I hear mean things said about foster & adoptive parents, social workers, educators, and guardian ad-Litems too often.

Many people involved in child protection are receiving unfair treatment. This is why I became a guardian – a friend’s adoption problems prompted me to act). Now, as funding drys up and services are restricted or eliminated, results are worsening and more and more people are being mistreated by service providers.

It is easy to blame the teachers, social workers, and guardians ad-litem and argue for the dissolution of the system when we are mistreated by it.

How simple the solution; fire them all, kill the programs, and everything will be improved.

After working with service providers over a twelve year period as a volunteer guardian ad-litem, and knowing how impossible their tasks are, with the training they receive (and don’t receive), the resources they have (and don’t have) and the overwhelming amount of work they are burdened with each day, I know that the rest of us are missing a VERY BIG point.

America’s institutions need support and improvement and not destructive criticism*.

It is because programs are underfunded and and under-supported that training and standards are lower than they should be, which puts under-trained and under-qualified people into high stress positions without adequate training or tools to do the work.

NO, it is we the people that have voted to underfund our schools and social programs (and 35W bridge maintenance) that have created the painful failure we are living with today. The bridge fell in the river for the same reason our schools, jails, and child protection systems are struggling so mightily-we failed to maintain it.

It’s not the lack of commitment from the people that go to work every day trying hard to make a difference in their community and the lives of the children in their classrooms or caseloads (I’m really convinced of this).

It is America’s inability to face the fact that we have created monster problems that will continue to worsen until we support solutions that will fix them (and not just hate on the people doing the work).

Over my twelve twelve years in the system, I have found the teachers, social workers, and guardians, to be a very committed bunch of people. It is hard work and they are attacked from most sectors (troubled parents, the public, the media, and not much support back at the office). Art teachers have wept as they have told me their stories. Social workers on the east and west coast have it really hard when it comes to bad press and not much help back at the office (from comments made to me after the United Nations talk and my research).

I have experienced and written about the huge mistakes made and the great pain to all involved because of our failing institutions, but to listen to people demanding the destruction of the guardian ad-litem program instead of improving it, would leave children with absolutely no voice in an already cold and overwhelming system.

Foster and adoptive parents face a complicated system with unpredictable results due to the institutions we continue to band aid together to cope with the growing problems we are facing. The people I’ve met are sincere, many of them poor and trying to help children and their community with very limited resources and very troubled children. Many communities are barely able to make life tolerable for foster children. This may explain the recent statistic that 80% of youth aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives.

To blame social workers when a baby is found in a dumpster is wrong. The case loads the American public demands social workers carry and the scarce resources that are available for struggling families and children explains why the vast majority of violent crime committed by youth came out of under 4% of Ramsey county family (A.C.E. study) and 90 percent of the youth in juvenile justice have come through the child protection system (according to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz). It also explains why American girls have among the highest STD and preteen pregnancy rates in the world.

Blaming Teachers for failed schools in like holding police officers accountable for the criminal in the squad car. Until children are ready to learn, we are making educators managers of out of control children, not teachers. The amount of Prozac, Ritalin, and other psychotropic medications proscribed to American youth (without therapy) is astronomical. Teachers would be astounded if they knew the data.

It is up to us who are working for positive change that we recognize who are friends are and quit throwing rocks at them.

Here are some positive suggestions, please add more through the comment section;

1) Program accountability (make programs measurable) I have suggested the highly successful Social Solutions program that has been required by Kaiser Permanente and is getting a foothold at CASA California. It was invented by a social worker that wanted service providers to be paid like baseball players. And it works incredibly well to track all the changes in outcomes based measurements. It should be used everywhere.

2) Legislation in all states is 20 years behind the problem. We the people are the only ones that can change this. Reaching out to progressive states for the types of legislation being proposed is my suggestion. Keep in mind, this nation tries 150,000 youth as adults each year, just quit executing juveniles (those who committed crimes as juveniles) and locking up juveniles for life).

