New Study: Adverse Family Experiences Among Children in Nonparental Care

On May 7, 2014, the results of a new study were relased by The U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. The report explains that children who are raised by both biological Mom and Dad are more likely to have a safe, happy childhood.

According to the study, the worst outcomes for experiencing traumatic events comes from children in foster care, with no biological parental involvement. Following that category, those raised by one biological parent, and those raised by relatives other than parents come in ranking only behind children who are raised by both parents.

Seventy percent of children raised by their biological parents had no adverse family experiences, compared to only 21.7 percent of those raised by one biological parent, and 18.7 percent of those raised by neither of their biological parents. The study found that as the involvement of biological parents decreased, the likelihood of a child experiencing multiple traumatic events increased.

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While it is easy to become mired in the numbers when reviewing such reports, some crystal clear trends emerge from this one:

When examining the prevalence of children with no adverse experiences versus any adverse experiences, the difference between children in nonparental care and children living with one biological parent was quite small. However, as the number of cumulative experiences compared increased, the differences between children in nonparental care and children living with one biological parent grew. Children in nonparental care were about twice as likely as children living with one biological parent to have experienced four or more adverse events.

FOSTER CHILDREN

The study’s results are of particular concern given the high emphasis placed on child removal and foster care placement as the intervention of choice for many families. The report explains:

Children in foster care were particularly likely to have had multiple types of adverse experiences; almost one-half of them had had four or more. More than one-half of children in foster care had ever experienced caregiver violence or caregiver incarceration and almost two-thirds had lived with someone who had an alcohol or drug problem.

A few words of caution are in order. The study explains: “It is likely that some children in nonparental care find themselves in that situation because they had experienced certain adverse family circumstances that necessitated the removal of the child from the birth family – that is, the adverse experience preceded and perhaps even contributed to the nonparental care status rather than being merely associated with it. For example, more than one-half of children entering foster care in 2007 had experienced severe parental neglect and nearly 30% had experienced parental alcohol or drug abuse as contributing reasons for entering foster care.”

CHILD ‘NEGLECT’

A few words about “parental neglect” are in order before proceeding. Neglect is a broad-sweeping accusation that may encompass anything from taking your eyes off of a child for a few moments, to accumulating excessive absences from school, to shouting at your child from your driveway, to providing an insufficient home environment.

Douglas J. Besharov and Jacob W. Dembosky describe “definitional creep,” the phenomenon of ever-expanding definitions of abuse, neglect, and children “in danger of being harmed according to the views of community professionals or child-protective service agencies.”

The Florida Supreme Court grappled with this issue as long ago as 1977. When the state’s neglect statute was challenged, the Court ruled that “without some statutory standards or guidelines, the Legislature has effectively set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders and has left to the courts the power to say who should be detained and who should be set at large. Such a statute is dangerous and does not provide due process of law.” As the ruling in State v. Winters, 346 So.2d 991 (Fla.1977) explained:

A palacial mansion that is clean and spacious could fail to qualify as “necessary shelter,” if it had no heat. A small, overcrowded log cabin may, on the other hand, meet the test. Depending upon the standard adopted, any given shelter, whether in the suburbs or the ghetto, could be found to fall short of “necessary shelter.” Similarly, each person must ask just how much and what quality of food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment he must provide to avoid jeopardy. Nothing in the statute gives us the answer. There are no guidelines.

The state’s legislators rewrote the offending statute, in an effort to effect a constitutional cure. However, in State v. Ayers, 665 So.2d 296 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) the statutes were still found wanting for lack of clarity. Florida’s child savers went back to work, this time adding “willfully or by culpable negligence” language to the child neglect statute. Hovever, Arnold v. State, 755 So.2d 796 (2000) still found it hard to digest the broad, sweeping mandates that constituted the legislative definition of “child neglect.”

The terms “alcohol or drug abuse” are almost-always added to the mix to justify child removals. The reality is that we are not finding junkies having babies in back alleys while shooting up with dirty needles – but that is precisely the impression that the child protection industry wants to convey.

iAlexandria Hill was rescued from parents who smoked marijuana as she slept.

Far more typical is the tragic story of Alexandra Hill, who was removed from her home by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services in November 2012 on a claim of “neglectful supervision.”

Alexandria’s dad, Joshua, readily admits they were smoking pot when their daughter was asleep.

“We never hurt our daughter. She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care,” he said to reporters at KVUE TV.

Nevertheless, that was apparently neglectful enough of a situation for Alexandria to wind up in foster care. Presumably her removal and subsequent placement were sanctified by a judge, at some point in time.

Her outcome was the worst imaginable. Two-year-old Alexandria was rushed to Scott and White Children’s Emergency Hospital and immediately placed on life support. After an investigation, the foster mother’s charges were upgraded to capital murder. Texas MENTOR, the private agency that oversaw the foster home in which she was placed, had a long history of violations.

