Cents and Sensibility: The Business of Child Abuse
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.