may elect to work on the project internally without contractor assistance. If the project results in new revenues or cost savings, the agency’s program budget may be reduced to return some newly generated revenues to the General Fund. The agency can then use the remaining funds to update information technology, to enhance prevention and early intervention strategies, to offset agency supplemental requests or unfunded mandated costs, or to compensate personnel who were principally responsible for generating the savings. Allowable RevMax projects include: Obtaining new revenues, such as replacing state funding with federal funding for past or prospective program expenditures; Providing funding flexibility, such as expanding the allowed use of federal revenues; and Avoiding costs, such as reducing expenditures in current programs.”
The audit note details a contractual relationship the agency had established with Public Consulting Group for the express purposes of enhancing federal reimbursements for children in foster care under Title IV-E. Public Consulting Group estimated that “that the project would generate $1.2 to $2.1 million in one-time increased revenues.”
Toward this end, PCG “received data on approximately 20,000 foster care placements from April 2003 through June 2005 and identified approximately 1,000 children with a potential for recovery of Title IV-E funds. PCG then reviewed Child Protective Services records for these 1,000 children to determine if they were eligible for federal funding and to assemble the required paperwork to document the child’s eligibility.”
It is interesting to note that an agency that has historically been reluctant to provide information regarding children in its care on the basis of confidentiality concerns, has no compunction about handing over the names and complete case files – which often include detailed family income histories – of thousands of children over to a private contractor for analysis.
The audit continues on in this vein for many more pages, detailing the Department’s efforts to pull down as many federal dollars as it can for its child protection and foster care programs. This was the golden era of revenue maximization, and the state of Arizona was gearing up to fill its agencies coffers with all of that expertly generated federal revenue.
The audit details some of the earlier accomplishments, and they are particularly relevant in terms of determining what a child in care is actually “worth” to the state. These are drawn verbatim from the report:
- The Department reports that, as of July 2005, PCG had identified an additional 139 children from the review period who were eligible for $2,010,900 in Title IV-E payments. The Department has submitted this claim to the federal government and it was approved and paid in October 2005.
- The Department indicates that it submitted another claim totaling $711,439 for 99 children found to be eligible under the Title IV-E program. This claim was submitted to the federal government on September 30, 2005. The Department expects to receive notice of acceptance or denial by December 31, 2005
- Further, the Department reports that on October 31, 2005, it submitted a claim requesting $73,523 for allowable administrative costs associated with the children identified through this case file review project.
- PCG estimates that it will identify additional children who were Title IV-E eligible, and the associated claims will total at least $150,000.
That’s right – the administrative costs associated with generating the federal revenue are themselves reimbursable. And, all the contractor gets is a relatively small percentage of the gain on a fee-contingent basis. Everybody wins, save the children who want only to return to their homes.
There is another specific financial incentive to maintain a CPS case as an “open” one: “PCG indicates that CPS activities provided to children not removed from their home, such as eligibility determination, case management and planning and certain in-home services, may be eligible for Title IV-E administrative reimbursement if CPS determines that, absent effective preventive services, the children in question would be placed into foster care.” Hence, the true urgency behind the monthly family visits that never seem to end is revealed.7
FOSTER PARENT RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
Arizona has privatized the bulk of its services involving foster care home recruitment. The belief that “outsourcing” these tasks to the private sector will make for a job well done is essentially a myth, at lease inasmuch as the privatization of services in Arizona is concerned. As a report issued by the State Auditor in October 2013 explains:
The Department contracts with licensed child-placing agencies (contractors) to provide most services related to foster home recruitment. Specifically, as of June 2013, the Department had contracts with 21 contractors who provide foster home recruitment-related services within one or more areas of the State specified in their individual contracts. According to department staff, 18 contractors serve Maricopa County, 13 contractors serve Pima County, and 6 contractors serve the other counties in the State.
How are Arizona’s private contractors doing in terms of the recruitment and retention of foster homes? An August 9, 2013, article in The Republic explains:
The one bright spot heralded in the previous report in January — a net gain in family foster homes for the first time in three years — evaporated as foster parents closed their homes faster than new ones could open during the six-month period ending March 31. While 722 new families became licensed, 740 foster homes closed their doors.
Legislative solutions are at times as confounding as they are counterproductive. In responding to the growing shortage of foster homes, Governor Brewer signed Senate Bill 1108 into law on May 2, 2013, directing the Department of Economic Security to “develop a placement policy that restricts the placement of young children and infants in homes where the foster parents have not immunizaed their own children.”
The licensing requirements for prospective foster parents are only the first hurdle to be crossed. That’s the recruitment part of the equation. As an October 2013 report by the State Auditor explains:
Statute requires the Department to license individuals who provide foster care to nonrelative children. General licensure requirements include possessing the ability to care for children; passing criminal background checks; undergoing an investigation, or “home study,” and a home safety inspection; and completing a specified number of training hours. Licenses are valid for 2 years and specify the age range, gender, and maximum number of children who can be placed in a licensee’s home. The Department reported that it had 3,576 homes maintained by licensed foster parents with a total capacity of 8,579 spaces as of March 31, 2013. Of these spaces, 2,152 spaces were unavailable for placements, and 1,051 spaces were available but unused because a match between these spaces and children’s needs was not possible.
HOW MANY CASEWORKERS WAS THAT AGAIN?
The timing of the entire affair is rather curious. Prior to the revelations concerning the backlogged cases, journalist Mary K. Reinhart reported: “The head of Arizona’s child-welfare system is requesting 444 new workers and more than $115 million to keep pace with the unabated growth in the number of abused and neglected children entering foster care and to reduce caseloads, but not for money to prevent children from coming into foster care.”
Reinhart noted also that “the Department of Economic Security’s budget request for the coming fiscal year comes as the agency is training and deploying 200 new Child Protective Services case managers and support staff that lawmakers approved last session, but anticipates growth of 7 to 8 percent in the number of kids in care — now approaching 15,000 children — over the next two years.”
Reinhart continued on to explain that:
Arizona continues to be an outlier in the country, with national statistics showing the state with by far the largest percentage increase in its foster-care population. State child-welfare officials attribute the growth to an increase in reports to a statewide hotline.
In an article published on August 9, Reinhart wrote of the deepening crisis in Arizona’s foster care system. Arizona “is caring for a record number of foster children as child-welfare workers juggle an ever-growing number of abuse and neglect reports, according to a new state report.
“The biannual report shows that the state’s Child Protective Services now has 14,314 children in foster care, an increase of 40 percent since March 2010, and continues to be buried under an avalanche of reports, most of them alleging that children are being neglected.”
Reinhart noted that a separate monthly report “shows an even higher 14,608 children in care as of June 30, including 95 babies and small children living in group homes and crisis shelters. In March 2010, there were 10,207 Arizona foster children.”
According to official sources, as of March 31, 2013, the Department of Economic Security had 14,304 children in care. 5,894 – or 41% of the total – resided in conventional foster homes. 5,715, or 40% were residing with relative. 10% resided in group homes, 5% were in residential treatment centers, with the remaining 4% in other placements.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
In an article published on December 17, 2012, Mary Reinhart wrote a particularly insightful column that read, in part:
Arizona child-welfare administrators plan to restore most services to children and parents in the coming weeks, saying an internal “misunderstanding” led them to inadvertently cut visitation and other standard programs.
New budget-tightening policies implemented over the past couple of months threatened to keep children in foster care longer and make it harder to reunite families, and they led agencies to lay off dozens of workers. The abrupt policy changes also delayed or reduced supervised visitation, parenting training, transportation and other services, in violation of court orders.
The Department initially denied the cutbacks – even those detailed in its own internal memos – however, agency head Carter came clean after a story in the Arizona Republic detailed the cutbacks. Reinhart explains:
Carter acknowledged that a “malfunction” led middle managers to go too far in reducing services, those attending the meeting said. Some agencies hadn’t received referrals for family mentors, known as parent aides, in months.
“Unfortunately, a misunderstanding within the DES resulted in staff and providers believing that adjustments below historic norms were required,” DES administrators said in a letter to service providers and a statement sent to The Republic. “That was not DES’ intent and is not accurate.”
“What I’m hoping is that it meets the needs … so we hear less from parents saying, ‘I haven’t seen my kids in several months,’” said Ron Carpio, a vice president of a private company that runs the Families FIRST program in Maricopa County. “They have a right to see their kids.”
Let us be clear about the impact of this “misunderstanding” on the part of the Department and its contractors. As an April 12, 2012, performance audit conducted by the Auditor General’s Office explains, the “Division’s in-home services program intended to stabilize, strengthen, and preserve families,”
It is precisely these programs that were being quietly phased out by the Department of Economic Security and its revenue maximization contractors in favor of increasing the more lucrative foster care placements
This is nothing new. Some years ago, I suggested to Massachusettes News reporter Edward G. Oliver that he consider contacting State Rep. Marie Parente, Chair of the Legislative Committee on Foster Care, in reference to a series he was putting together on the topic of revenue maximization by human services agencies. Parente’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Foster Care had released a series of recommendations for systemwide reform at the time, and Anderson Consulting – a revenue maximization firm – held contracts with that State. Oliver reported that:
When asked if the recommendations for reform from the Blue Ribbon Commission were acted on, Rep. Parente answered that DSS implemented those parts of the Commission “Report” that Andersen liked which increased the federal revenue. She said, “What they did was the parts that Andersen liked, you know, the money part, the federal reimbursement. But my special committee filed a minority report because I thought they focused on the wrong thing.”
Oliver reported that Rep. Parente described to Massachusetts News the important role federal dollars play in decision-making about those children at DSS:
I remember Congresswoman Schroeder. She said her greatest fear about federal funding for DSS is that every time they decided to put more money into a different facet of DSS, then DSS focused the attention on that. It is that way across the country. If they thought that children should stay with families and that was their big thing that year, all kids stayed with their families because then the state would get a lot of money. If the focus of the federal government and funds change to adoption, then everybody would get adopted.
Around the time of the interview, Anderson Consulting was knocked out of the box by rival Public Consulting Group, which is among the firms that currently holds RevMax contracts with Arizona. And so it goes, as the current cutbacks in aid to families and the federal financial incentives rewarding states for increasing adoptions clearly demonstrate.8
The results of the increasing removals coupled with the continuing exodus of foster parents from the system are as tragic as they are predictable, as Arizona Daily Star columnist Emily Bregel explained in a December article: “Children are sleeping in CPS offices as caseworkers scramble to find a foster or group home placement. Some kids are placed hours away from their families, friends, schools and all that’s familiar.”
The alleged misunderstanding between high-ranking bureaucrats and their contractors aside, Bregel explains that: “The State funding for family preservation services – in-home programs to boost parenting skills and strengthen relationships – was halved from $43 million in 2008 to $22 million in 2012.”
During a forum organized by the Children’s Action Alliance in late 2013, participants described Arizona’s system as one in which “Court systems are unfriendly time-sinks for foster parents, CPS workers and biological parents trying to regain custody,” the Capitol Times reported.
To be sure, there was the usual rhetoric about “underpaid” and “overworked” caseworkers, but there were also some more thoughtful suggestions from the group. The lack of prevention programs has contributed to a dramatic rise in neglect reports, said Dennae Pierre, executive director of Arizona Foster Care Initiatives.
