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The Business Of Child Abuse: The Good, The Bad, The Corruption

Archive for February 24th, 2010

Cents and Sensibility: The Business of Child Abuse

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LA FO$TER CARE:  Cents and Sensibilities:

The Business of Child Abuse.

By Joshua Allen.

Almost weekly there comes a time for the Agency Foster Care Social Worker where the better part of valor means holding on to your job.  It may come during Christmas when CEOs making a buck and a half provide $10-$15 gift certificates (To Target) to foster teens for their Christmas gift, while at the same time spending thousands on a Christmas party.  It could come when the social worker repeatedly notes egregious behavior and conditions by a foster parent in their home, only to watch helplessly as foster children are continually placed in the home, while the foster parent at most, are made to submit to some vague consequence such as retraining, that means just about anything the agency decides it means.  Bed space young man, Bed space…

Allegations of any kind whether obviously true or false, stupid, ridiculous or horrifying, cause the agency to fly into damage control at supersonic speed.  There is nothing wrong with this, children must be protected.  And if that means a social worker go to a foster home at 3 in the morning in pouring rain on a Sunday night in the worst part of town then that is what we do. (There are very few foster homes in Malibu).  This will sometimes necessitate the removing of a child to another home immediately until a more suitable location can be found the next day during working hours.  All I can say is thank heavens for GPS.

False allegations stink, happen all the time, and cause untold damage to foster children, foster parents, and less importantly, social workers and the agency.  False allegations usually originate from disgruntled birthparents with a grudge against the system, the particular foster parent who is sheltering their child, or because they are mentally ill.  The latter is not me being facetious. I have seen many times over the years obviously false allegations by schizophrenic parents being thoroughly and deeply investigated to the detriment of the foster child and the foster home, despite all involved workers knowing from years of experience the history and context from which the allegations were made.  Cover your behind or CYA rules the day.

False allegations however are not just limited to disgruntled birthparents.  I have seen false allegations occur from confused and angry foster children under the incorrect assumption that the untrue allegation will lead to a return to their birth home.  This is very tragic and not uncommon.  And I want to note, that I am differentiating here between false allegations and allegations made in good faith by a mandated reporter that were found to be untrue after a proper investigation. No, I am talking here about the plethora of difficulties we all face when an allegation hits the wire.  And there are many other instances of false allegations that I will cover at a later time.

Early in my career I trained foster parents for several years and saw to their certification as foster parents in good standing.  After several years I went through the list of all the foster parents I had trained and I was shocked to note that after 5 years, almost 50% of the foster parents in the group had been subject to unsubstantiated allegations of child abuse that caused a suspected child abuse report to be made to the hot line, and a full investigation by County investigators.  I then went through the list of all the foster parents in the agency and found mostly the same thing.  Nearly half the foster parents certified by the agency had received some sort of accusation within five years of there being certified.

Most of us including myself have never had an allegation of child abuse made towards us, but I can tell you (especially when you are innocent) it can be harrowing and traumatic.  The county has a few words they use to indicate the results of their investigation.  An allegation can either be substantiated, unsubstantiated, founded, unfounded, or perhaps worst of all inconclusive; with the latter meaning they have no idea what actually happened.  However, without a doubt, the worst victim of a false allegation of child abuse is the foster child.

Having an allegation found to be unsubstantiated or unfounded does not mean that everybody lives happily ever after.  During investigations Foster children are often removed from a home to which they have been bonded to for months or perhaps years.  And many times these children never return to the home for various reasons such as enrollment in a new school, or transfer to another agency that wants to keep the placement and revenue stream within their own confines.  Sometimes, the county worker no longer wants the risk of returning the child to the unjustly tainted home because it is too much bother.  At other times, the old beloved home no longer has the space because new children have been placed there since the removal of the particular child in question.  Empty beds earn no money.

My purpose here is not to excoriate the county or even the agency that must be diligent in their mission of protecting abused and neglected children.  But so often common sense does not rule the day when children are removed from homes and foster parents whom they have grown to love and have bonded with. Many experienced County Social Workers will not let this happen.  However the county has a huge attrition rate of social workers who last less than one year!  And I mean huge.  And so agencies are often faced with a Hobson’s choice when balancing the best needs of the child that must always (but doesn’t always) come first.

The last thing an agency wants to do is fight the system or give the slightest perception they are not doing everything they have to do to protect the child.  There is morality involved, and there is money. Money that is lost when an agency’s reputation is tarnished. Money that is lost when a foster home has empty beds.  So the default position therefore is to remove the child to a “safer” location preferably within the agency, until the county can sort things out.  Over the years I have seen dozens of children moved and transferred to different foster homes because of false allegations and frankly I have no simple answers to this quandary.  As I said above, it stinks.  Do you ever wonder what the children say?  Sometimes I do.  Sometimes I don’t sleep so well.

Written by joshuaallenonline

February 24, 2010 at 6:46 pm

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The Business of Child Abuse: Kids full of dollars

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Foster Care:   Kids Full of Dollars.

The Business of Child Abuse.

By Joshua Allen:

I learned a surprising lesson early on when I became a social worker.  Child abuse is Big Business.     Child abuse pays all or part of the salaries of doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, psychologists, therapists, counselors, tutors, dentists, social workers, social worker supervisors, administrators, directors, fundraisers, grant writers, consultants, mental health educators, inspector’s, audit controllers, quality assurance investigators,  car seat manufacturers,   CPR trainers, …the list is endless.   A bureaucracy totaling billions of dollars a year exists in Los Angeles just to handle child abuse.  Millions of trees are mercilessly slaughtered just to provide the paperwork for the thousands of reports and lawyer friendly documents required to keep the whole process moving smoothly.   And while the amount of children in foster care has decreased by more than half during the past  five years, the amount of tax dollars budgeted by the county has remained almost the same, despite the governor’s recent across-the-board cuts.

Foster children will likely encounter perhaps a half dozen social workers and therapists within several weeks of placement into foster care.  The county has made a large effort in the last few years to quickly reunify abused and neglected children to their birth or relative’s home.  This has reduced the amount of foster children in the system, but has created its own difficulties with a higher incidence of foster children being abused and neglected by parents or family members when they reunify,  because of insufficient time, (for birth parents to overcome whatever caused their children to be taken away), preparation or monitoring by DCFS.  County workers often face a difficult task in trying to balance the best interest of the children, bosses who are pressuring them to return the kids as fast as possible, and the allocation of limited resources.  So it is a trade-off.

Therapy whether healing, helpful or hellish plays a large role in the child-abuse community.  The large majority of therapists and counselors I have encountered are sincere and well-meaning and truly want to help these children to the best of their ability. Difficulties exist however that continues to throw a stumbling block in front of this laudible goal.  As usual, one of the difficulties has to do with money.

When a foster child is first assigned a therapist, he or she will probably encounter either a mental health intern, a licensed therapist (usually an MFT or a clinical psychologist) or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).   Yet, many highly qualified and licensed professionals simply don’t accept Medi-Cal and therefore are out of the picture completely. Others don’t speak Spanish. (This is Los Angeles after all)   Sadly, most of the time foster children and teens are therefore assigned a Well-Meaning but generally inexperienced mental health intern who works under the supervision of a licensed professional.

Frequently a foster child or sibling set will for various reasons be transferred  to a different home which often necessitates assigning a new and different therapist to the case. Changing therapists is not good.  Children and teens that have been around for a while can quickly become inured to any therapeutic interventions because of the large number of helpful therapists and social workers they encounter.     (Personally I would rather walk a mile in tight shoes then encounter a half dozen helpful social workers and therapists at any time, but that’s another story).  The children and teens simply don’t want more therapy after so many therapists and social workers have come and gone. Can you blame them?

The question begs however, why and how often are foster children transferred to many houses (often far apart) during the time they are placed in foster care?  Foster children and teens can be transferred for a variety of legitimate reasons. Change of foster homes can occur because of bad or difficult behavior in the home, to be nearer the birth parent, or to reunite with siblings.  Sometimes the’ fit’ between foster parent and foster child just is not good. (Or sometimes really bad!) Nobody believes this is an ideal situation, and it’s often much worse.  On average, a foster child or teen can be placed in four or more homes after just a couple years.  This does wonders towards their state of mind.

Unfortunately, foster care agencies sometimes have a financial incentive to move children to a different home in order to free up bed space that would otherwise go unused. For example, an agency may transfer a four-year-old child to another home so that two older children can share the vacated room and thus add an extra revenue stream.  Or instead of turning a placement down (forcing the county to find a more appropriate home) an agency may stick a new child in one home while waiting for a different more appropriate home to free up beds.

However, Surprise!… things don’t always work out.  The child can end up staying in the first home, bonding with the foster parent and school system for weeks or months before finally being shipped to the more appropriate home that,  for example,  may have foster parents more skilled in dealing with that child’s particular emotional difficulties.  The county generally doesn’t like this, but are sometimes equally culpable because there is simply not a better alternative, or frankly are lazy and just go along with whatever the agency wants them to do.  Not a bad trait if you happen to be my boss but otherwise as they say on the employee evaluation form “there is room for improvement.”

