Is Foster Care “In the Best Interest of the Child”? Not on your Life!

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The philosophy of “best interest of the child” sounds so very wonderful. It must keep children safe and help them to be successful for the remainder of their lives. Taking them from horrible parents, away from the abuse/neglect and placing them with foster parents in wonderful foster homes is the true solution to one of society’s worst corruptions.

Arizona Revised Statute A.R.S.25-403. Legal decision-making; best interests of child

  1. In a contested legal decision-making or parenting time case, the court shall make specific findings on the record about all relevant factors and the reasons for which the decision is in the “best interests of the child.”

So, let us look at the National Foster Care Outcomes achieved from this wonderful intervention strategy to save children and put them on the road to a life of success. It must be exciting since we have federal funding that helps support this special cause, our future.

National Foster Care Outcomes

  • On September 30, 2012 there were approximately 397,122 children were in the foster care system. (1)
  • In the General Population of people that are 25 years of age or older, there are 31% that have a Bachelor’s degree (2)
  •  In the former foster children population that are age 25 and older, there are 3% that have a Bachelor’s degree (3)
  •  In the former foster children* population incarcerated since age 17: Males: 64% percent, Females: 32.5% percent. (4)
  • In the former foster children* population there are 24% percent who experience homelessness after aging out of the system. (5)
  • In the former foster children* population there are 61% percent who are unemployed one year after aging out. (6)
  • In the former foster children* population there are 53.5% who are unemployed five years after aging out. (7)

Question: Is it in the “best interest of children” from foster care to have 3 out of 100 with a Bachelor’s degree? Or 61 out of 100 unemployed? Or 24 out of 100 homeless? Or 64 out of 100 males incarcerated? Or 32.5 out of 100 females incarcerated?

Those outcomes do not seem to be in the best interest of these former foster care children.

America is:

  • 26th of 29 among developed nations based on measures of child welfare. (8)
  • 25th of 27 among developed nations based on the rate of child deaths from abuse and neglect. (9)

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration of Children & Families, Administration on Children, Youth & Families, Children’s Bureau identified:

(10) “Children Entering Foster Care during FY 2013,” was N = 254,904.

  • White children N = 114,666                                          45%
  • Black/African-American children N = 54,835               22%
  • Hispanic children N = 53,786                                        21%
  • American-Indian children N = 5,456                             2%

A national study of child protective services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that “minority children, and in particular African American children, are more likely to be in foster care placement than receive in-home services, even when they have the same problems and characteristics as white children”. (12)

Child Trends Data Bank, Foster Care December 2014 pg. 5 (11)

  • Non-Hispanic white children, who made up about 52 percent of American children under age 18, accounted for 42 percent of foster children in 2013.
  • Black children, who made up around 14 percent of all children, accounted for 24 percent of foster children in that year.
  • Hispanics (who can be of any race), who were 24 percent of U.S. children, accounted for 22 percent of foster children in 2013. [6]

See more at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=foster-care#sthash.IzaMNls5.dpuf

Dorothy Roberts, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Law, shares:

  • “If you came with no preconceptions about the purpose of the child welfare system, you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate, and punish poor families of color.” (12)
  • Black children make up more than two-fifths of the foster care population, though they represent less than one-fifth of the nation’s children.” (12)
  • Black children in New York were 10 times as likely as white children to be in state protective custody.” (12)
  • “According to federal statistics, Black children in the child welfare system are placed in foster care at twice the rate for white children.” (12)
  • “And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children.” (12)

Well, surely the outcomes for Arizona’s Foster Care children will be significantly better than the national statistics. Remember we actually have a law, A.R.S. 25-403, that assures taxpayers that Arizona’s outcomes will demonstrate the spirit of “best interest of the child,” right?

Arizona Foster Care Outcomes

According to Children’s Action Alliance, as of January 9th, 2015, the Arizona Department of Child Safety records share:

  • 53% growth in the number of children in Foster Care from June 2008 to October 14, 2014. (13)
  • June 2008 there were 9,148 children in Foster Care and in October 2014 there were 17,184 children in Foster Care. (13)
  • In June of 2009 there were 5,509 families receiving In-Home Services and in November of 2014 there were 8,712 families receiving In-Home Services. (13)

Question: Is it in the best interest of the children in Arizona to have a 53% increase in the number in foster care? Or is that in the state’s financial best interest?