Bearing in mind that the majority of child removals involve neglect – and certainly do not involve anything resembling what most people would consider as “abuse” – we return once again to the study on hand. The research found that:

Nearly one-half of children in foster care (48.3%) had had four or more adverse experiences, compared with 25%–30% of children in each of the other three caregiver subgroups. Among those other nonparental care subgroups, differences were smaller and mostly nonsignificant.

This is consistent with some other studies of recent vintage regarding outcomes.

According to a California Senate Office of Research study reported on in December 2011, a state survey found that of 2,564 adult prisoners in the state, 14 percent said that they had been in foster care at some point in their lives. The study also found that: “Of the surveyed inmates who had been in foster care, 52 percent of the males and 45 percent of the females said they had resided in group homes. Thirty-one percent of the male inmates and 35 percent of the females lived with a foster family.”

Over one half of the males and nearly half of the females in this population graduated from group home settings.

A British study of children in care or custody released in December 2012 by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate explains: “the overall outcomes and future life chances for these children and young people are extremely poor. The fact that they were away from their home areas and were moved frequently militated against their chances of rehabilitation. The fact of being looked after could escalate a child into the criminal justice system.”

The British study continues on to explain: “In the overwhelming majority of the cases that we inspected, the outcomes for the children and young people were poor. Children and young people were not always protected. Some had been assaulted or sexually exploited; some had themselves assaulted or exploited other children and young people. They had often been criminalised while in care for offences that would probably not have gone to court if they had been living at home. A significant number had gone missing at some point, some a substantial number of times. Their education had suffered and few were well prepared or supported for transition to adulthood.”

The most recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics mentions parental incarceration as among the difficulties faced by foster children. But this raises the question of which is the proverbial chicken, and which is the proverbial egg? There are many disturbing outcomes resulting from child removal and foster care placement that are as yet incompletely understood.

A 2004 study published by the Vera Institute for Justice examined the chronology of arrest, incarceration, and child placement. Researchers noted that: “Many observers worry that the war on drugs and harsher punishments for minor crimes has resulted in more children entering foster care. The data suggest that the opposite is true.”

Contrary to their expectations, the researchers found that: “The vast majority (90 percent) of maternal incarcerations that overlapped child placement started after child placement, as did 85 percent of the arrests that led to those incarcerations. Child removal appears to accelerate criminal activity among the study group’s mothers.”

From Fiscal Year 1997 (the year of removal) to FY 1999, the study group mothers averaged 2.6 convictions each, “a rate far higher than in the pre-removal years.” The researchers came to a startling conclusion — one that is certainly not mentioned with favor among those in the child protection industry. That is that: “family preservation efforts may function as a crime reduction tool. Successful efforts to avert placement not only keep families together and children out of foster care, but can also prevent the increase in maternal criminal activity that can take place following a child’s removal.”

Marilyn C. Moses, a Social Science Analyst at the National Institute of Justice, reported the results of a follow-up study that arrived at much the same conclusion. Researchers from the University of California and the University of Chicago focused on mothers who were incarcerated in Illinois State prisons and the Cook County area, finding that more than one-fourth (27 percent) of the mothers who had been incarcerated also had a child who had been placed in foster care at some point during the child’s life.

“But surprisingly, researchers found, the mother’s incarceration was not the reason the child was placed in foster care,” Moses explained. While the results appeared to be counter-intuitive, they were nevertheless consistent with those of the earlier Vera Institute study:

In fact, in almost three-quarters of the cases, children were placed in foster care prior to the mother’s first period of incarceration. And in more than 40 percent of those cases, the children entered foster care as many as 3 years before their mothers went to jail.

This finding contradicts a widely held assumption that children are placed in foster care as a direct result of their parents’ incarceration. The early findings indicate that a child’s foster care status is rarely a direct result of a mother’s arrest and imprisonment.

Researchers often appear to be perplexed by such results, perhaps in part because they cling to the perspective that state “intervention” into family life is ipso facto beneficial. Indeed, identifying the “risks” associated with foster care, incarceration, probation, and other interventions frequently becomes an end in and of itself, with researchers paving the way for further inquiry into the devising of appropriate additional interventions to undo the damage done by the original ones.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Arizona CPS Exposed discusses the placement of children

Last week we discussed the disclosures of documents and what family can expect. This week we will discuss what the options are in the placement of your children.

It is rumored than Gov. Jan Brewer is going to call a special session specifically to address the problems with CPS. It is anticipated to start sometime in June.

Make sure you listen to next week’s show when we discuss the CARE team’s report. Is the state moving in the right direction this time?

CPS has decided that in order to protect your children they must be removed from your care. What happens to the children and what was happening at the time your grandkids were taken?

This is where CPS makes no sense and is also where the kidnapping for profit scheme takes hold.