Other times a foster care agency may accept a child or teenager they know is not a good fit (with the foster parents) hoping things will eventually work out and thus create a revenue stream from the otherwise empty bed.    Foster Care Social Workers and administrators are frequently at odds because of this with the Social Worker usually coming out on the losing end (shocking) and doing his or her best to reconcile an otherwise impossible situation in the foster home.   Believe me, I’ve spent thousands of hours in foster homes doing exactly that.  Well, to tell the truth, it’s sort of our job.   An inappropriate placement of just a few weeks (one that never should have happened) can be worth thousands of dollars to the agency.  Multiply that and you get…well I’ll let you do the math.  And I can guarantee you so will they.

As you can imagine, some agencies are more nefarious about this than others.  Stay tuned.

Written by joshuaallenonline

February 24, 2010 at 6:43 pm

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Foster Care: Crimes, Misdemeanors and Greed

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LA Foster Care:  Crimes, Misdemeanors and Greed

The Business of Child Abuse

By Joshua Allen:

In my previous missive regarding the business of child abuse in Los Angeles I briefly referenced two foster agencies as examples of corruption within the Agency Foster Care system including insight into how the Agencies manipulate and use their own Board of Directors to sign off on,… well just about anything! Brief facts regarding two other culprits continue to drive home my point.

Previously I detailed how two agencies, Hannah’s Children Homes and McKinley’s were found by auditors to be paying excessive or unreasonable salaries (in the case of Hannah’s Children Homes’ two individuals and in the case of McKinney’s one) over $42,000 for the single year audited.  Extrapolating over 5 years, we see that the cost to the taxpayer would be several hundred thousand dollars, since any payback would be for that single year alone.  Extrapolating to the dozens so other agencies not yet investigated, audited or just plain good at covering up, we can easily conclude that money rapaciously grabbed from suffering Abused and Neglected children can comes over time to millions of dollars.

This is no exaggeration. Previously, some agency CEO’s were found to be paying themselves a dozen times that amount as detailed here. And I am not saying the majority of agencies do this.  The truth is there are so few timely fiscal audits to check through publically provided information that I don’t know how bad this problem is, but I have my suspicions.  So if I may, let me give a very recent example.

The case of America Care A 2009 fiscal review found over $234,000 in unsupported or inadequately supported expenditures and over $86,000 in excessive salary payments to 3 individuals.  Now admittedly the former  has a lot to do with lousy paperwork (but not all by any means), and the latter…well, let’s see, over 86 grand in excessive salary to 3 people for one year for this single agency.  Extrapolate this by 5 years again and you have close to a half a million dollars!  Money meant for abused children.  And from a single agency for 3 well connected individuals.  Sadly, whatever excessive salary the county can coerce them to return is apparently for that single year.  Now don’t forget, These people couldn’t even document their gas receipts! (But thank heavens they were responsible for children who were victims of crime, sexual abuse and parental neglect). America Cares a bit too much if you ask me, but for what?…

And change has been slow since International Foster Family Agency was shut down years ago because the CEO paid herself almost $400,000 in salary and benefits for the better part of a decade.  I must admit while old news, this audit is downright salacious.

These days it almost seems  CEO’s and Administrators of some of the greedier agencies feel the “sweet spot,” is an extra  40 grand (beyond their allowable salaries) which they can get away with  for years until being made to return it.  And don’t forget, they only need return the money for the single year when the dreaded “fiscal review,” finally occurs.     Makes cents to me!  And well worth it since there is little downside beyond a “tut tut,” and a stern warning.   (Or at least until the next audit when by that time you have retired to your million dollars home in San Dimas).  Or until other agencies hire you to consult so they too can share in the booty.   It’s enough to make agency big shots cringe in fear.

And it beats me why anyone penalized because of impropriety be it fiscal or having settled close to a dozen cases of sexual harassment be allowed to remain and work in the child abuse industry after a short recess to lick ones wounds (or gold encrusted cotton candy).

This is not the private sector; these people have no right to large tax payer income from the backs of abused children; but then who does?  So here is an idea, let these reformed healers help abused children from private sector dollars should they be truly repentant.

So Board of Supervisors:

Why are fiscal reviews so infrequent? They would pay for themselves!

Why are these people allowed to keep their jobs when it is clear their intentions were not mere errors in accounting but something far worse.

Why are they allowed to come back consulting or with some other job associated with Foster Care Agencies (in effect continued to profit from abused children) when the county has met their own meager burden of truth that forced CEO’s and Administrators to quit in the first place? These people have no sacred right to salaries from the taxpayer.

What are the repercussions when the county makes hundreds of thousands of dollars in over payments and the Agency says nothing?

Final Thought:

The amount of  Abused and Neglected Children in Los Angeles county foster care has decreased by over half during the past 5 years.  Yet, the multibillion dollar budget for Abused and Neglected Children has basically stayed the same during the same period.   Okay…… So what exactly is happening?  Where is that extra money going?  Does anybody think the welfare of Abused and Neglected Children has greatly improved during the same time period?

We have only scratched the surface.

Written by joshuaallenonline

February 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm

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