LA Foster Care: The Hitchhiker Guide to Foster Care: Follow the Money
LA Fo$ter Care: A hitchhiker Guide to Foster Care: Follow the Money.
The Business of Child Abuse:
By Joshua Allen
Speak privately to any number of Foster Care Social Workers and the questioner learns something fast. The care and wellbeing of abused and neglected children is not the primary focus or priority of Foster Care Agencies. Foster Care Agencies first priority is geared towards growth (increasing revenues) and towards passing County Audits and inspections. I have interviewed dozens of foster care social workers over the years and the above is a constant and frequent theme. There are exceptions of course, and many individuals in these agencies do have as their intent the best interests of foster children.
This does not negate however the foolishness of a system that is geared towards passing county audits or inspections over the wellbeing of abused and neglected children. Agencies are terrified of audits and county inspections. They are terrified because the county uses these audits to discipline or close them down if they are big offenders towards the care of foster children or because of financial malfeasance and misappropriation of funds.
Yet, it is hard for a foster agency to be closed down by county officials no matter what they’ve done. Just think about Martin Luther King Hospital and you can get some idea about how effective the Board of Supervisors are when confronted with a corrupt or incompetent organization. Foster Care Agencies stay open and generate large salaries for their owners (and friends and family) despite misappropriations of hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of years and despite numerous warnings and red flags to county officials. http://file.lacounty.gov/Auditor/audit_reports/Children%20and%20Family%20Services%20-%20Adoption/cms1_070613.pdf Agencies stay open when owners and administrators intentionally violate regulations and guidelines and over pay themselves tens of thousands of dollars each year only to be made to pay it back for the single year they were audited. http://file.lacounty.gov/Auditor/audit_reports/Children%20and%20Family%20Services%20-%20Adoption/cms1_080315.pdf Agencies stay open when they can’t properly account for hundreds of thousands of dollars and spend years arguing with the county about it. http://file.lacounty.gov/Auditor/audit_reports/Children%20and%20Family%20Services%20-%20Adoption/cms1_132473.pdf And here is why. Agencies stay open because they play (and pay) politics. And if “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” abused children are the mother’s milk of agencies.
Politics is about relationships, and a foster agency thrives because of relationships. A good relationship with a particular DCFS office, a Supervisor or even a County Social Worker who are responsible for placing Abused and Neglected Children into their foster homes is worth a large percentage of Agency revenues. Agencies do everything they can to cultivate these DCFS relationships because of the millions of dollars involved.
Relationships with County Analysts and State Licensing officials who are responsible for policing, inspecting and checking into any incidents or irregularities insures an agency runs smoothly. If an agency doesn’t have a good relationship with their analyst they are in big trouble since violations of regulations can be found anywhere and at any time, basically whenever they look. This could then impact their ability to place further children in their certified foster homes and maintain revenues.
And equally important are an agencies relationship with Foster Parents, who provides the bed space and revenue streams that keep the whole project going and growing. You must keep foster parents happy or they will leave for greener pastures.
Agencies play on the nature of their work to win support from local politicians, radio hosts, community activists and well-meaning businesses and organizations who they exploit for everything from toys or event tickets for the children (good) to free airtime, advertisements, and cash gifts. Who doesn’t want to help abused children?
To add a veneer of legitimacy, an agency will sometime recruit an upstanding member of the community to sit on and balance out the board of directors that may be have too many relatives or paid employees of the agency owner or be unbalanced in other ways. And although in theory board members are only supposed to be compensated with an occasional meal and gas money some of them will fight to the death before giving up their seat or allow themselves to be replaced. In two decades I have never seen a board member penalized for allowing an agency to commit malfeasance but I digress.
Generally, Foster Care Agencies are audited every year or two to check for irregularities with social worker and foster parent paperwork, quality of care in the foster home and insuring that foster parent and social worker files contain appropriate degrees, certifications and fingerprint checks. (Over the years I have seen more than a few foster care social workers thrown out after it was discovered that had forged their degree so I have to wonder how frequent occurrence this is in the real world of corporate hiring).
Agencies are audited fiscally much less frequently and this should change. Fiscal audits often occur when the county has received a number of complaints either regarding child care issues or financial malfeasance. A common denominator when an agency is investigated is a preponderance of complaints from disgruntled employees who may or may not have truth behind their claim. An agency that fires more than a quarter of their workforce per year is asking for trouble but amazingly this still occurs.
In theory non fiscal audits of files are supposed to be yearly but are rarely so unless the agency is on the county radar. Audits are usually postponed for weeks and months after being announced. Agencies use threats of upcoming audits to motivate social workers and other personnel to get their act together and have all paperwork and foster homes in order. Sometimes the county will warn the agency in advance which files and foster homes they plan to check and inspect. And the agency knows that files of any and all children on psychotropic medication are the first to be examined.
An audit lasts anywhere from a day to several weeks and include inspections into the paperwork for anywhere from 10 to dozens of foster children. Auditors will also visit a few foster homes and conduct perfunctory interviews with foster parents and foster children to insure the agency is performing up to minimal standards. Sometimes Spanish speaking foster parents with little or no English are interviewed by a county official with little or no Spanish. (Or for that matter, little or no common sense).
How well the agency, foster parent, and social workers do in assisting or helping foster children work through the multitude of psychological and academic issues they face on a daily basis is not the question. In reality, the important thing to both the Agency and County is the quality of documentation. In other words, are the T’s crossed and I’s dotted.
County and Agency foster care social workers are almost always evaluated as an employee from the quality and completeness of their paperwork. This is sort of fair I guess, at least as far as it goes; due diligence keeps the lawyers away and to some at least, is the only way the county and agency can evaluate the care and quality of their own work. Well at least their paperwork!
Agencies obsess about these audits and discussions about passing them takes up a huge percentage of time during staff meetings and trainings. A social worker depressingly learns the bulk of their time is to be spent in documentation and ensuring due diligence. There is a dark joke in foster care about drive byes, but this is not about gang shootings. The myth is about the social worker who calls the foster parent from their car and has them bring the baby or toddler outside and hold them up, or perhaps spin them around to ensure to the worker the child is healthy, alive and unmarked. The same social worker would then go back to their computer and spend an hour or two documenting the encounter.
Now about lawyers; after the auditor, the biggest fear an agency has is from lawyers. Every foster child is assigned a lawyer to represent their interest in court. These lawyers are the lowest paid attorneys in the county system. At the same time foster children are assigned a lawyer, their birth parents are also assigned a lawyer to represent their interests in court. And, as if 2 lawyers weren’t enough, (is it ever?) the county has their own lawyer to represent them separately since county interests may not be consistent with the interests of the foster child.
So basically there are 3 lawyers for each case. Reaching any of these lawyers on the phone is about as easy as breaking out of Alcatraz. And go figure, the lawyers are overworked and have too many cases to do the job properly. Most foster children as well as birth parents wish they could have more time with them working on their case. Actually birth parents would probably just settle for a returned phone call.
An abusive parent who has enough money to pay privately for a decent lawyer will probably have their child returned a lot quicker (with some monitoring) than the typical birth parent that becomes ensnared in the county system. Does this surprise anyone? (Actually, an abusive parent who has enough money to hire a lawyer is much less likely to have their child removed in the first place).