The Business of Child Abuse: Kids full of dollars
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.