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A Critical Look At The Foster Care System: How Safe the Service?

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on Wed, 08/08/2012 - 08:40


A recent TIME Magazine article references a troubling report commissioned by the Reagan Administration during the late 1980s, which concluded:

Foster care is intended to protect children from neglect and abuse at the hands of parents and other family members, yet all too often it becomes an equally cruel form of neglect and abuse by the state.[1]

In the State of California, two San Diego County Grand juries would echo these concerns, finding that: "Professionals working in the field of child abuse voiced strong concerns that the children removed from abusive homes were being abused again by a system designed to protect them."[2]

A Santa Clara County Grand Jury reached similar conclusions, having determined that children often face greater risks in its existing foster care program than they do in their own homes:

Sometimes, foster care placements are made that are just as abusive, if not more so, than the home from which the child was removed. The Grand Jury learned of placements where sexual and physical abuse took place. There was even a case where the infant died.[3]

In Washington State, a blue-ribbon Governor's task force concluded:

The effect of our present foster care system is disastrous. Children are moved from one foster home to another, their school attendance is disrupted and health care needs often go unmet. They are sometimes exposed to abuse by other children in care. . .[4]

Elsewhere, a report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined that the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services "has no assurance that the quality of care being given to foster children placed by child-placing agencies was adequate." Federal reviewers found "many cases" of children "in potentially harmful situations." At least one fire or health deficiency was found at 40 of the 48 homes reviewed. In 28 of the 48 homes, no record could be found to prove that required criminal background checks had been made. The report described some foster homes as filled with trash.[5]

Terry's story is in many respects typical of the plight of America's 500,000 foster children. He entered foster care at the age of one after he was found with his five siblings suffering from frostbite in an unheated home, his mother in a drug-induced sleep. When he was five, he and two of his siblings were adopted by a foster family.

To hear the adoption proponents of today tell it, this should have provided the happy ending to Terry and his sibling's travails. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a long journey through the labyrinth of the child welfare system.

Terry and his siblings had to be removed from their new home due to extreme abuse and neglect after the subsequent death of abuse of his five-year-old adoptive brother.

Thereafter followed a sequence of sixteen placements, during which Terry began to exhibit increasingly serious behavioral problems.

By the time he turned 11, Terry was placed in a residential facility where he began making suicidal comments, saying that he wanted to go to heaven to be with his deceased adoptive brother. He left the facility during severe thunderstorms without any shoes on. When he was found, he had to be hospitalized for over a month. He has since been diagnosed as suffering from the psychological effects of the extreme abuse and neglect he had suffered while in various placements, complicated by a lack of permanence over his ten years in government custody.

The child welfare system responsible for Terry has since been held in contempt for failing to comply with a court-ordered consent decree, and has created an internal receivership to help move toward compliance, thanks to the efforts of the private advocacy group Children's Rights, Inc. For Terry, there came a happy ending. He has recently been adopted by a warm and stable family. But it took years of difficult and costly litigation to bring about this result.[6]

Similar narratives are everywhere to be found. In Lynchburg, Virginia, a 23-year-old blind and mentally retarded woman was denied food, restrained with socks, and was regularly beaten by her foster mother. She received the maximum punishment under the 1992 law; one year in jail. What is even more amazing is that the foster mother did not even realize that she had done anything wrong.[7]

According to an Associated Press report, a 1994 Department of Health and Human Services audit of six states found foster homes that were crowded and unsafe.[8]

The report continues, illustrating that cases of foster parents inflicting harm on their wards are all too common:

A Sacramento, Calif., man was charged last December with raping and murdering one of his three foster children, a 16-year-old girl. He was arrested after holding the other two children at gunpoint during a standoff with police.
The Cook County public guardian's office recently sued a Chicago private social agency for placing an 11-year-old girl in the home of a convicted rapist who allegedly raped the child.
In a separate case, Chicago police say 2-year-old Corese Goldman was killed in February by a foster mother who held him under a faucet to toilet-train him. The woman, a distant relative, was not required to go through training, background checks and a home inspection before taking the child.

In Massachusetts, the Department of Social Services has knowingly approved scores of convicted criminals to be foster parents, including child abusers, drug dealers, habitual drunk drivers, kidnappers, armed robbers, and other violent offenders, according a recent Boston Globe series.

The Department of Social Services allowed these criminals to become foster parents by granting "waivers" that would ordinarily have caused the foster parents to be rejected.[9]

This may explain--at least in part--why after a five-month investigation based on hundreds of interviews with Department workers, court personnel and families, a Massachusetts legislative committee found that children in state care were often worse off than they were in the original homes from which they were removed.[10]

Similar reports are everywhere to be found. From New Jersey, comes a 270 page report issued by a panel of 26 experts appointed by the Governor--one which makes hundreds of recommendations for revamping the state's failed child protection system.

Among the panel's findings was that children alleged to have been abused or neglected are abused once again--by the very system intended to help them.

The report followed on the heels of another scathing report issued by the Association for Children, in which 75 percent of the 772 respondents--among them police officers, foster parents, caseworkers and other individuals involved with the system--rated the agency's performance as inadequate, ultimately forcing the agency's director, Patricia Balasco-Barr, to resign.[11]



In Alaska, foster parents testify that the worst of the abuses endured by foster children is not the abuse and neglect allegedly suffered before the state takes them from their natural parents. Rather, the real abuse comes from the actions of the state itself.[12]

To make matters worse, just as state officials are forming ambitious efforts to deal with the severe failures in the state's child protection system, a 2-year-old in the care of Anchorage foster parents dies.[13]

Foster parents were speaking out in Utah, as well. When James Sebaske and his wife, Corinn, got their foster care license, they were prepared for troubled teens--but not for the bureaucrats in the child protective services system.

After five frustrating years of dealing with the department, the couple planned to allow their license to lapse. "The system is so corrupt, I fear for my children or any reasonable person's children," said Sebaske.[14]

But speaking out against the system can have its price, state representative Marie Parente (D-Milford), chairwoman of the Massachusetts House Foster Care Committee told Boston Globe reporters in February of 1992. Foster parents are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals--the ultimate threat being that DSS will take away their foster children.

Her fears were ultimately proven to be well-founded. After Lynn Sanborn--a long-term foster mother with a flawless record--rendered testimony critical of the department's removal of a foster child from her home before the House Foster Care Committee, she suddenly found herself the subject of two child abuse reports.

"After 14 years of being a foster parent and three months ago I was an exemplary home, I get two complaints in a week," Sanborn said. "Doesn't that sound odd to you?"

So, too, did another foster mother who testified during the hearings, find herself the subject of an anonymous report, sparking charges from both women that the agency was retaliating against them for speaking out against the department.

The anonymous charges were filed against them within days of their testimony. "I feel hurt and I feel sad," said Sanborn. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody."[15]

The price to be paid for speaking out against the system can be equally high for biological parents. Elizabeth Sayers--by her own admission in need of support services--said in an on-air radio interview that she was not being offered the help she required from the Massachusetts department to keep her children.

Just 90 minutes after she complained on the air to a radio talk show host about the lack of services, her children were taken away and placed in foster homes in an "emergency removal."[16]

Similar narratives are everywhere to be found, as parents, foster parents and many others who advocate on behalf of children often report the fear of retaliation from child welfare agencies seeking to silence them.

In Alaska, foster parents sat with trembling hands as they told legislators of the treatment they and their young wards endured at the hands of child protective services. Fear of retaliation was reportedly a common theme throughout the meeting.[17]

Prior to a 1994 hearing held in Illinois, several parents were told by Department of Children and Family Services caseworkers "if you ever want to see your children again, don't go to the hearing," according to Champaign County Board member Robert Naiman.[18]

Thus, the most dedicated of foster parents--those who would dare advocate on behalf of the children in their care--are pushed out of the system. As a result, the abuse of children in state care continues to mount even as the number of children in state care continues to increase.

In Milwaukee, complaints of children being abused or neglected by their foster families increased dramatically over a 10-month period in 1997, compared with the same period a year earlier.[19]

In Peoria, Illinois, the state's child welfare agency "rescues" Donte May from a neglectful and possibly abusive mother, only to place him in a foster home where he dies suspiciously from bleeding in the brain.[20]


One of the most tragic aspects of many of these cases is that the children suffer needlessly, for in their zeal to protect them against the perceived shortcomings of their natural parents, child protective workers placed them into dangerous homes that inflicted upon them precisely the injury they had hoped to prevent.

In the District of Columbia, social workers removed four of Debra Hampton's children from her home placing them in foster care. According to the testimony of a social worker, the children were removed because Mrs. Hampton had left them alone and was not properly supervising them, and her home was "generally uninhabitable."

Three months later, the foster mother left two-year-old Mykeeda Hampton at home for over ten hours. While she was out running errands, Mykeeda was beaten to death by the foster mothers' twelve-year-old son. An autopsy later established that the two-year-old died of "blunt force injuries to the head, abdomen, and back, with internal hemorrhaging." As of September 1995, several years after the incident, the case was still under litigation.[21]

In August of 1995, San Francisco officials took custody of Selena Hill a few days after her birth because of concerns that her parents, Stacey and Claudia Hill, had physically abused each other and didn't seem capable of caring for their newborn.

In September, seven-week-old Selena Hill was rushed to Children's Hospital in Oakland with a fractured skull and other injuries that almost killed her. In their efforts to protect her from her actual parents, child welfare workers placed Selena into a foster home with a history of domestic violence. In the nine months before the infant was injured, Berkeley police had visited the residence three times after receiving reports about violent disturbances in the foster home.[22]

The state of Georgia placed Clayton and Kelly Miracle in foster care with Betty and Joe Wilkins in June of 1993. Two months later paramedics would arrive at the foster home in response to a 911 call, finding Clayton barely breathing, with two large knots on his head, one in the front and one in back. Clayton died as a result of blunt force trauma to his head. The doctor who performed the autopsy testified that Clayton's fatal injuries could not have been caused by an accidental fall and that injuries and bruising found all over Clayton's body were consistent with battered child syndrome. Doctors also examined Kelly and found the same pattern of bruising.[23]

Newsday reports the tragic story of one father whose desperate pleas to the family court fell on deaf ears. David Roman fights back tears as he recounts the shooting death of his son who had been placed into foster care in the Jamaica section of New York City:

My son was going to turn 15 this coming Friday. I begged the family court judges to get my children back. I looked at the neighborhood . . . and I could tell it was no good. That place was a drug-infested neighborhood.[24]


During a recent two year period, one foster child died on average every seven and a half weeks in the state of Arizona. Four of them were reported as having been "viciously beaten to death" by their foster parents.[25]

Among the deaths in Arizona was that of China Marie Davis, of Phoenix. An autopsy revealed that over her 11 months in the care of her foster mother, Dorothy Jean Livingston, China Marie suffered a compression fracture of the spine, breaks in both forearms and wrists, two broken collarbones, fractures of both thighs, and a broken left arm, right rib and left hand.

China Marie finally found her relief in death, after Livingston repeatedly kicked her down a staircase because she refused to clap her hands to gospel music.[26]

Among the deaths was that of Tajuana Davidson, also of Phoenix. While in foster care the three-year-old suffered a broken shoulder blade, a black eye, and bruises on her stomach, back, legs and arms. But it was the "seven crushing blows to the head" that finally killed her.[27]

Just how many abuse and neglect related incidents actually occur in foster care is difficult to determine, given the child protection agencies apparent unwillingness to investigate them. It becomes nearly impossible with confidentiality laws shielding child protection agencies from public scrutiny. What is clear is that there is no shortage of them.

"The state's foster care system has been racked by tragedy in recent years," note Boston Globe reporters. "In the past three years, several foster children have been murdered or have died from neglect, while others have been horrifically abused."[28]

In 1995, at least eight children died while in foster care in Massachusetts, and federal officials were threatening a private lawsuit against the agency if changes weren't made.[29]

But the most telling statistic of all may be that of the seven deaths directly attributable to maltreatment in Massachusetts in 1995, three of them--nearly half--were in foster care.[30]

In this respect Massachusetts is a more or less a typical state. Notes outspoken veteran juvenile court judge Judy Sheindlin:

Every year in every a state a commission meets to attempt to identify the scores of children killed and maimed while in foster care. And each year a report is published with suggestions for legislative and systemic change. Although the number of victims is increasing, there has been no nationwide overhaul of the systems that permit these in-house tragedies to occur.[31]


Sheindlin attributes much of the problem to confidentiality laws. "The only people being protected here are caseworkers and other officials, who regularly hide behind a wall of secrecy," she writes.

She notes that dozens of New York City cases where children have been maimed or murdered never reach public attention, and it is not just because they are poor minority children. Rather it is "because of confidentiality rules, which protect inept bureaucrats and a faltering social services system."[32]

"In the name of protecting children, we have kept it a secret how we as a society deal with our most vulnerable children," explained American Civil Liberties Union attorney Eric S. Maxwell to the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post-Audit and Oversight.

"There is a great gap between protecting a child's identity and keeping the process and acts of our government secret."

Maxwell urged the Committee to push for legislation to open court proceedings involving the removal of children from their parents, and child guardianship cases.

"I think any time you take a system and cloak it in secrecy there are going to be substantial abuses," said Maxwell, adding that he believes the Department of Social Services is often too quick to take custody of children away from their parents.[33]

"Foster care systems are cloaked in secrecy that often is used to conceal illegal and unconscionable practices," explained children's advocate and attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry during Congressional hearings.

"Every state in the country cloaks its foster care system in secrecy, prohibiting the disclosure of any information about children's experiences in foster care. Though these statutes often were enacted to protect children, they routinely are used by state officials to conceal illegal and unconscionable practices."[34]

These confidentiality laws have served the system well, if the figures from the state of Georgia are any indication.

Nancy Schaefer, twice a gubernatorial candidate for governor, has repeatedly called for a fundamental restructuring of the state's foster care system, including the dismantling of the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.

Schaefer charges that an astounding 433 children have died while in state care over the last several years.[35]

"Words cannot describe the travesty of justice suffered by these children who, rather than receiving the protection of the state, gave their lives in a most horrible and painful death because of a failed and unaccountable system of administration," says Schaefer.[36]

"We have to ask ourselves whether we're doing children a service by taking them out of their homes and placing them in a system that's just as unable to meet their needs," says District Judge Bill Jones of Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Are we doing them more harm than good?"

Says District Judge Deborah Burgin of Rutherfordton, North Carolina: "If you take on the responsibility to take care of someone - and are paid to take care of someone - the least we can ask is that they come out of it alive."[37]



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One of the most comprehensive surveys of abuse in foster care was conducted in conjunction with a Baltimore lawsuit. Trudy Festinger, head of the Department of Research at the New York University School of Social Work, determined that over 28 per cent of the children in state care had been abused while in the system.

Reviewed cases depicted "a pattern of physical, sexual and emotional abuses" inflicted upon children in the custody of the Baltimore Department.

Cases reviewed as the trial progressed revealed children who had suffered continuous sexual and physical abuse or neglect in foster homes known to be inadequate by the Department. Cases included that of sexual abuse of young girls by their foster fathers, and that of a young girl who contracted gonorrhea of the throat as a result of sexual abuse in an unlicenced foster home.[1]

In Louisiana, a study conducted in conjunction with a civil suit found that 21 percent of abuse or neglect cases involved foster homes.[2]

In another Louisiana case, one in which thousands of pages of evidence were reviewed, and extensive testimony and depositions were taken, it was discovered that hundreds of foster children had been shipped out of the state to Texas.

Stephen Berzon of the Children's Defense Fund explained the shocking findings of the court before a Congressional subcommitte, saying: "children were physically abused, handcuffed, beaten, chained, and tied up, kept in cages, and overdrugged with psychotropic medication for institutional convenience."[3]

In Missouri, a 1981 study found that 57 percent of the sample children were placed in foster care settings that put them "at the very least at a high risk of abuse or neglect."[4]

A later report issued in 1987 found that 25 percent of the children in the Missouri sample group had been victims of "abuse or inappropriate punishment."

Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry described the findings of the Missouri review before the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families:

The most troubling result of the Kansas City review was the level of abuse, undetected or unreported, in foster homes. 25% of the children in the sample were the subject of abuse or inappropriate punishment. 88% of those reports were not properly investigated.[5]


A recent class action lawsuit filed on behalf of foster children in the State of Arizona serves well to indicate the extent of sexual abuse of children in state care.

The suit alleges that over 500 of an estimated 4,000 foster children, a figure representing at least 12.5 percent of the state's foster care population, have been sexually abused while in state care.

The action also charged that "the acts and omissions of Defendants were done in bad faith, with malice, intent or deliberate indifference to and/or reckless disregard for the health, safety and rights of the Plaintiffs."[6]

But the problems associated with foster placements in Arizona are not limited to sexual abuse. During a recent two year period, one foster child died on average every seven and a half weeks in the state of Arizona. Four of them were reported as having been "viciously beaten to death" by their foster parents.[7]

The sexual abuse of children in government custody would appear to be a particularly widespread problem.

In Maryland, a 1992 study found that substantiated allegations of sexual abuse in foster care are four times higher than that found among the general population.[8]

In Kentucky, sex abuse in foster care was "all over the newspapers," according to department head Larry Michalczyk.

The former Commissioner explained that within a few years of time, his state saw a child die while in residential placement, a lawsuit filed against a DSS staff member on behalf of a foster child, and legislative inquiries into its child protection system.[9]

Kentucky would prove to be a problematic state, as case reviewers would find that only 55 percent of the children in the state's care had the legally mandated case plans.[10]

Perhaps the most significant indicator of the true extent of sexual abuse in foster care was a survey of alumni of what was described as an "exemplary" and "model" program in the Pacific Northwest, argues University professor Richard Wexler.

"In this lavishly-funded program caseloads were kept low and both workers and foster parents got special training. This was not ordinary foster care, this was Cadillac Foster Care," he explained.

In this "exemplary" program, 24 percent of the girls responding to a survey said they were victims of actual or attempted sexual abuse in the one home in which they had stayed the longest. Significantly, they were not even asked about the other foster homes in which they had stayed.[11]

The Children's Rights Project has initiated a number of successful civil suits against foster care and child welfare systems. One such landmark suit was brought against the Illinois foster care system. Attorney Benjamin Wolf instituted the legal action after concluding that the states foster care system functioned as "a laboratory experiment to produce the sexual abuse of children."[12]

Yet by many accounts, the sexual abuse of children in the state's care has increased along with the increase in placements, successful lawsuits notwithstanding. Even Patrick Murphy, the outspoken Cook County Public Guardian, admits that sexual abuse of children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has probably increased.[13]


According to an Associated Press investigation, in nearly half the states, cases take years to come to completion as agencies repeatedly fail to investigate abuse reports in a timely fashion, find permanent homes for children, or even keep track of those children under their care and custody.[14]

For various reasons, ranging from failure to provide adequate supervision and oversight of workers, to failure to provide safe child care facilities, 22 states and the District of Columbia have been ruled inadequate by the courts and now operate under some form of judicial supervision.[15]

But the reader should not be reassured that such problems are isolated only to those states which have been successfully litigated against. As Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explained to a Congressional subcommittee: "We have turned down requests from a number of other states to institute additional lawsuits, solely because of a lack of resources."[16]

A 1986 survey conducted by the National Foster Care Education Project found that foster children were 10 times more likely to be abused than children among the general population. A follow-up study in 1990 by the same group produced similar results.[17]

The American Civil Liberties Union's Children's Rights Project similarly estimates that a child in the care of the state is ten times more likely to be abused than one in the care of his parents.[18]

In a legal action brought by the Children's Rights Project against the District of Columbia child welfare system, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that:

because of the appalling manner in which the system is managed, children remain subject to continuing abuse and neglect at the hands of heartless parents and guardians, even after the DHS has received reports of their predicaments. The court also found that youngsters who have been taken into the custody of the District's foster-care system languish in inappropriate placements, with scarce hope of returning to their families or being adopted.

The Court also found that the agency entrusted with the care of children "has consistently evaded numerous responsibilities placed on it by local and federal statutes." Among the deficiencies cited was "failure to provide services to families to prevent the placement of children in foster care."[19]

Frustrated by the lack of progress after years of litigation, child advocates succeeded in placing the District of Columbia child welfare system into full receivership in 1995, making it the first such system in the nation to come under the direct control of the Court.[20]

In a Pennsylvania case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit wrote in a 1994 decision: "It is a matter of common knowledge (and it is not disputed here) that in recent years the system run by DHS and overseen by DPW has repeatedly failed to fulfill its mandates, and unfortunately has often jeopardized the welfare of the children in its care."

The original complaint, filed by the Children's Rights Project on April 4, 1990, alleged that systemic deficiencies prevent the Pennsylvania department from performing needed services, and that it consistently violates the due process rights of both parents and children:

Specifically, plaintiffs claim that these amendments confer the right not to be deprived of a family relationship; the right not to be harmed while in state custody; the right to placement in the least restrictive, most appropriate placement; the right to medical and psychiatric treatment; the right to care consistent with competent professional judgment; and the right not to be deprived of liberty or property interests without due process of law.[21]

One of the plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania suit was "Tara M." on whose behalf the ACLU charged the city of Philadelphia with neglect. Human Services Commissioner Joan Reeves guaranteed the young girl an adoptive home with specially trained parents.

In August of 1996, Tara M. would make the headlines once again, as her new foster parents were sentenced for "one of the most appalling cases of child abuse" Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn E. Temin said she had ever heard.

Nine-year-old Tara has had three skin grafts and wears a protective stocking in recovery from burns over more than half her body. Police said the foster parents punished the girl by stripping her, forcing her into the bathtub and dousing her with buckets of scalding water. This was the very best of care the city could provide for Tara, a girl who had already endured years of physical and sexual abuse in the several foster homes into which she had been placed over the years.[22]

The Children's Rights Project has also been involved in suits against child welfare systems in the states of Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, and the cities of Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Milwaukee, and New York City.[23]

Says Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry: "There are a lot of injuries, a lot of abuse. The most significant thing is the psychological death of so many of these kids. Kids are being destroyed every day, destroyed by a government-funded system set out to help them."[24]

In California, as of 1989 Los Angeles County alone had paid $18 million in settlements to children who had been abused while in its custody.

One such case involved a nine-year-old boy who weighed only 28 lbs., and who could hardly speak after the suicides of his parents. County social workers failed to visit him in his foster home for four months.

During that time, he was beaten, sodomized, burned on his genitals and nearly drowned by his foster parents. He became a spastic paraplegic. By 1990 the state was threatening to take over Los Angeles County's child welfare system.[25]

The California-based Little Hoover Commission, in examining the functioning of the foster care system determined: "That children can come to harm--and even die--while supposedly under the protection of foster care is not in dispute." Some cases cited by the Commission included:

  • A foster mother arrested in Los Angeles on charges of beating to death her 23-month-old foster son, allegedly over toilet training problems.
  • A Los Angeles woman arrested for the attempted murder of a 19-month-old foster child who she said fell from a jungle gym. Doctors believed the severe head injuries, which may result in blindness, could only have come from abuse.
  • A Sacramento woman who was injured in a car accident who voluntarily placed her daughter in a foster care facility. During a tantrum by the child, an employee of the facility wrapped her in a blanket and squatted on her. She was later discovered dead.[26]


Child welfare departments are rarely forthcoming with information about the actual extent of harm that comes to children in their care. It is largely through audits and casereadings associated with legal actions that the actual extent of abuses in the foster care system come to light.

The reasons for this may not be as complex as they are often made to appear.

Child welfare officials who have managed to entrench themselves in lifetime civil service positions in the more desirable nooks and crannies of the child welfare system have a vested interest to protect, and those who run public bureaucracies have devised their own "rationalized myths" to protect their interests, argues sociologist John Hagedorn.

The myths of "doing good" benefit those who are advantaged by existing institutional arrangements. Even as politicians are constantly criticizing "bureaucracy" and "bureaucrats," they approve millions of dollars worth of public funds to keep the bureaucracies running. As Hagedorn succinctly explains:

It's simply too risky for bureaucrats to admit that their agency may not be "doing good." The erosion of that myth may lead someone to investigate them or even propose cutting their budgets.[27]

But if there is one thing that is riskier for bureaucrats than admitting that their system may not be doing good, it is that it is doing far more harm than good.

Thus we find situations such as that in which the California Department's legal division discovered a "secret room" in the Los Angeles Department containing 15 filing cabinets holding approximately 3,000 case files on foster care facilities that had problems which were not reported to the state.

In one case, ten foster children slept on the floor of a garage, while ten more were crammed into an upstairs bedroom. Three had been abused, one with a fractured skull and two broken limbs. Yet the home was not closed until months after the conditions were discovered.[28]

Thus we find caseworkers in a Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services office running files relating to a botched investigation through a paper-shredder.[29]

Thus we find a New York City caseworker indicating as "unfounded" the repeated rapes of a young girl in institutional care, notwithstanding the testimony of credible witnesses.[30]

Thus we find an agency administrator in Oklahoma quietly dismissing two agency employees accused of the sexual abuse of foster children without so much as a blot on their records.[31]

Thus we find what was described as a "whitewash of wrongdoing" in an edited audit of a child welfare office in Utah, and death threats made against the rare brave legislator who dared to push for the public release of the unexpurgated document.[32]

Thus we find a report of system-wide abuses at the Columbus-Maryville "shelter" in Illinois suppressed by Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy.[33]


With the high rate of multiple placements that most foster children endure, the possibility that they may experience overt physical or sexual abuse becomes an increasing certainty with each move. Yet even those children who are not subjected to overt physical or sexual abuse in state care often endure conditions tantamount to abuse.

Due to the overuse of foster care, the high number of children in custody often results in children being placed on a bed-available basis.[34]

The number of conventional foster homes in the public sector has dropped from 125,000 in 1988 to 100,000 today--and the "exodus continues," says Gordon Evans, information director for the National Foster Parent Association in Houston.

Evans notes that the average number of children per home is 3.7--up from about 1.4 in 1983--and he estimates that "tens of thousands" care for six, seven, and eight youngsters at a time.[35]

Because of the shortage of conventional foster homes, and due in no small measure to the unwillingness of child welfare agencies to provide meaningful services to families, children continue to be shuttled off to institutional or residential placements on a bed-available basis.

Julie and her twin brother Juan were two such children. They were placed with their grandmother who tried to obtain needed services for them. The agency neglected to provide services, instead shuttling them in and out of five placements in which they often failed to receive proper medical care for their health problems.

The agency then sent Julie and Juan, at the age of two, to an institution for adolescent boys. When their grandmother visited them she discovered that Julie had been physically abused. The twins were then placed with a foster mother who again abused them, while failing to provide proper medical care.

Juan, after suffering a great deal of pain, died at age 3 before he could be returned to his grandmother. Julie's condition worsened after her brother's death, and she died at age four. The advocacy group Children's Rights sued the city of New York for damages, and a jury awarded $87,500 to Julie's estate. Her surviving sister plans to use the money to attend college.[36]

Julie and Juan's story is in many respects typical. Because of the shortage of conventional foster homes due to the high number of children being unnecessarily placed in care, children often have labels assigned arbitrarily for purposes of placement.

Children may end up in a place like the Hegeman Diagnostic Center in Brooklyn, where a twelve-year-old girl who had been raped in a foster home was brought--only to be sexually abused by other girls at the center.

"We believe that assaults, sexual and otherwise, occur daily at the center," said Karen Freedman of Lawyers for Children.[37]

Or they may wind up in a private residential treatment center like Indian Oaks in Manteno, Illinois, on the grounds of what used to be the state mental institution.

"Indian Oaks occupies one building, but the rest is desolate, empty, broken buildings," says Peter Schmiedel, supervising attorney of the Special Litigations Team in the Office of the Public Guardian. "It's something out of a bad, eerie movie."

Says Schmiedel: "If ever you want to see something terrible, go to the DCFS intake shelter at Columbus-Maryville. Go downstairs where they keep the teenagers. The place used to be a morgue. It's a room without windows, crowded, wall-to-wall beds."

These beds were created in response to DCFS saying they need more beds, adds Schmiedel. "It's market-driven forces, children as industry."

Part of Schmiedel's job is to go through unusual incident reports. "We must get two or three hundred a week," he says, some of which include serious reports of physical and sexual abuse in treatment centers and foster homes. "It's frightening--we don't know which cases are the most serious."

"You see what some parents do to their kids, but then you see what happens to kids who are removed from their homes and put into foster homes... I mean, the stories are grotesque."[38]

Or consider the plight of those foster wards locked in detention in the San Francisco Youth Guidance Center Facility--maintained in small locked cells alongside alleged juvenile offenders who are themselves awaiting adjudication of their cases. A grand jury found the conditions endured by these children to be far worse than that endured by adult criminals in the County prison.[39]


Even for those fortunate enough not to find themselves warehoused in glorified prisons, mental hospitals or congregate care facilities, overcrowding, medical and educational neglect are still the norm for many of the nation's foster children.

A 1993 action filed in Utah is in many ways typical. The National Center for Youth Law filed the class-action on behalf of about 1,400 children in foster care and another 10,000 alleged to have been abused and neglected.

The action charged that the state failed to provide adequately trained caseworkers, medical treatment and education to children in its care, that it used unlicensed foster homes and homes that did not meet federal standards. It also alleged that children bounce around in the system and languish in foster care. A subsequent legislative audit largely confirmed the allegations.[40]

By 1994, the Utah legislature approved what the Governor called a "SWAT Team approach" to handling the system wide deficiencies in its foster care and child protective services programs.[41]

By 1995 it had established "Judicial M*A*S*H units," courtrooms with temporary judges to handle the backlog of hundreds of children waiting for rulings on their cases.[42]

Also typical of recent actions is a Youth Law Center suit in California which accused Eloise Anderson, director of the Department of Social Services, of refusing to carry out state and federal laws which require audits of county child welfare programs.

Among the deficiencies cited in the lawsuit: "children in California's child welfare system have been subjected to inadequate supervision, substandard conditions and inadequate health care and education."[43]

On a national level, the General Accounting Office recently examined the issue of whether the nation's foster children were being adequately serviced with respect to their health care needs. The GAO found that:

  • despite foster care agency regulations requiring comprehensive routine health care, an estimated 12 percent of young foster children receive no routine health care, 34 percent receive no immunizations, and 32 percent have some identified health needs that are not met
  • an estimated 78 percent of young foster children are at high risk for human immunodeficiency virus as a result of parental drug abuse, yet only about 9 percent of foster children are tested for HIV
  • young foster children placed with relatives receive fewer health-related services than children placed with nonrelative foster parents, possibly since relative caregivers receive less monitoring and assistance from caseworkers
  • that the Department of Health and Human Services has not designated any technical assistance to assist states with health-related programs for foster children and does not audit states' compliance with health-related safeguards for foster children.[44]

As for the educational needs of children in state care, the situation is equally as distressing.

Miami attorney Karen Gievers, former President of the Florida Bar Association, filed a lawsuit in 1996, alleging that while 73 percent of Florida children among the general population graduate from high school or get an equivalent diploma, less than half of the state's foster children do.[45]

In 1995, a suit was filed in Florida against its Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The suit sought to shut down the Department, forcing HRS to stop taking children into foster care until it could better aid the 9,300 children already under its supervision. According to Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar Association's Center on Children and the Law:

You could carbon-copy the lawsuit filed in Florida in every state. . . We have a child welfare system that's near collapse.[46]

Even for those children who are not necessarily subjected to overt physical or sexual while in state care, life in state care often fails to provide them with permanence or stability.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation reports that most foster care placements bear no resemblence to the ideal short term stay on the way to family reunification. Rather, "the devastating norm for foster children is multiple moves, extended stays, and no stable family ties."[47]

Or, as Bruce Boyer, supervising attorney for the Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern Law School notes, "there are a set of harms that follow a kid in foster care even if they are treated as well as the foster care system is capable of treating children. For those kinds of harms there is no mechanism for holding decision makers accountable; the only one who suffers is the child."[48]

The most tragic aspect of all this is that most of the children subjected to the abuses of foster care don't need to be there. And, it is largely because the system is flooded with so many children that don't belong in care that these abuses continue to mount.

The situation is perhaps best summarized by a California based Santa Clara County Grand Jury report. "The Grand Jury did not see clear and convincing evidence that the foster care system operates with the best interest of the child in mind. It did find that the interest of the child often took a back seat to the interest of others.[49]

Lukes Dad's picture



The Federal government provides tremendous financial incentives to maintain foster care programs. One Federal program that helps states cover the cost of foster care grew from about $300 million in 1981 to nearly $2.7 billion in 1991.[1]

According to the General Accounting Office, in 1993 nearly $1.3 billion Federal dollars went to foster care maintenance, while an additional $1.1 billion in reimbursements went to states for foster care related administrative activities.[2]

According to the GAO report, while states provide the majority of funds for foster care and child welfare services, by 1995 the Federal share of expenditures for these services reached $4.1 billion.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the Federal government will spend over $9.2 billion between fiscal year 1991 and 1996 for foster care programs.[3]

In 1995, states received more than $2.8 billion in federal assistance for approximately half of the estimated 494,000 children in foster care.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that by 2001, federal costs will rise to $4.8 billion with caseloads of federally assisted foster care children increasing by almost 26 percent.[4]

According to an analysis done for TIME Magazine by the Child Welfare League of America, the annual welfare cost of one child living with his or her mother is $2,644, while the average cost for the child's care in residential group care is $36,500.[5]

The best estimates currently available of the total of all annual expenditures on foster care services nationwide is in the range of ten to twelve billion dollars.[6]

These are national averages. For a closer look at how these funds are being disbursed, we turn to the States.


That many states and municipalities have arranged their affairs in order to maximize the influx of Federal dollars is without question.

The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, for example, recommended in a 1993 report that the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services should: "enlist a contractor to take on an agency wide Federal funds maximization effort on a no-risk, contingency basis." Result?


A fixed-price contract was awarded by DPRS in 1993, and the contractor has worked with the agency to implement Federal revenue maximization efforts in many programs. As a result, DPRS has made a significant move to maximize Federal funds and estimated $84 million would be achieved by the end of the current biennium.[7]

In a recent edition of the annual Texas Performance Review, the Comptroller of Public Accounts devotes a chapter to foster care, entitled "Maximize Federal Funding for Child Welfare Programs." Among his conclusions:

Classifying children in the conservatorship of the state who are placed in the homes of relatives as "children in foster care" would make them eligible for Medicaid, while the state would be able to receive matching Federal funds for associated administrative expenses.

Cost shifting arrangements such as these are often considered as legal. But are they? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General issued an Audit Report in February of 1996, the result of a three year study of the Texas Foster Care System. Among its conclusions:

This final report points out that over a 3-year period at least $2.7 million (Federal share $1.7 million) was improperly retained by 9 child placing agencies in Texas for unallowable services under the Title IV-E Foster Care program. The retained funds were used for such services as costs of operations, case management, therapy, counseling, respite care, psychiatrists, training, transportation, day care assistance, and administrative costs.[8]

The use of such funding to offset "administrative costs" and other expenses associated with foster care and child welfare is not uncommon, according to a recent study issued by the Office of the HHS Inspector General, Review of Rising Costs in the Emergency Assistance Program.

According to the report, the State of New York diverted more than half of its claim for Emergency Assistance funds, over $230 million, to offset administrative costs for child protective workers in Fiscal Year 1994.[9]

New York State projects the total of its foster care costs shifted to the Emergency Assistance Program to be $107 million during Fiscal Years 1995-96, according to the report.

Similar creative financing efforts can be found throughout the states, and the Emergency Assistance funds provide just one of the means by which many states seek to offset administrative expenses associated with their foster care and child protective systems, while maximizing Federal revenue.

In Arizona, in Fiscal Year 1994, of the state's total claim of $6,770,648 in Emergency Assistance funds, only $1 million were shifted to the state foster care program. The Fiscal Year 1995 and 1996 projections were for $10 million per year, a tenfold increase, according to the Inspector General.

California has taken an even more creative approach to maximizing Federal revenue. The state first set the income standard for eligibility for Emergency Assistance at 200 percent of the median income level for a family-of-four, an income of $92,800.

When that failed to produce the desired Federal revenue, the state amended its definition of a family unit to a family-of-one effective late September of 1994. Notes the Inspector General: "As such, the income of only the child facing the emergency is currently measured against the $92,800."

Colorado has taken a similar approach, setting the family income requirements for Emergency Assistance at $75,000 a year.

Why such high income limits for a program intended to provide short term emergency relief to those in need? According to the report:


As a result of lengthening EA eligibility periods, defining emergencies broadly, and setting high income limits for determining eligibility, States amended their respective EA Programs to shift State funded long-term services to the EA Program, thereby maximizing Federal revenue.

The State of Connecticut projected the shifting of $41 million in foster care costs to the Emergency Assistance Program during the years 1995 and 1996.

Pennsylvania projected that it will shift $70 million in Emergency Assistance funds toward its foster care programs during the same period. All of these funds are in addition to the Federal Foster Care funds being received by the states.

The projections provided in the report indicate that during Fiscal Years 1995 through 1996 these Emergency Assistance expenditures will exceed $2 billion. Where is all of this money going? "The EA expenditures are escalating at a rapid pace due mainly to three types of costs, juvenile justice, foster care, and child welfare services."

In Maryland, another recent Inspector General's Audit Report details a review of payments made by the Department of Human Resources under the Emergency Assistance to Needy Families With Dependent Children program for the period October 1, 1990 through September 30, 1992. During this period the Department was reimbursed $5,380,658 in Federal Financial Participation.

It was found that: "of 220 EAFC payments, 55 payments, or 25 percent, were either not supported by a case file and/or a client application form, or were otherwise ineligible for FFP under the EAFC program."[10]

The State of Illinois was the subject of another HHS Inspector General's Audit. The report, issued in August of 1996, details a similar pattern of cost shifting to Federal programs:


This final audit report points out that the State agency allocated joint training costs to the Federal Foster Care program only, although the State Foster Care program also benefited. As a result, the Federal program was overcharged approximately $5.8 million during the period January 1, 1992 through December 31, 1994.[11]


Illinois is no stranger to misappropriating funds. About $1 million from a fund intended for recruiting and training foster parents was used by DCFS to pay bills that had nothing to do with the program.

At least 20 percent of the $4.6 million fund, known as the Foster Care Initiative, was used to pay bills for security guards, temporary secretaries, bottled water, accounting fees, trash collection, equipment, furniture, utility bills and office rent, according to state records.

Nearly all of the payments were authorized by Sue Suter, the former director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Suter resigned in August of 1992, because, she said, she didn't have enough money to carry out the court-ordered reforms instituted by an ACLU lawsuit. Those reforms included finding more foster parents.

"This agency has a history of taking funds intended for foster parents and children, and, through one ruse or another, using it to support the bureaucracy," said Benjamin Wolf, the ACLU attorney who instituted the suit.[12]


But what of the therapy, counseling, respite care, psychiatrists, and other services spoken of in the Inspector General's Audit in Texas? The answer may be found in California.

The Santa Clara Grand Jury determined that the local child welfare agency puts too much money into "back-end services," such as therapists, counselors and attorneys, and not enough money into those "front-end" services which would help prevent foster care placement. The reason?


The county does not receive as much in Federal funds for 'front-end' services, which could help solve the problems causing family inadequacies, as it receives for out-of-home placements or Foster Care services. In other words, the Agency benefits, financially, from placing children in foster homes.[13]

How does this work in practice?

A recent South Carolina audit of its Department of Social Services reports that 73% of foster care children were in "regular" foster homes, yet these placements consumed only 15% of the state's annual foster care budget.

The auditors found that 85% of foster care expenditures went to cover the costs of the special need placements in therapeutic and residential treatment centers, which can cost more than $10,000 per month.

It was found that at least 15% of these placements were questionable or inappropriate. It was also determined that children are often placed in such facilities by county agencies because there is a shortage of "regular" foster homes available.[14]

These huge financial incentives also offer opportunities for gain beyond the warehousing of children. In January of 1996, Federal prosecutors filed a civil suit against the New York City Child Welfare Administration and the State, charging that during a four-year period they knowingly defrauded the U.S. government of $37 million in Federal funds for foster care services never provided.[15]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts also provides the means whereby the State may maximize Federal participation in non-recurring adoption expenses, through retroactive filings. From whom did the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts determine that he could accomplish this creative, albeit apparently legal financial maneuver? The answer is to be found in a footnote to his latest report:


Interviews with Lyle L. Koenig, Minnesota Department of Human Services, and Timothy Dutra, Rhode Island Department of Children and Their Families, September 1994.

All of this serves to illustrate what the States themselves are doing to maximize Federal revenues, and this report is by no means comprehensive.

The opportunities for such creative financing and diversion of funds are even greater at the municipal level, where there is considerably less accountability. There is also mounting public concern over the numerous "public-private partnerships" that have developed between municipalities and private foster care and child welfare service providers. A variety of special interest groups also lobby for additional funds for the services they provide.

Lukes Dad's picture



While there are many dedicated people willing to open their homes and hearts to children in distress, it can not be denied that financial gain is among a number of significant incentives leading some to become foster parents.

As the number of licensed foster homes has dropped to a low of 100,000 for the nations' estimated 500,000 foster care children, so has the quality of foster care homes unquestionably diminished over the years.

Judge Judy Sheindlin, supervising judge for the Manhattan Family Court, describes the foster parent typically found today in the New York City foster care system:


The typical foster parent I see is a single woman who has several biological children of her own. She is supported by welfare or social security disability. She is a high school dropout whose own kids are marginally functioning. She does not have the ability to help them with their schoolwork, and she has little hope for a brighter economic or social future.[1]

A 1989 study conducted by the Child Welfare League of America found many foster parents in California to be similarly qualified.

In reviewing a handguide for foster parents, the League suggested adding photographs, drawings and graphics, as: "While some foster families may be college trained, many foster parents may be illiterate or have poorly developed reading skills. The aim should be toward the average foster parents' reading level."[2]


Is it any wonder that we find so many foster parents like these when we have programs in place which draw their recruits from the public assistance roles?

One such program is the Michigan Living in Family Environments program, which was developed to link people who are eligible for public assistance with foster children who have developmental disabilities.

Eligible foster parents can earn $22,000 a year plus medical benefits for caring for a developmentally disabled child through the program. In some cases, a family taking an additional such child may be paid a total of $35,000 a year.

One Detroit foster parent had just applied for public assistance when her sister suggested the Life Program. Seeing it as a chance to avoid dependency on the welfare program, she ended up adopting her first foster child. She admits she was drawn to the program by the money.[3]

Hers is counted as a successful story--she ended up adopting her first foster child. But how might the natural mother have fared had she had the benefit of a even a fraction of this income to stay at home to care for her own child?

The Detroit model of foster care recruitment from the public assistance roles is one that has apparently gained some measure of popularity among program administrators.

In answer to a recommendation made by the 1989-90 San Diego Grand Jury, the Chairman of the Social Services Advisory Board suggested that this recruitment model should be adopted in his county as a means of "professionalizing" foster parenting, writing:

Agree that foster parenting should be professionalized and recommend the Detroit example be used as a model. In the Detroit model single mothers on welfare are trained and hired as foster parents and receive a salary. They take 3-4 kids and are not penalized on the welfare side for this job.[4]

These recruitment methods account--at least in part--for the high percentage of single foster parents in the system overall. In Massachusetts, for example, forty-one percent of foster homes are run by single parents, many of whom care for several foster children in addition to their own.[5]

One of the ironies to be found is that a significant percentage of foster care children themselves come from homes headed by single parents.

According to a 1991 U.S. Committee on Ways and Means report, the majority of children in foster care come from families supported by Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and 46 percent of the foster care population are minority children. The majority of these families are headed by single mothers.[6]

A majority of foster children have themselves been removed from their homes not for reasons relating to physical abuse, but rather on the basis of questionable neglect charges, such as "failure to provide adequate supervision," or "failure to provide an adequate home environment."

As Denise Plunkett of the Chicago Columbus-Maryville Children's Reception Center explains, the risk of losing children to the state is something of an occupational hazard for poor mothers: "The finding neglect on a mother's part is just another word for impoverished. Amongst the other terrors a poor family faces, the state could take your kid."[7]

Brenda Austin-Thomas is one such single mother. She lost her four children largely because social workers determined that they needed "discipline, structure, routine, a sense of limits." Among Brenda's other alleged shortcomings was that she failed to fully avail herself of the "services" offered to her by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.

"You're not a bad mother, but you could have avoided all this by working with us," the social worker told her after taking her children.

Brenda insisted she was doing a good job as a single mother of four active children: "I can't be everywhere, see everything."[8]

Brenda's situation is by no means unique. According to the Massachusetts Research, Evaluation and Planning Unit Annual Report, in 1990, of all supported abuse investigations in Boston and Brookline, 72 percent involved neglect. In other areas of the state about 65 percent involved neglect. The majority of the cases in Boston involved single-parent families.[9]

Single foster parents are not all single woman, nor is financial gain necessarily the only incentive for taking children into care. In 1995, a 24-year-old man described as an "unemployed bachelor" was indicted for raping one of his foster sons.

Raul Vasquez, along with his mother, had served as a foster parent since 1992 to 51 children. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services had somehow managed to overlook the fact that nine of these children had run away from their foster home.[10]

The problems associated with foster care placement are by no means unique to homes with single foster parents. And, in some cases, the payments made to foster parents may indeed be well deserved.

Foster mother Doris Marshall received $85,879 from the Massachusetts Department of Social Services in 1994. She cares for eight needy foster and adoptive children. One of her foster children has only the stem of a brain, cannot move and needs to be fed through a tube. Another has a rare chromosome disorder and, at the age of 5, cannot speak or walk. A third child has Down's syndrome. A fourth child was born drug addicted, and with a bone disorder.

This is the finest face of foster care. These children have true special needs, and they apparently are in a loving home with a foster mother who truly gives of herself for the benefit of the children in her care. And, the payments to foster parents are often much lower than the payments made to group homes or "therapeutic" facilities would be.

It must be emphasized that there are many caring and dedicated foster parents in the system. But, just as there is extreme variability to be found among caseworkers, managers, judges, and the many other actors in the child welfare system, there is extreme variability in the quality of foster care homes.

"Foster care is like Russian Roulette," explained a former New York City child protective caseworker, adding that any given foster home could well be "100 percent worse" than the home from which a child had been removed.[11]

Standng in contrast to the ideal image of foster mother Doris Marshall, a Boston Globe review of payments made to foster parents in 1994 included accounts of these troubling cases:

  • Hazel and Pierre Cetoute, in whose home 3-year-old Gage Guillen died under mysterious circumstances, received $26,510 in fiscal year 1994, according to Department of Social Services records. At the time of the incident, the family was caring for four foster children and two adopted children.


  • Barbara and Michael Ohanian of Medway, in whose home a foster baby died of heat stroke after being left in the family car, received $24,837 in fiscal year 1994. The family had four foster children with medical problems, as well as four birth children at the time of the incident.


  • Carmen Torres, in whose home 13-month-old Luis Perez was apparently scalded so severely by an older foster child that he later died of complications, received $8,510 from the Department in fiscal year 1994. Torres had five foster children in her care at the time of the accident.
  • Raul Vasquez, the 24-year-old "unemployed bachelor" accused of raping one of his foster sons, was, along with his mother, receiving $5,000 a month, or $60,000 a year, to care for 10 boys in two adjoining apartments.