Pierre went on to say that a dollar spent on prevention can save $10 in costs down the road.
“All the dollars in the world won’t help,” Pierre said. “We’re just stuck in a crisis state.”
2. The Department of Economic Security was established in July 1972 by combining the Employment Security Commission, the State Department of Public Welfare, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the State Office of Economic Opportunity, the Apprenticeship Council, and the State Office of Manpower Planning. In 1974, the State Department of Mental Retardation also was absorbed by the Department.
3. The Child Safety Task force members announced at the time included: Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney; Justice Robert Brutinel, Arizona Supreme Court; Judge Michael McVey, Maricopa County Superior Court; Clarence Carter, Director, Arizona Department of Economic Security; Steve Twist, President, Arizona Voice for Crime Victims; Dr. J. Kipp Charlton, Pediatrician, Maricopa Medical Center; Dr. Cindy Knott, Vice President, ChildHelp; Dr. Steven Anderson, Director, ASU School of Social Work; Veronica Bossack, Assistant Director, Division of Children Youth and Families, Department of Economic Security; Cassandra Larsen, Director, Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families; Linda Gray, Arizona State Senator; Leah Landrum-Taylor, Arizona State Senator; Eddie Farnsworth, Arizona State Representative; Terri Proud, Arizona State Representative; Dave Byers, Director, Administrative Office of the Courts; Marty Shultz, Community Leader; Anne Donahoe, State Foster Care Review Board, CASA Volunteer; Lt. Katrina Alberty, Glendale Family Advocacy Center; and Grace Bee, Foster Parent.
4. A portions of my interview is to be found in my article on caseworker training on my web site. At the time, I enjoyed the benefit of caseworkers from many states sending me unpublished audits, risk assessment instruments, evidence of departmental revenue maximization strategies, and other valuable material. The web was a much smaller place at that time.
5. The report was issued under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which by that time had come under pressure to do something about the flood of inappropriate reports to the hotlines.
6. The Arizona statute also provides that: “All child protective services workers shall be trained in their duty to protect the legal rights of children and families from the time of the initial contact through treatment. The training shall include knowledge of a child’s rights as a victim of crime. The training for child protective services workers shall also include instruction on the legal rights of parents.” Unfortunately, this section of the statute appears to be routinely disregarded.
7. For more information about this aspect of revenue maximization, see my previous entry Foster Care Candidate Revenue Maximization Schemes Line County Coffers.
6. On September 18, 2006, state Representative Marie J. Parente lost her bid for re-election after serving on Beacon Hill for more than 20 years.
8. For current information regarding federal financial incentives promoting adoptions, see Child Welfare: Structure and Funding of the Adoption Incentives Program along with Reauthorization Issues, Congressional Research Service, April 18, 2013.
In August of 2013, KVUE-TV reported on the tragic and utterly avoidable death of Alexandria Hill at the hands of her foster mother. “We never hurt our daughter,” the victim’s father, Joshua Hill told KVUE. “She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care.”
By now thousands of people are aware that the young child had been taken from her parents on grounds no more compelling but that they admitted to smoking some marijuana at the end of the day, as their baby slept.
Typically, it is not until a tragic death such as this occurs that the true reasons for the child’s “removal” into “protective custody” come to light.
One such case concerns Lydi Alday. On June 16, 2007, KTRK Television ABC News reported that: “Funeral services were held Saturday morning for Lydia Alday at the Brookside Funeral Home in northwest Harris County.”
“Investigators say Alday stopped breathing while taking a nap at her foster home in Brazoria County. The toddler died a day before she and her younger brother were supposed to be given back to their family,” KTRK reported.
Why was Lydia in state care to begin with? The Houston Chronicle reported that according to a Department spokesperson: “because mom and dad were having difficult issues at home.”
Lingering Issues Remain
“More Texas children dying while in foster care,” blares the headline on a recent report by ABC Eyewitness News 13.
The news has an ominously familiar ring to family advocates. “A spike in the number of Texas children dying in foster care is prompting state officials to demand a tougher screening process for foster parents,” Eyewitness News reports.
Ten foster children died under “suspicious circumstances” during the fiscal year that ended on August Aug. 31. Patrick Crimmins, of the state Department of Family and Protective Services, told The Dallas Morning News that four of the deaths had been ruled to have been the result of abuse and neglect, while the other six remain under investigation. And, two foster children died from abuse and neglect during the previous year.
Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia wrote a letter this month to the more than 300 private child-placing agencies and residential treatment centers in Texas, urging them to redouble their efforts to keep children safe,” the report notes.
That is just how many individual private agencies that Texas has today as a result of its “transformation” of the foster care system.
Specia’s letter followed critical media accounts of the Dallas-Fort Worth and Central Texas operations of Texas Mentor. The company recruited and hired the woman now charged with capital murder in the head-slamming death of the 2-year-old girl in her care.
The Boston-based company has two offices that manage approximately 130 foster homes in North Texas. Over the last two years, nearly 150 deficiencies were found in those homes. More than 50 of them were of high severity, such as when a visiting adult relative shared a bed with a foster child.
Texas Mentor is a part of Boston-based National Mentor Holdings Inc., a $1 billion-a-year corporation that provides health care and social services in 34 states, according to a writeup in the Christian Science Monitor.
On August 15, 2007, KTBX ran with a headline reading “CPS Sued over Child’s Death in Foster Care.”
“Relatives of a 3-year-old who died in foster care have sued Child Protective Services in federal court, claiming the agency allowed her to remain with the foster parents despite knowing she had been previously injured,” the story explained.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, asked a jury to assess monetary damages stemming from the death of Sierra Odom.
Sierra died in 2005 after being hit on the head and suffocated at her foster parents’ Arlington home, authorities said. A jury had convicted foster father Timothy R. Warner of injury to a child in Sierra’s death.
The Privatization Push
Undeterred by several setbacks with their private contractors early on, Texas legislators rushed to fully privatize foster care services. In April 2007, the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities issued a paper cautioning that:
- At a time when we have children sleeping in state office buildings, privatization will make our foster-care capacity crisis worse;
- Rapid privatization will force children out of their homes, move children into more crowded homes, and compromise their care;
- At a time when we have over 4,000 children available for adoption but without an adoptive home, privatization will make our adoption capacity crisis worse;
- Privatization cannot possibly be accomplished in 24 months; and
- Privatization will cost far more than the state has calculated.
Texas hit something of a roadblock in August of 2012, when it was announced that Lutheran Social Services of the South had lost its bid to privatize foster care in South Texas because of what was reported as “a history of problems” at three of its operations.
Among other things, Lutheran Social Services staffers had “routinely failed to properly oversee foster homes, conduct background checks on families and protect youth from abuse and neglect,” according to a letter sent to the company by the state child protection agency.
On January 7, 2011, the Houston Chronicle reported: “State child welfare officials on Friday shut down Daystar Residential Inc., a home for troubled youth, one day after a foster child’s recent restraint death was ruled a homicide.”
“Today, we have revoked Daystar’s license to operate, effective immediately. The DFPS investigation found that this facility is just not safe for children,” said Anne Heiligenstein, commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
“The closure, which can be appealed, was precipitated by the death of Michael Keith Owens, 16, whose death in November was ruled a homicide on Thursday.”
An Urgent Situation
In March 2007, the Houston Chronicle reported that the situation in Texas had turned into “an urgent one.”
Since September, the article explains, three foster care children — Christian Nieto, Katherine Frances and Andrew Burd — have died in foster homes selected by private contractors, revealing a lack of direct oversight of the companies’ placements. The Chronicle illustrated with some cases in point:
- Last September, Christian Nieto, 16 months old, died of head injuries in a privately managed Corsicana foster home 60 miles from where the state thought he was living. His foster mother, who insists the boy already was injured when he was transferred to her care, has been charged with capital murder.
- In October, 4-year-old Andrew Burd was pronounced dead on arrival at a Corpus Christi hospital after being forced to drink a mixture of water and Cajun seasoning. His foster parents, who were in the process of adopting him when he died, have been charged with capital murder, and DFPS halted future foster care placements through the company that approved them.
- And in December, 6-year-old Katherine Frances was found fatally body-slammed in her Dallas-area foster home, one affiliated with a private company. The foster mother’s 14-year-old biological son was charged with murder.
Christian Nieto’s mother made a mistake. She tested positive on a drug screen at the hospital where she gave birth. Naturally, the results were passed on to Child Protective Services, who dutifully removed him — along with his older brother Logan — into the “safety” of the Texas foster care system.
The Dallas Morning News reported that “the state system charged with protecting children quickly lost track of Christian and his 3-year-old big brother, Logan, after entrusting them to a private foster company that had a lengthy recent history of putting children into dangerous or deadly foster homes; at least one child had died already.”
That private agency — Mesa Family Services — thereafter “shuffled Christian and Logan through five foster homes in seven months,” the paper reports.
Christian spent his final days in a foster home in Corsicana, in the home of an overburdened foster mother. On Labor Day, he died of head injuries 60 miles away from where state authorities thought he was living. Questions arose as to whether he had received his fatal injuries in the foster home, or during a previous placement.
After Christian died, the state canceled Mesa’s $7 million foster care contract. However, state officials were well aware of the problems at Mesa before the incident. According to state records, documented infractions at Mesa homes included child abuse and neglect; improper restraints; overly harsh discipline; unfit foster parents; and failure to run required background checks on other people in the homes.
On December 12, 2006, the Associated Press reported that: “State child-welfare officials say they’ve begun reviewing foster homes after the death of a six-year-old girl in a suburban Dallas foster home.”
The article continues: “Police and the state Department of Family Protective Services are investigating the death of Katherine Frances in the DeSoto foster home. Police say she died after her foster parents’ 14-year-old son threw her to the ground at least four times on Sunday.”
The article continues on to note that: “The home was until recently overseen by Mesa Family Services. That private agency was already under scrutiny for the deaths of two young children in its homes in the past 17 months.”
“The state Department of Family and Protective Services said it’s begun launching an “unprecedented intervention effort to address the deaths in homes formerly overseen by Mesa,” the article explains.
According to the adoption proponents of the day, Andrew Burd was right where he needed to be. He had found his “forever family” in the home of prospective adoptive parents in Corpus Christi.
Andrew perished at the age of four, the apparent victim of salt poisoning. The young boy reportedly choked and stopped breathing after he was forced to drink salt water laced with cajun spices.
Police reportedly treated his death as a homicide because his adoptive parents, Larry and Hannah Overton, waited nearly three hours before taking him to a hospital. Court documents indicated that the boy had brain hemorrhages that appeared to be a result of some type of trauma.
No one bothered to call Andrew’s biological family about the incident. His family found out about the death on TV, and called Channel 6 News to verify that it was indeed him. The boy’s father and grandmother had fought for custody of Andrew a year earlier.
Richard Wexler testified before Congress, saying that one prominent child saver likes to say: “Not one child ever died of a social work evaluation.” I submit that Andrew Burd died of precisely that — and that he was by no means the first to do so.
A Child Protective Services caseworker performed an evaluation on Andrew’s grandmother, Bonnie Roy, to see if she would be “fit” to take care of him, but decided that she was not. The CPS report said, “[Her] parenting practices demonstrates some positive aspects. However, she lacks understanding regarding the abilities and needs of a two-year old child. Her approach to discipline lacks basic application skills.”