You would think with all of the problems of getting and keeping foster care homes that CPS and the state would welcome family placements. But no. They would prefer to have children sleep in the CPS offices instead of placing them in a home setting!

Ironically at the beginning of our case an article was published in the Arizona Republic, “Many Arizona foster children live far from home.” September 2, 2012 http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/09/01/20120901arizona-foster-children-far-home.html

The article reported on the lack of foster homes for children. Often times children were placed far from home, which causes issues with schooling and visitation. It was because of this article that we became aware and started paying attention to the CPS issues in Arizona. The rise of children being removed from September 2012 to January 2013 was about 1,000 children a month, until it peaked at around 15,000! Currently in Arizona there are over 16,000 children in foster care, up from 11,000 in September 2012 when our grandkids were taken.

CPS is also supposed to try to keep siblings or sibling units together. If you have a small family this might happen. But with a large family this is unlikely. In our case only the twins were placed together, everyone else was placed with no other siblings.

ARS 8-824 states:

“G. The department must make reasonable efforts to place a child with siblings and, if that is not possible, to maintain frequent visitation or other ongoing contact between all siblings.”

“H. If the child is in the temporary custody of the department, the department shall submit not later than the day before the hearing a written report to the court and the parties that state:

7. What efforts the department has made to place siblings together, and if they are not placed together, the specific reasons why this did not occur.

8. If the placement of siblings together was not possible for all or any of the siblings, efforts the department has made to facilitate communications among siblings and a proposal for frequent visitation or contact pursuant to subsection G of this section. If frequent visitation or contact with siblings is not recommended, the department shall state the reasons why this could be contrary to the child’s or a sibling’s safety or well-being.”

So the AAG and CPS are using an extremely broad scope of the law claiming an “open police investigation” as the reason they are justified in keeping siblings from being placed together as well as prohibiting visits without any other independent reasons. Later in the case it was more or less just a check box. When they were to report on the placement of children it was stated "least restrictive" placement with no explanations why the children weren't together or placed with family. No one with any power questioned it.

Further ARS 8-821 A states that “the child’s sibling shall also be taken into temporary custody only if reasonable grounds INDEPENDENTLY (emphasis added) exist to believe that temporary custody is clearly necessary to protect the child from suffering abuse or neglect.”

So CPS goes in and takes all children, using this language in the law, and substantiates their actions based on the word and statements from the CPS case manager only, who we know doctors their reports to justify the removal of the children. And you wonder why the number of children in foster care is increasing!

What really shows the lack of compassion for children by the agency and the AAG is in our case when the judge ordered two of the boys to be placed with grandparents. He signed that order on December 13th, yet CPS refused to move the boys until after the 1st of January. They kept these boys with strangers over the Christmas holiday when in fact they could have been celebrating with family.

What placement options are there?

These options are important for family to know and understand so they are prepared if this decision has to be made. Options for your children are:

  • Staying in your care with a safety monitor
  • Placement with immediate family within the state
  • Placement with immediate family outside the state
  • Foster care placement
  • Group home placement

The ORDER of this placement is set by law in ARS 8-514-B:

“The department shall place a child in the least restrictive type of placement available, consistent with the needs of the child. The order for placement preference is as follows:

  1. With a parent.
  2. With a grandparent.
  3. In kinship care with another member of the child’s extended family, including a person who has a significant relationship with child.
  4. In a licensed family foster care.
  5. In a therapeutic foster care.
  6. In a group home.
  7. In a residential treatment facility.”

Is that what really happens?

The state does not want your children leaving the state, even if or especially if the case plan is severance and adoption. The reason is that if the child leaves the state the funding goes with them! If the children are adopted out the state will not receive the adoption bonus. So that option is unlikely, UNLESS you are Native American, which has some special placement requirements.

ICPC’s to place children with family outside the state in our case were never processed and no one could obtain the status of these. (The ICPC is the interstate agreement to place children in CPS custody with out of state placements.)

A safety monitor is also not a likely outcome. That would require a family member or other adult to live in your home to ensure the safety of the children. The outcome of this case would be expected to be a successful reunification since the children aren’t leaving the physical custody of the parent. Once again if the goal is severance and adoption this is not likely to be a recommended option.

Isn’t family supposed to be considered as placement options for the children?

Yes, by ARS 8-514, family is supposed to be sought out as placement options. In fact throughout Arizona law it states that CPS is supposed to make reasonable efforts to locate family for placement. But they didn’t do that. Using a broad definition of “reasonable” I guess they figured obtaining the names was enough of an effort. The only effort they put forth was to DENY family as placement.

In fact they were using the “open police investigation” as the reason why family wasn’t being considered in our case at first. Then they claimed in numerous court documents that they had sought out family and deemed everyone unacceptable. In some cases this was just days after the children were removed and they hadn’t done ANY checks on the family.

We then discovered the grandparents were under investigation, so we contacted the detective on the case to clear up any questions they may have on us. The detective was not even aware of who we were! When we told him we were part of the CPS case, he then refused to speak to us, telling us that he could not verify who we were over the phone. We offered to meet him at his office and show him ID in order to clear this up. Once again he refused. To this date we have no idea what investigation, if any, we were under.

All grandparents were denied custody of the children and each one filed an appeal. Once again laws, procedures and deadlines were not followed by CPS. The paternal grandmother was denied a second time during her appeal because of allegations she was trying to protect her son. The paternal grandfather was able to get his appeal completed by December, about 3 ½ months into the case. We were finally able to get our appeal HEARD 5 ½ months into the case, but only after we got a legislator involved.

Further, in an email exchange we discovered that the AAG had absolutely no intention of placing the children with grandparents when she stated “under no circumstances will we consider grandparents as placement options.”

Against the laws of Arizona (ARS 8-514 B), the AAG was refusing to consider placement with grandparents.

We felt we were living a nightmare. We were facing the real possibility that our grandchildren would be taken away forever. We had no one to speak with about the process to understand what was happening. We tried to get assistance from our government officials, the governor’s office and even the ombudsman for CPS. We found all roads lead to CPS. There is no help for families stuck in the process.

Have you seen any other placement issues?

We have noticed a disturbing trend when CPS places children with family. They often place the child with the abuser or the abuser’s side of the family!

We cannot explain this phenomenon, but a large number of our calls are because CPS placed the children with the abuser or the abuser’s family. The child continues to be abused and the non-abusive parent must fight to gain custody. Often times the court and CPS are aware of the abuse!

In our own case the victim is living with the alleged abusers mother. So while they were all concerned about the mother having contact with the father and risking the safety of the children, they now approved the alleged abuser’s mother to have custody of the daughter. She still maintains contact with her son. So somehow it isn’t okay for the child’s mother to have contact with the alleged abuser but it’s okay for his mother to maintain contact with him and have the victim in her custody.

Also, his mother had similar accusations against her as the mother in the case. She learned of the alleged abuse just after the mother did, if not before.

In another case the father was the abuser. He was abusing the children as well as their mother. During the divorce she begged the court to not give the father visitation rights. But the judge didn’t listen and granted the father unsupervised visitation. So during the court ordered visitation the children were abused. When CPS got involved they removed the children from the mother’s custody because she “failed to protect.” She had a no-win situation. They placed her children in foster care. Eventually she gained custody of the children, but not until several months later.

These are the cases where you really have to question the motives of CPS. Why would they knowingly place the child with the abuser?

Sometimes it is other family members wishing to get custody of your children that make the initial report. Perhaps you’ve recently experienced a divorce and the custody battle extends to CPS. Often times it is a grandparent wishing to gain custody of the grandchildren. This is why anonymous reporting should never be permitted.

Only you know your situation and relationship with your family or ex’s. This dynamic could create issues in your CPS case so be prepared.

If the children aren’t placed with family what happens in a foster care placement?

Foster care is a more likely placement for your children, especially if they are infants or pre-school age. These children are highly adoptable and families are seeking to foster these children with hopes of adopting them. When we took the orientation class to become foster parents, we were told that only 50% of the children removed from the family are actually returned to the family in Arizona. We were also in the minority in wanting to foster. At least 75% or more of the families in our orientation class were fostering in order to adopt.

That was definitely the case with the 5 month old in our family. That foster family had been told upon placement that the child would be adoptable. They fought the family over everything, kept the child from attending visitations, wouldn’t permit the mother to attend doctor appointments for the child, and even refused to allow her to see him on his first birthday! They lost him 5 days later when the mother was granted physical custody.

The quality of foster care varies from family to family. Some are very good, others are worse than the situations the child was removed from.

While the state is supposed to consider cultural compatibility for placement it has been ignored. For instance an English-only speaking child was placed with a Spanish-only speaking foster family. Similarly religious and ethnic difference can cause conflict between the child and foster family.

What kind of payments do foster families get?

In Arizona foster families get a minimum of $600 per month for each child. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, on top of that all of the child’s medical expenses, dental expenses, therapy sessions, and other necessary services are paid for by the state. If the child is old enough transportation to their appointments is also provided. A clothing allowance is given for each child and school supplies are also provided. Discounts or free passes for activities are also available for foster families. So while they whine about not getting “paid enough” to foster children, the only additional expenses they have is an increase in food cost plus the daily expenses of maintaining a home, which they already have.

Foster families can take up to 5 foster children – so a foster family could be getting a minimum of $3,000 per month to foster children!

Legislators and others are advocating to raise this payment. When I was on a tele-townhall meeting with Doug Ducey and Bill Montgomery they both indicated they were in support of raising this monthly allotment.

