According to the 2006 California Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care, the state has more than 75,000 children in foster care, almost 80% removed for neglect, 45% have been in foster care for over two years, 17% for more than three years.

African American and American Indian children are disproportionately represented in the system as well as in their probability of leading dysfunctional lives as they age out of foster care.

These recent news posts will bring you up to date on the difficulties being faced by the people of California (and other states) in dealing with the policies and politics of abused and neglected children

A few more observations from California’s Blue Ribbon Commission;

Fewer than 150 full & part time judicial officers preside over the entire dependency court system (many thousands of children are being reported each year).

Full-time juvenile dependency court judges carry an average caseload of 1,000 cases.

Children and parents sometimes do not meet their attorneys until moments before their hearings (reports are often incomplete, it’s hard to get all the facts straight in a few moments).

The median time for a hearing is 10 to 15 minutes (this often determines the fate of a family for many years to come).

Judges are often assigned to juvenile court for short rotations, instead of the recommended three years. (my comment; judges do not always have a good understanding of what they are getting into in juvenile court and it can take some time to adjust to this kind of law practice.

Short term assignments to the juvenile court pretty much insures that about the time the judge begins to understand the complexities of the issues faced by these families and community trying to serve them, the judge moves on – no one is served by this)

Families are often involved with more than one system, yet courts and other agencies do not easily share data or information that may be critical to the families’ circumstances.

In my own case as a guardian ad-Litem, I have seen the results of a seven year old terribly abused boy given back to the custody of his terribly abusive father even though the father had a court order (from an adjoining state) keeping him away from young boys. Yes, it has completely destroyed the boy. He is mentally unhealthy and has HIV AIDS today.

My note; every state is facing problems like this. Few states appreciate the value of investing in systems that will save the children they are serving.

California has about 48 initial child abuse reports per 1,000 children according to the kidsdata.org

Article on LA County childcare approach to children in foster care;
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-foster-care5-2010feb05,0,201241.stor

The Department of Children and Family Services will suspend its effort to reduce the number of children in foster care in the wake of the deaths of several children formerly in its care.

By Garrett Therolf
February 5, 2010

Los Angeles County has suspended a long-standing effort to reduce the number of children in foster homes because keeping more of the children with their birth families could be unsafe, the county’s top child-welfare official said.

FOR THE RECORD:

Foster care: The headline for an article in Friday’s Section A about foster care in Los Angeles County incorrectly said county child welfare officials planned to “end” an emphasis on family over foster care. As the story reported, Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn told a reporter last week that such reunifications would not happen as frequently as in the past until new reforms were in place to ensure safety. The county still plans to reunite or preserve families whenever possible. —

The decision marks a turnaround for the Department of Children and Family Services, which for many years has sought to cut the foster care rolls, in part by trying to mend troubled families. The department’s leaders have cited the decline in foster children — from a high of 52,000 in 1997 to a low of 19,900 last year — as one of their proudest achievements.

“I do want these numbers to start going down again but only when I can assure everyone that the work we are doing results in safety for that child who is going home,” said Trish Ploehn, the department’s director.

“I don’t know how much more we can go down in the numbers, though,” she said. “We are a very large county, and it’s possible that we are already at the level where we are supposed to be.”

The decision is the most significant of several reforms made by the department after a series of high-profile child deaths last year, some of which involved the department putting too much faith in its ability to rehabilitate families. In 2009, The Times reported that reunifications led to some children’s further injuries and even deaths. Isabel Garcia, for instance, starved to death two months after child-welfare officials deemed that she, her five siblings and their parents were all doing well.

Toddler Angel Montiel and his siblings were reunited with their parents after the couple enrolled in parenting classes, drug testing and other “family preservation” services.

He subsequently was beaten to death. An autopsy found dozens of injuries, some fresh and some healed, including broken bones and burns. Originally charged with murder, his mother pleaded no contest to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“These cases had a very deep effect on the department,” Ploehn said.

Under the department’s policies, social workers had been encouraged to keep children in their original homes by helping parents deal with problems believed to underlie abuse, including addiction, anger, unemployment and mental illness.

At the same time, the county increased the number of child-parent reunions, reduced the time such reunifications take and — for children who couldn’t go home — doubled the number of adoptions.

In 2007, the department wagered that it could drive the numbers down further. It entered an experimental federal program that pays the county a limited sum for foster care services. If it exceeded that amount, the county had to pay the difference. If it spent less, the county could use the savings to reduce child abuse and neglect as it saw fit.

The policy pivot by Ploehn is likely to be controversial. Foster care has many critics who say children often are dispatched to one place after another without any sense of permanence or normal family life, and end up homeless and unemployed in adulthood.

A group called DCFS Give Us Back Our Children often demonstrates outside Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park, saying that too many children are removed from families unnecessarily.

One member, Sabreen Shabazz, 56, of Los Angeles, cares for her 11-month-old granddaughter, who was removed from her daughter’s custody.

Shabazz worries that her granddaughter might be unnecessarily sent to foster care because the family lives on only $845 a month and sometimes struggles to pay for apartment repairs ordered by the department.

“DCFS has a family preservation unit and they need to focus on that work more, not less,” said Janet Mitchell, a friend who attends the group’s monthly meetings. “Look at Sabreen: She’s a loving grandmother who just needs help. They live in poverty, but the child is happy because she is loved.”

In 2009, at least 17 children died of abuse or neglect even though child-welfare officials were well aware of their troubled family histories. Fourteen youngsters suffered such deaths in 2008.

Among the other reforms under way:

* Three hundred workers are being redeployed to the child abuse investigations unit at a cost of $37.5 million, reducing the average investigator’s caseload from 25 to 18.

* An improved computer system is being developed to provide child-abuse investigators with more information from other county agencies — mental health, for example, or law enforcement — about troubled families.

* An additional layer of review is being added to child-abuse investigations before they can be declared “unfounded.”

* Dozens of workers are being disciplined for their poor handling of cases that ended in death.

By some key measures, however, the county is falling behind schedule on reform efforts, especially the computer system.

That project is overseen by County Chief Executive William T Fujioka because it requires coordination with many county departments.

The need for such a system has been repeated in more than a dozen reports over almost two decades. Each concluded that county agencies were not exchanging vital information that could prevent death and injury to abused children. None inspired significant change.

Once again, the deadline for many of the improvements — such as adding data from county hospitals and local police departments — has passed without action. Work on longer-term goals has barely begun.

Overall, the department’s reform efforts also have been stymied by a 9% reduction in its $1.7-billion budget this year. That’s not likely to improve any time soon: Ploehn has been ordered to plan an additional 9% cut for next year.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Department of Family Services For The Record on DCF’s article;
http://mayorsampressrelease.blogspot.com/2010/02/update-la-times-issues-for-record-on.html

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you for the article. I have been aware of Los Angeles county’s child protection problems for some time now. It seems that after each child has been killed or severely injured, there is talk about what went wrong. But not much is said on how to fix the problem. How many more children must die before action is taken?

  2. In the United States of America our child protection industry is engaging in Medicaid fraud, racketeering and human rights abuses. We have granted the child protection industry unlimited power to remove children from their families on the basis of suspicion alone. There is no system of accountability or oversight in place to deter this. Its mission of protecting children has been undermined by a criminal element. We are allowing criminals to use child protection for their own greed and personal agendas. It has to end.

    Child abuse is a crime. It is assault, rape, torture, starvation and homicide. It is violent crime and the evidence is obvious. There is no mystery to it. We must bring science, logic and reason back into the way we handle violent crimes against children. We must base our statistics on scientific evidence, not mere accusations. We must remove the perpetrator, not the child.

    We are accusing our citizens of crimes without the use of forensic evidence and denying them due process in a criminal court of law. We are tearing children out of the arms of their mothers and fathers, and their extended families without evidence of a crime. We are warehousing children in foster homes and facilities across the nation without evidence of a crime. We are allowing these children to be exposed to sexual abuse in the custody of the states. We are allowing these children to be used in servitude in the custody of the states. We are allowing these children to be brutalized and murdered in the custody of the states. There are children aging out of foster care into homelessness and crime. Our prisons are filled with children who grew up in foster care. It has to end.

    Taking children for profit and abusing them in state custody is not what Walter Mondale had in mind when he signed CAPTA into law in 1974. It is not what Bill Clinton had in mind when he signed ASFA into law in 1997 and it is not what Hilary Clinton had in mind when she wrote “It Takes a Village.”

    These leaders entrusted our professionals working within the child protection industry with the resources to protect abused and orphaned children. It was a noble gesture. But child protection let us down. They failed to fulfill their promise to our children, our leaders and to our great nation. They engage in egregious violations of law and human rights abuses. The industry has been taken over by criminals who have no decency or integrity. They have crossed the line. They have turned child protection into a national disgrace and it has to end.

    We can’t reform an industry that commits atrocities against children. We must start over with new ideas and a completely different approach. We must change the way we think about child abuse and child protection. We must focus our efforts on helping impoverished families build better lives for themselves, not try to turn a profit on human suffering. It is not only impoverished families who are being subjected to brutality. It is any family who can’t afford a costly legal defense against this brutality that is now vulnerable. Your family could be next. It has to end.

    If we tear down the child protection industry and return to the practice of criminal investigations under due process of law in criminal court, the number of cases will drop dramatically. We will have the resources we need to help our impoverished and save billions of tax dollars at the same time. We must do better than this for the future of our nation. *** We must free our mandated reporters from the threat of losing their licenses if they don’t report their suspicions. Let them go back to healing, teaching, protecting and serving without this constant threat hanging over their heads. We must trust that they are competent and intelligent enough to make a distinction between crime and poverty.

    We are turning neighbor against neighbor, family against teachers, doctors, police officers, politicians and our country by allowing the criminal element in child protection to continue on this course. It has to end.

    I encourage every American to join together to:

    1. Call for an immediate nationwide moratorium on all child abuse investigations that do not use forensic evidence;

    2. Call for the immediate transfer of power from child protective services to a division of law enforcement specializing in investigations of violent crime. These investigations must include the use of forensic evidence, and must be conducted independently of anyone working within child protection or in the promotion of child protection, with no financial incentives for taking children whatsoever;

    3. Call for immediate state and federal investigations of every organization affiliated with child protection and family court across the nation for the crimes of Medicaid fraud, racketeering and all other crimes, including crimes against humanity;

    4. Call for the return of children to families who were accused of crimes and denied due process in criminal court keeping in mind that some children may never be going home;

    5. Call for a repeal of CAPTA to end mandated reporting and the child abuse hotline and end the practice of central registries for all cases not proven in a criminal court of law.

    It has to end!

  3. This is a radical suggestion that I cannot agree with.

    Children make unsuitable witnesses in the criminal justice system. There is no protection for children in this nation except for child protection systems.

    Our institutions are troubled and do need help to be effective, I agree.

    The idea of leaving children to the criminal justice system would lead to divorce like wars in court with five an nine year old children being cross examined by brutal legal questioning.

    There is no doubt that children in the U.S. need more protection, more resources, more help, not less.

    Twelve years as a guardian ad-Litem proved to me that without a child protection system, sex abuse of children as young as four or five and horrific violence would be allowed to continue unabated.

    The criminal justice system will not work to protect a child that cannot hold up under cross examination in court and leaving children in violent abusive homes is almost a death sentence.

    Our system in not perfect, but there are many hardworking people trying to make it better.

    I suggest that people who care should draw attention to what needs to be changed and work for positive change.

    Better training for social workers, health care workers (including mental health workers) and most of all, troubled families.

  4. No. Leaving the system intact as it is or worse, adding yet more funding to a system that historically destroys more lives than it serves is not going to work anymore. It’s time for change. By bringing reason and logic back into the equation we will end up with fewer cases based on science not speculation and guesswork. It’s time to think outside the box and search for new ways of helping children. You’re still working from the mindset that we have to destroy the many to save the few when in fact we should not be destroying at all. We should be helping. You actually believe that every parent accused is being justly accused and every family in family court needs to be there, needs intervention, needs therapeutic services. You are clinging to an illusion. This broken, corrupt, vicious system cannot be fixed.

  5. Of the fifty children in my caseload, I can honestly state that the children I worked with all benefited by being in the child protection system. Some of them has been sexually abused for three and four years (all of them were under ten years of age).

    I have written about parents wrongly accused, and our blog is filled with cases of mishandled child protection and wrong of you to tell me what I believe (or for me to tell you what you believe).

    Mistakes are common, social workers need more training and resources, and families certainly need much more help, more crisis nursery centers, more day care, more of allot of things.

    Throwing rocks at people trying to do the work does not help.

    I’ve experienced four year old suicide attempts and written about seven year old suicides that have left a note.

    The illusion is that things will get better if we don’t have a safety net for the children whose lives are endangered by their caregivers (this is what I have experienced).

    Yes, we have a faulty system and it needs to be fixed, but something must be in place to help children in terribly troubled families.

  6. Mike, you believe the 50 children in your caseload need your help. You get paid to help these children and you need your job. I totally understand that. This is not about throwing rocks. Child services is taking children away from families without real evidence of any need for taking them. You obviously did not read my original statement. It’s very clear that you do not understand what I’m saying. Let me break it down. We cannot help people by hurting them. We cannot steal children from the poor. We cannot wrongly accuse parents, snatch their children and needlessly hold them in foster care while we coerce their families to undergo unnecessary therapeutic services and bill those charges to Medicaid because that is Medicaid fraud, it’s illegal, it’s dishonest and it’s immoral. Child sexual abuse is a very complicated issue. How do you know these children were even abused? Because child services told you so? Child services deceives people all the time. Is there forensic evidence in any of the cases you are handling? If not, how do you know what is truth and what is speculation? It’s very easy to manipulate children especially when they are very young and frightened and just want to go home. They will tell you what they think you want to hear if they think it will get them home. Perhaps the reason this child attempts suicide and that child threatens to do so is because they have been coerced into lying about who did what and now realize that because they were duped by child services they have not only made their situation worse but they may never get to go home again. It’s also possible that they are being sexually abused in the custody of the state. That’s very common, you know. No, Mike, it’s a dirty racket that must be replaced with help that is real. Help based on logic, reason, science, and administereed with compassion and love. The system that exists is just too corrupt to continue. Too many children and families have been injured by it. It’s over, Mike. Those 50 cases you are working on will be much better off in the hands of reasonable, rational professionals with no influence from child services, family courts, and the rest of the cast of criminals currently pillaging and plundering our families across the nation. It cannot be fixed. It can only be replaced. It’s only a matter of time.

  7. J, I was never paid, not even for milage. You have not read this blog or the book I have written.

    Twelve years as a businessman turned volunteer guardian ad-Litem watching tortured children in an system that has problems has given me a perspective from the eyes of children that have been severely damaged by their caregivers.

    I did read your original statement. You make many broad generalizations and specific accusations that are not accurate.

    Read my book (it’s a free download on this website, or you can listen to it for free). How do I know the children in my caseload were abused?

    What do you think could cause a four year old to try and kill herself? Or a seven year old to try and kill her five year old sister? She was prostituted by her mother.

    Twelve years of watching traumatized children deal with the worst kind of violence and abuse has us on very different sides of this issue.

    Your name calling and gross generalizations accomplish the opposite of what you are seeking.

    Reason would dictate one issue at a time discussed in a less heated fashion.

    Your points about reasonable rational professionals are well taken.

    Who are they and how do the children that need them find them?

    Best wishes,

    MikeT

  8. Mike,

    A recent survey by Emallee Flaherty found that pediatricians only report about 25% of the acute injuries that they SUSPECT were caused by child abuse. I think that makes about as strong a case for better training of health professionals as we’re likely to see.

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