“How could you take something so innocent and so pure and destroy it? That’s an unforgivable act in my mind,” said Bonnie.1
The short answer to her question is: “With a social work evaluation.” Many other children have been so destroyed.
On January 23, 2003, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that: “The grieving parents of an infant girl from Dallas want state officials to explain how she died last weekend after having been in foster care since birth. Officials said 7-month-old Yessenia Rodriguez died Saturday evening at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas after being transported from a licensed foster care home in Van Zandt County.”
In April 18, 2000, the Associated Press reported through the Dallas Morning News that: “Of the 29 children who died statewide during the 2 1/2-year period, 15 lived in foster homes while 14 were in residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals or mental retardation group homes.”
Just as was the case with Christian Nieto, it was a hospital that made the call to Child Protective Services after Juana Olalde took her seven-week-old son Eric to the Childrens Medical Center in Dallas, where he was diagnosed with a spiral fracture of the right femur.
Contrary to state law, the CPS workers “removed Eric from the custody of his natural parents, without consent or a court order, and the State assumed sole supervision of Eric,” the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, explained in its ruling over the subsequent lawsuit.
The court thereafter described the conditions in the foster home into which young Eric had been placed:
CPS officials placed Eric in the home of the Clauds, a foster family with a prior history of negative reports concerning child care. The Clauds’ home was frequently described by CPS case workers as “junky” and reportedly “smelled of cigarette smoke.” Anonymous callers also complained that the Clauds sent the foster children to daycare “in dirty diapers” with too few and unsterilized bottles. Moreover, in September of 1998, Mrs. Claud brought a child to CPS with a swollen jaw that was beginning to bruise. In her response to the incident, Mrs. Claud explained that the child “just woke up with it this morning.” CPS case worker Patty Zukas brought the swollen jaw incident to the attention of Purdin and another case worker. Additionally, in October of 1998, Purdin learned that Mrs. Claud placed a device on a foster child’s bedroom doorknob, which effectively locked the child in its room, in violation of licensing standards. Following an investigation of the incident, Mrs. Claud agreed to no longer use the device in her foster home.
A CPS report into the foster home concluded that “the physical condition of the home poses a danger to any child’s health or safety.” That finding automatically revoked the foster parents’ license. In his writeup on the case, journalist Thomas Korosec of the Dallas Observer wrote that
nobody will answer the next obvious question — one that threatens to tear an enormous hole in Texas’ child welfare safety net. No one will explain why the state took a child from an environment they suspected was unsafe and put him in a home they knew to be dangerous.
This is nothing new. An audit of foster homes overseen by private agencies in Texas released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1995 revealed:
For 19 of the 43 foster homes visited, the home and/or neighborhood environment appeared to put the safety of the foster children at risk. Neighborhood homes were boarded-up and the yards were overgrown with tall grass and cluttered with debris. Some of the foster home yards were cluttered with old tractors, lawn mowers, and cars. The foster homes were also cluttered with wastepaper, clothes, and debris.
Foster children were living in three homes identified by the child placing agency as being located in high crime areas and drug environments. During our visit to one of these homes, the foster parent explained there had been a shooting behind her house the night before. For another home, the case file showed that the neighbors to the foster home were drug dealers and the foster child associated with them. No action was taken to move the children from these surroundings to a safer environment.
Far from being the only deficiencies found, the federal auditors also found that:
- In 71 of the 78 cases, State caseworkers did not have the required contact with the foster children
- 18 of the 48 foster home files reviewed, the child placing agency caseworkers did not contact the children in placement quarterly and did not visit the foster homes quarterly
- 28 of the 48 foster home files reviewed, there was no record showing that a background check was performed on all adults who lived in the foster home; and
- 40 of the 48 homes, based on file reviews, interviews and site visits, at least one fire and/or health deficiency was noted.
That is one clear manifestation of the double-standard that caseworkers hold; they see potential “risks” in the homes of natural parents, all the while believing that they have delivered children into a safe and secure haven in foster care.
While no one can deny that some children are so endangered in their homes that rescue is necessary and appropriate, as the Children’s Defense Fund observed in its landmark study of the child welfare system:
Children are also separated from their own families because someone in authority dislikes the lifestyle or child-rearing practices of a particular family. Influenced by moral beliefs, political ideologies, or child-saving fantasies, those with decision-making responsibility sometimes fail to consider the psychological consequences to a child of removal from his family.2
The Adoption Push
The number of adoptions in Texas have drastically increased since the mid-1990s, largely as a consequence of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the adoption bonuses doled out to the states by the federal government. As an agency self=evaluation report issued in September 2013 proudly explains:
In FY 2005, CPS undertook Operation Placing Us in Safe Homes (or Operation PUSH) to clear a backlog of adoptions by eliminating legal roadblocks and other obstacles delaying finalizing adoptions. As a result, adoptions increased 26.3 percent in FY 2005, prompting national recognition and an adoption incentive award in FY 2006 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Texas has received this award annually since 1998 when the Adoption Incentives Program began as part of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA).
In September of 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $39 million to several states for increasing the number of children adopted from foster care. A press release announcing the winners of these coveted fiscal prizes explains:
States receive $4,000 for every child adopted beyond their best year’s total, plus a payment of $8,000 for every child age 9 and older and $4,000 for every special needs child adopted above the respective baselines.
In that particular round, Texas received $7.5 million, besting Florida’s $5.7 million, Michigan’s $3.5 million, while leaving Pennsylvania in a distant fourth place receiving a relatively meager $2.2 million adoption bonus.
In summary, the self-evaluation report explains that: “Overall, between 2002 and 2012, the number of children adopted has more than doubled.”
The Bureaucratic Pyramid
Agency policies are passed down the bureaucratic pyramid to the street-level bureaucrats who make their critical decisions in the field. That there is an agency “preference” for adoptions over reunifications is reflected throughout the agency, from the investigators who handle the “intake” function, to the pencil pushers at their desks in the revenue maximization offices, as well as to those workers who may specialize in drafting reunification plans, or in conducting home inspections of prospective adoptive parents.
As Shannon K. Dunn explains in St. Mary’s Law Journal, “the Department and its counterparts at the county level regularly oversee the creation of service plans that are unworkable and impractical, plans that serve only to make it more likely that Texas children who have been seized from their homes will be permanently separated from their natural parents.” Dunn continues on to explain:
Although one of the purposes of a service plan is to make parents aware of the steps they must take to ensure their child’s return to them, sometimes the Department decides, seemingly on a whim, that the parents’ compliance with the service plan is not enough. In these cases, the Department will seek involuntary termination of the parent-child relationship, even though the parents have done everything the Department required of them.
Caseworkers for the Department have also admitted in court proceedings that the Department occasionally seeks termination for no other reason than that the Department has “run out of time” to work with the parents and is faced with the choice of either terminating the parent-child relationship or dismissing the case. When a service plan does not meet the mandates of the Family Code, the parent has little incentive to challenge the plan; having already been subjected to the Department’s “inherently coercive” investigation, the parent knows that any showing of defiance or “uncooperativeness” may mean that their child will never return home.
Confirmation bias plays a significant role as well. Indoctrinated with anti-family zealotry on the one hand, and the pro-adoption agenda on the other, is it any wonder that caseworkers in the field are prone to identifying deficiencies in the homes of natural parents while simultaneously overlooking the most glaring of deficiencies in foster and prospective adoptive homes?
1. Andrew’s story was assembled from various on-line news sources. There have been many questions regarding the culpability of his prospective adoptive mother, and I am personally unconvinced that she intended to harm him. See e.g., Rachel Quigley, “Mother whose foster son, 4, died of salt poisoning back in court to overturn life sentence on evidence the boy poisoned himself, The Guardian, April 27, 2012; Juju Chang And Shana Druckerman, “Family Fights to Overturn Mom’s Salt Poisoning Conviction,” 20/20 ABC News. February 15, 2010. What is certain is that had the child been reunited with his family, rather than adopted out, he would likely be alive today.
2. For an analysis of the Children’s Defense Fund report in the context of a juvenile court proceeding, see the dissent of Judge Spaeth in In Re Kunkle, 265 Pa.Super. 605 , 402 A.2d 1037 (1979).
You may have seen some of the postings on Yahoo! conferences pitching adoptable children, wondering whether the messages were genuine, or whether they were only a cruel hoax. Reuters News conducted a special investigation: The Child Exchange: Inside America’s Underground Market for Adopted Children
The Reuter’s investigation is a long-overdue look at the underbelly of a poorly regulated industry. What happens to adopted children when their “forever homes” turn sour? Where do the children wind up?
A mother decides she adopted ‘a pig in a poke’ and sends her daughter away. Inga: ‘My parents didn’t want me. Russia didn’t want me. I didn’t want to live.’ Full Article
- Part 4: Internet forums go unchecked
- Part 3: Blind trust and good intentions
- Part 2: Pedophile takes home a ‘fun boy’
- Part 1: Using the web to adopt children
- Video: Adopted, then abandoned online
In June of this year, police and child welfare officials raided a secluded old order Mennonite community in Manitoba, removing over 40 children from 15 families, placing them in foster care. Since then, their parents and community leaders have been in talks with Children and Family Services officials towards the end of having the children returned.
Between January and June of this year, child protection officials raided a Mennonite community in Manitoba, removing between 40 and 50 children from 15 families, placing them all in foster care. Since then, their parents and community leaders have been negotiating with Children and Family Services officials hoping to have the children returned.
Former Child and Family Services supervisor Henry Dueck is reportedly not happy with how the department has handled the case, telling CBC News reporters that it is unclear whether the approximately 40 children who were removed were actually in danger.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he says with apparent frustration.
“I like to think they have the best interests of the children in mind, but I think their cure is worse than the disease,” he said.
Dueck — who has over 25 years of experience in child apprehensions — says that he foresees problems with the way this case was handled.
“Our concern is that the breaking of bonds, the lack of attachment, and what the consequences will be for these children down the road,” said Dueck.
Dueck and his wife Hilda are working with the families, helping them to navigate the system and to get their children back.
Hilda said language barriers and the passage of time have made the situation both emotional and difficult.
“When you see their tears, you can’t help but share their pain,” she said.
Taking too long
Paul Walsh, a lawyer representing 10 of the parents, said the process is taking too long. His clients have some of the youngest children among those seized, and only one of his 10 clients is actually facing charges. He says the children should be returned home immediately.
“It’s a question of time. It’s outrageous that this much time has been taken,” said Walsh in an August 15 CBC report.
But far more time would pass before the children would be returned — that is if indeed they will be.
“What CFS won’t explain is why 11 people who have not been charged also had their children taken away,” said CBC reporter Cameron MacIntosh.
An earlier CBC News account of the case reported that among the children taken was a nursing infant. Randy Fehr, a pastor whose parishioners knew some of the families involved in the arrests, told CBC reporter Jill Coubrough that there has been “a lot of heartache for the mom to not know where her little child was going.”
The charges of abuse that were laid against four members of the community are alleged to have occured between July 2011 and January of this year. Why — if the situation was so dire as to require the removal of so many children — were many left in harm’s way for five months of time? (Some children, though it is not clear how many, had been removed in January).