3) How are judges trained to handle child protection cases in your community? Is there an understanding of how this court needs to work (it is not traffic court).

4) Are services coordinated in your community, or are they a jumble of people that don’t talk to each other providing a mismash of poorly defined resources to very troubled people?

5) Raise the level of understanding and attention to the issues; speaking/writing/media. Do something to alert people to the issues. No change can come until people understand more and see a need for change.

6) Better models for adoption and foster care (let’s make a list; https://www.invisiblechildren.org/2010/04/11/adoptees-have-answers-and-lots-of-questons/






International conversation; Share your thoughts please

*This is what hate radio does (there is nothing constructive about it – all about tearing down, and no ideas for making things better) please don’t get in the habit, this is destroying our nation.


  1. I read the article with great interest. Although I agree that blaming the system is not productive, the system is largely to blame for failures particularly in its inability to transform itself. Change should not occur only when a child dies. Nor should it take the courts to act in the best interest of the child which is a slow process that chews up childhoods and futures.

    A review of the cases in Pennsylvania about judges who took kickbacks to place children in juvenile facilities showed the system viewed children as a commodity. A broken system lacking an understanding of their ethical duties with countless social workers, lawyers, police, schools and court personnel looking the other way in order to keep their jobs. Few had the courage to stand up against 2 corrupt judges. That system needs to be abandoned completely forever.

    Foster care is finanically based with little thought to providing an optimal life for children. A critical look at foster care starts with a national objective to vastly improve the system. Public policy is the underpinnings of all legislation and social change. The time is now.

  2. Evelynn, it is my mistake in not drawing a clear distinction between the system and the people working within the system. The intent of my article was to support the people as they struggle to help children within a failing system.

    It is true that troubled systems have more corrupt individuals, bad practices https://www.invisiblechildren.org/2010/04/30/kids-for-cash-privatizing-punishment-what-could-be-more-wrong/ , and under-trained and poorly selected workers. My experience has been that the vast majority of the workers are underpaid individuals working in the field out of a sincere desire to make a difference and help people (and not like the Pennsylvania judge who made himself rich incarcerating innocent youth).

    It is the Foster Care system that needs attention https://www.invisiblechildren.org/2010/04/07/fixing-foster-care/

    to insure that the motivations and resources are in sync with the needs of the children being served.

    I am in favor of accountability and fixing broken systems. The sooner the better.

  3. Let me correct one important factual error. The I-35W bridge in Minneapolis did not collapse because of a lack of maintenance. It collapsed because of a design error when the bridge was built more than 40 years ago. I urge you to look at the final National Transportation Safety Board accident report, which is the definitive statement on the cause. You can read the final report at this link; http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2008/HAR0803.pdf.

  4. For years the Star Tribune reported on the ongoing battle between the anti tax people and the engineers requesting maintenance funding for the 35W bridge and those funds were continually denied.

    The following is one of the articles that question the NTSB conclusions.

    It is beyond my comprehension that having photographed the broken bolts and buckling gusset plates, the NTSB would not think that maintenance and replacement of those obviously failing parts might not have impacted the collapse that was about to happen.

    Date: January 25, 2008
    An engineer’s view on the NTSB findings
    In her Jan. 21 column, Katherine Kersten is dismissive of anyone questioning the early findings of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Kersten says, “Suddenly every critic seemed to have an engineering degree in his back pocket.” While I do not carry my degree in my back pocket, I do proudly display it on my wall. I also happen to sit on the Joint Committee on the Bridge Collapse.

    This is the bipartisan group representing both bodies of the Legislature that is investigating the actions and decisions leading up to and following the bridge collapse. While the scope of our investigation is different than the NTSB, which will determine the structural cause of the collapse, we must determine if at the state level there is anything we could’ve done differently or change in the future to prevent such a disaster.