Massachusetts state Senator Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), vice chairwoman of the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee, explains that "in certain towns," foster care "is a cottage industry." But the foster parents she knows, she adds, "are not in it for the money. They deserve more money."[12]

As former Congressman Mario Biaggi, who held a lengthy series of hearings investigating the foster care industry in New York City during the 1970s explained: "The fact is that foster care parents, to a large extent, take the children to make money, pure and simple. They may have with it a desire--a love for children, but that doesn't always necessarily follow."[13]

A California Grand Jury investigating Nevada County's foster care system came to a strikingly similar conclusion:

Some adults become foster parents for no other incentive than the money to be derived from foster-child payments. This is a known fact and accepted by CPS and the State.

"Once these families receive their monthly payments," the Jury explains, "no accounting for how the funds are used is actually required in most cases."[14]


In California, a San Diego County Grand Jury interviewed attorneys, physicians, specialists in child development, caseworkers and investigators, all of whom worked with foster children in one capacity or another.

The Grand Jury determined that by all accounts, "the most troublesome problem for the system is foster parents screening children for the 'right' one to adopt." It found that some foster parents who hope to adopt may "sift" through a number of children until they find the one they want.

In one case the Jury examined, legal counsel informed the Jury that the foster mother admitted that she was holding her foster care license only until the family found a "baby sister." The Hispanic natural mother of the baby girl who was placed in this home tried to visit her baby, but the foster mother frustrated the visitation efforts, instructing the caseworker not to transport the mother to the foster home.

In another case with what the Grand Jury described as "a bizarre twist," the foster parents believed the foster child was "too white to be Hispanic," and changed the baby's name to an English one as part of the process of making this child a permanent part of the family.[15]

Another California Grand Jury, based in Santa Clara, examined the "Fost-adopt" program, reaching the same conclusions as its counterpart in San Diego:

One of the most controversial programs in the Social Services Agency involving child welfare services is the Fost-adopt Program. There is even controversy as to which children are selected for the program. These children are referred to as "marketable children," meaning they are young and cute.

One case reviewed by the Jury involved a parent who worked, against all odds, to complete satisfactorily her reunification plan. Had it not been for the tenacity of a very strong, highly principled and sensitive social worker and her supervisor, a child would have been adopted by fost-adopt parents even though the birth parent had met all of the reunification goals.

"The social worker put her job in jeopardy and refused to be intimidated by administrators within the department, the court-appointed evaluator, and the district attorney's office," notes the report.

"It was obvious that DFCS managers and members of a private family agency intended to circumvent the positive reunification results and to allow the fost-adopt parents to adopt the child. This was only one of several instances in which the integrity of the department and adherence to its mission appear to be questionable."[16]

In another case, a San Diego County social worker had discussed a particular child with her own sister before the child was even born.

Some time after the child's birth, social worker Debbie Reid steered the girl into her sister's home, even though--contrary to court order--she wasn't even licensed to provide foster care. The pair had obtained an "emergency certificate" to accept the child, getting the formal license later.

The girl's natural mother had herself been raised in the foster care system, and Debbie Reid was her social worker. County officials were aware of all this, but kept it from the court for almost two years.

The father, determined to get his daughter back, over the course of about 18 months managed successfully to complete his mandated reunification plan. His attorney, a veteran of 260 juvenile court cases, said he'd never had a client comply so fully.

The legal battle that developed dragged on into late 1989, when a court finally declared a mistrial. In March of 1990, a second Juvenile Court referee ruled that the girl, by then 3, should live with her natural father.

Around this point, allegations of sexual abuse were raised against the father. These allegations were determined to be without merit.

The father's attorney, enraged by the efforts of the County to prevent the reunification of father and daughter, called it a case of government-sanctioned child-stealing, and he tried to get the show "60 Minutes" to investigate the case.

A year later, apparently not yet content with the harm it had done, the County petitioned for yet another hearing. A third referee this time ruled that the girl should be returned to her foster parents.

The father was forced to appeal. The Court of Appeal sided with him, saying that the girl's bonding with the foster family cannot override the constitutional rights of her father.

The foster parents were apparently dissatisfied with this outcome. They asked the state Supreme Court to intervene to stop the girl's return to her father. Joining in the appeal was the County, the girl's court-appointed attorney, and Voices for Children, an advocacy group which typically supports the rights of prospective adoptive parents over the rights of natural parents in such cases.

By this time, the girl was six years old, and in therapy to help her deal with the uncertainty with which she was living. She could have been spared much of this needless trauma had the County followed its mandate and returned her to her father at the first avalable opportunity.[17]

The problem is not isolated to California.

A Washington state legislative study of the Division of Children and Family Services found that "most individual foster families will accept only children meeting their specific criteria. DCFS personnel estimate that 50 percent of licensed foster families are interested in serving only a specific child or sibling group. Others have a primary interest in adoptive children."[18]

In Nebraska, Jasmine Petty left her baby in the care of a friend's sister to pick up her boyfriend in Kansas City, Missouri.

She was to return home four days later, but the car she was driving broke down in Omaha on the way home. As she had no money with her, it took her about a week to get home.

Her judgement in leaving baby Angelaura behind proved to be sound. "I didn't want to endanger my daughter's life by taking her with me to Kansas City," she said. "The car I took wasn't in real good condition; so to be safe, I left her with my friend's sister."

For unknown reasons, rather than calling Jasmine's mother as directed, the babysitter instead took Angelaura to the Hall County Sheriff's Department. Angelaura was in turn handed over to the state Department of Social Services in Grand Island, and placed with an unlicensed foster parent who happened to be an employee of the Department of Social Services.

While Department procedures require that placement with a relative should be considered, the Department refused requests by Jasmine's mother and some other relatives to place Angelaura with them, even though the relatives held valid foster care licenses.

Jasmine and others met with DSS Director Don Leuenberger in Lincoln to discuss the case. Leuenberger admitted that a case worker had made errors in the placement of Angelaura, but said there was little he could do--that it was now up to the courts to decide.

The case was investigated by officials of the Nebraska Department of Social Services. The state Foster Care Review Board also examined the case, finding that some violations of departmental policy had, indeed, taken place.

After two years of struggling to get her baby back, her parental rights to Angelaura were terminated in April of 1995 by a Hall County Court judge.

According to an article in the Omaha World-Herald, eight cases were reported in Nebraska in which a child has been turned over to a foster parent who also was an employee of DSS.

Jasmine's case has received a great deal of media attention. She said she doesn't mind being pointed out as an example of a mother whose child was taken and placed with a DSS employee.

"But that still doesn't help me," Jasmine told reporters. "I just want my baby back."[19]


While the definition of "special-needs" is as unclear as are the definitions of child abuse and neglect, the term generally includes a child born to a drug addicted mother, one who lacked prenatal care, or a child with a physical or psychological handicap. The term may also include a child that is difficult to place, for reasons of age, handicap or ethnicity.

The rates for special-needs children can be a high as $2000 per child, according to Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. At these rates, foster parents with two such children in the home can expect approximately $48,000 of annual tax-free income.[20]

The 1991-92 San Diego Grand Jury confirmed that: "some foster parents improperly claim that a child needs special care in order to increase the amount of money coming into the home."

The Grand Jury found that some foster parents would claim that children needed treatment or therapy to obtain these increased payments, and that these payments were often retained by some foster parents who provided only marginal care for these children.[21]

But there is another side to this story as well. The San Diego Union-Tribune describes the conditions found in the Hillcrest Receiving Home in 1994. Such facilities are paid substantially higher rates than are foster parents who provide individualized care:


The cramped conditions at Hillcrest Receiving Home, which temporarily houses abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes, are deplorable. That a facility designed for 39 has had as many as 82 children, many sleeping in cribs lining the hallways, is a sad commentary.

Notes the Union-Tribune: "Prisoners are released early due to overcrowded conditions, yet when it comes to abused children, our community shows far less compassion. Unlike jails, there isn't even a court-set cap on the capacity of children's shelters."

To one child, the cramped conditions were so traumatic a court order was obtained to remove her from Hillcrest to a relative's home. And many foster parents were arguing that additional payments for children with true special needs were becoming more difficult to obtain, while children piled up in such facilities.[22]

In South Carolina, a recent audit reveals similar trends. The audit identified discrepancies in "accelerated board payments" to foster parents. These are payments in addition to regular rates paid to foster parents with a child who has special behavioral or medical needs.

It was found that these accelerated payments to foster parents, once started, may continue for years. The auditors felt that agencies found it difficult to terminate these payments to foster parents with whom the agencies work closely.

It was also determined that the Department of Social Services has inadequate controls to ensure that accelerated board rate payments are appropriate, and, in the majority of the cases reviewed, it was found that the amount requested by the county was equal to the maximum amount granted by the state.

But there is another side to this story as well. In South Carolina, 73 percent of foster care children are in regular foster homes, yet these placements consume only 15 percent of the foster care budget. The audit found that 85 percent of foster care expenditures went to cover the costs of the special need placements in therapeutic and residential treatment centers.

The audit reported that these residential treatment centers can cost more than $10,000 per month. The auditors determined that at least 15% of these placements were questionable or inappropriate. It was also determined that children are often placed in such facilities by county agencies because there is a shortage of "regular" foster homes available.

A significant percentage of these special care placements will result in children being labeled as emotionally disturbed throughout their lifetimes, yet the audit found that at least 11% of the children placed in these treatment centers had no emotional problems, and that they had been so classified for purposes of placement in these facilities.[23]

While it may be true, as the San Diego report would suggest, that some foster parents may know how to navigate the system for additional payments, and that some foster parents are considered as "favored" by some agencies, a disproportionate amount of expenditures continue to be provided to private foster care agencies.

As Benjamin Wolf, director of the Children's Initiative Project of the ACLU's Roger Baldwin Foundation, which won a far-ranging consent decree agains the Illinois child welfare system explains:

DCFS receives one billion dollars a year--how do they account for it? Foster mothers are paid $15 per day to feed and clothe kids, but residential treatment costs $300 per day. Why is it that the guy who runs an institution is paid $150-200 per day, but a foster mother doesn't receive that much in a week to feed the child? If we paid the foster mother, we could find adequate homes.[24]
Lukes Dad's picture



We have created a foster-care monster. A big business with
long tentacles and thousands of patronage jobs.


        • Judge Judy Sheindlin --

        • Supervising judge of family court in Manhattan


According to Richard Wexler, the City of New York contracts for preventive services with some of the same agencies that derive their income from foster care. Hence, there is little incentive to provide preventive services that would lead to family reunification.


These agencies prefer placing children in foster care -- and keeping them there -- because they are paid for foster care on a per diem basis. As soon as they do what they're supposed to do -- reunite families -- their money stops.[1]

New York City has an unusual combination of private contractors providing child welfare services. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit describes this arrangement with the city agency, formerly known as the Child Welfare Administration:


CWA has traditionally entered into contracts with private, nonprofit "voluntary" agencies that perform the foster care tasks of placing children into foster boarding homes or congregate care facilities, monitoring placements, and providing essential services specific to each child's needs. Many of these agencies are operated under sectarian auspices. In addition to contracting with voluntary agencies, CWA itself operates foster boarding homes and congregate care programs.[2]

The referenced case finds its roots in a 1973 action against the City of New York and the various private agencies with which it contracts. The case found its way to settlement after years of litigation in 1984, resulting in the signing of the "Wilder Decree," an agreement to end deeply institutionalized discrimination among the private sectarian agencies.

Nearly 22 years after the original suit, the case was once again under litigation as the City of New York and its private agencies argued that foster children in "kinship care" arrangements were not bound by the terms of the Wilder Decree.

Another New York City suit reveals the extent to which some private agencies will go to maintain profits. In a sworn affidavit, a social worker testified that she was told by a representative of a private agency that the agency had imposed a three-month moratorium on sending children home "because it was not receiving sufficient referrals to fill its beds."[3]

But there is a greater difficulty facing those children who desperately yearn to be reunited with their parents today. As part of a recent push to reduce its tremendous foster care caseloads, in New York, the private foster-care agencies have their caseloads reduced if they fail to meet the city's adoption goals.[4]

This development is not unique to New York. Several states have recently turned toward legislative measures to increase adoptions, and measures that would make it easier to terminate parental rights as means of reducing burgeoning foster care caseloads.

One of New York's most prominent and outspoken jurists, Judge Judy Sheindlin, supervising judge of Family Court in Manhattan, comments on the foster care system as it exists today:


In the long run, we have to ask ourselves the following question: When it comes to family, are we better off today than we were 100 years ago? How did government get the idea it could intrude into the lives of families who have typically taken care of themselves?

We have created a foster-care monster. A big business with long tentacles and thousands of patronage jobs.[5]


New York is not the only state where we find social services agencies operating under sectarian auspices. Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, Inc., has outservice offices and residential care programs at 199 sites in 90 communities of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, servicing more than 100,000 people annually. Among the services provided: Adoption and foster care, behavior health care, birth parent services, family and individual counseling, and family preservation services.[6]

Lutheran Social Services also offers: "129 residential centers with capacity to serve more than 1,042 children and adults. Services for neglected children, disturbed and delinquent teens, alcohol and drug abusers, criminal offenders, adolescent sexual offenders, adolescent victims of sexual abuse, people who are developmentally disabled, chronically mentally ill, elderly."

The agency, which has a staff of over 2,000 employees, is owned "by 500,000 Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Lutherans in 830 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." Among the sources of its funding are church contributions, United Way allocations, government contracts, client fees, gifts and grants. Its current fundraising goal? $14,000,000.

Lutheran Children and Family Service of Eastern Pennsylvania currently has over 300 children placed through its foster care program.[7]

Lutheran Social Services of the South, Inc., is licensed to provide adoption services in the state of Texas and contracts with other agencies in Louisiana for the service. Both the Texas and Louisiana affiliates provide foster care services.[8]

Lutheran Social Services of New England, Inc., offers a wide array of services in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Featured among them are services such as: "Home study and licensing," "Birth parent counseling," "Assistance in locating and coordinating out of state adoptions," and, to be sure, "Preparation of legal documents for the termination of parental rights and for legal documents necessary to finalize an adoption."[9]

In Iowa, the Dubuque County Department of Human Services contracts with private agencies for the licensing of foster homes. Four agencies license the county's foster homes, including Lutheran Social Services and Families of Northeast Iowa. Catholic Charities, which licenses homes for adoptive replacement and Alternative Services in Cedar Rapids, is also starting to license Dubuque County homes.[10]



How does the quality of care delivered by sectarian organizations compare to services provided by the state?

Three-year-old Steven Allen Hoffa died in a Dubuque County foster home May 18 of 1996. A grand jury indicted the foster mother on one count of child endangerment with multiple acts, and two other counts of child endangerment against Hoffa and his 5-year-old brother, Gary. The injuries included a fracture in his skull, and mysterious injuries on his penis and buttocks. His brother had suffered a similar fracture, and burns on his chest.

The Iowa Department of Human Services, Lutheran Social Services of Iowa, and the Visiting Nurses Association of Dubuque together monitored his care.[11]

The quality of the recruitment process, it seems, is at least partly to blame.

In North Carolina, where at least 42 former prison inmates with crimes ranging from shoplifting, forgery and bribery to cocaine trafficking, armed robbery, assault and murder were licensed as foster parents in 1994, we find foster parent Barver Dean Hunt, who shot and killed two men during a drunken argument in 1974.

"They wanted to borrow my car, and neither one of them didn't have a license," said Hunt. "I asked them to leave. They didn't. They had a knife and came at me. I reached in the rack and got a gun and drawed it on them. They said I didn't have enough nerve to use it on them, and that's when I started shooting."

When Lutheran Family Services in Robeson County recruited Hunt and his wife as foster parents in 1992, they somehow failed to discover the murder convictions.[12]

In San Francisco, Selena Hill was removed from her parents shortly after birth. There were no allegations of abuse or neglect. Selena was removed because of concerns that the couple may be "unfit" as parents.

Some weeks later, seven-week-old Selena Hill was admitted to Children's Hospital in Oakland with multiple skull fractures that nearly killed her, and which may result in permanent brain damage.

Social workers had placed the infant in a foster home with a long history of domestic violence. Police had been summoned to the home at least three times during the previous year. The home was licensed by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.[13]



A 1993 report prepared by New York State Senator Franz S. Leichter, New York State Abandons Victims of Institutional Child Abuse, illustrates in graphic detail the extent of physical and sexual abuse to be found in institutionalized foster care facilities. The report describes the apparent unwillingness on the part of the Department of Social Services to validate the abuse that often occurs in these settings.[14]


One such case involved a seven-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by other children at the St. Joseph's Children's Services Agency:


One of the cases this office claimed to be unable to substantiate involved a seven-year-old girl who was apparently repeatedly raped last year by other children at St. Joseph's Children's Services Agency in Brooklyn. When deposed in a lawsuit brought by the little girl's mother, the DSS investigator testified that boys at the facility had told her about their sexual contact with the girl, staff members had admitted witnessing the abuse, and one staff member had admitted engaging in sexually provocative behavior with the girl. In addition, medical evidence which the investigator failed to request confirmed that the little girl had been raped since she arrived since she arrived at St. Joseph's. Nevertheless, the DSS investigator's official finding in the case was that there was "no credible evidence" of child abuse or staff neglect.

The report continues:

In the Form 2223, the investigator, in her own handwriting, directly contradicts facts she had sworn to in the deposition only days before. She states that she found

" evidence of a lack of supervision."
" evidence of sexual abuse on behalf of staff."
" knowledge of resident' sexual acts" on the part of staff.

She concludes, "We find no credible evidence to substantiate allegations of sexual abuse."


Marcia Robinson Lowry, of the ACLU Children's Rights Project, filed the original 1973 suit that resulted in the ending of deeply institutionalized racial discrimination among the New York City non-profit sectarian agencies. These agencies, operated primarily by influential Jewish and Catholic organizations, including the Archdiocese of New York, argued for years that they had the right to place children into their facilities based on religious and ethnic background.

The Archdiocese of New York, the largest non-profit provider of such services to the City, spent millions of dollars arguing in support of foster care placements based on religious and ethnic criteria. Undeterred by years of litigation, the Archdiocese announced that it would continue to provide foster care services to the City.[15]


Critical of the reform efforts is William Donohue, a sociologist and president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in New York City. Incredibly, he accused attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry of attempting to destroy the Catholic child welfare agencies when she filed the 1973 Wilder v. Bernstein suit, calling Lowry "anti-Catholic."[16]

Lukes Dad's picture




Children entering the shadowy world of foster care are often assigned labels arbitrarily and on a bed-available basis. They may end up spending some time in conventional foster homes, only to find themselves shuffled through group homes, residential treatment facilities, mental hospitals and prisons.

Scant attention is given to the needs of these children, and the conditions they are forced to endure are often comparable to those endured by prisoners in some third world nations.


Kenneth Wooden, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Children's Justice, explained to a Congressional Subcommittee that there is little difference in the background and characteristics of children in care regardless of whether they have been labelled "dependent," "neglected," "status offender," "CHINS" (Children in Need of Supervision), or "emotionally disturbed."

It was Wooden's impression that a "shell game" was being played with the labeling process, with dependent children, relabeled as "disturbed" or "hard to place" being shuttled off to private, often profit-making institutions in ever greater numbers. As a result:

Instead of orphanages, we now have so-called "treatment centers"--a "growth industry" which feeds on unwanted children just as the nursing home business depends for its existence on large numbers of the unwanted elderly. And, as is the case with the elderly, the systematic neglect and maltreatment of children in these facilities is being subsidized by the federal government.[1]

In Virginia, former Governor Douglas Wilder discovered the same labeling process to be in use, finding that "children often bounce from agency to agency, from foster to group home to institution, and from funding stream to funding stream."

Wilder explained: "They are often defined by the system whose door they happen to enter: a welfare child if he comes through that door; a juvenile justice child if he happens to come through that system; a school system child; or a mental health child."

Once that label is attached, however, the funding stream may continue to flow, even after a child leaves one system for another. The former Governor testified that when the names of 14,000 children across four agencies were examined, they turned out to be 4,933 children.[2]

Some children are labeled "dependent" or "neglected" and are placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Services, other children are labeled "delinquent" and are under the Juvenile Court or Probation Department, still others are given a psychiatric label and sent to the Department of Mental Health, explained Mark Soler, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center, to a Congressional Subcommittee some years later.

The label slapped on the child may well depend on his point of entry into the juvenile justice system, according to Soler.

"Indeed, the same child may get different labels at different times, depending upon the point at which he enters the system. In reality all of these children may have serious emotional problems, and all certainly come from families or other living situations marked by acute crises," he explained.

Whether it is in a group home, congregate care facility, mental hospital, detention center or prison, foster wards of the state often are forced to endure the very worst of conditions.

Among the conditions the Youth Law Center identified were children in an Arizona juvenile detention center tied hand and foot to their beds; a Washington State facility in which two children were held for days at a time in a cell with only 25 square feet of floor space; children hogtied in State juvenile training schools in Florida -- wrists handcuffed, ankles handcuffed, then placed stomach down on the floor, and wrists and ankles joined together behind their backs.

In the training school in Oregon children were put in filthy, roach-infested isolation cells for weeks at a time. In the Idaho training school, children were punished by being put in strait jackets, and being hung, upside down, by their ankles.[3]

Children continue to be assigned labels arbitrarily, and often on a bed-available basis.

A recent South Carolina audit reveals that a percentage of foster care wards have been labeled as in need of therapeutic placements because of a shortage of conventional foster homes.

Auditors noted that many of these children will bear the stigma of having been labeled as having emotional problems for the rest of their lives.[4]


Kenneth Wooden visited over 150 juvenile facilities over a three year period during the 1970s. His findings led to the formation of the National Coalition for Children's Justice.

"Basically, they are called 'youth homes' or 'ranches' with fancy names like Cinderella Hall or Pleasant Valley or Happy Days," he explained to a Congressional subcommittee.

"They have fancy brochures with swimming pools and stocked fishing ponds and tennis courts and the guarantee of the presence of full-time professional medical staff," he explained.

There are no actual photographs of tennis courts or swimming pools, rather they display drawings. "And, when you go there, they do not exist. Or else a stocked fishing pond is a mud pond," said Wooden.

"The reception rooms for parents and State officials responsible for assigning children hold impressive architectural renderings of planned new facilities, most of which never manage to get constructed, most of which are faded by the Sun over the years," he said. In other words, it was all a grand facade intended to woo both parents and legislators.[5]

In his book on the child-welfare system, "The Kid Business," Ronald B. Taylor wrote in 1981 of profiteering by California group-home directors:

Several nonprofit corporations operating child-care facilities were found to be legally skimming large amounts of government money through lease-back arrangements. Operators not only owned the land and leased it to the nonprofit corporation; they often paid themselves handsome salaries and had the free use of homes, cars and credit cards.

The level of care and treatment in far too many of these group homes was minimal at best, because the money was being skimmed off for personal gain.[6]

"In the 1970s, real estate speculators bought up entire downtown blocks," write John Hubner and Jill Wolfson. "After a few coats of paint and some wallboard were slapped up, the houses were given bucolic- or inspirational-sounding names like 'Green Pastures' or 'Excell Center' and found new life as group homes."

The new industry attracted many operators who saw it as a way to wield power, and many applied their own unique brand of "behavior modification" therapy, which included anything from slaps across the face to long periods of isolation, and, in one recorded case, the electronic stinging of autistic children with a cattle prod.

Caseworkers often turned a blind eye to these abuses, Hubner and Wolfson explain: "Child welfare workers, some incompetent, all overwhelmed, were often under such pressure to find bed space that they looked the other way."

A typical story involved a corporation that bought and opened group homes. After operating for one year, the corporation folded the homes without notice, and sold the real estate. The corporation turned out to be a dummy set up by four men running the homes. Money that was earmarked for services was instead being used to pay off the mortgages. The partners sold the real estate for a profit and vanished.[7]

By the 1990s, California's group home operators would become much more sophisticated in managing their financial affairs.

A state investigation of Ron Mayuiers, a long-term group home provider, charged that Mayuiers received more than $2 million in government foster care payments to which he was not entitled for the operation of his California Crest group homes.

The California Crest homes received a top funding rate, more than $50,000 per year per child, for which they were expected to provide thorough, professional, around-the-clock care for adolescents.

The audit, spanning the years 1990 through 1994, found that Mayuiers paid himself annual salaries ranging from $101,501 to $144,000, far exceeding the allowable maximum for group home directors.

It also describes a profitable "pay-back" arrangement, in which Mayuiers and his wife set up a separate corporation to purchase houses with foster care funds. The houses were in turn leased back to the group home at excessive rents.

Sources in the Department of Social Services told Union-Tribune reporters that the state may go after the families assets, including a $1.6 million house in Fairbanks Ranch. Mayuiers also reportedly enjoyed frequent restaurant meals, and drove a Mercedes Benz.

While one may imagine that a man who enjoys such an opulent lifestyle could well afford to be generous to the children in his care, a separate licensing investigation charged that Mayuiers kept the group homes on meager budgets, failing to provide children with adequate food, books and school supplies or supplies for daily hygiene.

Among the other problems identified by investigators were several instances in which children in the care of California Crest were mistreated or left unsupervised; a female staff member having had sex with a boy at the Ivy House group home numerous times; a suicidal girl given bottles of pills by a staff member and subsequently attempting suicide; a girl having been molested at a bus stop after a staff member failed to pick her up as scheduled.

State inspectors from the San Diego community care licensing office had routinely found health and safety violations at the group homes, including rodent droppings in the kitchen, bugs in a cereal bag and meals that failed to meet nutritional standards, but its operating licenses were never suspended or revoked.

A longtime foster care licensing official, speaking to reporters on the condition of confidentiality, maintained that the group home system is still tainted by providers who enrich themselves and by regulators incapable of stopping them.

"It's a barrel with a lot of rotten apples. The level of greed hasn't changed."

He said operators still employ a variety of cash-skimming methods, from costly lease-backs to exaggerating or falsifying credentials of staff members to obtain a higher rate of funding.[8]

"The great majority of group home placements in California refuse to accept referrals unless they are assured that children will be placed for at least 1 year," according to California probation officer Dennis Lepak.

"This seems to be an industry standard."

Children are placed for inappropriately long and arbitrarily determined periods of time. Little or no work is done to return children to their families. Most programs consider home visits to be a privilege, and visits are used as rewards for good behavior rather than as reunification tools.

"I have seen Christmas home visits for young children cancelled for violation of relatively minor internal program rules," Lepak explained.[9]

In Pennsylvania, Julie was removed from her parents by the Northampton County Children and Youth Agency, and put in a succession of institutions, including foster homes and group homes.

As is the case with the majority of removals, there were no allegations of abuse. Rather, the agency had learned of her truancy and some minor family problems.

"I have a question," she said. "How come it's wrong if a parent spanks a child, but in a group home they have permission to slap a kid?"

Julie told The Morning Call of burly male staffers using foul language and roughing up girls less than half their size. One incident involved her roommate. "They put her in a hold so bad she had rug burns on her face. They restrain you a hell of a lot worse than anything your parents can do, but if your parents do it, it's abuse."

The promise of going home, Julie said, is used as an incentive to get kids to play ball with the system, and the rules are manipulative. "They try to keep you in the system."

One year, Julie ran away to be with her parents for Christmas.

"That was the first Christmas I spent with my parents in two years. You know how you're a little kid and you get to open your presents and all that? That was the first time in over two years I was able to do that."

But Northampton County caseworker Maureen Munley was hardly filled with Christmas cheer. She filed a contempt petition against the family, wanting to put them in jail for something akin to harboring a fugitive.

Northampton County Judge William Moran had to throw out the petition because it was legally preposterous, but he warned the parents that if Julie showed up at their home again, they were immediately to call the Department.[10]

Such disdain for the needs of children and families permeates the system.

The average length of stay at Mooseheart, run by the Loyal Order of Moose and financed mostly through charity, is six years. The institution houses over 200 children, from infancy to age 18, in 24 houses.

Mooseheart, where all placements are made on a "voluntary" basis, will give a child back to his or her biological parents or legal guardians on request, thank you very much. But Rose Haggerty, its director of student services, states firmly, "We don't try to reunite families. We don't mean to usurp biology, but we promote the idea that the child is growing here."

"Whatever the abuses in foster care - and there are many - there is absolutely no reason to believe that equal, if not worse, abuse won't occur behind the walls," said David Rothman, a professor of social medicine at Columbia in reference to the question of expanding congregate care to house more children. "The difference will be that nobody will hear the screams."

Even at highly-regarded institutions such as Mooseheart, four house parents were arrested and convicted of sexually molesting about a dozen children between 1988 and 1992.

Recalls Kenyetta Ivy, who found herself shuffled through nine New York group homes: "There were rats in the stove. I know some girls who tried to commit suicide, and the staff wouldn't even check on them."[11]

Not even the highly-regarded Boys Town can protect itself against the infiltration of those who would take advantage of their wards.

In Orlando, Florida, a Boys Town "resident teacher" found himself charged for having had sexual relations with one of the girls in his care.[12]

Just how bad do conditions have to be before someone steps in to shut a facility down?

When former police officer-turned volunteer Pat Hanges first arrived at the Montrose facility in Baltimore, Maryland, she found evidence of neglect everywhere. On her first assignment at Sanford Cottage she found it lacking in staff, furniture, and recreational equipment.

"The only thing Sanford had was a super-abundance of kids," she told a Congressional Subcommittee.

Each crowded little cell was filled with two children. Many of the mattresses smelled of urine. Children were sleeping on mattresses in halls and in the gymnasium.

"Six children were crammed into a small area in Sanford cottage; in addition to all this crowding, the air in there was so stale and so horrible. The boys were coming to me reporting sexual abuse, and alleged sexual advances were increasing. Along with attempted suicides," she explained.

Children were literally told by staff when to sit and stand, and when they could go to the bathroom. Toothpaste was dispensed onto their toothbrush, and they had to ask staff for toilet paper. Some staff members were verbally abusive and intimidating. The children were not allowed to call home.

And when children would commit a minor infraction, they were locked in isolation in the "pink room."

"It was a room where, even after a child had hung himself, could not possibly be supervised, all the way down the end of the hall, smelled of urine and feces so bad that I had to hold my breath when I went into it, in the summer months," she testified.

The former police officer explained: "I went to social services and asked that a neglect report be made against the State of Maryland, because when I was a cop, if parents treated their kids the way our State treated those kids, I would have locked their butts up."[13]

The JDM Residential Treatment Center near St. Louis seemed like a wonderful place to send abused children from troubled homes.

It offered 120 secluded acres on which they could fish, hike and learn about nature. Two doctors were among its founders, and a professional counselor was to be in charge. The treatment program called for extensive use of pet therapy, group counseling and structured recreational activities. A church operated the center.

So, the Missouri Division of Family Services started sending children there, at a cost of $1,420 a month per child.

Soon thereafter, state investigators substantiated three incidents of child abuse at the home, two of them serious.

The home had gone through six executive directors in one year; failed 175 out of 234 checkpoints during an inspection; the pantry was sometimes bare, with children having to fend for themselves. One winter the thermostat was kept at 55 degrees.

"Nobody else there cared about them," said Brenda Woods, one of the former directors. "They wouldn't even give them a ball to toss around. There were days when they didn't have any food. The whole thing was just a way to make money off the state."

Pat Adams, who as a licensed counselor visited the facility weekly to counsel children under a contract with the state stopped going because she was concerned about her safety and that of the children she was counseling.

"The place was a joke, an absolute joke. It was just set up to get state money," said Adams.

Like Montrose, the facility was finally shut down.[14]

Staffing continues to be a problem in these facilities. Many group home owners pay minimum wage, or slightly above, and turnover remains high, just as it does in the rest of the child welfare industry.

An informal study conducted by the Northwestern Children and Family Justice Center found that most of the privately staffed residential group home institutions in Illinois had rotating staffs who were not houseparents living with children, but teams that came and went.

Staff turnover was high, with the average time worked at the sites being between 1 1/2 to 2 years. Notes author Renny Golden: "Not much intimate, caring, consistent nurturance is going on in these settings."[15]

"I will tell you I have never, ever, ever, been afraid of one of my clients. But I have been afraid to go into some of those facilities at night and deal with the night staff alone. It is frightening. It is absolutely frightening," explained District of Columbia Bar Association Attorney Diane Weinroth to a Congressional subcommittee.

"They have got some very strange people working in these facilities. I don't know where they come from. But I will tell you this. There are no standards for hiring."[16]

In Los Angeles, where group homes constitute a $238 million per year industry, elected officials and child welfare advocates called for increased oversight in the wake of a 1997 grand jury report that said some of the facilities provide miserable care.

"We are spending a fortune on these homes, at $50,000 or even $60,000 for one kid for a year," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "For that we could put the kid in at least an Embassy Suites if not a Four Seasons. We should be getting as close to perfect care as is humanly possible."

Apparently, many social workers continue to turn a blind eye to problems in the group homes--essentially ignoring child abuse in their own facilities.

Yaroslavsky said some of the shortcomings identified by the grand jury should be evident to county social workers, who typically visit foster children once a month.

"With some things, you walk in the door and you know there is a problem," he said. "We are not getting the kind of feedback from the social worker visitations that we should be, to protect the welfare of the kids."[17]

The Los Angeles County Grand Jury determined that money is "not expended in accordance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations." Audits displayed "significant financial abuses and illegal and inappropriate uses of foster care funds in many of the homes audited."

As for the living conditions, the jury found that: children were inappropriately being sedated with psychotropic medications; children were denied promised rewards for good behavior based on a point system; when group home owners did not want to provide transportation for after school activities, they simply refused to let the child participate; many group homes did not provide tutoring, yet punished the children when they got poor grades.

The grand jury also found that "some group home owners use inappropriate discipline measures such as dragging children across the floor, throwing shoes at them, slapping or hitting a child; others make children stand in a corner for hours at a time."

But the group home owners are not the only ones who enrich themselves at the expense of children. The grand jury found a therapist having written the same comment for each of the six children at one group home.

Some therapists were not seeing the children at all, or spending only five to ten minutes with them, while billing for a full 45 minutes, the jury found.

The jury was particularly disturbed by the response of one therapist, who told them during an inspection: "You obviously don't understand anything about children and therapy. Children do not ever want to talk to a therapist, so I asked the group home owners how the children are doing."

But the buck has to stop somewhere, and in the final analysis the blame rests not so much with those opportunistic group home owners and therapists who soak the system for all its worth, as it does with department head Peter Digre and his control over the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services.

A budget of nearly one quarter of a billion dollars is expended annually on group home and foster care services in Los Angeles County, and group homes have become a veritable growth industry under his command, jumping more than 250 percent between 1990 and 1995--five times the rate of the rest of California.[18]

Digre points the finger of blame at cutbacks in AFDC benefits as responsible for increasing foster placements, having explained to reporters: "Families get caught in a downward spiral: first their utilities are cut off so they can't keep the baby bottles cold. Then they get behind in rent and move in with friend or relatives who may have a criminal history."[19]

Under questioning by a Congressional subcommittee, Digre admitted to legislators that about half of the removals of children from their homes are due to poverty, and not abuse.

"It gets down to those very specific issues about a place to live, food on the table, medical care, and thing like that," he explained, adding that "about half of the families are not physical abusers, not sexual abusers, not people with propensities to violence but simply people who are struggling to keep ends pulled together and are eminently salvagable."

All of this was too much for a frustrated Congressman Herger, who replied: "Evidently, it is your department's practice to remove children from families in about 50 percent of the cases because they don't have enough money."[20]

While Digre has always been quick to blame cutbacks in funding, while playing something of a shell game with statistics, the Los Angeles Grand Jury notes that "the foster care caseload has been steadily increasing since 1990, two years before the first maximum aid payment reduction."

How does his department "assist" those people who are caught in this economic downward spiral? By removing 26,947 children from their homes in one recent year--a figure representing only the first time entrants into foster care.

And, as the Grand Jury report makes clear, the plight of children is often none the better in state care, as they are often denied basic necessities--the lack of which ostensibly led to their placement to begin with.

About half of the group homes the grand jury visited had no reference books, educational toys or games. About half the homes had furniture with missing drawers, stains on the carpets, walls with holes and bathrooms without toilet paper. One site didn't even provide toothpaste to the children.

But rather than assist a family with a rent voucher or utility deposit, the cost of which may be as little as a few hundred dollars, the Department will spend between $8,000 to $10,000 per month to shelter one child at MacLaren Children's Center. Rather than assist with housing or daycare, it will spend a quarter of a billion dollars to house poor children in dangerous foster homes, and in the city's 700 group homes.[21]

With the incredibly high number of children removed from their homes, court oversight is nearly impossible. A recent investigation by the California State Auditor reveals that the Los Angeles juvenile court follows the recommendations of DCFS is 98 percent of the cases it hears--effectively acting a rubberstamp for the Department.

Even if the rare judge were inclined to provide some closer scrutiny to the Department's claims, it would be nearly impossible, as the cumulative caseload of the Los Angeles juvenile court consisted of 153,700 hearings in 1995, and 96,100 hearings during the first seven weeks of 1996.[22]

Throughout the nation, children continue to enter the system through different doors--each bearing a different label--finding themselves dumped in placement one with another an a bed-available basis.

Keys Youth Services, for example, provides a group home for youths aged 12 to 17 in the Kansas City area.

Juvenile offenders and neglected, abused or abandoned young people live together at the home, according to its executive director, Linda Brown.

What kind of influences are brought to bear on the child alleged to have been abused or neglected in homes such as these?

Police charged eight teen-agers with a multi-night crime spree after sneaking out of the home, committing or attempting to commit several car burglaries. They also set fire to a portable outdoor toilet, police said.[23]

Or consider the plight of the Utah girl who fled from an emergency shelter after having been beaten by older residents.

It took a court order to have her returned to her mother, even as she spent months locked in a psychiatric institute for having dared to flee.[24]

What to do when children maintain that they have not been abused in their homes? Provide treatment to convince them that they have.

In Michigan, a recent series of lawsuits involved former residents of Eagle Village, who claimed counselor Joseph Gardner "brainwashed" them into saying they were sexually molested by their parents.

Gardner apparently held a particular interest in counseling girls alleged to have been sexually abused, claiming it as something of a specialty.

In one suit, an Alpena couple says Gardner brainwashed their daughter into claiming that her stepfather sexually assaulted her. A Harrison couple made similar allegations, and a Wayne County man sued after being acquitted of molesting his daughter. That father also said Gardner led his daughter to bringing false charges.

Eagle Village, which provides residential and foster care, argued that it should be immune from suits based on a ruling by the State Court of Appeals in another case in which the appeals court provided absolute immunity against suits for the court-authorized actions of a social worker.

"Eagle Village is being sued for nothing more than doing its job," said a prepared agency statement.[25]

The practice of manufacturing victims would also appear to be in use in Pennsylvania at the Reaching at Problems group home, if the testimony of one former resident is to be believed.

"I know how they pressure girls," says one former resident. "That's how RAP works. They try to brainwash you... They try and confuse you. They put it in your head and it's locked in your head and that's the way it works."

The girl also signed a statement now in the hands of Lehigh County authorities.

"I was at RAP for approximately three years," it says. "They told me that if I admitted I was abused by others, that they would not go to jail. When I told them no one else had abused me, they continually pressed me to allege abuse against others."

The girl also alleged that another resident of the facility had been "brainwashed" into making allegations of having been raped hundreds of times.[26]

The reader may be tempted toward thinking that these accounts are merely anecdotal "horror stories," and less than entirely representative of the system on the whole.

George Miller, former Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, may have had a similar thought in mind when he asked Kenneth Wooden how many facilities he would classify as inadequate.

"Most of them, if not all of them. An institution simply breeds an institutional child," came the reply.[27]

In conducting research for this article, this writer came upon literally hundreds of similar narratives from all over the country, using the Newsworks service, which searches over 100 newspapers on the Internet using keywords.[28]

Many involved group home settings for autistic, or physically or mentally challenged children. All of these hundreds of narratives bore a remarkable similarity to those of children in group home and institutional settings having been placed there by the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

And, as labels are dispensed as freely as aspirin by social workers desperate to find a placement, foster wards often wind up in mental health centers, or in group homes which promise special treatment.

They may find themselves in a place like the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center, where a state investigation discovered a "sex club" involving children aged five to twelve, in which an initiation rite involved children engaging in anal and oral sex with each other.

Senior officials at the center knew what was going on, but failed in many cases to act--that is until four cases of sexual abuse of inmates by staff came to light.[29]

Or they may wind up in a place like the Hegeman Diagnostic Center in Brooklyn, where a twelve-year-old girl who had been raped in a foster home was brought--only to be sexually abused by other girls at the center.

"We believe that assaults, sexual and otherwise, occur daily at the center," said Karen Freedman of Lawyers for Children.[30]

It is precisely because the system is so flooded with children who don't belong in state care that these conditions are allowed to continue. And the tragic consequences of the constant overcrowding, poor management and lack of meaningful oversight are everywhere to be found.

A former resident of the Bethel Children's Home in Lucedale, Mississippi, tells of children being expected to work twelve or thirteen hours a day, six days a week building houses. One boy reportedly lost a finger to an accident with a saw which lacked a safety guard.[31]

An investigation by New York Newsday found the Crossroads facility in the Bronx to be rife with violence and criminal activity, "making the facility unsafe for children and a danger to the community around it."[32]

If ever there was a facility with an inspirational-sounding name, it would be the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, in Staten Island, where city officials began an investigation into reports of gang sex, beatings, and neglect. Adolescents returning from temporary placements described "a pattern of incidents in which longer-term residents raped, robbed, or assaulted newcomers while night-shift staff slept on the job."

The facility became so notorious that some chose to run away and sleep in the subways rather than accept a bed there for one night.[33]

In Georgia, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reports that "it's back to business as usual at the Hampton Boys Home after the February 17 arrest of a founder and director of the facility for troubled teenagers."

The director was arrested on charges of sexually abusing former residents. The chairman of the facility described the program as "the finest of its kind in the state."[34]

He may be right. The Macon Telegraph reports a grand jury indictment against two men who ran a private group home.

Edward Palmore and Britt Hoskins were charged with severely beating a 12-year-old at the Project Possibilities home in Culverton.

"It was described to me that the 12-year-old victim was beaten so badly, you could not see the whites of his eyes," said District Attorney Fred Bright.

The child was being punished for taking a piece of cheese.

Additional charges concerned two other youths, who, while wearing only their underwear, were reportedly chained and made to stand on a tree stump for as long as 72 hours with car lights trained on them, Bright said. The lights "would attract mosquitoes and the kids were eaten up," he said.

Included in the home's policies were "forbidden disciplinary methods" such as verbal abuse, ridicule or humiliation, and corporal punishment.[35]

In Westchester County, New York, we find the two institutions once "considered among the state's best." New York Newsday reports that Linden Hall and Hawthorne Cedar Knolls were found to be "plagued by violence, unchecked sex, and poor supervision."[36]

This brings to light one of the more peculiar paradoxes found in the field. While child welfare holds a near-obsessive preoccupation with the issue of child sexual abuse, it more often than not responds by erring on the side of "protecting" children who have not been abused, placing them into institutions in which physical and sexual abuse is a near-certainty.

What to do when allegations of abuse in state care come to light? Simply sweeping it under the carpet would often appear to be the solution.

In Oklahoma, the state Department of Human Services found "considerable evidence" that two employees sexually molested one or more children in state care, but failed to aggressively deal with the allegations, a state oversight commission charged.

Instead, DHS administrator Stacy Hall permitted the accused social worker to transfer out of his child-care job and allowed the accused shelter employee to resign, with no mention of the allegations on their personnel records.

One of the incidents involved a social worker at Family Junction, who reportedly kissed and fondled a young girl in his care.

Hall is no longer is in charge of the DHS children's division. He was himself reassigned for his role in an overstaffing scandal at a juvenile treatment center, where 172 workers were in charge of 13 youths.[37]

Or consider the case of the seven-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by other children at the St. Joseph's Children's Services Agency in Brooklyn.

A Department of Social Services investigator assigned to the case found "no credible evidence" to support the claim, notwithstanding the credible accounts of several witnesses.[38]

But sweeping it under the carpet doesn't always work with so many children needlessly warehoused in state care, so some states have developed a safety mechanism to insulate their treasuries against potential lawsuits--capping their liability.

In Massachusetts, for example, a 6-year-old girl was raped and infected with gonorrhea after being placed in a coed group home.

Staff members of the home argued almost from the start that the young girl didn't belong there, but DSS took 14 months to move her into a foster home. The move came after she had been assaulted.

A judge found that the young girl deserved $250,000, but pared back the award to conform to a state law that places a $100,000 cap on liability for children harmed while in DSS custody.

"Life is cheap for DSS," said attorney James P. Duggan, who represented the girl.[39]

"What about the perpetrators, do they remain in the system?" asked George Miller of Youth Law Center attorney Mark Soler.

"They often remain in the system," came the reply.

Children in institutions don't know what their rights are and they are afraid to tell when they have been abused. "They are afraid there will be retaliation against them. They are afraid nothing will happen," he explained.

"We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg."[40]


California probation officer Dennis Lepak found himself introduced to abuses in the system when he visited the Rite of Passage Wilderness Camp, a group home for California boys located on an Indian reservation in the high desert of central Nevada.

"Boys were intentionally denied clothing adequate for the harsh conditions, routinely assaulted by staff, and deprived of meals," he explained.

Photographs included in newspaper clippings he provided displayed children sleeping in pup tents in the wilderness.

His efforts to help these children were met with resistance at every level. "Despite my report to every local, State -- both California and Nevada -- and Federal agency, there are now 60 more boys at the camp then when I was there 2 years ago," he explained.[41]

There would appear to be no shortage of "therapeutic" wilderness facilities of the variety Lepak identified.

In Texas, many foster children are forced to sleep in surplus army tents. They dig their own latrines, using kerosene heaters and roll down plastic sheeting to keep warm during the winter as they sleep on cots.

The nine state-licensed sites warehouse youngsters from 11 to 18, without the benefits of air conditioning in the summer, or heat in the winter.

In the woods of Trinity County, north of Houston, more than 30 girls are enrolled at the 20-year-old camp operated by Hope Center Youth and Family Services near Groveton.

"It gives me heartburn," said state Senator Frank Madla, as he planned to visit at least one of the camps. "We have abused and neglected children and then we stick them in tents across the state."

Lawmakers, who learned of the 20-year-old facilities during 1996 hearings, questioned why such rustic facilities demand fees ranging from $58 to nearly $100 per child per day paid by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.

"We could put the children in numerous hotels in Austin for $55 a night," said Senator Madla. "The only individuals who are winning are the ones who are operating these tent cities. It does not appear to be an appropriate treatment."[42]

The State of Georgia also has an "Outdoor Therapeutic Program" with two facilities, the purpose of which is to "assist emotionally troubled youth in developing responsible behavior so that they can return to their family and community and function at an acceptable social level."

Cleveland Camp, established in 1977, holds 50 males. Warm Springs Camp, established in 1983, holds 30 males and 20 females. Neither facility has electricity, while Warm Springs Camp lacks so much as running water.

Auditors note in a 1995 study that scant attention is given to the actual needs of children during the selection process, that there are problems with treatment plans, camp activities, and release--calling the effectiveness of the entire program into question.

The average cost per day per youth in these luxurious facilities is $97.26, with an average cost per completer of $47,326 and $61,128 at the two camps respectively, making for annual tab of $3.5 million.

Other such "Wilderness Programs" may be found in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.[43]

None of this would be possible without the duplicity of child welfare officials who continue to turn a blind eye to system-wide abuses, even as child protective caseworkers continue to provide an ever-increasing supply of children to warehouse.

None of this would be possible if not for the countless juvenile court judges who routinely rubber-stamp agency decisions.

Nor would it be possible without the unwitting duplicity of those elected officials entirely unfamiliar with the widespread abuses that permeate the child welfare system--even as they continue to fund it.

As sociologist John Hagedorn notes: "The myth that social services provide 'services' is still useful to state legislatures who must provide funds, to a concerned public, and for internal morale."[44]

But nowhere is the child welfare industry's contempt for children more apparent than in San Francisco, where a Superior Court judge ordered the state Department of Social Services to obey a law that requires social workers to assess the needs of foster children in group homes.

As of 1997, the state simply hadn't bother to follow a law requiring that periodic assessments of children in group homes be conducted. The law had been on the books since 1989.

The Department of Social Services contended the law is unworkable and refused to create a "level of care assessment instrument" to guide county social workers, allowing a 1994 deadline to pass.[45]

Invariably, the owners of these facilities structure their businesses as non-profit organizations. Ron Mayuiers, the California group home owner with the Mercedes Benz and $1.6 million dollar home structured his business as a non-profit.

So, too, was a Christian group home in Tennessee incorporated as a non-profit. Jabneel Inc., overseen by Gary and Billie Rich, operated about a half-dozen homes for abused and disadvantaged children.

They were forced to close after reports that adolescent male residents had repeated--and sometimes forced--sex with each other. Five boys aged 13 and 14 since have pled guilty to rape charges.

The items which were to be sold at auction included office equipment, a complete commercial kitchen and 19 vehicles including service trucks, a 40-foot motor coach, eight passenger vans and a 1991 Mercedes 420 SEL.

"I've been to all the sales this year, and I've not seen anything like the scope of this auction," said auctioneer Chris Headrick.

The non-profit, which received payments of $2 million per year to care for children, also divested itself of real estate. Interestingly enough, records show that it transferred land to Child and Family Services of Knox County for $130,000.[46]

The system not only attracts a disproportionate number of fast-buck artists, but the vast sums of money flowing in without accountability can sometimes corrupt even the more dedicated people.

Consider the case of the former Catholic brother who admitted stealing more than $250,000 from a south Kansas City home for developmentally disabled men where he was once the director.

An assistant U.S. Attorney said the former brother used the money to take trips to Hawaii and Florida with family and friends, and to buy goods and services for himself, his friends and family.

Authorities think the fraud took place over a period of at least two years, and involved using money misappropriated from Community of the Good Shepherd Inc. to pay off monthly American Express bills that ranged from $2,661 to $6,314 per month.[47]

"Scams permeate the system from top to bottom," writes outspoken veteran Family Court Justice Judy Sheindlin. "They range from individual cases of fraud and abuse to multi-million dollar rip-offs by so-called nonprofit agencies, all in the name of helping disadvantaged people."

Notes Sheindlin: "Individuals who rip off the system are occasionally caught and sometimes even punished. Lowering the boom on large agencies is a real challenge. They have the veneer of respectability, even though they plunder the public purse with no less abandon."[48]


The impact of life in residential group homes is psychologically devasting, suggests a new study.

Adolescents living with foster parents or in group homes have more than four times the rate of serious psychiatric disorders than those living with their own families.

"One of the most significant findings was that a number of adolescents were suffering from severe, potentially treatable, psychiatric disorders which had gone undetected," wrote researchers in the December, 1996, issue of the British Medical Journal.

According to the study, not only did the teens in outside care suffer from serious psychiatric disorders -- notably major depression -- they were also more likely to have conduct disorders, anxiety problems, attention-deficit disorder, and unspecified psychoses.

Of 88 teens studied, aged 13 to 17 years, living in foster or group residential settings, the rate of psychiatric disorders was 67%, compared with 15% in those living at home.

The differences between "conventional" foster homes and residential care are equally marked. Such disturbances were identified in 57% of those in foster care, and in 96% of those in residential care.[49]


In San Diego, staff from the Child Advocacy Division of the Department of the Public Defender and from the University of San Diego Patient Advocacy Program, at the request of the Bar Association's Task Force on Children at Risk, sought to obtain the views of children under the juvenile court system, interviewing 23 children.

The average age was 14.9. Seventy-eight percent were either in an acute psychiatric hospital or a group home at the time of the survey. The remainder were either in a shelter or residing with a family member. Seventy-four percent were dependents of the court, 6 percent were wards.

These 23 children were placed in a total of 198 placements, an average of 8.6 homes per child. The average time "in the system" was 4.25 years.

The children described a system in which they felt trapped, punished and personally disempowered. One child described a particular group home as ". . . a storage place. You were alive but not living."

Among the comments from some of the other children in the group:

"The system is a punishment. They look at you as a file or paperwork, not as a person."

"The system messes you up. You are always being threatened with being moved to another foster home."

"Don't get used to one place because they will move you, they will toss you around like a ball."

"No one listens to you, no one believes you."

In describing where they would like to go next, nearly 83 percent said they wanted "out of the system," either through legal emancipation or being returned to either a parent, grandparent or other relative.[50]

Remarkably similar narratives were told by five Missouri foster children at an event sponsored by the Child Welfare League of America.

The League meets every five years to discuss issues relating to out-of-home care. The event marked the first time it had assembled a panel of children who live in state custody.

All five children lived in residential treatment centers for emotionally disturbed children.

"I had to go to court this past June, and there was a lady there who I'd never met before who made a recommendation about what was best for me," said 18-year-old Sheila. "A month later, I saw her again, and she didn't even know who I was."

Said 14-year-old Ashley: "At first I was told I'd be in care one month, and then another month, and then another. It's now been five years."

"I was first taken some place just to sleep overnight, and the next day the social worker took me to a children's home in the country, two hours from St. Louis. I was really disappointed because I was so far from home," she said.

"I hate it when the staff members yell or act mean or hold a grudge or won't get me something that I need," said 15-year-old Heather.

"The worst experience I've ever had was when the male staff watched while I took a shower," she said.

"When I was taken out of my home at 12, I was put in a place for runaways and kids with drug problems. I wasn't a runaway, and I didn't have a drug problem."

Said Heather in closing: "I hope all of you were hearing what we had to say, because you are in a position to make things easier for kids."[51]

Lukes Dad's picture




In Washington state, one out of every five children in the foster care system is on potent mood-altering medications. Yet the state has no safeguards in place regulating their use to protect the children who swallow the potentially toxic pills.

The state does not chronicle the problems children experience with these drugs, nor are officials even certain how many of their wards take behavioral medications. And the ranks of foster children being given psychotropic drugs have swelled over the years, experts say.

Says Aija Guedel, former president of the School Nurses Organization of Washington: "When I see foster children, most of them are on a stimulant, anti-depressant or anti-psychotic - or usually all three."

What are the results on the children? According to a six-month investigation conducted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:


  • A 4-year-old girl was rushed to intensive care with an erratic heartbeat after her foster parents accidentally doubled her daily dose of anti-depressants - a dose already far above the maximum recommended for her age and weight. The foster parents said neither their doctor nor social worker had warned them of the hazards of the drug, amitriptyline.
  • A 5-year-old boy tried to kick out the windows in a bus, covered himself with feces and tried to run naked down the street after being given powerful anti-depressants. His foster mother said she never was warned of the side effects.
  • A 13-year-old boy sent into foster care in 1995 during the Wenatchee sex-ring trials heard voices and suffered memory loss after being put on high doses of the anti-depressant Zoloft. He later tried to kill himself.
  • Domico Presnell died. The wavy-haired 6-year-old failed to wake up in his Seattle foster home last April 21. A toxic level of amitriptyline was found in his blood.[1]

The psychotropic drug most often prescribed to foster children in Washington state over the past five years has been methylphenidate, or Ritalin, which costs the state about 17 cents per pill, according to the 1996 Formulary and Drug Use Guidelines used at Western State Hospital.

The second most commonly prescribed pill was the anti-depressant imipramine, costing about 2 cents a dose.

San Francisco youth activist Lyn Duff, herself a former foster child, describes her experience while in state care: "They put me on desipramine. A week later they took all the kids in a van to the doctor. He spent five minutes talking to us, with the other kids in the room."

"It's not unusual for me to have a child 9 years old on two or three psychotropic medications at one time," says Dr. Sharon Collins of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa.[2]

The use of psychotropic drugs to control foster children in state care has long been documented.

In a landmark suit filed against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the American Civil Liberties Union blamed the child welfare agency for much of the child abuse in the state.

One of four teenagers named in the class-action suit had been in state custody as long as he could remember. Although his mother and grandmother had told him they wanted him back, the 13-year-old had not received any services that might have helped to reunite his family.

In the meantime, he had been "warehoused" for three months in the Henry Horner Children's Center, where he was routinely drugged with psychotropic medication and in danger of assault, according to the suit.[3]

One of the numerous terms of the consent decree stemming from the suit describes the use of these agents to control foster children:

By January l, 1992, DCFS shall convene a reform panel to review and make recommendations regarding its policies and procedures concerning (i) the use of restraint and seclusion on children in care and (ii) the use of behavior controlling drugs including a prohibition on the use of such medication for the punishment of children, the convenience of caretakers or as a substitute for programming for children's needs.[4]

Has anything changed as a result of the Illinois action?

Pia Menon, a former attorney with the Chicago Public Guardian's Office, was assigned to investigate the Columbus-Maryville Children's Reception Center operated by Catholic Charities.

Her report, suppressed by Public Guardian Patrick Murphy, was described to author Renny Golden.

Menon recounts her findings on the use of drugs to control foster children: "Many teenagers are on psychotropic medications. Almost every child who comes into the system ends up on some kind of psychotropic medication--we're talking about four- and five-year-old kids who are on Prozac and Ritalin..."

"Give me a break--it's to quiet them down," she adds. "Generally, psychotropic medications take the place of nurturing."

But the use of medications is not limited to group care facilities and the Children's Reception Center. Menon explains:

Caseworkers prefer that the child is medicated. It helps the foster care parents, who may not be qualified to deal with a disruptive child. Staff often have no idea what a drug does to the child. They dispense it like aspirin. There is absolutely no one to monitor kids on multiple meds.

What this all amounts to is a systematic assault on children who've already been removed from home, medicated, coded, misdiagnosed, therapized...[5]

Prentis Caudill was a ward of the state. Both he and his sister endured the difficulties of placement in residential group homes and psychiatric facilities. "All you have to do is act up and they give you drugs," says Prentis. "The drugs were nice because they'd calm you down or put you to sleep for days."

Adds Prentis: "They gave me Thyroxine. Sometimes your muscles twitch."[6]

In California, judicial approval is required for giving psychotropic drugs to any foster child. Says Dr. Michael Malkin, who reviews the drugs for Los Angeles County judges: "The psychiatrist is usually beseeched by the group home operator to medicate the kids."

Dr. Malkin tries to substitute milder medications that don't cause permanent facial tics, heavy sedation and other side effects.

According to Malkim, the Judicial approval required in California deters doctors from dispensing risky anti-psychotic drugs en masse.[7]

Oh, is that so?

A 1997 Los Angeles Grand Jury report indicates that foster children are frequently medicated with psychotropic drugs.

Not only are the children excessively medicated, but the conditions in group foster homes were found to be deplorable. The Los Angeles Times describes the Grand Jury findings:

Many of the nearly 5,000 foster children housed in Los Angeles County group homes are physically abused and drugged excessively while being forced to live without proper food, clothing, education and counseling, according to a blistering report by the county grand jury.

The Grand Jury found that children were given a variety of medications without the proper consent of a guardian or judge in nearly half of 158 audited cases. In another instance, a group home withheld drugs in hopes that a child would be ruled severely emotionally disturbed--thus drawing a higher rate of government payments.

The Grand Jury also identified inadequate psychotherapy for the children, with sessions of as little as five minutes being held, although therapists were billing for full-length sessions.[8]

Said Andrew Bridge, executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights: "We need to have small homes of six beds or less to deal with these kids in a therapeutic way and not simply put them away or drug them."[9]

The 1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury reached similar conclusions, extending its examination of the foster care system in another direction. Among its findings:

Caseworkers, investigators and attorneys believe that some foster parents routinely complain of behavioral problems, insist that those behavioral problems require mental health therapy and then seek additional funds for regular transportation to the therapist and special care needs. These claimed behavioral problems are subjective and are not capable of being confirmed by objective tests.

The Grand Jury suggested that "foster parent claims of behavioral problems in foster children not previously identified as having the problems should be carefully investigated."

In examining the improper use of controlling medications, the Grand Jury found that the medications in use ranged from mild depressants and hypnotics to strong psychotropic drugs.

It determined that the lack of money for medical treatment, the financial pressures on medical providers and a generalized lack of medical records for foster children all contributed to make it possible for unscrupulous foster parents to obtain medication for children who did not need to be medicated.[10]

A committee of the U.S. House of Representatives examined many of these problems years ago, concluding that the foster care and child welfare systems were in dire need of reform.

A 1990 report issued by the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families described the use of these mind-altering medications, and the bizarre treatments to which children in state care are frequently subjected: "In the state mental hospital in South Carolina, children who attempted suicide were stripped to their underwear, bound by their ankles and wrists to the four corners of their beds, and injected with psychotropic drugs."[11]


Some critics charge that psychotropic medications are not only routinely provided as a method of controlling foster children, but as the means to obtain disclosure of non-events.

In Wenatchee, Washington, where allegations of a bizarre and highly improbable "sex ring" involving several prominent citizens came to surface, children alleged to be victims are apparently being provided medications and therapy as a means to elicit disclosure, critics charge.

Melinda Everett, who was among the primary witnesses for the prosecution, publicly recanted her testimony on a televised broadcast, claiming that it had been coerced.

Immediately on the heels of her public recantation, Melinda was seized from her grandparents' home. Writes syndicated columnist Paul Craig Roberts: "For the past several months the child has been involuntarily locked away in a psychiatric facility where she is under the exclusive control of 'recovered memory' therapist Cindy Andrews. No one--not even elected state representatives--has been permitted to see her."[12]

Cindy Andrews, who is under contract with the state, is among the defendants in a civil suit in which Melinda Everett is a principal witness.

Melinda is not alone in her plight. More than a third of the alleged victims of the so-called "child sex ring" in Wenatchee were placed on psychotropic drugs paid for by the state once they entered foster care.

Are the Wenatchee children truly victims of a sex ring that included dozens of people with a local pastor as ringleader, or are they victims of a state sanctioned machine determined to extract testimony from them at any price? Their stories include:


  • A 12-year-old boy taking the anti-depressant Zoloft who heard voices telling him to hang himself by jumping off a milk crate with a rope around his neck. His counselor worried he was suffering from memory impairment as a side effect of the drug. He originally was sent to Pine Crest, but later was transferred to an institution in King County where he tried to kill himself.
  • A 15-year-old developmentally delayed boy who became a chief witness in several of the cases after being sent to Pine Crest. He later attempted suicide while on psychotropic drugs.
  • A boy described in medical records as "in denial" and "non-compliant" after his parents were sentenced to prison on sex charges. At age 9, in April 1995, he tried to run away from the foster home he shared with two other alleged sex-ring children. Doctors increased his dosage of Zoloft, and the fourth-grader "tried to stick (a) metal object through his chest," according to a DSHS episode report. He then entered a Seattle psychiatric hospital, where he was prescribed the anti-depressant amitriptyline.

In the case of one 13-year-old girl, her medical notes indicate that Andrews "apparently would like her on medications." The girl later was given Paxil.[13]

The greatest irony to be found among these tragic circumstances is that a significant number of foster children have been removed from their homes for reasons alleged to be related to "neglect" stemming from substance abuse by their parents.

In Hawaii, an estimated 80% of cases involve substance abuse by parents, says John Walters, an assistant program administrator with its Department of Human Services.[14]

While "historically, people have thought of substance abuse as an adult problem, substance abuse by parents has made it a children's problem, as well," said a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.[15]

Apparently, the child protective system has gone to great lengths to ensure that substance abuse is indeed "a children's problem," as its solution is all-too-often the traumatic removal of children from their homes, and the systematic turning of the children into drug-dependent wards of the state.

Lukes Dad's picture



According to a nationwide study of runaway youths, more than one-third had been in foster care in the year before they took to the streets. More than one out of five youths who arrive at a shelter come directly from a foster or group home, with 38 percent nationally saying they had been in foster care at some time during the previous year, the study found.

In a new phenomenon compared with past surveys, almost 11 percent of the youths said they were homeless and living on the streets before coming to shelters. These findings were the most disturbing to emerge from a study of 170 runaway shelters, said survey director Deborah Bass.[1]

Some experts estimate that 45 percent of those leaving foster care become homeless within a year.[2]

A California study in Contra Costa County found that a third of children placed in foster care eventually end up homeless, and 35% are arrested while in foster care.[3]

Inappropriate placements and a lack of needed services are partly to blame, as Dennis Lepak of the Contra Costa County Probation Department explained to a Congressional subcommittee: "Children are put in inappropriate placements, not designed to offer family counseling, psychiatric treatment, or drug treatment. Children are not prepared to return to families, nor are they provided with a specialized educational and vocational training they need to survive after they become 18." As a result, says Lepak: "They become the new homeless."[4]

The problem is universal in scope. A six-month investigation conducted by the Charlotte Observer found that: "North Carolina's lack of commitment to foster care is helping create a population of throwaway children, many of whom go on to lives of substance abuse, homelessness, crime."[5]

Federal funding contributes to the crisis, as Eileen McCaffrey, executive director of the Orphan Foundation of America, explains:

Since federal funding guidelines encourage state-run foster care programs to emphasize short-term, crisis-management services, nongovernment players must concentrate on longer-range, skill-development programs. Youngsters leaving foster-care ill-equipped for life on their own often end up homeless or permanently dependent on welfare services.[6]

The disproportionate representation of former foster care wards among the homeless population has long been documented. According to the 1994 Green Book Overview of Entitlement Programs: "Several surveys conducted during the mid-1980s showed that a significant number of homeless shelter users had been recently discharged from foster care."[7]

One such survey conducted in the Minneapolis area found that between 14 and 26 percent of homeless adults were former foster care children.[8]

A subsequent survey of the long-term homeless in Minneapolis found that 39 percent had experienced foster care or institutional care as children.[9]

A New York City survey found that between 25 and 50 percent of the young men in the homeless shelters were former foster care wards.[10]

Perhaps the most distressing study of all, conducted in Calgary, consisted of interviews with so-called "street kids." It was found that an astounding 90 percent had been in foster care prior to winding up living on the streets.[11]

Even among the homeless, the risks of continued family disruption are significantly greater than among the general population. An ongoing study by the Institute for Children and Poverty reveals that homeless families whose heads of households grew up in foster care are at greatest risk of dissolution.

Individuals who grew up in foster care are 30% more likely to be substance abusers and 50% more likely to have a history of domestic violence than the overall homeless population. Twice as many of these heads of households have already lost at least one child to foster care.[12]


A 1991 federal study of former foster care wards found that one-fourth had been homeless, 40 percent were on public assistance and half were unemployed. Connecticut officials estimate 75 percent of youths in the state's criminal justice system were once in foster care.[13]

According to a survey by the National Association of Social Workers, 20 percent of children living in runaway shelters come directly from foster care. Children placed in out-of-home care, regardless of the reason, are at higher risk of developing alcohol and drug problems. The survey also found that 80 percent of prisoners in Illinois spent time in foster care as children.[14]

Karl Dennis, executive director of the Illinois based Kaleidoscope, the first child welfare agency in the country to provide unconditional care for children, says that in California, 80 percent of the adults in in the correctional facilities "are graduates of the state; the juvenile justice, the child welfare, the mental health and the special education systems."[15]


The outcomes that many former foster children may face are far from limited to homelessness and imprisonment. According to the Youth Law Center, which has filed suits against several child welfare and foster care systems on behalf of abused and neglected children as well as foster care wards: "Lack of stability and a permanent home are evident in the extraordinarily high incidence of substance abuse, homelessness and psychological problems among former foster children."[16]

Under a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, Westat, Inc. released the second phase of a two-phase report in 1992 as a follow up on youths who had been emancipated from foster care during the period from January 1987 and July 1988.[17]

Westat found that the status of older foster care youth 2 1/2 to 4 years after discharge is "adequate at best" and that services are needed for this population to improve their outcomes. The 1994 Green Book describes the results of the second survey:

Westat reported that only 54 percent of the study population had completed high school, 49 percent were employed at the time of the interview, 38 percent maintained a job for at least 1 year, 40 percent were a cost to the community in some way at the time of the interview (receiving public assistance, incarcerated, etc.), 60 percent of the young women had given birth to a child, 25 percent had been homeless for at least one night, their median weekly salary was $205, and only 17 percent were completely self-supporting.

The situation would appear to be somewhat worse in the state of Florida, at least with respect to high school graduations. In 1996, a suit was filed in Tallahassee Circuit Court that accused the state of Florida of failing to adequately educate its foster children. Miami attorney Karen Gievers filed the suit claiming that while 73 percent of Florida children graduate from high school or get an equivalent diploma, less than half of the state's foster children do.[18]

A decade passes, as little changes. A study issued in 2006 reviewed cases of 926 youth who aged out of foster care between 1999 and 2004. Few were able to finish vocational or college educations, while many wound up in low-paying jobs.

More than a third had been arrested for a felony or misdemeanor crime within three years of leaving foster care. For females, a third had given birth within that same time frame. The study also found that 57 percent of the youths who left foster care since 2002 had been diagnosed with a major mental illness.[19]


A report issued by the The Center for the Future of Teaching in May of 2010 sought to improve the policies and practices related to the educational outcomes of children and youth in foster care. The 12 experts interviewed in the study collectively describe "research lags," "holes," "gaps in knowledge," the "paucity of research on educational outcomes," and "lack of evidence-based practices" contributing to what are described as "the generally dismal educational outcomes" that foster children have. The study describes the many obstacles they face:

Children and youth in foster care confront significant obstacles along their educational journey. They typically have higher rates of absenteeism, grade retention, disciplinary referrals, and behavior problems than the general K-12 population, and test below grade level on standardized measures. They are twice as likely as the general student population to leave school without a diploma and often face bleak life prospects after "aging out" of the foster care and school systems. Much has been written about childhood suffering, family disruptions, and systemic obstacles that partly explain these compromised outcomes. According to the experts, filling the information gap is critical for turning around "the perfect storm of resulting school failure" and promoting school success.

The study shows just how little we actually know about the impacts of foster care, and of the theoretical benefits of program interventions and other social services. When asked about the possible benefits of early intervention services for foster children: "Nearly all of the experts said 'we don't know who or how many' are assessed, referred, or receive services."

"There is no research that assesses the value and feasibility of expanding eligibility and access to early intervention services for all young children in foster care," the study explained. "There is, however, a rift in opinion among the experts on this issue," as the report explains:

Some asserted that all young children in foster care are harmed to some degree by the circumstances that result in an out-of-home placement and, as a result, could benefit from a continuum of support services, starting with early interventions. Others viewed this as misguided. They doubted that early intervention services as currently designed and delivered can moderate the effects of foster care and are concerned that the system's capacity is already strained serving children with an assessed delay or disability. The issue of universal early intervention services is unresolved and "very ripe for investigation."

As a group, the experts agreed that "we know virtually nothing about what happens in classrooms" for children in foster care. "They knew of no research that specifically identified effective instructional practices for this student population," the report explains.

The experts knew of no research that examined factors that contribute to resilience and high performance in school for children and youth in foster care. "We haven't done this research because so many of them do poorly."

As a group, the experts "regarded available data on the educational outcomes of children and youth in foster care as inadequate for either research or practical purposes." As one expert explained: "We don't know what we don't know since disaggregated data generally don't exist."

Significantly, there was one point on which all of the experts were of one mind: "foster parents, educators, case workers, judges and others often lack the knowledge, skills, training, and support to effectively advocate and, likewise, there is a need for more and better information to put into their practice."[20]

A study issued in 2005 examined the case records of 659 foster care alumni who had been in the care of Casey Family Programs or the Oregon or Washington State child welfare agencies between 1988 and 1998. The Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study found that while alumni completed high school at rates similar to the general population, they used GED programs to complete high school at six times the rate of the general population.

Sixty five percent of the alumni had experienced seven or more school changes from elementary through high school, 20.6 percent had obtained any degree or certificate beyond high school, while 1.8 percent of those alumni under age 25 had obtained a bachelor's degree. Over twenty two percent had been homeless for one or more days after the age of 18, while about 33 percent had household incomes at or below the poverty level and lacked health insurance.[21]

Foster youths are not necessarily a homogeneous group. Some children are remarkably resilient, and find the wherewithal to succeed in spite of the obstacles set in their path. A study conducted by Casey Family Programs of eight foster youth who graduated from college earning degrees presents fifteen major themes concerning college success.

"My family is important to me" emerged among the major themes. "For the most part, these youth valued what family they had. Three students held out the hope that some day they would reunite, to some degree, with their biological parents. Among the top goals of one young woman was spending more time with her biological family, with whom she had lost contact when she was a teenager," the study explains. One of the young men stated: "My family is very important to me. I didn't feel I had the right to be 10 hours away from them" to attend a college.

"Their accomplishments suggest that all young people, including foster youth and youth with disabilities, can succeed academically given adequate support and advocacy from educators, professionals, and their caregivers," explains the study's abstract. "The perspectives of these graduates on going to college and earning a degree, despite various barriers, presents an opportunity to learn how other young adults like them might be better supported."[22]

Kayla VanDyke is one such remarkably resilient youth, having lived in seven foster placements, and as a result having attended ten different schools.

She missed entire content sections because the school in which she enrolled taught a subject in a different sequence than the one that she'd left. She skipped the entirety of fourth grade during a year of homelessness. When she and her mother were finally accepted into a Minneapolis homeless shelter, she went back to school and was enrolled in fifth grade because her academic records couldn't be found and "no one pressed the issue."

Kayla testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in April of 2010, seeking to put a face on the problems of educating foster and homeless youth. Students, Kayla said, should have the right to remain in their old school when they move to a new home.

VanDyke explained that she felt uncomfortable asking her new foster parents to drive her to her old school, even if it was only a few minutes away. "It goes back to emotional stability, you're in a new home, you don't know these people they've already made accommodations for you, you feel like a burden so when you go out of your way to ask for accommodation you feel like even more of a burden," she said.

"Despite the statistics that suggest that roughly half of foster care and homeless youth do not finish high school, I will be graduating in four weeks with a 3.7 GPA," she said to a round of applause from the audience in the packed committee room.[23]

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) invited VanDyke to testify before the committee regarding special populations and education reform. Her role at the hearing was to illustrate the obstacles facing foster youth in the education system, an issue Franken has been working to improve in an upcoming education reauthorization bill.

"Through the force of her determination and innate ability, Kayla has overcome tremendous adversity," said Sen. Franken. "Drawing from her own life experience, she can provide us with valuable guidance on education reform."[24]


A study issued by researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Washington released in May of 2010 found that nearly 60 percent of young men who had been in foster care had been convicted of a crime, compared with 10 percent of young men who had never been in care. For women, three-quarters were on public assistance by age 24. The new study is the largest, and most comprehensive study of young adults leaving foster care in two decades.

Foster youth in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois were eligible to participate in the study if they had entered care before their 16th birthday, were still in care at age 17, and had been removed from home for reasons other than delinquency. Baseline survey data were collected from 732 study participants when they were 17 or 18 years old.

The Midwest Study participants aged 23 or 24 "were over three times as likely not to have a high school diploma or GED, half as likely to have completed any college, and one-fifth as likely to have a college degree. They were also less likely to be enrolled in school, less likely to be pursuing postsecondary education if they were enrolled, and more likely to be enrolled in a 2-year college rather than 4-year college or graduate school if they were pursuing postsecondary education," the report explains.

Almost half of the young adults in the study reported experiencing at least one of five material hardships, such as not enough money to pay rent, not enough money to pay a utility bill, gas or electricity shut off, phone service disconnected, or being evicted during the past year. Nearly 29 percent would be categorized as having low or very low food security.

Forty-two percent of the young men compared with 20 percent of the young women reported that they had been arrested, 23 percent of the young men compared with 8 percent of the young women reported that they had been convicted of a crime, and 45 percent compared with 18 percent of the young women reported that they had been incarcerated, the researchers found.

Young men in the study were more than twice as likely as young women to report that they had been the victim of a violent crime during the past 12 months. Participants were more likely to have been the victim of a violent crime during the past 12 months than participants in a control group. The researchers ultimately concluded:

The picture that emerges from data we collected when they were 23 and 24 years old is disquieting, particularly if we measure their success in terms of self-sufficiency. Across a wide range of outcome measures, including postsecondary educational attainment, employment, housing stability, public assistance receipt, and criminal justice system involvement, these former foster youth are faring poorly as a group both in an absolute sense and relative to young adults in the general population.

"Equally troubling," the researchers explain, is that "fewer than half of the these 23- and 24-year-olds were currently employed, most of those who were employed were not earning a living wage, more than one-quarter had had no income from employment during the past year, and the median earnings of those had worked was a mere $8,000. Their lack of economic well-being is also reflected in the economic hardship they reported, the food insecurity they had experienced, and the means-tested benefits they had received. In addition, nearly 40 percent of these young people have been homeless or couch surfed since leaving foster care."

To conclude on the most optimistic of possible notes, the researchers explained that: "Resiliency is also evident among this sample of former foster youth. Many expressed satisfaction with their lives and optimism about their futures. Moreover, although the child welfare system failed to find them permanent homes, most of these young people continue to have close ties to members of their family."[25]

As Children's Rights attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explains: "Foster care systems established and funded to serve children are failing, producing only more damaged graduates who will go on to produce new generations of damaged children, who will continue to lead unspeakably tragic lives and who will increasingly tax our public resources."[26]

Jean Adnopoz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center, says children who spend years drifting between foster care homes "can't be expected to come out in any way that would appear to be healthy."

"If you have a child with no psychological parents, essentially adrift in the world, you are headed toward all sorts of bad outcomes," she said. "And we as a society are going to pay and pay and pay for it."[27]

Lukes Dad's picture

The city teen charged in the “horrifying” sexual assault of three young boys in the foster home where all four resided has been freed pending trial.

But youth court Judge Lillian McLellan imposed strict conditions on the 13-year-old’s freedom, including that he be under house arrest at a Calgary group home facility pending trial.

The youth can only leave the facility under escort by a staff member, his one-to-one worker, or an adult approved in writing in advance.

He’s also to have no unsupervised contact with anyone under 16, is prohibited from possessing any weapons and can have no contact with his alleged victims.

Among the other conditions of his bail are that he is barred from consuming any alcohol or drugs, and can have no access to pornography.

McLellan made the order releasing the accused after hearing submissions from defence counsel Ian McNish and Crown prosecutor Carla MacPhail.

She granted a publication ban on those submissions at McNish’s request.

The boy was arrested two weeks ago in connection with a Jan. 3, incident in which a witness reported to police seeing “an assault in progress” at a Calgary home just before 10 p.m.

The youth faces three charges each of sexual assault and sexual interference for the alleged abuse of three children, age 2, 4, and 6.

Child abuse Det. Stephen Johnston said after the teen’s arrest the case was one of the more disturbing he’s dealt with.

“It is definitely shocking and quite horrifying,” Johnston said.

The three alleged victims have been removed from the home and government officials are investigating whether foster care procedures were properly followed.

The accused was being housed at the Calgary Young Offender Centre where he was under supervision at all times and prohibited from having a cell mate.

He returns to court on Feb. 2.