After a court hearing concerning the case in early September, Paul Welsh — attorney for some of the Mennonite families — said he still believes that the process has taken too long. All of his clients have agreed to conditions laid out by CFS officials, yet the children’s return date had yet to be set.
The conditions were listed in a letter sent to the Mennonite community by Child and Family Services in July. The conditions for the return of the children include:
- Only spanking children on their buttocks with their hands.
- Not to leave marks or injuries on the children from disciplining them.
- Having children disciplined only by their parents, not by teachers or pastors.
While old order Mennonites typically shy away from technology and the press, some of the families were not in the least reluctant to air their frustrations to a wider audience, speaking with CBC reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing.
Little has been said of the judge inside of the courtroom whose actions have served to sanctify the mass removals of the children. That judge holds the key to their return. With the RMCP at their beck and call, and the with a judge acting to cleanse the agency’s actions, an isolated community can only hope and pray that its children will be returned, and that they will be returned as undamaged children.
Without doubt, the psychological torment that the children and their families have endured will leave everlasting scars on each and every one of them.
This much is certain. Manitoba has been in a feeding frenzy for marketable children. The drama that played out in this community has become so commonplace among aboriginal communities that it is no longer newsworthy. Let us hope that the light of public scrutiny shines brightly enough to bring these few children back home.
Related articles from CBC News
The latest attack on the Indian Child Welfare Act takes the form of a recent court filing challenging the Act on Equal Protection and other grounds. In this installment, the recently filed civil complaint is examined, and a major player’s role in the adoption industry is revealed.
The claims asserted in the latest attack against the Indian Child Welfare Act as asserted in the civil complaint are so laughably ridiculous that attorneys Thomas S. Tisdale and Jason S. Smith should have been as embarrassed to have filed it as should Washington attorney Lori Alvino McGill have been for having drafted it. From page two of the civil complaint:
ICWA tells a single unmarried woman who wishes to choose adoptive parents for her unborn child—a choice that would be respected under her State’s laws—that she must either terminate her pregnancy, raise the child herself, or surrender her child to a Tribe that is a total stranger to her and to the unborn child.
You read that right. But there is more. The complaint continues on to say: “Even if Congress is empowered to enact legislation respecting child custody matters involving children whose parents are domiciled on tribal lands,Congress may not override a woman’s deeply personal decision to place her child with a loving and fit adoptive family, and impose special disabilities on that child, in the name of tribal sovereignty.”
The complaint grows somewhat more bizarre as you continue reading it. The first of the plaintiffs is Ms. Maldonado, about whom much has already been written. As for the second plaintiff:
Plaintiff Samantha Danielle Lancaster, is a Caucasian woman who resides in Minnesota and who believes she may be 1/64th Cherokee. She is the mother of Abigail Arlene Lancaster, born on June 19, 2013. The biological father of the child also is Caucasian (with no Indian ancestry). They jointly seek to place their biological child with an adoptive couple of their choice in an open adoption. Plaintiff Lancaster has chosen the prospective adoptive parents because she believes they will provide a bright, stable, and happy future for her child.
That’s right–Lancaster believes that she may be 1/64th Cherokee. I dare say that’s rather a precise figure to be providing for something that may be. Allow me to slice you up precisely 1/64th of a pound of what I believe may be pure and unadulterated baloney.
The true agenda becomes crystal clear in the next paragraph in the complaint:
Plaintiff Lancaster chose a non-Indian couple, Joseph and Sarah Bateman, whom she met through an adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services. Despite the fact that neither biological parent is a member of an Indian tribe, she has been advised that the Cherokee Nation has been notified of her suspected Indian heritage and that ICWA’s preferred placement provisions may apply to block the planned adoption, because the Cherokee Nation has taken the position that it may deem her child a member of the Nation solely on account of a trace of Indian blood, over her fit parents’ objection.
But wait. The Post and Courier reported on July 25 that: “Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, disputed Lancaster’s account. Nimmo said Lancaster told an adoption agency that she is Cherokee, so the agency reached out to the tribe to determine whether the ICWA applied.”
The article continues on to say that “Lancaster isn’t an enrolled member of the tribe, Nimmo said, so the ICWA would not be invoked.”
The crucial point is the enrollment. Tribes cannot — and do not — seek to intervene in the lives of people who are merely thought to be of Native American ancestry. They lack both the legal authority and the inclination to so intervene. To cast those who have historically been the victims of unwarranted interventions as the aggresors in this regard is not only preposterous, but it also borders on an attempt to perpetrate a fraud upon the court.
I believe that attorney Shannon Jones — who represented Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown, in court — hit the proverbial nail right on the head, as The Post and Courier reported:
Shannon Jones, an attorney representing Brown in Family Court, said the civil suit is critics’ latest attempt to upend the ICWA after the U.S. Supreme Court dealt it a blow last month. She said the adoption industry also has a financial stake in tapping a “pool of babies” to satisfy the demands of families looking to adopt.
“They’re going to launch every attack against ICWA that they can,” Jones said. “But there’s a … requirement to protect Indian nations and guarantee their survival.”
Let’s get right to the heart of the matter; the adoption industry, and its major league player Bethany Christian Services.
As the civil complaint itself explains, “many of the nation’s leading adoption agencies (including the many affiliates of Catholic Charities) assure women dealing with unplanned pregnancies that if they choose adoption, they will be able to select the family with whom their child will be placed.”
The Nation revealed Bethany Christian Services as offering so-called “crisis pregnancy” services to lure in women who were thereafter coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. The article explains that crisis pregnancy centers “have a broader agenda that is less well known: they seek not only to induce women to ‘choose life’ but to choose adoption, either by offering adoption services themselves, as in Bethany’s case, or by referring women to Christian adoption agencies. Far more than other adoption agencies, conservative Christian agencies demonstrate a pattern and history of coercing women to relinquish their children.”
Bethany Christian Services is the largest adoption provider in the nation, with over 80 locations in the United States, according to its own information provided at ImPregnant.org. The web site states that “Bethany Christian Services has been assisting women with unplanned pregnancies for more than 65 years,” and that it has thus “served more than 71,000 women.”
Bethany’s reach also extends to over a dozen locations in other nations. It also has an interesting history in the courts. In early 1993, an Illinois court dismissed a lawsuit against the agency alleging fraud in the adoption of a Korean girl with undisclosed cerebral palsy. In 1997, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed a case in which Bethany caseworkers “perjured themselves” causing the plaintiff to lose his parental rights.
Adoption of Daniele G., 105 Cal. Rptr. 2d 341 (2001) clearly describes Bethany as an adoption agency filing a termination of parental rights petition. That’s right; an agency with a compelling financial incentive itself makes the determination as to whose parental rights are to be terminated, and argues the case in court.
Until July 2005, Bethany Christian Services had a policy of only adopting out children to Protestant families, to the complete exclusion of Catholics. (Perhaps the company missed some of the finer points of Marcia Robinson Lowry’s painstakingly crafted Wilder decree, which stemmed from discriminatory practices on the part of New York City’s predominantly Catholic foster care agencies).
In 2009, an Ohio court ruled that a Bethany Christian Services caseworker had immunity for “a report that was said to be biased and prejudiced” in a custody evaluation. In 2010, a Virginia couple filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and misrepresentation, in which case Bethany filed for a gag order which was denied.
Elsewhere in Bethany’s expansive adoption empire, between May 2008 and April 2010, Georgia cited the company 8 times for a total of 27 rule violations. In May 2011, the Michigan Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing found a “pattern of not taking into account the children’s racial, ethnic, and cultural identity, heritage, and background when they are clearly an issue.” The report cited 3 prior investigations that “established that Bethany Christian Services failed to appropriately consider placing children with relatives.”
Of note also is In re Adoption of MRB, 25 A. 3d 1247 (2011) in which the Superior Court of Pennsylvania clearly describes Bethany as directly filing petitions to terminate parental rights. Bethany itself also filed the appeal of the lower court’s ruling in favor of the parent. See also In re JMA, 240 P. 3d 547 (2010), a Colorado case wherein a father “was provided the antithesis of procedural due process.” Bethany filed the petition in a county in which the parents did not reside, and terminated the father’s rights based on notice by publication in a newspaper.
According to Bethany’s 2011 financial statement, the company had net assets of $49,071,528 and revenue of $75,228,788. Among the revenue sources are $40,990,140 in income from child support, and $22,643,757 in service fees.
There you have it–Bethany Christian Services in a nutshell that no one seems inclined to crack open.
The bottom line is that there is a lucrative market in brokering babies, and with the exorbitant adoption fees that are charged, it is typically upper-class couples who are able to make that payment. The reality is that the majority of prospective adoptive parents “on the market” for a private adoption are in search of a baby with a pale complexion. A 1/64th Native American baby will do just fine, thank you very much.
And, oh–do you accept American Express? I maxed my VISA out on my last attempt at a private adoption. That’s why I came to you; because you’re a Christian agency.
By now, family advocates are aware that on Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that strikes a blow against the very heart of the Indian Child Welfare Act. In a 5-4 ruling drafted by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled that under the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a child, widely known as Baby Veronica, does not have to live with her biological Cherokee father.
Writing in an Indian Country article, Rob Capriccioso explains: “The child was taken from her adoptive white parents’ home after living there for the first two years of her life. Dusten Brown, a Cherokee Nation citizen, prevented the adoption, saying ICWA applied in his case. The South Carolina courts agreed, and the child, now 3 1/2, has lived with Brown since his challenge.”
Support for the position to uphold the protections of the ICWA was characterized as “historic,” a Wall Street Journal column explained.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and 19 states and state attorneys general were joined by a large array of groups who submitted 24 separate briefs in all. Not one state submitted briefs in support of the Adoptive Couple.
The Journal further explains that: “The overwhelming support included 17 former and current members of Congress; Casey Family Programs, the Children’s Defense Fund, and 16 other child welfare organizations; the American Civil Liberties Union; broad coalitions of psychology associations, child advocates, and legal experts; adult Native American adoptees; and tribal amicus briefs which include 333 American Indian tribes.”
“it’s an attack on tribal sovereignty through the children,” said former U.S. Sen. James Abourezk, according to an article in the Argus Leader. “I can’t believe they did this.”
The former Senator is certainly in a good position to know what the legislative intent of the ICWA truly was, as he led the Commission that unearthed evidence of widespread destruction of Indian families by child welfare agencies in the United States. The House Report that accompanied the ICWA reads, in part:
The disparity in placement rates for Indians and non-Indians is shocking. In Minnesota, Indian children are placed in foster care of in adoptive homes at a per capita rate five times greater than non-Indian children. In Montana, the ratio of Indian foster-care placement is at least 13 times greater. In South Dakota, 40 percent of all adoptions made by the State’s Department of Public Welfare since 1967-68 are of Indian children, yet Indians make up only 7 percent of the juvenile population. The number of South Dakota Indian children living in foster homes is per capita, nearly 16 times greater than the non-Indian rate. In the State of Washington, the Indian adoption rate is 19 times greater and the foster care rate 10 times greater. In Wisconsin, the risk run by Indian children of being separated from their parents is nearly 1,600 percent greater than it is for non-Indian children. Just as Indian children are exposed to these great hazards, their parents are too.
The House Report continues on to say: “In some instances, financial considerations contribute to the crisis. For example, agencies established to place children have an incentive to find children to place.” More to the point:
Indian community leaders charge that federally-subsidized foster care programs encourage some non-Indian families to start “baby farms” in order to supplement their meager farm income with foster care payments and to obtain extra hands for farmwork. The disparity between the ratio of Indian children in foster care versus the number of Indian children that are adopted seems to bear this out. For example, in Wyoming in 1969, Indians accounted for 70 percent of foster care placements but only 8 percent of adoptive placements. Foster care payments usually cease when a child is adopted.
Following National Public Radio’s 2011 report Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families, which covered the state of Native American foster care in South Dakota, reporting significant violations of the Indian Child Welfare Act by the state’s Department of Social Services, six members of the United States House of Representatives asked then-Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk to investigate the claims, report on their veracity, and outline what steps, if any, the Bureau of Indian Affairs would take to rectify the situation.
The Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families described what happened next in a report issued in late January, 2013:
To our knowledge, the BIA has not undertaken action to investigate and verify the NPR report’s claims. Furthermore, the BIA’s subsequent promise to sponsor a summit on Indian Child Welfare in South Dakota in early 2012 has not been fulfilled. Therefore the members of the Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families& = which is composed of the ICWA Directors of South Dakota’s nine American Indian tribes – have taken it upon ourselves to respond to the Congressmen.
That the BIA failed to take action should come as no surprise to students of recent history.
“The boarding school era is the first generation of child removal and assimilationist welfare policy. The national Indian Adoption Project of 1958-1968 represents the second generation of child removal and assimilationist welfare policy,” explains Lila George in the industry journal Multicultural Social Work. The transformation was made possible by an alliance between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America.
Citing government documents, George explains that in 1957, the BIA “contracted with the Child Welfare League of America to operate a clearinghouse for the interstate placement of Indian children with non-indian families.” This contract was necessary because the BIA was not authorized to engage directly in adoption. Commissioned by Congress, the BIA was to act in the best interest of Tribes, hence a direct role in the out-of-culture adoptions would have readily been identified as a violation of this trust.
Thus was born the Indian Adoption Project, which George describes as “a fiscal collaboration between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America.” The project formalized its operations in 1958, setting about the task of providing adoptive placements for American Indian Children whose parents were deemed unable to provide a “suitable” home for them. The Bureau of Indian Affairs hired social workers to place American Indian children in long-term care with non-Indian families.
The Search for Reliable Data
A Report To The US Congress From The Coalition Of Sioux Tribes For Children And Families examined NPR’s reporting point-by-point, demonstrating not only that Native children are indeed represented in South Dakota’s foster care system in vastly disproportionate numbers, but that there also exists a clear and specific economic motive underlying the state’s child removal polices, precisely as NPR had reported:
Nearly $100 million in federal funding is being sent to South Dakota to administer foster care each year. This includes $55 million for Children’s Services, $48 million to fund foster children’s health care, and $4 million for administration. These federal monies constitute a significant portion of state expenditures, and, according to the healthcare consumer nonprofit organization Families USA, they have “a positive and measurable impact on state business activity, available jobs, and overall state income.” All this demonstrates a strong financial incentive for state officials to take high numbers of Native American foster children into custody. Anecdotal evidence and testimony confirm that this incentive motivates the state’s actions.
By no means is South Dakota the only state in which Native children are disproportionately represented. However, finding truly accurate figures is often made difficult by the absence of complete data. In a 2009 report from the University of Wisconsin, Racial Disproportionality in Wisconsin’s Child Welfare System, researchers noted that in 38,151 instances — slightly more than one half (50.3%), the ethnicity of the child was listed as either unknown, or the corresponding field was simply left blank. The researchers explained that one result was that: “American Indian children are overrepresented in foster care, but we do not have sound data about their treatment in child welfare beyond investigation.”
The Minnesota Child Welfare Disparities Report, released in 2010, provides some additional statistics regarding the disparities in the child welfare system. The study found that American Indian children were more than eight times as likely to be subject of a neglect report, and that American Indian children were placed in out of home care in 2008 at a rate “more than twice that of any other group, and [were] more than 12 times more likely than a white child to spend time in placement.” American Indian children were as high as “six times more likely to be subjects of child protection assessments and investigations than a White child.”
Among the more recent sources on disproportionality is a study released by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in May 2012. The study found that: “Across the United States, Native American children are overrepresented in foster care at a rate of 2.1 times their rate in the general population. While not all state show disproportionality, 21 states do have some overrepresentation. Twenty-seven percent of the states that have overrepresentation have a disproportionality index of greater than 4.1. In Minnesota, the disproportionality is index 11.2, in Washington State it is 5.6.”
BJ Jones, director of the Tribal Judicial Institute, provides some of the more recent data in chart form in a worksheet released in August 2012. Jones documents some of the variances between states. The disproportionality rate for removal of native children has increased in most states over last five years. In Minnesota – An Indian child is 11.6 times more likely to be removed; Washington – 6.9 times more likely; Idaho 6.6; Nebraska 6.8; Iowa 5.4; Alaska 3.1; Montana 3.8; and in South Dakota, Native children are at risk of removal that is 3.9 times higher than the general population.
The Supreme Court’s ruling was particularly disappointing inasmuch as it apparently failed ro take these trends into account. However, the decision was narrowly tailored to the facts of one particular case. The ICWA is still alive and well. Now, if only we can get some more States to follow a federal law that has been in effect since the mid-1970s, some true progress would be made. The same may reasonably said of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which requires agencies to provide “reasonable efforts” to reduce the number of innocent families who are impacted by wrongful child removals.
A Broader Perspective
A literature review commissioned by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada explains that during the sixties-scoop era, many Abpriginal Canadian children were rounded up and transported across the US/Canadian border by train for purposes of adoption by well-to-do white couples in the United States. A few words about how these children were rounded up for residential schooling or out-of-nation adoption are in order. As the review explains:
The round up of children was considered a horrendous, tragic affair. In many cases, the RCMP also assisted by arriving in force. They encircled reserves to stop runaways then moved from door to door taking school age children over the protests of parents and children themselves. Children were locked up in nearby police stations or cattle pens until the round up was complete, then taken to school by train. In these schools, children were often segregated by gender, received inadequate education, forced to work, and suffered beatings for speaking their Native language, humiliated and ridiculed and sexually abused. Children were taught to hate their Native culture and as a result became “cultural refugees.” Residential schools are an example of the most unmitigated form of cultural racism carried out by the Canadian governments and missionaries in their attempts to “civilize” Aboriginal peoples.
Through residential schools and its deliberate assault on the Aboriginal family, First Nations were vulnerable to the next wave of interventions of “child abductions” sanctioned by provincial child welfare laws. By the 1960s child welfare agencies successfully replaced residential schools as the preferred system of care for First Nations children. Many of these apprehended children were sent to the United States to be adopted as a result of aggressive American adoption agencies. For example, in 1981, the statistics reveal as high as 55% of the Native children in care in Manitoba were shipped out of the Province for adoption.
The problem may have worsened since. “In Manitoba approximately 80 percent of the children and youth involved with child and family services are Aboriginal.” Michele McBride, BC Children and Youth Review, reports in Report on Child Advocacy and Complaint Resolution Process, 2006, noting also a generalized “fear of retribution,” and advocates having fear of being “black listed by the Ministry if they speak out.”
What is clear is that the numbers of on-reserve children removed from their homes has risen precipitously over the last few years. A report by Canada’s Auditor General points out that “between 1997 and 2001 there was a rapid increase in the number of on-reserve children placed in care. Over this period, the total number of children in care increased by 65 percent, from 5,340 to 8,791 children. This number has remained around the same level since then. At the end of March 2007, there were about 8,300 on-reserve children in care, a little over 5 percent of all children aged from 0 to 18 living on reserves. We estimate that this proportion is almost eight times that of children in care living off reserves.”
Canada’s John Beaucage, Aboriginal Advisor to the Minister, issued a report in July of 2011 which states that according to federal government statistics:
over 11,000 Status Indian children were adopted between the years of 1960 and 1990. It is believed that the actual numbers are much higher than that. Of these children who were adopted, 70 per cent were adopted into non-Aboriginal homes. According to the department’s reports, a substantial portion of these adoptees face cultural and identity confusion issues as the result of having been socialized and acculturated into a Euro-Canadian middleclass society.
In short, not even the BIA’s unholy relationship with the Child Welfare League of America could sate America’s appetite for “nearly white” adoptable children. What is abundantly clear is that few adoptions up to the mid-1970s in any developed nation involved an uncoerced and freely given relinquishment of children by their mothers, regardless of whether they were on-reserve mothers or poor, young, and unmarried white women who had their babies coerced from them by social workers in maternity homes and hospitals.
“Economic incentives for newly established child welfare agencies fit well with ongoing government political agenda towards Aborginal people,” Raven Sinclair of the University of Regina explains in an article entitled “Identity lost and found: Lessons from the Sixties Scoop.” Citing Marie Adams, Sinclair argues that the “obscene marketing of Aboriginal children had stopped in the 1960s and 70s. These children were marketed in newspapers and on local television, but it was done in a way that did not draw attention to the government policy of assimilation.” Rather, adoption was promoted as a way to provide a loving and secure home for disadvantaged children.
As for Canada today, one ought not fall into the intellectual trap of believing that because the “Sixties Scoop” era as it has been traditionally defined has ended, that all is well. Sinclair writes that “given current child welfare statistics, the “Sizties Scoop” has merely evolved into the “Millenium Scoop” and aboriginal social workers, recruited into the ranks of social services and operating under the umbrella of Indian Child and Family Services, are now the ones doing the “scooping.”
Wolves in Sheeps Clothing
Being “almost white” for purposes of adoption was not so tidy a distinction to be made in Australia. Just as in the US and Canada, when the assimilation of an excessive number of Aboriginal children threatened to become a thorny political issue, a new bureaucratic layer with a typically benign-sounding name would be created and handed the task, leaving higher ranking government officials – the majority of whom would rather not have dirtied their hands with such matters – with layers of plausible deniability.
As Shurlee Swain most thoroughly explains in the 2013 Winter/Spring edition of Indian American Quarterly, by the late 1960s:
other branches of government were deeply implicated in schemes that sought to find adoptive parents for Indigenous children. Their motives were economic as well as assimilatory, but their appeal to prospective parents placed benevolence at the core. In 1951 the Department of Native Affairs in Western Australia established an adoption program that ran parallel to the program run by the Department of Child Welfare. Despite publicity that consistently contrasted the safety of the white adoptive home with the risks faced by infants left in Aboriginal communities, there continued to be resistance to the Child Welfare Department program because it allowed “coloured” children to slip into the white community. Similar attitudes in Queensland ensured that the State Children’s Department refused a 1960 request to place “light skinned”” children for adoption, leaving it to the Department of Native Affairs to establish its own scheme. The Northern Territory followed in 1964, extending its recruitment to southern states presumably because it was unable to find sufficient suitable applicants within its own jurisdiction. In Victoria, the Aborigines Welfare Board was one of the twenty- three agencies registered under the 1964 Adoption Act, and, Colin Tatz believes, it quickly became known that if you “couldn’t get a baby through a normal adoption agency, you went to the Aborigines Welfare Board.”