I have family out of state that fosters children. They only foster and will never consider adopting a child. They receive their monthly payment and tell us that there is no way they can spend all that money on the child. They use that money to buy the child toys, clothing and have even used it to purchase Christmas and birthday gifts for the child that they allow the mother to give to the child when she can’t afford it. They get $650 per month, which is only $50 more than Arizona.

Fostering should not be a career. Families should be fostering to truly help the child and work with the family and CPS to encourage a successful reunification. Unfortunately far too many families are fostering for profit or fostering to adopt.

What’s the difference between a foster home and a group home?

Group homes are another placement option. These are homes specifically created for foster children and have a staff to provide supervision and guidance. Older children are often placed in a group home setting.

The group home setting was actually recommended as the best placement for older children, not by CPS but by probation! It was the first thing that made some sense in the whole case.

Older children are bonded to their family and parents and are not as likely to accept foster parents as family. They often resent them, especially if the foster parent is trying to take the place of the biological parents. This happened in our case and the foster mother complained the children were disrespectful and often didn’t want to be involved with their “family.” The foster mom was trying to compete with the bio-mom and the children were rejecting her. They stated “they already have a mom.”

So the group home can provide a setting for the children that doesn’t involve a conflict with the parental role. In fact, our oldest grandson liked the group home he was placed in. While it did turn out okay, it was this group home that kept him out of school for 6 weeks and permitted him access to the internet which he wasn’t supposed to have.

However, group homes are often staffed with young, inexperienced people who have no idea how to “parent” and often just become friends, and not always the best role model.

The lack of supervision in a group home can lead to all sorts of negative behaviors and experiences.

  • Our granddaughter pierced her lip while living in a group home
  • Our grandsons were often bullied in group homes
  • We suspect one or more of the boys were molested in a group home
  • The children often didn’t feel safe from the other children in the group home

As with everything, you can have a good group home or bad ones.

I understand the children are supposed to have certain rights when placed in foster care. Is this true?

Yes, but it’s a well kept secret and apparently only the attorney’s know this secret. We were not aware of it until I was looking through the legal files.

Children are supposed to have certain rights per ARS8-529. But just like everything else they don’t follow the law. These rights are posted on our website under the tab “Understanding the Issue” under “Parental Resources.

For instance the law states the child has the right:

  • To know why the child is in foster care and what will happen to the child and to the child's family, including siblings, and case plans.
  • Didn’t happen. None of our grandchildren knew why they were removed from the family, except the victim. They did not know what would happen to them, the family and had no knowledge of the case plan. In fact, the older children were told that they would be going home on Tuesday, just 4 days after they were taken. One of the boys spent all day that Tuesday waiting by the door with his bags packed waiting to go home. It never happened. Just imagine how he felt.
  • To comply with any approved visitation plan, and to have any restrictions explained to the child in a manner and level of details deemed age appropriate by the foster parent in agreement with the caseworker and documented in the child's record.
  • The children were all denied visitation of any type for the first two months. They then had sibling visits and finally 2 ½ months into the case started visits with mother. But they didn’t have any knowledge why the visits were restricted.With the younger 3 children especially, the visitation plan was not being adhered to, especially with the baby.
  • To attend the child's court hearing and speak to the judge.
  • This didn’t happen until the children’s attorney finally spoke up and insisted. CPS was trying to keep the children out of court. They claimed that attending a court hearing would violate the visitation order. When the judge made the ruling to permit the children to attend court the case manager failed to arrange the transportation.
  • To be free of unnecessary or excessive medication.
  • This one is especially important. Far too many times children are medicated for the wrong reasons. We will cover this more in detail when we cover services and therapy.
  • To report a violation of personal rights specified in this section without fear of punishment, interference, coercion or retaliation, except that an appropriate level of punishment may be applied if the child is proven to have maliciously or wrongfully accused the foster parent.
  • When the children disclosed the abuse happening in their foster homes, we informed our attorney. We were told we could say nothing. The children were supposed to disclose the information to their attorney, we couldn’t discuss it with them. We don’t know if that happened. But in any case, we were told that any complaints against the foster parents would be held against the bio-family. No one told the family that the children had this right. Once again while looking through legal documents I found the information.
    But what is even more hypocritical is that if a child falsely accuses a parent, the system is rigged so that the child MUST be believed at all costs. After all, children do not lie. If the child comes forth later and admits they lied no punishment can be applied to the child and the family has a CPS call on their record.

Next week’s show

Next week we will discuss the CARE team’s reports. Is Arizona going in the right direction this time?

Sources:
Arizona Republic article links:
Many Arizona foster children living far from home, .” September 2, 2012
http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2012/09/01/20120901arizona-foster-children-far-home.html

More spent on foster care than programs to reunite parents and kids

Butler County Children Services spends almost 10 times more money placing endangered children outside their homes than it does funding programs that help parents get their children back. It’s a dilemma agency officials say needs to be addressed, but there are no easy answers.