Question: Is in the best interest of children to have a 53% increase in the number of children in foster care and only a 27% increase in the In-Home Services provided to families?

It would not be unreasonable for an outsider to wonder if the state philosophy to reduce families getting In-Home Services had something to do with increasing the number of children in foster care. Would that be in the “best interest of children”?

According to Children’s Action Alliance, as of January 13th, 2015, the Arizona Department of Child Safety records share:

  • 2,144 children in foster care did not receive required monthly visit from DCS in September, 2014 (14)
  • 1,213 Parents with a case plan to reunify with their children did not receive required monthly visit from DCS in September, 2014 (14)
  • 448 foster homes did not receive required quarterly visit from their licensing agency between April 2014 and September 2014. (14)

Question: Is it in the “best interest of the child” to not have received the required monthly visit from the Department of Child Safety? Is it in the “best interest of the child” to not have received the required monthly visit to Parents in the reunification process?

Question: Is it in the “best interest of the child” to not have the quarterly visit from the agency that licenses the foster home to check on accountability outcomes in that foster home

  • African American children represent 4.8% of population yet 13.9% are in out-of-home care. (15)
  • Children with an adoption case plan spend on average 25.1 months in out-of-home care. (15)
  • 23.9% children in foster care have been in out-of-home care for 13 to 24 months. (Arizona Department of Economic Security, “Child Welfare Reporting Requirements Semi-Annual Report for the Period of Apr. 1, 2014 through Sep. 30, 2014”; 2010 U.S. Census Data) (15)
  • Average number of placements was 2.3, and the range for the number of placements was 1 to 43. (15)

Question: Is it in the “best interest of the child” that is African-American to be represented three times more in foster care than in the general population?

Question: Is it in the “best interest of the child” for children to spend over two years in out-of-home care?

Conclusions:

Maybe I do not understand the true meaning of what is in the “best interest of children.”

For the life of me I cannot fathom or understand how taking children from their natural parents and natural families for the rest of their childhood is in their best interest.

Taking their identity, their heritage, their beliefs, their religion, and even their name and social security numbers away in the name of “best interest of the child” does not seem reasonably to be in their best interest.

Why?

Why does the Arizona Department of Child Safety ignore “Kinship Care”?

The Child Welfare League of America has successfully focused on this solution for more than 30 years that I am aware of and yet Arizona ignores one of the most positive, healthy, and successful methods for keeping children safe.

“Every day hundreds of thousands of grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, and non-related extended family members step in to keep children safe and nurtured when their parents cannot. CWLA defines kinship care as the full-time protecting and nurturing of children by grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, older siblings, non-related extended family members, and anyone to whom children and parents ascribe a family relationship, or who ‘go for kin’. Within this definition there are two populations of kinship families: (a) informal, where children live with grandparents or other relatives and are not in child protective service custody; and (b) formal, where children are placed in the care of a relative or non-related extended family member under the auspices of a public child welfare agency. Whether informally arranged among family members or formally supported by the child welfare system, it is essential to affirm and support the considerable contributions of kinship caregivers.” (16)

 References:

