Let Me Show You The Money

August 20, 2016 in CASA, Foster Care, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

children down hill having funI once owned a junkyard that recycled cars so I’m pretty good with managing maintenance, money, expenses and greasy auto parts.

Later I became a volunteer Hennepin County guardian ad Litem – which I recommend highly for anyone interested in a more complete perspective of one’s own self and community and a better understanding of people and economics.  In my CASA guardian ad Litem tenure, I helped to remove about 50 children from their birth homes.

I now see how taking care of broken children is economically allot like taking care of trucks and crushing equipment at the junkyard.

When I tended to the damaged parts of my equipment, everything ran better, there were fewer injuries and no major catastrophes. 

If I tried to save the $200 leaky hose expense on the crusher, the fluid ran out, hydraulic rams failed and the whole junkyard came to a screeching halt (29 employees picking their nose) while repair experts were called in to replace very expensive broken things and sometimes people got hurt when things broke.

At the same time, many thousands of dollars in crushed car revenues were not earned that day (and then there are the worker’s compensation from broken things injuries).

One of my guardian ad Litem boys Alan – not his real name, was tied to a bed, left alone for days at a time (from 4 to 7 years of age – four whole years), sexually abused, starved and beaten so badly that he was covered head to foot in bruises on both sides of his body when I first met him.

This boy’s new adoptive caregiver had a court order in place from another state forbidding him contact with young boys because of what he did to them – but this was not found out at the time and custody of this poor four year old boy was granted to this violent sex offender.

Alan was taken from a perfectly fine foster home to be starved, raped and beaten for four years – until his caregiver first brought him to school when he was seven years old and turned into child protection by a teacher.

Alan already cost the County/State over 3 million dollars by the time he aged out of foster care.  This number does not include the teacher he beat up, a school mate he stabbed, or any of the terrible things he did to the 29 foster and adoptive families that tried so hard to save him or the violence he did to people and things in his daily life.

He also had AIDs and was on one of the most expensive medications I had ever encountered (about $40,000 / year for the pills alone).

Alan has always been a state ward and most likely will always be a state ward.  We became friends over a 12 year period and I understood why he did what he did, why he hated authority (you get that way when you are horribly abused by a parent or caregiver) and how the rest of his life was most likely going to play out after he aged out of foster care.

80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives.

Blaming Alan for violent outbursts and hurting people is like blaming the 35W Bridge for killing and injuring all those men, women and children when it fell in the river a few years ago. 

Federal and State engineers said at the time that it was when, not if this bridge would fail for lack of maintenance.  The bridge was in the bottom three percent of all bridges in America when it collapsed and it was no surprise to those that know bridges.

Saving the long requested (by MNDOT at the time) five million dollars in maintenance because the anti-tax people created a frenzy around unnecessary spending.  This unnecessary spending included education, healthcare, policing and other infrastructure maintenance.

Instead, this bridge maintenance failure cost us almost a billion dollars (rebuilding costs, loss of life and personal injury claims, the Governor’s own estimates of extra driving costs and businesses that folded because they were no longer accessible to the public).  It cost our community 200 times more money to not maintain this bridge.

Like Alan’s violence and institutional costs, these numbers don’t reflect the suffering of the hundreds of families who are to this day living with physical and mental pain from this very avoidable catastrophe.

I’m certain that Alan’s direct costs of three million dollars as he aged out of foster care was less than half of the destruction and pain he visited on our city and the people he lived and worked with (teachers, caregivers, social workers and we poor citizens).  Six million dollars as he aged out of foster care does not seem high to me.

With continued advances in medicine, this young man will probably live a very long time and cost us as a lawbreaker and state ward (and not become a productive and tax paying citizen) two or three times this six million dollar figure.

All this because the child protection system wanted to save foster care money (about $24/day), didn’t investigate the caregiver requesting custody and then placed Alan in the custody of a violent sex offender where he would be horridly abused for many years.  Then, once Alan was in the system we used Prozac, Ritalin, Zoloft and a dozen other questionable psychotropic medications on him instead of providing him with advanced mental health services and something other than twenty nine foster homes that a broken child protection system was able to provide him.

This is just one of the fifty children I worked with in child protection.  Common to all of them were parents that parented just like they had been parented.

Girls without parenting skills have just as many babies (maybe more) as girls with parenting skills.

Where do parenting skills come from (hint, not the stork)?

Preteen moms from abusive homes with no parenting skills often have drug habits and violent boyfriends.  We only read about this phenomena when a child dies – a hundred times that many children are left neglected in cribs and otherwise horribly abused for each child that dies and makes the paper.

You see allot of babies neglected by crack moms when you are a guardian ad Litem.

By now you might be asking, “how is child maintenance going to help this”?

Crisis nurseries, quality daycare, early childhood programs, advanced and consistent mental health services and more help for young families is a start – children respond well when they get help early and moms without parenting skills can be taught them.

A few years ago anti-tax people helped make it impossible for thousands of young families to receive subsidized daycare.  Governor Pawlenty redirected subsidized daycare funding into the  general fund where it disappeared.

The waiting list was 35 families in 1996 and recently it exceeded 7000 families.  As a Hennepin County guardian ad litem I was told to support the removal of children from a decent home because the father who earned ten dollars / hour could not afford daycare (it’s a long story and the County had its reasons – but it was still very wrong).   No way could it have cost less to put four children back into the foster care system than to support the father with day care costs.  And keep in mind we were breaking up a family that was working.  I’ve not said much about the cold and impersonal part of our institutions, but it is a very painful additional piece of our child protection systems.

Institutional daycare in this state at this time is about $14000/yr and out of reach of many needy families.

Children learn fast and immersing them in positive learning environments with people able to identify and treat trauma can fix problems that left untreated lead to personal and social failure and ill health (and that’s forever).

Children want to be normal (they crave it).

Children know normal when they see it.

Once children develop rational coping skills, they use those skills and become able to learn in school, read at grade level and graduate into our larger society.

At this time, America expels more children from daycare (for violent unmanageable behaviors) than any other nation.

In 2014, 20,000 one and two year olds were forced to take Prozac and other psychotropic medications.  Johnson & Johnson has been fined four billion dollars for illegally selling these drugs to pediatricians for use on children and there are over four thousand cases awaiting trial.

Once the cycle of child abuse is broken, these kids grow up as functioning members of society and go on to succeed in school, get jobs, pay taxes and raise normal families.

Until this cycle is broken we will continue to spend billions on prisons and jails, shore up failing schools filled with traumatized children who cannot play well with others or read at grade level and more of us will live in broken and dangerous neighborhoods.

My story today reflects one child and one generation of child abuse and financial ripples that continue for 30, 40 and 50 years.  These costs are growing exponentially for each child (I have 49 other stories) and family not pulled from this river of poverty, drugs, abuse and violence will go on to make another series of very expensive stories.

Recently MN invested almost a billion dollars in a sports stadium, almost a billion dollars in transportation and the ignominious billion dollar 35W Bridge collapse but 25 million for children’s mental health is hard for us to agree on and quality daycare is something most people do not have.

Art Rolnick and the Federal Reserve Bank did a study in 2003 proving the economic return on investment in children to be higher than any other public investment.

Isn’t it time we took investing in our children as seriously as we take our sporting events and transportation?

 

Pliny the Elder 2000 years ago said “What we do to our children, they will do to society”  and it seems to be happening.

All Adults Are the Protectors of All Children

  • There are between 12 & 18 million children reported to child protective services in this nation each year