Butler County Children Services spends almost 10 times more money placing endangered children outside their homes than it does funding programs that help parents get their children back. It’s a dilemma agency officials say needs to be addressed, but there are no easy answers.

BUTLER COUNTY — Butler County Children Services spends almost 10 times more money placing endangered children outside their homes than it does funding programs that help parents get their children back.

It’s a dilemma agency officials say needs to be addressed, but there are no easy answers.

In 2008, Children Services spent $9 million housing children in their custody and $2.6 million on services for parents and families. As of last year, the housing costs have grown to just over $10 million, and service contract costs dropped to just over $1 million. Foster care costs alone have jumped from $3.5 million six years ago to $5.2 million last year.

That’s a problem, according to temporary Assistant Director Bill Morrison.

“How do we shift resources that have necessarily been pushed to absorb ever-increasing placement costs back toward services to families,” Morrison said at a recent agency overhaul brainstorming meeting. “So we have the kind of services available, because if you don’t, you just have ever increasing placement costs… I think, about a month’s worth of placements is a year’s worth of services.”

Children Services Executive Director Jerome Kearns said the drop in dollars for services is a little bit deceiving, because they have made a concerted effort to charge Medicaid for as many services as possible. But it is still a big issue and part of the reason he launched a major agency overhaul on Jan. 16. The executive team is about to reach the midpoint of the four-month-long process. Kearns’ team has been meeting with agency staff and community members to find solutions.

To date, there are about 450 children in the agency’s custody in foster homes, group homes or residential treatment centers. Another 450 to 500 are under the care of a relative other than their parents. There are only about 140 licensed foster homes in the county. Kearns has said the number of children in custody is not the main issue; the length of time children are away from home is.

At a meeting with lawyers and child advocates in February, several “barriers” to successful family reunification were identified. Clogged court dockets and continuances, waiting lists for substance abuse — mainly heroin — treatment and reunification case plans that lack parental buy-in or, in some instances, understanding.

Adolfo Olivas, who is a guardian ad litem for children, said he is not accusing the county of creating cookie-cutter type case plans, but parental buy-in and participation in planning is crucial.

“The measurement of a case plan’s success needs to be the modification of the behaviors not the completion of the service,” he said. “If I go to the zoo every day of the week for a year, I am not going to be an animal. If I go to anger management every day for a month, it’s not necessarily going to make me a better parent. We have to be able to measure behaviors, not just tick off a list.”

One program, the Family Preservation Program — that was a victim of budget cuts — has been touted by many as a very beneficial tool in reunification efforts. It went away two or three years ago.

Social worker Joe Beumer worked in the Family Preservation Program for three years. He said he spent eight hours a week with each family in his care, teaching the parents things many people take for granted, such as budgeting, cooking and how to interact with children.

“There is so much more that the kids need that they are not getting. I can assess the situation in the home and say the kids are safe, and that their needs are met — shelter, education, medical needs, they have water and food in the home and things like that,” he said. “But do they have consistency, do they have routines, do they have rules in the home, do they have expectations, are the parents building their self esteem through positive reinforcement or is it all negative? Those are the types of things that I did with the families in the Family Preservation Program. Unfortunately, that is gone, which kind of leaves a hole in the system.”

Tracy Washington, a guardian ad litem for children, said she wishes the preservation program could be reinstated but the current developmental living skills program is also helpful. The in-home, hands-on approach is the best way to effect change, she said.

“In terms of getting children reunified out of foster care and returned home, giving the family the tools that they need to be a successful family,” she said “In-home programs like that are the types of things I would encourage you to look to as you reorganize and consider how to use resources in the future.”

Kearns said they plan to get data on the Family Preservation Program to see if in fact it was successful. He said there are any number of programs in his business where one group of people may find something valuable and another group will heartily disagree. He was not the director at the time the program was in place so he couldn’t speak first-hand on its value.

As they go through the revamping exercise, Kearns said they are looking at everything people have talked about during the “hard talk” community meetings. But any decisions made, he said, have to be backed up by hard facts.

“We will begin using data to make our decisions. We won’t be making decisions because it feels right or because it seems like it should feel right,” he said. “We will have data.”

As a result of the community meetings, especially the faith-based group, Kearns said new avenues have opened up for dealing with issues, such as the length of time it takes to reunify families. Last month, Kearns and his executive team met with 10 members of churches and other faith-based organizations to discuss ways the agency and the county’s congregations can cooperate to help children and families.

The church leaders and others were very enthusiastic about helping to find foster families and offering mentoring services, which could conceivably be akin to the former preservation program. Kearns said he plans to poll his staff this week about how the congregations could be of service immediately.

“We want to get through this entire process and put this altogether as a package so we have a very purposeful reorganization as we move forward,” Kearns said. “But there are just some things we feel can’t wait, because the momentum has been built in particular with that group.”

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Oklahoma foster care reform efforts criticized

dhs[1]OKLAHOMA CITY —— Oklahoma is making lackluster progress toward its promise to improve its foster-care system, according to a report released Wednesday morning by an independent monitoring panel.

The second report from the monitors of the Pinnacle Plan implementation by the state Department of Human Services gave their first opinion on the state's "good faith efforts to achieve substantial and sustained progress."

The Pinnacle Plan is the negotiated settlement between the agency and the nonprofit Children's Rights, which filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 2008 alleging abuses of children in foster care.

An agreement was reached in early 2012, and the five-year plan started being put into place in August that year. It has 15 areas to improve, with goals and target dates, such as shelter use and the number of available foster placements.

The monitors make twice-a-year reports on how the state is meeting its goals.

At any point, the monitors could obtain court orders if they believe the state is not making significant progress.

The latest report expressed concerns about the sluggish recruitment of foster homes and therapeutic foster homes and the use of emergency shelters for children age 6 and older.

The monitors complimented the caseworkers for their dedication.

"Throughout, the (monitors) have been impressed by the commitment of DHS caseworkers and supervisors to strengthen the Oklahoma child welfare system so that it works better for children and families, although the DHS staff bear an enormous burden trying to do so in the face of very high caseloads and a shortage of safe, family-like placements for children," the report states.

Marcia Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, said this report shows Oklahoma has not changed its priorities regarding children.

Because voters abolished the oversight commission in 2012 in favor of governor oversight, Lowry said the state's top elected official should be held accountable.

"There is clearly a leadership problem here, and the state's promise to implement the plan the state itself outlined in the Pinnacle Plan is clearly not being implemented in many respects," Lowry said. "Although the people in charge have changed and the buck now stops with the governor, children are not any better off."

Lowry said the findings of not making good faith efforts in foster-home recruitment, shelter use and caseloads are "troubling findings."

DHS officials say there has been some disagreement on the data collection and interpretation. A nationally recognized Chicago-based company has been hired to help in those discussions.

Lowry said the lack of data is a reflection of continued bad practices, pointing to problems getting data during the court process.

"There hasn't even been corrected data available and that is so critical in many respects, like foster home and therapeutic home recruitment," Lowry said. "They cannot even get the data straight. I am surprised by this, and I do attribute it to a lack of leadership. They could have done a better job, especially with regard to recruiting foster homes, which is so critical to all of this."

While the monitors have not sought court orders to date, Children's Rights did express concerns to them about the state not giving promised raises to workers and foster parents. The monitors noted that the increases were made late and no orders were needed.

"It is disheartening that Oklahoma seems unable to prioritize the needs of its most vulnerable citizens," stated Fred Dorwart in a written release. His law firm served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

"Children in state care, who already have suffered horrifying trauma, deserve nothing less than good homes and the full attention of those overseeing their cases. The state's practices continue to expose children to harm and the threat of harm."

The report findings are not a surprise to DHS, though officials disagree with some of its findings.

Director Ed Lake has spoken publicly for the past few weeks about the challenges being faced, from high staff turnover to a need for supplemental funding.

The most significant is a jump in the number of children taken out of abusive and neglectful homes, from 8,500 to 11,300, at a time when these reforms are being made.

Lake said he was pleased monitors recognized the work of the staff and those challenges. But he said improvements have been made in each area even though some fell short of the goal.

"It has been an uphill battle at almost every turn with the unexpectedly rapid rise in the number of children being placed in state custody," Lake stated in a written release. "That fact alone has affected key goals in the Pinnacle Plan. The pace of a few of our initiatives hasn't been what we all wanted it to be, but that certainly hasn't been for lack of effort or support for our work.

"We believe progress is being made, even with the number of children in our care, and the data supports our belief."

DHS overhauled its structure of child welfare, hired about 600 workers, reformed investigative procedures and responses to child-abuse allegations and eliminated shelter use for children 2 and younger, and has nearly rid shelter use for all children younger than 6.

"This is not the same department it was two years ago," Lake said. "We are headed in the right direction, but it will take time to get where we want to be. This is only the second year of a five-year improvement plan, and we still have much work ahead."

The cost of the Pinnacle Plan is estimated to be about $100 million over five years. It received $25 million out of the $30 million request to the Legislature the first year, and $32 million out of the $40 million request in the second.

Lake requested $33 million in supplemental funding to get through the fiscal year but no action has been taken.

Though the funding falls short, Lake said DHS has fared better than other agencies.

"We are extremely grateful to Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature for their continuing support and investments they have made to enable these improvements," he said. "The state's financial investment has been considerable, and it's clear this critical work to improve our child welfare system is a high priority."


Highlights from the Pinnacle Plan Monitoring Report

Foster home development and support: Found that DHS was not making a good faith effort in recruiting homes and giving enough resources. Monitors were critical of the delay in establishing contracts with private agencies providing foster care support. They found a net gain of 50 homes last year while the goal was 615.

Foster care rate increase: One increase was made last year. The second scheduled increase has not been given because the Legislature did not provide funding in a supplemental appropriation. DHS plans to make up for that in the next year.

Therapeutic foster care: Found that DHS was not making a good faith effort in recruiting these more specialized homes. The explanation provided indicates some disagreement on how to calculate the number of homes available. A revised plan to meet the goals in this area was submitted by DHS to the monitors and is under review.

Caseloads: Is withholding judgment on good-faith effort until October. Monitors said DHS implemented several ways to improve the environment and turnover, including a redistribution of caseloads. Data was submitted by DHS in December for review. Monitors stated they "do not yet find evidence that workloads are improving in a substantial and sustained direction and DHS will need to demonstrate very significant movement over the next several months." An allegation made by Children's Rights in the lawsuit was that DHS routinely assigned workers at least 50 children and some had up to 100 children.

Shelter use: Monitors found DHS is making a good faith effort on eliminating use of emergency shelters for children 2 and younger. However, the monitors say they are "very concerned" about the growing number of children 6 and older in shelters. They are reserving judgment on good faith for the 2 to 5 age group until October.

Caseworker visitation: Is reserving judgment on good faith until October. DHS submitted data in March, and the parties are reviewing the information.

Placement stability: DHS and the monitors are currently reviewing data. Judgment on good faith is being withheld until October.

Permanency placement: DHS and the monitors are reviewing data. Judgment on good faith is being withheld until October.

Source: Report from the independent monitors of the DHS class action settlement

 

Oklahoma foster care reform efforts criticized

 

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Family charity criticises government’s fostering for adoption plans

Photo by Jayson Lorenzen via Flicker under a Creative Commons License

Photo by Jayson Lorenzen via Flicker under a Creative Commons License 

Charity the Family Rights Group has criticised government plans to introduce a ‘fostering for adoption’ scheme.

In a recently published consultation entitled Adoption: Getting It Right, Making It Work, the Department for Education outlined regulations and guidance designed to accelerate the adoptions process. These include ‘fostering for adoption’. The now closed consultation stated:

“…new Regulations require local authorities, when they are considering adoption, to consider placing the child with foster carers who are also approved prospective adopters and who could go on to adopt the child if adoption becomes the plan and the court makes a placement order or where there is consent.”

The document continued:

“The new Regulations and guidance make clear that the local authority must have considered and given preference to suitable family/friend carers before they consider adoption; and when it would be appropriate (and not appropriate) to consider this provision for children who are voluntarily accommodated.”

The consultation asked reviewers:

“Does the…statutory guidance set out clearly the need to consider and give priority to family and friend carers?”

In its response to the question, the Family Rights Group claimed:

“We support the Government’s intention to reduce delay, to minimise disruption for children, especially babies, who are unable to be raised by their parents, and to help them form secure attachments to their long term carers as early as possible.

However, despite S.22C (9A) [of the] Children Act (CA) 1989 requiring the local authority to consider family and friends placements before considering a foster for adoption placement for a looked after child, we are concerned that the Regulations and associated guidance in this consultation do not provide adequate safeguards to ensure that their chances of being raised by suitable family members are maximised and that the child and their family’s rights to family life are respected.”

Potential carers among the child’s extended family or friends are often late in coming forward during care proceedings because they do not wish to undermine the parents or are unaware of the involvement of social services altogether, the Family Rights Group explained.

“Yet, if an otherwise suitable relative only comes forward to offer to take on the care of the child once the child has been placed in a foster for adoption placement, it is very likely to be too late for them to successfully argue for the child to be moved in order to be placed with them. Given the positive outcomes identified for children in family and friends care as compared with unrelated care and that suitable relatives can offer exactly the same continuity of care in the short and long term as foster for adoption carers, this may well be contrary to children’s welfare. It is therefore essential that there are more robust procedural safeguards than are currently proposed to ensure that all suitable family and friends carers are sought out and assessed before a foster for adoption placement is made.”

In addition, the charity claimed that:

“Although we entirely agree that each child’s welfare needs should be considered when deciding the most appropriate placement for them, this must include their existing relationships and their identity. We are concerned that there is an unsubstantiated, underlying presumption in the guidance against siblings being placed together unless it is proven this is the right option.”

The Family Rights Group “advises families whose children are involved with or need children’s services because of welfare needs or concerns.”

Photo by Jayson Lorenzen via Flicker under a Creative Commons License

A version of this column originally appeared in www.marilynstowe.co.uk.