  1. xix. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport20.pdf (estimates as of Nov. 2013).
  2. National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics: 2012 (table 8), available at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_008.asp?referrer=report (2012)
  3. Foster Care by the Numbers, Casey Family Programs, Sept. 2011, available at http://www.casey.org/media/MediaKit_FosterCareByTheNumbers.pdf
  4. xxiv. Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Brown, A., Cary, C., Love, K., Vorhies, V. (2011). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 26. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
  5. World Bank, World Development Indicators Database, Total GDP 2011, at 1, http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/tableview.aspx (2012).
  6. Calculated by finding average of unemployed former foster youth males (60%) and females (62%) at age 19. See Hook, J. L. & Courtney, M. E. (2010). Employment of Former Foster Youth as Young Adults: Evidence from the Midwest Study. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
  7. Calculated by finding average of unemployed former foster youth males (54%) and females (53%) at age 24. See Hook, J. L. & Courtney, M. E., Employment of Former Foster Youth as Young Adults: Evidence from the Midwest Study. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago (2010).
  8. Calculated from rankings in overall well-being. See UNICEF, “Child well-being in rich countries: A league table of inequality in child well-being,” Innocenti Report Card 11, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence, available at http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc11_eng.pdf (2011).
  9. UNICEF, “A league table of child maltreatment deaths in rich nations,” Innocenti Report Card 5, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence, available at http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/repcard5e.pdf (2003).
  10. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration of Children & Families, Administration on Children, Youth & Families, Children’s Bureau identified; “Children Entering Foster Care during FY 2013”
  11. Child Trends Data Bank, Foster Care December 2014 pg. 5 http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=foster-care#sthash.IzaMNls5.dpuf
  12. Race and Class in the Child Welfare System by Dorothy Roberts; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/fostercare/caseworker/roberts.html
  13. Children’s Action Alliance, January 9th, 2015, the Arizona Department of Child Safety Records http://azchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Receiving-Required-Visits-for-Children-in-Foster-Care.pdf
  14. Children’s Action Alliance, January 9th, 2015, the Arizona Department of Child Safety Records
  15. http://azchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Receiving-Required-Visits-for-Children-in-Foster-Care.pdf
  16. CASA of Arizona (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children http://www.azcourts.gov/casa/ChildWelfare/ChildWelfareStats.aspx Arizona Department of Economic Security, “Child Welfare Reporting Requirements Semi-Annual Report for the Period of Apr. 1, 2014 through Sep. 30, 2014”; 2010 U.S. Census Data)
  17. KINSHIP CARE: TRADITIONS OF CARING AND COLLABORATING MODEL OF PRACTICE http://www.cwla.org/kinship-care/

 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Size of Kansas foster care population up 18 percent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The size of Kansas’ foster care population has swelled 18 percent over the past six years, and child welfare advocates blame high turnover among caseworkers, parental drug addiction and cuts to programs that help poor families.

“I really think something needs to be done,” said Diana Frederick, executive director of Douglas County CASA, the agency that provides volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates to work with abused and neglected children in state custody. “Things are enough of a concern that we need to acknowledge that there is a problem and we need to work together to find a solution.”

Children are usually removed from their homes because of neglect, and leave the foster care system when they rejoin their families, are adopted or reach age 18. State data shows that the 2009 fiscal year is the last time more children were exiting the system each month, 312 on average, than were entering, 260 on average. Since then, the numbers have gradually flipped, with 317 children entering the system on average each month in FY 2015, which ended June 30, and 286 leaving the system.

Over the six-year span, the foster care monthly average jumped to 6,257 children in fiscal year 2015 from 5,317 in 2009, state figures show.

Read more at: Size of Kansas foster care population up 18 percent

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Adoptive father sentenced 100 years for child sex abuse

An Oklahoma City man was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday for over 20 counts of child sex abuse.

The District Attorney's Office requested that Robert Allen Shirley, 54, be sentenced to 200 years, but District Judge Lori Walkley lowered the sentenced to 100 years, said Shirley's defense attorney Elton Jenkins on Friday.

Shirley was charged with 26 counts of child sex abuse and two counts of enabling child abuse in 2013 after several children were forensically interviewed at the Mary Abbott Children's House.

According to an affidavit filed with the charges, Shirley’s wife reported that her four children said they were sexually molested by Shirley, the children's adoptive father, records show.

The children, two females and two males, ranged in age from eight to 11. The abuse began sometime in 2011 beginning with the oldest female, the affidavit states.

The siblings were forced to shower together, touch each other inappropriately and Shirley engaged in inappropriate sexual acts with them, the document said.

All of the incidents occurred in Shirley’s Oklahoma City home, located in Cleveland County, the affidavit shows.

 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Arizona foster-care numbers rose over decade, as national numbers fell

Advocates hold photos of foster children during an April 2013 rally af the Arizona State Courts bulding in Phoenix. WASHINGTON – Arizona saw the number of kids in its foster care system rise significantly from 2002-2012, a time when most other states were posting sharp drops in their foster care rolls, according to new federal data.

The report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said Arizona was one of 11 states with an increase in foster children and one of only two – along with Texas – with significant increases.

Arizona had the second-largest increase in the nation over the decade, adding 7,296 children to Texas’ 8,294. There were 15,751 foster kids in Arizona at the end of March, according to the latest numbers from the state.