    As a licensed professional engineer (P.E.), I practiced engineering with a disciplined group of people. We have a code of conduct that discourages uniformed comment or conclusions outside our areas of expertise. Watch the media carefully and you will not see P.E.’s make conclusions on incomplete evidence.

    The collapse was not an act of God, it was an error of oversight. Something was missed.

    If there was an original design, specification or construction error that compromised the safety factor, it was overlooked several times over 40 years. Additional lanes, extra roadway thickness and heavier medians were added, along with 33 percent more traffic, evidently without reverifying load capacity.

    After the bridge fell into the river, I began reviewing the many years of the bridge-inspection reports. I was surprised to see that problems were often reported for more than a decade without corrective action. There were instances where the inspectors used exclamation points to draw attention to unaddressed problems. Other reports included many broken bolts and a tipped pier; and “significant section loss.” However, in its preliminary findings, the NTSB dismisses any factor related to the inspection, maintenance, or condition of the bridge as a potential cause for collapse.

    As an engineer, I find this unsettling and inappropriate. Does the NTSB not think that broken bolts are warning signs? Do they not think a tipped pier ought to be analyzed? Do they not think that “significant section loss” weakens gussets? Could not adding lanes, road thickness, and heavier medians to underdesigned gussets be an error?

    The NTSB does have a superb reputation when it comes to solving the causes of complex disasters. However, some of its recent actions are calling that reputation into question. The day after the bridge collapse, Gov. Pawlenty hired the firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates (WJE) to conduct a “parallel” investigation. This firm is now working hand-in-hand with the NTSB, under a contract administered by MnDOT. However, WJE is also under obligation to represent MnDOT in any litigation stemming from the collapse—a clear conflict of interest that undermines the work of the NTSB.

    Mark Rosenker, the chairman of the NTSB, has also created credibility issues. He is not an engineer. He is a former Air Force General, Cheney staffer and lobbyist. He has also been involved in several Republican presidential campaigns. His rush to pin the blame on a 40-year-old design problem, while ignoring all the other contributing factors, is unseemly at best. He also said that never in the history of his organization had they seen a similar underdesigning of gusset plates, yet in 1996, Ohio discovered gussets were too thin on a sagging bridge. Since then, Ohio bridge inspectors have been inspecting gusset plate design, which Rosenker also stated inspectors are not trained to do.

    Despite Ms. Kersten’s objections, from an engineering perspective, some actions and statements of the NTSB warrant a degree of skepticism. I, along with the public, anxiously await the full findings of their report.

    In the meantime, state senators and representatives will do their part in conducting a bi-partisan investigation of the decisions that allowed this horrible tragedy to occur. When we think of the 13 that lost their lives, the dozens who were injured, and all of the Minnesotans who travel our state’s roads and bridges everyday, we can, in good conscience, do no less.

    State Sen. Jim Carlson

    Retired P.E., Mechanical
    News Release
    State Senator Jim Carlson
    District 38
    G-9 Capitol
    75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    St. Paul, MN 55155-1606
    Telephone (651) 297-8073

  5. Mike—
    Stopped by the Dust Jacket bookstore yesterday in Hastings to browse. I saw a copy of your book lying on a table. Asked the owner about it.He told me your story and how your book came to be written. I bought one and just finished it this morning.
    I am a retired high school teacher (Red Wing) who had a special place in my heart for these amazing Invisible Children! I have a personal childhood history of abuse, so my heart is with these kids. My life was changed because of caring teachers! They believed in me and encouraged me to attend college.
    As a teacher, my life was a vocation with adolescents.I dealt with kids who were sexually abused in their homes. Some had parents who were poor, addicts, and unavailable. Others had parents who were doctors, lawyers, and teachers. I addressed a state committee years ago about how essential it is to providedor children in school with trained and proactive professionals to identify these kids and “go to bat for them” because school could very well be the child’s safe, caring environment to flourish–in fact, “a home away from home.”
    The problems seem overwhelming. I applaud your advocacy, Mike!

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