Judge Edwin Kimelman, Chief Judge of the Family Division of Manitoba’s Provincial Court, conducted a comprehensive review of the child welfare system, concluding in 1982 that: “No one fully comprehended that 25 per cent of all children placed for adoption were placed outside of Manitoba.”
Judge Kimelman found the apprehension and removal of Aboriginal children from their families, their communities and cultures by child welfare agencies was “routine,” and that the practice of out-of-province adoptions only compounded the outrage experienced by Native communities.
All parties were at fault, he explained, from the federal and provincial governments that failed to resolve their jurisdictional disputes involving the care of Aboriginal children, through the child welfare directors who lacked accountability to their Aboriginal clientele, and to “the child care agencies, both public and private, who failed to examine the results of their policies and practices and who failed to keep accurate statistical data; the Native organizations who remained too silent, too long, before demanding control of their children.”
His report, No Quiet Place repeatedly referred to the cultural misconceptions held by child care workers about Aboriginal people and the way they raised their children. “Cultural bias in the child welfare system is practised at every level from the social worker who works directly with the family, through the lawyers who represent the various parties in a custody case, to the judges who make the final disposition in the case,” he explained. The Judge most eloquently summarized:
It would be reassuring if blame could be laid to any single part of the system. The appalling reality is that everyone involved believed they were doing their best and stood firm in their belief that the system was working well. Some administrators took the ostrich approach to child welfare problems – they just did not exist. The miracle is that there were not more children lost in this system run by so many well-intentioned people. The road to hell was paved with good intentions, and the child welfare system was the paving contractor.
The subsequent Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples revisited Judge Kimelman’s findings in 1996, concluding:
In 1982, no one, except the Indian and the Métis people really believed the reality — that Native children were routinely being shipped to adoption homes in the United States and to other provinces in Canada. Every social worker, every administrator, and every agency or region viewed the situation from a narrow perspective and saw each individual case as an exception, as a case involving extenuating circumstances. No one fully comprehended that 25 per cent of all children placed for adoption were placed outside of Manitoba. No one fully comprehended that virtually all those children were of Native descent.
Each individual case was an exception then, much as it is today. The Native child is determined to be “neglected,” and is “rescued” from her home to the “safety” of the adoptive parents. The rhetoric of child saving hasn’t changed very much over the years, but the funds are wired into the bank accounts of the adoption agencies with great haste, in this modern era.
That is why there must be no tolerance for “exceptions” made to the rule of the law.
We have in these United States approximately 7,000 organizations engaged in some form of child caring or child protecting work. Included in this group are institutions, shelters, maternity homes, and child placing and child protective societies. No one knows how great is the total expenditure of these agencies, but, based upon the returns from some of the larger states, it is conservative to say that these very organizations spend each year a sum total running into the hundreds of millions. They have in care at all times an average of approximately 250,000 children who have been removed from their own homes for a great variety of causes, with ill-health and poverty as the predominating causes. They care for a number considerably in excess of the average of 250,000 in care throughout the whole year. The total number is certainly as high as 400,000 — it may even go up to 500,000. The length of time which these children are in care varies from days to years, but the essential thing to keep in mind is that just as much good or evil may be done in the short periods as in long periods of care.
How far, then, do these 7,000 agencies, caring for this vast annual army of children, spending these many millions of dollars, contribute to the total of human happiness and to the advancement of family and civic life in their respective communities? How far do they suffer from the application of out-wom principles? How far are they in ignorance of what really is effective and essentially constructive? How far do they show the first glimmerings of a conception that different standards of values must be applied to the various types of agencies engaged in child caring work ? How far do these same agencies in their daily work show any concepts of their belief in fundamental values, in the perfecting and stabilizing of family life, and in the enormous resources that lie within the relationship of parent and child? How far are they aware of the evils and dangers involved in the creation of great groups of people, who, to say the worst, live on the backs of children, and who often, to say the best, just feebly assist the children in their adjustments and introductions to the complexities of life?
A wealthy and public-spirited citizen has just given the largest S.P.C.C. in the country a detention home costing with its endowment four or five million dollars, yet at the risk of seeming impertinence and intrusion I offer the opinion that the sum total of accomplishment of the gift will be slight, for it substitutes brick and mortar equipment for a service which can be provided only by unusual human beings of great intelligence working through the forces of family life.
Why give superlative praise to an institution which spends $1,500 a year on each of 1,5oo half-orphan boys whose mothers just happen to be poor, when health work for 200,000 children in the public schools is most imperfect, when this large group includes 2,000 children living in poverty with incipient heart diseases — many of which will be come chronic? For these same children as adults are going to orphan their children.
Why give $10,000,000 to found an industrial training school in a small city and neglect the maternal death rate throughout the whole state, so that many children as orphans will never get enough care to make them efficient to take any training at adolescence?
Keep in mind the sequence of standards as outlined in 1909. We are told that home life is the highest and finest product of civilization, yet, day by day in the operations of public and private officials dealing with children this principle is ignored; children are removed because of poverty.
We seem not to realize as fully as we might that even an ignorant parent can bring rare and special abilities to the problems of his own children, that the daily affairs of the family have an educational content of great value, that mothers and fathers are the basic forces through which the protective and cultural things of civilization seek their expression, that the family is the most fundamental place in which to work out civic or social reforms, that there is something in the parenthood relationship upon which we are not sufficiently building.
Society all through the ages has been constantly prone to seek substitutes for things which never can be made to equal the original article. The values of parenthood are things that we need to explore. They may be of little use in many homes at the present time, but they are elemental and fundamental things in the life of society. If the millions and millions now invested in plant and equipment and foster care equipment, and the millions spent in annual maintenance of foster children could be expended in the channels of training parents to do their jobs, and keeping parents alive for their jobs, the results achieved would be vast in comparison with the really puerile attain ments which hold for these agencies today. Careful child welfare work involves a knowledge of the forces back of the child in his person, in his family, in his group. Yet it must be said, without any tendency to be overcritical, that throughout the whole field of child care the group honestly and intelligently concerned in getting and valuing such information is so small as to be almost negligible in numbers.
J. Prentice Murphy, Executive Secretary, Children’s Bureau, Philadelphia- 1922
England: Foster Care Cottage Industry Comes of Age in Wave of Privatization
Foster Care: Cottage Industry in Search of a Middleman?
Part 2 in a series on recent developments in child welfare England.
According to journalist Christopher Booker of The Independent, the child removal rates are indeed astounding. “The latest figures show that applications to take children from their parents into care continue to break all records – nearly 1,000 a month in England and Wales alone…”
Just where the foster parents to handle the deluge are going to come from is anyone’s best guess. A press release issued on March 14, 2013, reports that: “Capstone Foster Care, a UK based independent foster care agency, has just completed a survey of over 230 UK adults to better understand the U K’s attitude towards fostering and gauge the knowledge of the nation on the subject.”
As the actual study is unavailable on the organization’s web site, we are constrained to the description of the results in the press release:
With a number of children waiting to be fostered, the survey highlighted that a large majority of UK adults would not consider fostering a child, with 70% of respondents considering themselves very unlikely or unlikely to foster a child in the future. Only 6% would consider themselves likely or extremely likely to foster a child in the future, with the remainder not sure or undecided.
Surprisingly, the survey also highlighted that those from less affluent households were more likely to consider fostering a child than those from well off households. Of the 6% of respondents who answered that they were likely or extremely likely to consider fostering a child in the future, all came from households with a combined income of less than £50’000, and nearly two-thirds of these had a combined household income of less than £30’000.
What Parliament seeks do accomplish is far more ambitious than just taking children into care and working toward their possible reunification with their families at the customary snail’s pace. It now seeks as fait accompli to turn a majority of foster care givers into prospective adoptive parents by means of a new “fast track process” through the magic of “concurrent planning” to find children “loving homes without delay.”2
As a recent paper issued by the Department of Education entitled An Action Plan for Adoption: Tacking Delay explains:
Concurrent planning is a well-established process which can help provide early stability for children who may be adopted. Where local authorities use this approach, prospective adopters who are also approved as foster carers, care for the child from soon after the child enters care and work with the local authority to see if a child can return home, assessing the birth parents’ capacity to care for the child and maintaining contact. Concurrent planning has been introduced in several London authorities including Harrow, Islington and Camden, in partnership with Coram. Almost all concurrent planning placements have resulted in the baby being adopted by the carers with whom they have lived, in most cases, from just a few weeks of age. Concurrent planning means that children get a stable loving home as early as possible and that the risks of disruption are taken by adults rather than children.
That is quite a lot to expect from a reluctant 6 percent with so much as a modest interest in becoming foster parents. And, it is certainly quite a lot for prospective adoptive parents to endure, as fostering a child comes with no warranty express or implied.3
Far from being part of a mere cottage industry, some foster care givers have taken to making raising other people’s children a full time avocation. According to Be My Parent – a family-finding service for children in the UK, provided by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering:
Increasingly, fostering is seen as a professional role, and some foster carers are making fostering a ‘career’. Foster carers like these are registered self-employed with their fostering agencies, and receive a fee for the work they do in addition to a fostering allowance for the care of a child. Other foster carers are volunteers and they receive an allowance but no fees. Foster carers do not pay tax on the first £10,000 per year of their fostering income.
How much actual income may a British foster family bring in? “Recommended national minimum fostering allowances were introduced in England in April 2007 and in Northern Ireland in 2006,” the aim being “to make payments to foster carers consistent across the different local authorities.”
On January 29, 2013, the Department for Education announced the national minimum fostering allowances for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 in England:
To be sure, many foster carers “will be entitled to more than the minimum allowance, depending on their skills and experience and the age and needs of the child, but no foster carer should receive less.”
According to Love Fostering – Need Pay, a survey of over 2,000 foster care givers conducted by The Fostering Network in 2008-09, at that time, over 53,000 children lived with 43,000 foster families throughout the UK, providing for over 75% of placements.
- English Foster Carer
66 per cent of respondents said they have no paid employment other than fostering. And, in some instances, the terms of their agreement with a foster care agency expressly prevents them taking on outside employment. As one foster carer put it: “I am not allowed to have any other job while I am a foster carer, which means I am unable to subsidise my income. Fostering should therefore pay a living wage.”
The only consistency to be found is the existence of many inconsistencies. 26 percent of survey participants said they were paid 52 weeks per year, including periods when they have no child in placement. Others received nothing while they awaited a placement, while having being instructed not to work outside the home. 54 percent of respondents received fee rates of less than the equivalent of a forty hour work week based on the minimum wage.
By way of providing a wider-reaching perspective, assuming that a foster caretaker receives the upper end of the pay allowance of £250 for the full 52 weeks out of the year, that would amount to about $20,158 per year in US dollars, of which the first $15,506 would be tax free. Not the most generous of stipends.
But getting paid at all – let alone what you may be owed – may be problematic. In July 2013, the Local Government Ombudsman ruled that the Liverpool council had underpaid hundreds of care givers across the city. The investigation revealed that around 340 carers in the Merseyside area had been underpaid for years.
The Liverpool council graciously accepted the Ombudsman’s ruling, agreeing to backdate payments to all of the affected parties.
On the whole, the city councils have not fared well in terms of providing their mandate to protect children. Research by Community Care – a subsidiary of Reed Information Services that provides a web site “for social workers and social care professionals” – reveals that as of June 2013, 25 percent of 70 councils that were recently inspected failed. The surprising part, according to Community Care’s writeup, is that among the quarter rated as “inadequate” are those councils “considered to be best practice leaders, like Devon and Kingston Upon Thames.”
Responding to criticism from government officials of the Somerset County Council’s “adequate” rating, Frances Nicholson, the Council’s cabinet member for children and families, replied in the Somerset Standard in a letter to the editor, defending the council, saying:
This is crystal clear. We do not accept that “Adequate” is good enough. We have already taken steps to improve. We are recruiting more social workers to help deal with the huge rise in numbers of children in care – it is worth noting that just a few years ago there were about 300 children in our care, now there are well over 500.
The opposition spokesman knows this and knows the reason behind that rise, which is linked to the Baby Peter Connolly scandal, something totally outside this council’s control.
While it is certainly true that the increase in reporting that invariably follows after the tragic death of a child is something that is outside the council’s control, what is well within its ambit is how it responds to the crush of reports. The Urban Institute, in a report entitled The Decision to Investigate: Understanding State Child Welfare Screening Policies and Practices, explains that screening child abuse is part of a responsible program to control caseloads, while minimizing the intrusion on innocent families.
Critics such as Douglas Besharov, founding director of the National Center on Child abuse and Neglect, among others, have long called for responsible mechanisms to curtail false or inappropriate reports, as the Institute explains, “Screening enables child welfare agencies to respond to this increased work burden in a prioritized fashion. In theory, this type of screening should reduce caseloads to a manageable number so that investigators have time to conduct thorough investigations of accepted cases and make the best use of limited resources.” More on point, the Institute further explains:
For inappropriate reports of maltreatment, screening can also reduce unnecessary intrusion into families’ private lives. Many argue that current child maltreatment statutes are vague and overly broad and, coupled with expansions of mandatory reporting laws, have led to an increase in the number of families investigated but a decrease in the percentage of substantiated reports. These critics argue that the declining percentage of substantiated reports is a result of investigation of inappropriate referrals, which causes an unnecessary intrusion into families’ privacy. Screening is a mechanism state child welfare agencies have been using to reduce such intrusions and to ensure that only appropriate cases are investigated. Cases that are screened out generally involve no contact with the reported family and therefore could represent effective triaging without subjecting families to intrusion or shame.1
It is also within the council’s authority to pull in the reigns on its social workers. While it is unclear whether the council has expressly called for an increase in child removals in response to the Connolly scandal, cabinet member Nicholson’s remarks leave no doubt that the council has condoned them.
An article published in the July 2013 edition of the British Journal of Social Work entitled Moral Panics, Claims-Making and Child Protection in the UK examines the role of the child protection charities in issuing press releases on a regular basis with the apparent intent of influencing public policy through inflated or exaggerated claims. Both policy and practice may be susceptible to distortion by such claims. As the abstract explains “claims-making has had a detrimental effect on child protection, contributing to a coarsening of attitudes towards families in child protection work, a retreat from preventative practice and a deterioration in relationships between social workers, service users and members of the public more generally.”
In an online interview on Podsocs, a web site intended primarily for social workers, Gary Clapton, one of the paper’s authors, speaks about how Barnardo’s and some of the other larger charities that profit from the child protection industry issue a stream of press releases – sometimes on a weekly basis – framing the issues in a manner calculated to stir up a panic. He calls these releases “a form of propaganda,” adding that they are issued in “a competition for government grants.” The panic that results puts pressure on child protection workers, making them “more risk adverse” in terms of leaving children with their families when they are in doubt.
It is a rather peculiar, but very effective form of advertising certain to inspire reports. Clearly the major financial beneficiaries of this arrangement are the private firms that provide an increasing number of the foster care and adoptive placements.
Close up: Demonizing the Poor
In his Forward to the 2012 government report Social Justice: transforming lives, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith writes:
I was recently handed a report by a charity containing images and sculptures created by a number of vulnerable children. One of the scenes was produced by ten young people whose parents were substance abusers, and the caption below the photo read as follows:
“The house of children whose parents are addicted to crack-cocaine. Dad has passed out on the mattress in his own vomit, mum is crouched over a table, preparing her fix. What you don’t see is the child hidden in the corner crying.”
This is how these children chose to represent their home lives.
The antidote to this particular variety of political snake venom arrives in the form of a report from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church.
In The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths About Poverty, the churches painstakingly dissect not only this particular statement, but other prevalent myths about poverty in the United Kingdom as well. As the coalition explains: “Collectively we have come to believe things about poverty in the UK which are not grounded in fact. We need to develop an understanding of the depth and breadth of UK poverty that is compatible with the evidence available. Just as importantly we need to match the language of public debate with the reality of people’s lives.”
The coalition describes how a narrative is transformed from its original meaning into a claim of the variety exposed by Clapton and colleagues:
The story of the ‘Troubled Families’ is a case study of excellent initial research being misused for political purposes. The original study showed there were a large number of families, highly disadvantaged and mainly in poverty, who were in need of help. This fact was misused to tell a story of 120,000 dysfunctional, anti-social families costing the nation a fortune; a story which makes the existence of poverty far more acceptable to those who are not affected.
Too many cooks stirring the pot?
Another part of the problem is suggested by a Unison report that found nine councils had over 100 outside service providers to do business with, while another 31 councils had at least 50.
Freedom of Information requests were used by the union to obtain the information, the results of which were reported in an August 2 article in Community Care.
- Heather Wakefield, Unison
“Councils no longer have proper insight into how home care services are run,” said Unison’s head of local government, Heather Wakefield.
“Privatisation, huge budget cuts, a proliferation of providers, and a situation where councils can commission care from hundreds of different organisations has been synonymous with drastically declining standards. This all adds up to putting elderly and vulnerable people at risk.”
This is not a promising observation, particularly in light of the recent push toward outsourcing of foster care services.
On July 18, 2013, Rajeev Syal of The Guardian ran with a headline reading “Social services for vulnerable children in England to be privatised.” The article explains:
The government is planning to allow outsourcing firms to bid for contracts to manage social services for vulnerable children in England – while dropping laws allowing the removal of companies that fail to do the job properly.
A number of firms have expressed an interest in proposals that would allow them to bid for contracts managing foster care and providing other services for children in care.
But Labour says the plans would take away legal provisions that allow councils to remove a firm that has failed to meet national minimum standards. They would also relax the rules governing independent inspections of services that place and monitor children who are looked after by the state.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that “two of the biggest outsourcing companies in Britain, Serco and G4S, are being investigated for overbilling the taxpayer by charging to tag offenders who were dead or in prison.”
Shadow children’s minister Lisa Nandy told The Guardian that the latest plans would leave some of Britain’s most vulnerable children at the mercy of an unregulated private sector. She wrote to the regulatory reform committee, which is considering a draft legislative reform order, urging it to reject the government’s plans.
“For the government to consider outsourcing a sensitive service such as foster care to the private sector, when we have just seen with G4S and Serco how a profit motive can have disastrous consequences for the public purse, is madness. The proposals remove many of the checks and balances required to ensure the safety of children whilst introducing the unchecked unpredictability of the market. They should withdraw these proposals now and think again,” wrote Nandy.
The Pilot Projects
Guardian journalist Rajeev Syal explains that: “Pilots in six areas where the private sector was involved, inspected by Ofsted, were set up as a response to concerns that social workers were overburdened and unable to dedicate enough time to supporting children in care. The evaluation, published last year, showed mixed results but no better outcomes for children in care.
“An evaluation of the pilots by academics from King’s College London, the University of Central Lancashire and the Institute of Education found there was limited evidence for relocating public services for children in out-of-home care to the private sector.”
While the pilots were far from being outright failures, and in some cases showed some promising results, the results were – at best – mixed. Among the findings of the study:
- Changes in the political and economic context have had mixed effects for the pilots.
- Verdicts on the SWPs have been mixed with participants in this evaluation identifying achievements and challenges as well as winners and losers in the experience of the pilots.
- The needs of looked after children and young people are often long-standing and profound; consequently they are unlikely to be resolved by an intervention delivered over two years.
- Children?s and young people?s accounts showed no differences between pilots and comparison sites in terms of allocated workers? accessibility and responsiveness.
- Likewise, there were no substantial differences found between pilot and comparison sites regarding the quality of children?s and young people?s relationships with allocated workers or their satisfaction with support.
- Some children and young people expressed anger about their lack of involvement in the decision and regarded the move to the pilot as yet another change that had been imposed on them.
Privatization in Perspective
Foster care has frequently been described as a political hot potato.4
When a politically sensitive event occurs in child protection, however, it may more accurately be described as a game of badminton, with each political opponent frantically seeking to land the shuttlecock in the other party’s court. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are equally capable of taking the safest course of action, which is to expand the bureaucratic “safety net” for children when called upon to do so.
Few would dispute that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher deserves the lion’s share of the credit – or the blame depending on one’s perspective – for the wave of privatization that continues to ripple throughout the United Kingdom today. As margaretthatcher.org explains in her online biography:
The government began to pursue a policy of selling state assets, which in total had amounted to more than 20 per cent of the economy when the Conservatives came to power in 1979. The British privatisations of the 1980s were the first of their kind and proved influential across the world.
Where possible, sale of state assets took place through offering shares to the public, with generous terms for small investors. The Thatcher Governments presided over a great increase in the number of people saving through the stock market. They also encouraged people to buy their own homes and to make private pension provision, policies which over time have greatly increased the personal wealth of the British population.
Regardless of how the costs and the benefits may weigh out in other sectors, in the industry of child protection, privatization has not served children and families well.
Privatization was pushed as medicine sure to cure the ills of the foster care system during the mid-1990s, but some early critics of the privatization efforts in Kansas, where the grand social experiment began, suggested during testimony that it only added another cold and impersonal bureaucratic layer to contend with.
Over a decade later, the Kansas Joint Committee on Children’s Issues described the privatized system as one in which there are instances when contractors “do not place children with family, are allowed to submit sometimes subjective court reports parents and family of the child are not allowed to see, act in arbitrary ways, do not return children when parents have completed reintegration plans, and don’t provide enough meaningful contact between children and parents in their visitation policies.”
In August 2012, the Center for Public Integrity branded Nebraska’s efforts at privatizing its child welfare system, as “a public failure.”
Nebraska Appleseed had expressed concerns about the reform effort in 2010, asking whether the State was heading in the right direction. As Appleseed explained: “We are concerned about the impact of these substantial changes on children and families in the system, particularly at a time when the system is already in flux.”
Appleseed concluded that: “This reform, not even one year old, has resulted in turmoil for hundreds of children and families, state and private agency employees, and community based agencies in our state as well as the loss of millions of dollars.”
Nebraska’s Foster Care Review Board weighed in on the issues in a letter addressed to legislators, writing: “The implementation of the Reform was besought with problems from the start. . . the Reform has undergone constant change, has not been fully staffed resulting in multiple staff changes, payment delays to foster families and service providers, documentation issues, difficulties accessing services, visitation supervision issues and delayed permanancy,”
Nebraska’s Foster Care Review Board’s Office’s 2012 Annual Report revealed high levels of caseworker turnover, missing documentation, and a lack of complete case plans. All three problems worsened after the state turned over major responsibilities for managing child welfare and juvenile justice to private sector contractors.
The Texas Experience
After nine months of planning, Texas entered into an $899 million, five-year contract with Accenture who was to monitor other contractors involved in the conversion to a privatized and modernized welfare system. The Clearinghouse REVIEW Journal of Poverty Law and Policy details what happened next:
In early 2006, some six months after the contract signing, the system rolled out in two counties. Disaster ensued. Low-income people had trouble getting through to the call centers, and poorly trained call center staff could not process applications timely or solve client problems. Clients suffered major delays in getting benefits. For example, the food stamp application timely processing rate was only 80 percent in March 2006. Child enrollment in Medicaid plunged, and adult Medicaid enrollment also dropped. CHIP enrollment fell due to both the new system and tougher new enrollment policies. Significant technical problems, clients’ difficulty getting through to the call center, and inadequately trained private call center staff were among the major causes of the disaster. In response to the Center for Public Policy Priorities’ prerollout request, both the state and the USDA assigned staff to help with client problems. The USDA and its independent contractor monitored implementation in the initial months and identified serious deficiencies—application processing delays, misinformation given by call center staff to clients, insufficient documenting of client problems, inadequate computer and system testing, a rollout schedule that left no time to resolve problems, and inadequate staffing.
Writing for the Progressive States Network, Nathan Newman explained in an article posted in August 2006: “The poster child for the failure of privatization has been Texas’ attempt to hand over management of social services in that state to Accenture, a Bermuda-based consulting firm. Computer systems have failed, costs have mounted, and, worst of all, the result has been tens of thousands of children being dropped from health insurance rolls because of bungling by the private contractor.”
Texas State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn started an investigation of the company, saying that: “The Accenture contract appears to be the perfect storm of wasted tax dollars, reduced access to services for our most vulnerable Texans, and profiteering at the expense of our Texas taxpayers.”
Undeterred by the experience, the Texas legislature sought to privatize foster care services as well. In April 2007, the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities issued a paper cautioning that:
a major disadvantage to rapid privatization is that it would cause terrible disruptions to children. If a CPS foster home is unable or unwilling to transfer to a private provider, a child will lose his or her home. Even if foster parents are willing to move from CPS to private providers, private providers will have different managers, therapists, and doctors, disrupting the continuity of care to children. A mandate to privatize in 24 months would have tragic consequences for children.
Texas nevertheless continued on its push toward privatization of foster care and child welfare services, hitting a major roadblock in August of 2012, when it was announced that Lutheran Social Services of the South had lost its bid to privatize foster care in South Texas because of what was reported as “a history of problems” at three of its operations in the Lone Star State.
Among other things, Lutheran Social Services staffers had “routinely failed to properly oversee foster homes, conduct background checks on families and protect youth from abuse and neglect,” according to a letter sent to the company by the state child protection agency.
Note: Throughout this article the spelling for “privatization” varies between the spelling used in the United States and the Queen’s English.
2. All of this classic child saving rhetoric may be found in An Action Plan for Adoption: Tacking Delay (2012). It attains a new level saying that as adoptions are at their lowest point for a decade means “a cruel rationing of human love for those most in need.”
3. Adoptive children almost always come with promises that are seldom delivered. See for example Ross v. Louise Wise Services, Inc., 28 A.D.3d 272, 812 N.Y.S.2d 325, N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept. (2006); Gibbs v. Ernst, 538 Pa. 193, 647 A.2d 882 (1994); Roe v. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield, 225 III.App.3d 519, 588 N.E.2d 354, 167 III. Dec.713, 60 USLW 2602, 2 NDLR P 269 (1992); McKinney v. State of Washington, 134 Wn.2d 388, 950 P.2d. 461 (1988); Burr v. Board of County Com’rs of Stark County, 23 Ohio St. 3d 69, 491 N.E.2d 1101, 56 A.L.R.4th 357 (1986); Mohr v. Commonwealth, 421 Mass. 147, 653 N.E. 2d 1104 (1995); M.H. v. Caritas Family Servs., 288 N.W.2d 282 (Minn.1992); Meracle v. Children’s Serv. Soc’y of Wis., 149 Wis.2d 19, 437 N.W.2d 532 (1989); Juman v. Louise Wise Servs., 159 Misc.2d 314, 608 N.Y.S.2d 612 (1994), aff’d, 211 A.D.2d 446, 630 N.Y.S.2d 371 (1995). England’s first wrongful adoption case was heard in 2002, according to an article in The Guardian.
4. See for example “From Pariahs to Partners by David Tobis (noting that the Wilder lawsuit in New York City “dragged on for 25 years because it was such a political hot potato”); Herald-Tribune, Give Weinrich and ‘Y’ more credit, November 6, 2007 (likening the YMCA’s role in foster care in Florida to a political hot potato); Stephen Clutter, “Group-Homes Issue Is Sent Back To The Planners – Bellevue Council Shelves A Hot Potato,” Seattle Times, June 7, 1994; Jennifer Michael, Defining Family, in Children’s Voice, the official publication of the Child Welfare League of America, Sept/Oct 2006 (describing the cancellation of a gay parenting workshop for social workers because it was a political hot potato); Sheryl Stolberg, “Digre Digs In: New Children’s Services Chief Arrives in L.A., Goes Right to Work,” Los Angeles Times, January 03, 1991 (describing Digre’s “predecessors’ inability to survive in a job that is widely regarded as a political hot potato”).
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council is about to lose all responsibility for children’s services, according to the Department for Education.
After years of controversy and criticism, the control over children’s services in the South Yorkshire city will be passed to “an independent trust” beginning in April of next year, a situation that may well hold for a period of up to ten years.
The existing department had been placed under government scrutiny as long ago as 2009. A recent report entitled Report to the Secretary of State for Education on ways forward for children’s services in Doncaster recommended the measure as a way to make a decisive break with the departmemt’s previous history of problems.
The report begins with an one-line summary that says it all: “There is an abundance of evidence that testifies to long-standing service and corporate problems with Doncaster children’s services.”
The report continues on to explain:
“A culture of failure and disillusion pervades the service and that serves to obstruct every attempt at reform. There needs to be a line drawn under the historic failure, a separation that permits the development of a new culture.”
In a letter to Doncaster Mayor Ros Jones, Education Secretary Michael Gove writes:
“I agree with the recommendations and will now seek to put them into effect. . . When improvements to the service are secure and confidence in Doncaster Council’s ability to deliver children’s social care functions is gained, those services should return to council control.”
History: Defensive Social Work
Takes England by Storm
Up inched the numbers of children removed, as local councils sought to meet the fiscal targets imposed by the Blair administration’s reforms. As if that wasn’t bad enough, along came the case of “Baby P.” Peter died at the age of 1 on August 7, 2007. His death was undeniably the kind of brutal murder that inspires justified outrage from all quarters.
Adding fuel to the fire was not only the magnitude of his injuries, but that Peter lived in the London Borough of Haringey, under whose watchful eye the same authorities had failed ten years earlier in the case of Victoria Climbié.
The heat was on, and the number of children “rescued” from their homes continued to rise. Defensive social work took hold, and with predictable results. In 2009, the Daily Mail ran with headlines on stories such as: “Damning report finds social services department ‘not fit for purpose’ after eight deaths,” and “Fears of new Baby P scandal as social services face probe into seven child deaths in one town.”
In this particular go-round, it was the Birmingham City Council that was hardest hit by the report.
Councillor Len Clark opened up the report with these observations: “Many of the findings of this Inquiry report into children’s social care may not make comfortable reading for the Council. This is not by intent. Rather, it is the result of the intensive and forensic exploration of the evidence presented to the Inquiry, supported by authoritative independent audit reports.”
These points are not entirely lost on the government, as a report issued in November 2012 entitled Children first: the child protection system in England explains that there may be a combination of factors leading to the number of increased care applications, however:
The single most important factor is likely to be the response to the death of Baby P (Peter Connelly) in 2008. There is clear evidence that levels of Section 31 applications made by English local authorities rose in the wake of the publicity around this case. Research by Cafcass identified a “sharp increase” of 37% across England during the three weeks immediately following publication of the Serious Case Review in November 2008.
Nor is this point lost on the courts of appeal. In SS v KS, the Court noted that: “There has been a substantial rise in the number of applications under Part IV of the Children Act 1989 in the aftermath of Baby ‘P’.” Other factors also account for mounting pressure on courts, and the combination of these factors “is testing the family justice system in London to the limit and one inevitable consequence is greater delay.”1
On those relatively few occasions that adoption cases have risen to the courts of appeal, they have reiterated that councils owe a duty to the parents, the children, and in some cases the prospective adoptive parents as well. In Re F (a child) (placement order)  EWCA Civ 439, the Court reviewed a case involving a father who sought to contest the adoption of his child. The court of appeal noted that the East Sussex County Council, by failing to reply to the father’s last-minute letter of notice, gave “the clearest inference that the council was out to gain its ends by means more foul than fair.” The Court further found that:
There are many who assert that councils have a secret agenda to establish a high score of children that they have placed for adoption. When such suspicions are rife a history such as this only serves to fuel public distrust in the good faith of public authority.
In EH v Greenwich  EWCA Civ 344 the Court found it difficult to believe that Greenwich, the local authority seeking the adoption of a child against her mother’s wishes, “can behave in such a manner.” It was evident that the local authority had sought to undermine the mother’s progress, even to the extent of failing in its legal obligation to assist her. “Here was a mother who needed and was asking for help to break free from an abusive relationship. She was denied that help abruptly and without explanation. That, in my judgment is very poor social work practice,” wrote Justice Wall. More to the point, Justice Wall added:
What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that perception.
As a joint investigative report issued by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate in December 2012 explains:
Many of the children and young people whose cases we examined during the course of our inspection had been placed in a succession of children’s homes. It was difficult to track them precisely, but we saw one young person with 31 placements and one placement that lasted less than 24 hours. Nearly one-third had had more than three placements outside their home area and 18% had had more than five (that were recorded); 63% were living more than 50 miles from their home and 24% more than 100 miles.
According to the report, one council shipped all of its foster wards out of its boundaries, presumably because it did not want to deal with the responsibilities of caring for the children that it had itself removed.
1. SS v KS  EWHC 1575 (Fam) (03 July 2009). See also S-B Children, Re  UKSC 17 (14 December 2009) (re-emphasising that in the wake of the “Baby P” case allegations that social workers and other professionals were not being sufficiently active in their protective role resulted in an increase in the numbers of care proceedings). The Baby P case continues to resonate in the courts. See for example Christou & Anor v London Borough of Haringey  EWCA Civ 178 (caseworkers unfair dismissal claims against former employer Haringey London Borough Council); Cairns v Modi  EWCA Civ 1382 (false accusation by newspaper that Baby P’s father had been convicted of raping a 14 year old girl); Shoesmith, R (on the application of) v OFSTED & Ors  EWCA Civ 642 (Director of Children’s Services, Haringey, appeal of adverse job action); Henry v News Group Newspapers Ltd  EWCA Civ 19 (defamation case involving allegedly “sustained and vitriolic campaign” by newspaper against senior social worker).
In a follow-up to this series, recent moves toward privatization, concurrent planning, cutbacks in legal representation for families, and other issues will be also examined.