Advocates said the numbers are more evidence of a state foster care system in crisis, one that has been “overworked and overwhelmed” as budgets have been cut.

“There was a perfect storm of things – the recession hit, the budget cuts had to be made and so more kids were coming in to care,” said Russ Funk, director of marketing and family recruitment at Aid to Adoption of Special Kids.

State officials said there is no one reason for the increase, but expressed confidence that recent improvements will have an effect.

After reports in late 2013 that more than 6,000 foster-care cases had not been investigated, Gov. Jan Brewer created a Child Advocate Response Examination (CARE) Team of lawmakers, advocates and state officials to oversee those cases and monitor Child Protective Services.

And the Legislature this spring voted to give oversight of the state’s foster care system to a new Department of Child Safety.

Jennifer Bowser, a spokeswoman for the new department, said she has seen improvements made “all over the place” to the state’s child care system since the agency’s creation.

Bowser said the state is revamping its training process for caseworkers, has reviewed legislation for additional staffing and is making significant progress on backlogged cases.

The 15,751 children in out-of-home care this March represented an increase of 714 children from the previous year, according to the state.

While the state is attempting to improve the child protective services system and provide more preventive services, families are still faced with challenges that put them in difficult situations – situations that can lead to their children being placed in foster care.

“There are a variety of different reasons that children become neglected or put at risk of being neglected when their parents are struggling,” Funk said.

Beth Rosenberg, director of child welfare and juvenile justice at Children’s Action Alliance, said the increases are occurring because of a system that has been “overworked and overwhelmed.”

“We were bringing more kids in to the system than the kids were leaving the system,” she said.

Funk said a prime factor for the surge of children in the Arizona foster care system was budget cuts during the recession that led to reductions in preventive services, such as parenting skill workshops and addiction rehab support.

And while the system was gaining kids, Funk said, there are “fewer caseworkers handling more cases with less services in place to help return those children” to their families.

Bowser agreed that socioeconomic challenges and substance-abuse issues could make it more likely that a child is removed from his or her home.

“If we can provide more prevention services – early intervention services – the hope is to not have the children need to be removed,” she said.

Wrongful-death suit filed against DSS, foster parent in Charleston infant’s death

Former DSS Director Lillian Koller

Former DSS Director Lillian Koller

By all accounts, the birth of Aiden Dean Clark was nothing short of miraculous.

His mother, wheelchair-bound from spina bifida, had miscarried three times before Aiden was born July 7, 2011.

The hopeful beginnings of new life in the family came to an abrupt end less than two weeks later after state social workers removed him from his parents' Charleston home.

They had placed Aiden with a foster mother after allegations of abuse surfaced against his father shortly after the baby's birth. Aiden died 15 days later.

Aiden's parents stood by the then-brain dead infant at Medical University Hospital as doctors turned off the machines keeping him alive. His father held Aiden's tiny foot as the baby took his final breaths.

Ellen Babb, an attorney for the family, said this didn't have to happen. A wrongful death lawsuit she filed last week in Charleston County alleges Aiden essentially suffocated after the foster mother left him alone in a sweater box instead of a crib.

The suit is the latest in a string of setbacks for the beleaguered state Department of Social Services, which has been the subject of widespread criticism regarding its practices and child deaths that have occurred on its watch.

Former DSS Director Lillian Koller and the foster mother, Jennie Downard, 71, of North Charleston, are both named as defendants in the suit. Aiden's parents weren't identified in the court documents.

Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said she can't say whether the baby died as a result of the foster mother's actions. A lengthy and thorough investigation conducted by her office failed to determine a manner or cause of death, she said.

"Whatever Ellen Babb alleged in her complaint is what she believes to be the case," Wooten said. "It's not necessarily based in fact."

No criminal charges were filed in the case, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said.

"As a result of our investigation at the time, there was no evidence presented to show any intentional and harmful acts, nor was there any probable cause to lead to criminal charges in this incident," Pryor said.

DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus would not speak directly to the allegations in the suit, but she defended the decision to remove Aiden from the parents' home.

Read More at: Wrongful-death suit filed against DSS, foster parent in Charleston infant's death

A version of this column originally appeared in: