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May 13, 2014 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Studies show that abused or neglected children placed in foster care face lifelong challenges greater than children who remain with their families.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (57 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
We'll obviously. Removing kids and putting them in foster care is a last resort. It's a choice between very bad or very bad. And only very very bad situations lead (or should lead) to foster care.
posted by Francis at 8:38 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


From a link in TFA:

"Long-term outcomes are rarely observed, and children placed in foster care likely differ from those not placed, making comparisons difficult. This paper uses the removal tendency of investigators as an instrumental variable to identify causal effects of foster care placement on a range of outcomes for school-age children and youth. A rotational assignment process effectively randomizes families to these investigators. The results suggest that children assigned to investigators with higher removal rates are more likely to be placed in foster care themselves, and they have higher delinquency rates, teen birth rates, and lower earnings."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:43 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


The legal system seems to be too blunt an instrument for the variety of situations I hear about from my wife (who works in child counseling/child services). Sometimes I think a kid shouldn't have been taken from his/her family when he was, or vice versa.
While I'm sure the studies are probably true, I hear so many horror stories about children who live in a nightmare with their family...without throwing a lot more money at the situation, there is no solution (and even then, it won't be perfect).
posted by whatgorilla at 8:44 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


We'll obviously. Removing kids and putting them in foster care is a last resort. It's a choice between very bad or very bad. And only very very bad situations lead (or should lead) to foster care.

It usually has to be extremely bad before children are removed, making them already worse off than the ones who aren't taken away.

I had a phone number that once belonged to a Children's Aid outfit and I used to get faxes at three in the morning looking for emergency placements. It took a long time before my number was finally removed, but those faxes burned into my head. Absolutely horrifying what some people do to their children...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:45 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I wonder if that is also an effect of the way the foster system is set up. I read a couple of blogs by foster parents, and the entire thing is years and years of uncertainty for the kids (and the adults, but it's the kids I'm worried about), a fairly negative interaction between the foster parents and the foster programs.

The solution would of course involve lots more money -- to support the poor parents before it got too bad, to support the foster parents when it became necessary.

I wonder if there's a difference between foster kids who go to 17 foster homes in a year and foster kids who go to 2 over a lifetime. I assume so, but it would be nice to have information.
posted by jeather at 8:54 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


"Long-term outcomes are rarely observed, and children placed in foster care likely differ from those not placed, making comparisons difficult. This paper uses the removal tendency of investigators as an instrumental variable to identify causal effects of foster care placement on a range of outcomes for school-age children and youth. A rotational assignment process effectively randomizes families to these investigators. The results suggest that children assigned to investigators with higher removal rates are more likely to be placed in foster care themselves, and they have higher delinquency rates, teen birth rates, and lower earnings."

Prima facie this is a good experimental design but it's hard to say how confident we should be in the results.

Can you post the link you got that from?
posted by grobstein at 9:03 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


My dad was a case worker when I was a kid. One day when he came home from work, I could see he was visibly upset. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, "I just wish that I could promise the kids the I'm taking out if their homes that it's going to get better. And I can't promise that."

I wonder if such terrible long-term outcomes are more complex than just the trauma of removal and readjustment, and it's more the coupling of that trauma with the terrors of your new home. (Obviously not all foster homes are bad. But I know many are.)
posted by joan cusack the second at 9:10 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Here's a clickable link to the MIT PDF.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on May 13


Here's the link.

My initial impression that is that the article is published in the American Economic Review, which is THE journal, and its by an economist, so the statistical methodology should be rigorous.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:13 AM on May 13


We've been doing foster care for a few years, and one of the things that we've noticed is that there is a big difference between a child landing with a good foster family versus being passed from family to family within the system. The first can make bad situation, although not ideal, definitely better in terms of safety and quality of life. The latter is a tragedy, especially for young children who need permanence as part of their emotional development. There is actual healthy brain development that happens based solely on consistency in primary care giving.

My wife told me an interesting statistic that she read lately, that there are more people in prisons that come out of the foster care system than not. Foster care is a necessary evil because of worse evils, but I'd like to think that there is also some serious reform needed before it becomes some beacon of light to the world.

My wife and I feel that what we've done is analogous to wading into cesspool to try to make the best out of what simply would have been a worse situation. We wouldn't do it any differently ourselves, but man could everything about the process be a million times better. Part of the problem is that there just aren't enough caring people in the system to give kids consistent love and permanency despite their emotional trauma before passing them on. But at the same time, the system is so messed up that it's not drawing out these quality people that need to be involved, either. You'd be surprised at how many essential and life-changing (or life-wrecking) parts of the process are reduced to a child's name on a piece of paper rather than relying on the testimony of individuals who have been investing in personal and intimate ways. Kids get moved around like property, not people.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:15 AM on May 13 [18 favorites]


I think part of the problem is probably the uncertainty. "We can't tell you if you're ever going home to your parents" makes it hard to bond with foster parents, when you don't know if it's disloyal or not. And paying people for foster kids incentivizes the worst people.
posted by corb at 9:16 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine who is a foster parent just told me that while he and his partner have said they would like to foster one child, the state agency tried to talk them into eight. (They ended up getting licensed for two.)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:23 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, Florida's experiment with keeping more kids in their homes led to a surge in dead children, so…
posted by klangklangston at 9:30 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]


Thank you so much for posting this. My cousin was placed in foster care when my aunt was having a hard time for a few months when he was one and when he came back he was banging his head on the walls to the point of injuring himself and displaying symptoms of severe psychological distress.

I think they could have helped my aunt without separating her and my cousin, she was not physical abusing him, she was just single, young, poor and overwhelmed and needed more support and made the mistake of letting social workers she thought would help her know how overwhelmed and helpless she felt.

There is a place in my city that allows moms to recover from addiction WITH their children on the premises. I think solutions like this, that allow families to recover in care facilities or supportive housing while keeping the whole family together but providing ongoing care that would help the mothers replenish their health and learn valuable parenting skills and value systems would be a much better way to go. I think if we could reduce the number of removals it may be easier to get placements for kids who have sincerely been beaten or raped/sexally asaulted by their parents and need a permanent new home.

Then again, as an assault survivor something I discovered was that often with my male friends who found out I was a survivor often found that they were... turned on by this fact. One even told me point blank that he was aroused by it and wanted to do the same thing. This was out of character for him and he said so, it was confusing for him and me. I had many men respond to finding this out by becoming aroused and trying to have sex with me on the spot, seemingly both out of pity for what I've been through, but also because there's something raw and vulnerable and appealing about seeing someones wounds. Like a shark smells blood, I feel like there is sometimes something that happens that was not planned, that is out of character. The beast that lays quietly within many of us many never turn up, cbut certain things bay bring it out even n kind people, who don't mean to ever think or do such things.



"It's a choice between very bad or very bad."
Well the surprising thing this is discussing is that very bad might actually equal foster care more than the neglectful abusive homes themselves for a higher number of kids. And that it's not being used as a last resrt, it's often being used to address poverty and lack of support structures for parents in need of extra care, support, and financial stability.

Also I think something people don't realize is how strong the benefit of having YOUR family, even if abusive, who are there for you even if they don't get paid a foster care check or social worker payment. The people who think they love these kids more aren't really able to take them on either or provide them with the care they need. Unless you're ready to take all that on and make sure the child is loved throughout their journey to adulthood and beyond, chances are good you don't actually have more to offer that child than their family.

And they will runaway from you and make family on the streets where they will likely raped, assaulted, get addicted to drugs and all the other things we saw in foster runaways and alumnis who have NO ONE and it's much worse for them than those who at least still had their families to turn to even if the family had been abusive. I know a lot of people who got hit in their homes and still have great relationships with their parents, despite that I think all hitting and spanking and certainly abuse should end, I can't be a mother to every child out there, and there aren't enough adoptive families willing to adopt older children permanently and deal with the behavior problems the kids often have. When we tell kids they aren't allowed to need their family we are messing with some major forces and the side effects of that may or may not be better depending on the person (i.e. some people are better off without their family, some people have needs that are being filled byt heir family that they can't replace any other way and you're messing them up forcing them to detach simply based on some desire for concrete morality imposed onto the situation despite what it actually puts the person through. Not to mention most people are better off leaving an abuser that is filling someimportant needs when THEY are ready, and feel strongly they want out.)

Sticking these kids into some right wing christian cult where they will be beaten into becoming a normal person is not better, and attachment therapies and adoptive parent communities can get weird. (Though many are very awesome and we need more of the awesome sorts) In addition, poor kids are more likely to display behavior problems as symptoms of distress anyway that poor parents can afford quality resources for and so they TOO are more likely to resort to totalitarian or violent parenting.

What's more they often handle the kids PTSD by loading them up on scientifically unsound polypharmacy solutions that the kids often DO NOT LIKE OR WANT. That's a grotesque use of power to deny a persons agency to be upset, distressed about abuse, out of it, or mourning the loss of their families as they naturally deserve the right to. It's not pretty to see and it's not fun to feel, but many people would rather feel what they feel and even take on the struggles those feelings provide than deal with the consequences of bombarding a young persons brain with chemicals that according to some research have worse long term effects than they do good. There tends to be this assumption that anything is better and it's not. More abuse and neglect coming from people who are afforded more social praise for being saints and fostering/adopting than the parents who needed help to begin with (what about paying the parents in need the money that is going to foster parents?)--it's a mess.
posted by xarnop at 9:33 AM on May 13 [12 favorites]


To me, I think if a parent has committed a crime so heinous to their child you need to remove the child, you need to therefore be looking at adoption or residential living depending on the child's preference, not a string of foster families. If the parent hasn't done such things, we need to be providing support structures that support families without separating them to begin with. Honestly it would likely be more affordable to house the families in stable housing with enrichment activites and parent coaching than to pay for all the pscyhiatric services and hospital visits and policing of the criminals and severely mental ill and homeless that we are exiting from the foster program.
posted by xarnop at 9:36 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


And paying people for foster kids incentivizes the worst people.
Anyone have a citation for this?
posted by fullerine at 9:39 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


It would also be interesting to separate "kids taken from families where there was no abuse" and "kids taken from families where there was abuse". Because there's "give poor families who need support the kind of support that foster families get, and even more of it, instead of taking kids into care" which sounds totally reasonable and like a low-risk/high-reward option, and then there's "just keep kids out of foster care", which doesn't on its face distinguish between the parents who mostly need money and support to the parents who are actively dangerous to their kids.
posted by jeather at 9:42 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I read foster care blogs. The sheer instability of the system leads to a very specific type of chaos. And also disconnection from resources that can possibly give support.

I was severely abused by my dad. DCFS should have been involved no question. They weren't. But my abuser had health insurance. I got so much money paid out(guessing between 100 to 200k) in high quality therapy (hospitalizations, residential, outpatient) before I aged out of it. None of that would have been available on medicaid.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:43 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Growing up in an home that oscillated between abuse and neglect, malicious and benign, the prospect of being remanded to foster care was swung over our heads like a scythe, threatened by basically every adult in our lives. Not as in, "Parents, shape up your act or we're taking the kids away," but as in, "Kids, if you keep complaining about the way you're being treated at home, we're sending you to foster care."

So no matter how bad it got, I was always convinced that we would be much better off with the devils I knew than the devils I didn't. I had learned exactly how to care for myself and my siblings in an environment where there was effectively no adult supervision whatsoever; I would not have known what to do in a home where we had predictable rules or regulation or religion outside of the pro-forced birth and god-fearing aspects of regional and cultural Catholicism. Given my predisposition to bucking against any perception of authority, I can't imagine it would have ended well. I've always shrugged off my conviction that the inconsistencies and unreliabilities of foster care would have been so much worse than what we experienced as a necessary coping mechanism. It's terrifying to see the statistics bear out what I presumed was a self-serving gut feeling as verifiable truth.

And this excerpt from the comments rings so true it hurts:
I don't have any meaningful relationships. I have no one in my life who was had an active role in my life before the age of 18. I have no support system. No family. I don't have many friends. I trust no one. When the day comes that I need help, I know it won't be there. My yearning and need for a family to want me and keep me is still relentless and just as painful as it was when I was 4, 7, and 8. I want to belong to someone--something, but I belong to no one and nothing.
It's so hard to describe how you can wind up as an adult like this to people who haven't experienced a childhood like that. They think you should be more resilient, more pliable, more forgiving, more able to roll with the punches. Whenever I'm asked about my preteen years with more than a cursory query, I've taken to chuckling and remarking that I have no family because I sprung fully formed from the earth, but I think I'll print this out and keep it in my pocket to pull out and read from instead.

Thanks very much for posting this. It will stay with me for a very long time.
posted by divined by radio at 9:44 AM on May 13 [54 favorites]


I mean, obviously, there are situations in which foster care is clearly called for, but like so many things it does seem to get used as a one-size-fits-all bandage for many problems that have actual treatments nobody wants to try to attempt. My uncle and aunt fostered both short- and long-term for years, so I've heard my share of horror stories, but this really jumped out at me:
"Yet the single most common factor in families whose children are placed in foster care is not cruelty or rage or sexual perversion; it is poverty."
And it rang so true. Some of the worst mistreatment of children I've ever seen and heard of has been in "nice" middle-class or solid working-class families where the authorities would never dream of intervening.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:44 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


Prima facie this is a good experimental design but it's hard to say how confident we should be in the results.

Well, there's the stress of being placed among strangers, losing ones school friends, and being among foster-siblings who can, and sometimes do, inflct abuse on each other. Then comes the repeated process of being bounced around the foster homes, and the risk of winding up among foster parents who are overwhelmed or abusive themselves.

Foster care is dangerous. The only question is how dangerous, how harmful, and how to decide against each child's counterfactual what-if.

CFS caseworkers have to make a judgement call on whether a child is safer in foster care, and every few months the internet decides that some caseworker made the wrong call and should be fired/prosecuted/lynched. This study needs to be brought up each time that happens.

Disclosure: my upbringing was decidedly not fun, but things did not rise to the level where I'd have been better off fostered IMO.
posted by ocschwar at 9:55 AM on May 13


every few months the internet decides that some caseworker made the wrong call and should be fired/prosecuted/lynched.

Yes. I think this is a particularly unhelpful aspect of the public response to these cases. Every time we get a dramatic story of a child placed in the foster system who gets abused, we get a round of stories about how dreadful it is that CPS are tearing kids away from their families. Then every time we get a dramatic story of a child not removed from an abusive family, we get a round of stories about how dreadful it is that CPS are failing to protect children from abusive parents. I think the public really needs to try to understand that when you've arrived at the point of making the decision to remove a child from its family and place it with a foster family, "tragedy" has already occurred. We're in a situation where there are really no "good" decisions--at least, in any simple sense. That's not to say that there aren't bad social workers who do their jobs irresponsibly and good ones who do, but simply to say that even if the system was working as well as we could humanly expect it to work, there are going to be a lot of bad outcomes.
posted by yoink at 10:01 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


the single most common factor in families whose children are placed in foster care is not cruelty or rage or sexual perversion; it is poverty.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:06 AM on May 13 [13 favorites]


"We're in a situation where there are really no "good" decisions" Well I think the best decision here is to acknowledge we need to address poverty and lack of stable housing, living wages, access to enrichment and health oriented activities for ALL children, and support services to families of any economic level, including supportive housing that provides access holistic and comprehensive wellness services for families where the parents are survivors of childhood abuse themselves or dealing with PTSD or have non-violent mental health issues etc can get healing and work through the crappy beliefs they have about what healthy parenting behavior should look like.

People in poverty are largely already dealing with various degrees of trauma. If we want to "treat" that, there are some solutions. That they are disconnected from what their children needs and feel reflects with the way we have taught them to be disconnected with their own needs and to endure conditions that may be harming them without a fuss.
posted by xarnop at 10:14 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Well I think the best decision here is to acknowledge we need to address poverty and lack of stable housing, living wages, access to enrichment and health oriented activities for ALL children, and support services to families of any economic level, including supportive housing that provides access holistic and comprehensive wellness services for families where the parents are survivors of childhood abuse themselves or dealing with PTSD or have non-violent mental health issues etc can get healing and work through the crappy beliefs they have about what healthy parenting behavior should look like.

There never seems to be enough money for that. Plenty of money to litigate cases shutting down a woman's right to choose, but not enough money to help her when she makes a choice.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:16 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


the single most common factor in families whose children are placed in foster care is not cruelty or rage or sexual perversion; it is poverty.

This seems strange to me, based on my experience. I've never seen poverty alone being the sole contributing factor. For that matter, courts go out of their way here to make sure that poverty isn't the main reason. I've seen courts keep children with families that live in a tent on the beach or in a homeless shelter (as they should, if there are no other primary risks). If I were to guess, the number one factor is substance abuse that leads to horrendously unsafe and abusive living conditions, which on the surface perhaps looks a lot like poverty.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:21 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Well I think the best decision here is to acknowledge we need to address poverty and lack of stable housing, living wages, access to enrichment and health oriented activities for ALL children, and support services to families of any economic level, including supportive housing that provides access holistic and comprehensive wellness services for families where the parents are survivors of childhood abuse themselves or dealing with PTSD or have non-violent mental health issues etc can get healing and work through the crappy beliefs they have about what healthy parenting behavior should look like.

Well, sure, I vote for that too. And it would undoubtedly do a great deal to alleviate all kinds of suffering. But A) until such time as that blessed day arrives, there are still real social workers out there visiting real cases who simply do not have any of those things available to them as options for how to respond to the endangered children they deal with. And B) even if that blessed day arrives, there are still going to be kids who are endangered by their families and we're still going to be forced to make difficult decisions about whether to leave them with suboptimal family caregivers who hand them over to some non-family carers--which will also be, in various ways, a suboptimal choice.
posted by yoink at 10:22 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


I'm regretting opening this thread. Growing up in a severely abusive household and not having anyone step in was hell. I don't know if foster care would have been better. But I'm not that sure it would've been worse. It didn't help that my mother was a guidance counselor and knew how to hit me so nobody would see. It didn't help that I was so brainwashed by her that they were better than me than foster care. She threatened many times to send me to an orphanage or to send me away. And then she turned a blind eye to the fact my father was raping me almost every night.

Yes I survived. I'm good at putting up walls. Like quoted above, I trust no one. The only things I can honestly say I love are my cats. There are many times I wish I was never born, because it was made abundantly clear that I was an unwanted pregnancy.

Shit.
posted by kathrynm at 10:26 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]


If I were to guess, the number one factor is substance abuse that leads to horrendously unsafe and abusive living conditions, which on the surface perhaps looks a lot like poverty.

Yeah. Caseworkers are biased as hell, and really do have a negative reaction to poverty, However, it's complicated by the kind of people who become poor because they have serious, serious problems are also the kind of people who neglect and abuse their kids. It's really hard to stay afloat financially with a raging addiction, no familial support, and a personality disorder.

In some places the bias against poverty is much worse than in others. And then there are states where, realistically, the welfare system is so shitty that kids whose parents can't afford to buy them food really do need to be in foster care in order to be fed. It's a damned shame.

We really need a nationalized system with evidence-based training and serious research. The state-by-state patchwork really sucks for this (and for mental health care treatment research, but I digress).
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:32 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


The childhood environment my siblings and I share was violent and traumatic. At one point, my elder sister was taken from the home and put into foster care. Two days later, she showed up at the front door - her foster care placement was way more dangerous than home so she ran away.

The two friends that were in the foster system still express envy over my childhood, even after hearing the horror stories.

A little while back, one of my since-childhood friends became a foster parent of a troubled tween the state thought would be a good match. A month ago, we celebrated the adoption of the wonderful young lady. I'm ever so grateful to see a good story about foster care unfold before me, after only hearing bad stories in my 40+ years of life.
posted by _paegan_ at 10:34 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


However, it's complicated by the kind of people who become poor because they have serious, serious problems are also the kind of people who neglect and abuse their kids.

I just want to make it clear that this is way more broad than I intended. What I'm getting at here is that there are problems that lead to both poverty and abuse/neglect. So saying that poverty is correlated with abuse/neglect removals is not necessarily saying that poverty is the cause of abuse/neglect removals.

There are plenty of people who have problems that leave them in dire financial straits but do not cause them to abuse or neglect their children, of course.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:35 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


The thing about the poverty is that it's not that middle-class kids in abusive situations don't get taken out of the home. It's that when you're middle class and you can't possibly stay with an abusive parent, you have options. The other parent, if yours are divorced? Two sets of grandparents? Aunts and uncles? And of those people, chances are several of those households have the resources to take in an extra kid. When you're in poverty, chances are so are all of your family, and those people aren't just sitting around with guest bedrooms to put a kid into.

I'd far rather see more kids stay with family, but I'm not really sure how you achieve that. Even if you gave them more money for it, if the placement isn't intended to be permanent, what, do you ask someone to move into a more expensive apartment and then move back and hope their old unit is available? Buy all new furniture? Quit one of your two jobs so you have time to make sure the kid eats and goes to school?

The foster care system ought to be able to fill in the middle there, and I think the biggest problem here is why it's so bad, not why kids are more likely to be unable to stay with their families when those families are in poverty.
posted by Sequence at 10:38 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


The thing about the poverty is that it's not that middle-class kids in abusive situations don't get taken out of the home.

Often it is, though. There's significant class bias going on in a lot of places. Racism is a huge problem as well.

There are very few generalizations that one can make about child welfare systems across the US.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:48 AM on May 13


There are very few generalizations that one can make about child welfare systems across the US.

Yeah, this is true even from county to county. Most 'states' have pretty broad guidelines on this stuff, while each county actually deals with the day to day. My wife works for a county office that deals with lots of kids in the foster system. Around there it's actually brutally difficult to have your kids taken away, even when a child is in danger. Across the county border where we actually live, it's markedly easier for her professional peers to intervene.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:01 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Anyone have a citation for this?

I'm extremely suspicious that it's just more yammering on about the whole welfare queens type stuff about how people get like, 8 foster kids just for the money and spend it all on partying and vacations or whatever.

It's a close cousin of the whole child support queen thing, and realllly tiresome.

Which is to say, no.
posted by emptythought at 11:16 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


-the single most common factor in families whose children are placed in foster care is not cruelty or rage or sexual perversion; it is poverty.

--This seems strange to me, based on my experience. I've never seen poverty alone being the sole contributing factor. For that matter, courts go out of their way here to make sure that poverty isn't the main reason.


I think it's more subtle than that. The author says it's "the single most common factor" - that is, the thing that most of them have in common. She doesn't say that there are no other factors involved at all.

Poverty is often a comorbid condition with other life problems. One can chicken-and-egg all day about whether it's the cause or the effect of those problems, but they do tend to coexist a lot of the time. There are people who do desperate things to mentally escape the dire straits they're in, and the horrible stress of being poor can have an effect on people's minds sometimes. Untreated illness, lack of an emotional support network, low self-esteem, not planning ahead (because you don't know if there's even going to be a tomorrow), are all problems that can be caused by poverty, and can also increase the likelihood of developing other problems that might lead to intervention by the authorities.

So, I don't think it's necessarily always as simple as "Their income is below X, so they automatically lose their kids." I think we're talking more about, "If they weren't so stressed from grinding poverty and worry and didn't have to get up at four in the morning to get to that second job, they would have made sure the kid didn't walk to school in a snowstorm without a coat and long pants, and then start screaming at the social worker."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:33 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]



Poverty is often a comorbid condition with other life problems.


It's also associated with an inability to cover abuse up.

If you're poor and overwhelmed and haven't figured out that your toddler can't stand scented washing detergents, the neighbors sharing your triple decker will know. Oh, yes, they will know. If you can't even cover that up when your kid is well fed and otherwise well taken care of, forget about covering anything else up.
posted by ocschwar at 11:55 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I have three children, biological siblings, who were adopted as older children from foster care. In the interest of preserving their privacy, I will say only that there were clear, well-defined problems in the family of origin that led to the involuntary termination of parental rights, foster care, and eventually, adoption. For quite some time, I believed very strongly that the removal of the children from their biological family was "in their best interests" based on what I saw in documentation from the child welfare agency.

Many years later, I'm not sure of that anymore. This is a topic that comes up over and over when I speak to our family therapist. There's no way to know if it was 'right' or not. There is no way to know how the children would have adapted, or how their family would have adjusted/changed, with appropriate supports (or even without).

I think there are a lot of factors that go into whether removal, and foster care (with or without eventual adoption), are beneficial or not in the long term. (I obviously am not referring to the sort of situation where a child is in grave danger.)

The levels of attachment, the type of abuse/neglect/trauma, the child's resilience, the child's ability to understand the situation, the parenting style of the foster parent(s), the services in place for the child, the larger environment, the timing of when the problems started, the other supports the child has.. all of that, and then a thousand other factors, play into it. Unfortunately, many of the things that need to be taken into account are fairly nebulous - how do you decide if a child's temperament will allow them to thrive in what appears to be an unhealthy environment?

Of all the jobs out there, child protection worker is one that I could not do in a million years.
posted by VioletU at 12:00 PM on May 13


I'm extremely suspicious that it's just more yammering on about the whole welfare queens type stuff about how people get like, 8 foster kids just for the money and spend it all on partying and vacations or whatever.

I am sure that is part of it, and that is bad. But at Fosterhood, Rebecca has posted quite often about the fucked up way that care is incentivized in NYC. For example, she's talking right now about how foster parents get more money for caring for children who aren't toilet trained. When the siblings of her foster daughter were in a low quality home, they were all still in diapers. She and another foster parent were able to train them in a weekend, but after they returned to that home and then came back for a visit, they were all in diapers again. Partly this was because it was "easier" to put the kids in diapers, but I don't think it's unreasonable to suspect that the money also came into play. It's not so much that individuals are selfish; it's that the system itself offers perverse financial incentives that harm children.

Along those lines, one of the most controversial issues in the Fosterhood forums is the question of whether the system ought to be recruiting foster parents who are receiving government assistance themselves. Obviously, just because people are poor and get aid from the state doesn't mean they aren't perfectly capable parents. At the same time, that does mean that many of the foster parents are particularly vulnerable from pressure from the foster agency to do things that aren't in the kids' best interests: to take in more children than their homes can can support, or to stay silent about missed visits because otherwise the foster agency might retaliate by taking their license away. You don't have to think poor people are selfish welfare queens to understand that when foster parents live close enough to the poverty line that taking in kids is their primary source of income, you add in yet another layer of conflicting priorities, and that can contribute to the likelihood of kids getting sub-optimal care.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:13 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


This thoughtful article rakes up a lot of the misgivings I've had for years about the child welfare system, with which I've had plenty of professional contact.

On the one hand, there are certainly parents who are not only extremely abusive or neglectful but also unable to love their own children. And those kids need to be removed. But there are also parents who are abusive/neglectful because of treatable issues, like substance abuse, mental health disorders, or because they get caught up in the criminal justice system and are incarcerated -- and a lot of them want and love their kids. Here the system does a terrible job providing the means for those parents to get what they need to get their kids back. By and large, what happens in the meantime is that the kids stay in foster care while their parents fail and fail at meeting all the hurdles/goals, and eventually their rights are terminated. The only happy ending for those kids is adoption, and it simply doesn't happen often enough.

In addition, the foster care system is a wreck, though there are many wonderful foster families valiantly sailing their little households through the debris. Stable, loving placements are just not in the cards for most kids, who are passed off from home to home as if the repeated message of being unwanted and loss of any stability were of no significance. No wonder so many foster kids never get a fair shot at an education, career, or work skills, and are at such high risk for negative outcomes as adults.

I really don't understand why we are so bad at getting kids out of the hands of parents who don't love and mistreat them, why we don't have the resources in our society to assure stable, safe, and loving homes for kids who need them, why we take so long and do so poorly at assisting parents who want their kids back to get what they need for reunification, and why kids have to be the ones who pay the price for our ineptness.
posted by bearwife at 12:50 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


This is just the most difficult subject. There are tons of things I know from friends, but after reading the comments, I think our own experiences are most relevant.
My mother is a substance abuser, and she divorced from my father before I was one year old, and married my stepfather whom she lived with for 24 years. I have two siblings on this side of the family.
I cannot remember a time when I was not worried for my own life or that of my siblings. From when I was 12, we all frequently lived in foster homes: I lived with our grandparents, my brother lived at the school principle's house, and my sister lived with friends of the family.
All of these foster parents wanted the best for us, they were not state-appointed or payed, they were friends and family. But they were not our parents. I was probably the lucky one among us, because our grandparents felt more responsible than the others. But at the time, everyone was doing their best.
When I was a child and young person, feeling responsible for my parents and my younger siblings, my only wish was for the whole set-up to be exposed. I imagined we would get fair help, right away.
Now, knowing what I know, I think friends and family dealt with it in the best way possible, and I think the most important thing is networks and communication.
posted by mumimor at 1:33 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


Right now, LA County has been advertising all over — including weird quasi-ads on NPR — about needing more foster parents. I think they need, like, 1200 and have only 100 at the moment — I know that they've mentioned that they increased the stipend and everything, and they'll pay you a lot more to take special needs kids. It's something that breaks my heart, but honestly I just couldn't imagine supporting a kid in a healthy manner — I'm still working on getting my shit together.
posted by klangklangston at 2:45 PM on May 13


pretentious illiterate: "Along those lines, one of the most controversial issues in the Fosterhood forums is the question of whether the system ought to be recruiting foster parents who are receiving government assistance themselves."

It also raises questions of, if you're going to pay between $500 and $700 (NYC, depending on the age of the child) monthly for a child in foster care (plus state-paid health care, plus state-subsidized-or-paid child care) how many children could be kept OUT of foster care with just the medical and child care subsidies, let alone a couple hundred dollars a month, to take some of the pressure off the parents and give them appropriate support? Michigan had a heated debate (maybe a decade ago) where women on welfare were given training in caring for children with multiple medical needs and then fostered those children, for foster payments of around $20,000 a year. Which on the one hand is great, you're giving these women real skills and these kids homes. But on the other hand, if the original parents were given training, state health care for their kids, and a salary of $20,000 a year to care for them, how many could have remained in the home?

I know foster agencies work really hard to get that balance right and it's not like I'm the first one who's thought of this or anything; preaching to the choir as far as people in the social work world are concerned. But we as regular citizens and voters should really think about that, and how we can move to provide more direct support to poor families instead of waiting until the upheaval of removal and only THEN providing support to children from impoverished homes.

I feel like in schools we see the best and worst of the foster care system, where we have parents who've been fostering tough cases for 40 years and have NEVER stopped being super-parents who show up for everything and have been to 40 years worth of beginning band concerts and 5th-grade basketball games (which are excruciating, is my point) ... and then we have foster parents with six foster kids in the home who are such hot messes themselves that they fail to turn up at their foster kids' expulsion hearings or it takes three days to contact them when their kid gets arrested. There is definitely a shortage of high-quality foster parents (but that doesn't negate the awesome work a lot of the great foster parents do).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:52 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


How easy it is to remove a child from a home depends on the jurisdiction.

In Toronto, I've known a child to be removed from her parents with no abuse, no criminal neglect, but "failure to thrive" (aka gain weight as an infant). It was assumed that her parents didn't care properly for her properly, and they may not have been ideal, but she also had an undiagnosed disability that caused muscle tone weakness and this difficulty suckling.

Had her parents been middle class and/or educated, maybe the doctor and social worker would have looked further for a cause for her failure to thrive, and supported her parents in taking care of her. Things worked out in the end: she was in one foster home for about nine months, and then went to live with her grandmother (and has thrived and has a good relationship with both parents). But if her grandmother hadn't been able to care for her, she might have ended up bouncing around foster care -- or possibly been adopted (being a white, blue-eyed infant) by a family who didn't realise that she was disabled and was not prepared to deal with her physical and cognitive difficulties. Her mother had, in fact, also been adopted, and badly abused by her adopted mother and brother, partly because she herself had cognitive impairments which didn't show up in infancy.

Of course we need child protective services. But the foster care system as it exists today is such a broken model.
posted by jb at 3:04 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I have a naive question, which wasn't completely answered by Googling:

Why do foster children "bounce around" so many foster homes?

As I understand from very limited exposure, CPS places kids in foster homes until the situation is resolved and the kid can be returned to their family, or a 'permanent' solution via adoption or relatives can be found. For situations that never resolve, can't the kid stay in the same foster home until they age out? Or is there a structural rule saying that kids who are with one family too long have to switch homes? Do foster parents themselves limit how long a child can stay with them? Or is this a result from the problem of kids going back to their parents, and then being removed again by CPS at a later date?

I would love to see how consistency effects the analysis -- intuitively, I would expect outcomes to be better where there are longer-term placements with families as opposed to short-term placements in group homes.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:26 PM on May 13


Kids can stay for a long time, but leave for any number of reasons including, yes, reunification, but also birth parent request (depends on the area/agency), sibling issues (i.e. one sibling abusing or assaulting another or an opening where they can all be together), the foster parents not feeling capable of handling the child, the caseworker determining that the foster parents aren't fit, the foster parents breaking an arbitrary rule, the foster parents breaking a good rule, a foster mother getting pregnant and deciding she can't handle the child, the foster parents and caseworker agreeing that a placement with an RN would be best for the child's medical issues ...I could go on and on.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:41 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Tiny: it depends. Some of it is agency related, some of it is kid behavior related (if a kid runs away three times in some places the kid is moved to a new home regardless of attachment or length of stay in some places) foster parents can also give a kid back at any time. Also there is not a system in place to reunite foster kids with previous foster patents if there is an unsuccessful reunification for some reason. And that is even in cases where the foster parent and biological parent want it to happen. Sometimes reunification fails after a year and the foster parent has new foster children and cannot accommodate any more. There are so many variables.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:43 PM on May 13


I want to note that I'm not professionally involved in the child welfare or foster care system, just a long-term interested observer/reader.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:45 PM on May 13


I find fosterhood in nyc to be a great commentary/blog of experiences of being a foster mom in nyc. It's something to explore for an interesting account if you have the time.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:46 PM on May 13


why we take so long and do so poorly at assisting parents who want their kids back to get what they need for reunification, and why kids have to be the ones who pay the price for our ineptness.

In every situation I've ever seen (in L.A. county), the courts have bent over backwards to give every possible opportunity to parents to get their stuff together, even at the expense of children who are in the system waiting, and waiting, and waiting... more often than not, parents simply do not take the services offered by the court, and stuff drags out for months and years. The real culprit, I think, is not the lack of resources, but the nature of addiction. Addiction can be so insidious that it doesn't allow people to avail themselves of the myriad of opportunities that are available, fully paid and sitting on their doorstep. Drugs simply seem better than children for a vast majority of the people, and there's no amount of legislation that will fix that. Addiction can suck out the will to get treatment, while at the same time nurturing a semblance of a paternal instinct that is tenacious enough to still get parents to court while high.

Why do foster children "bounce around" so many foster homes?

More often than not, when children come into the system, there is a pervasive feeling of not belonging, along with any trauma that they experienced that got them there in the first place. This is totally reasonable for any human being to feel this way. However, this creates behavioral issues that often foster parents cannot handle, so they pass them back into the system to be replaced. Or, people get into foster care because they are interested in possibly adopting, if the need arises. If a child doesn't fulfill the adoptive hopes of a parent in terms of looks or behavior, they will sometimes be sent back. It's heartbreaking stuff, and it does a really good job of exposing some ugly sides of people. But it also exposes basic human limitations regarding what the system presses on people to try and make it work. Foster care is the hardest damn thing I've ever done. It has it's rewards, for sure, and it needs heroes who do the job well. But I'd be hard pressed to say whether I would have done this if I had known what it would be like. I'd do it again knowing what I know now, but I don't know if my past self would have felt the same.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:47 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Thanks for taking the time to respond, those answers make alot of sense. This really is heartbreaking stuff -- for foster parents, foster kids, and their biological parents.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:53 PM on May 13


Removing kids and putting them in foster care is a last resort. It's a choice between very bad or very bad.

As a foster parent who loves my kids, all I can say about that opinion is that it's under-informed.
posted by flabdablet at 8:11 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


tinymegalo in Texas the majority of disruptions (kids moving placements) is due to kinship care placements breaking down. Kind Aunt takes in the two kids thinking it's short term then 6 months later needs them out for some reason. Grandma takes in the kids but then doesn't pass a homestudy later. Things like that.

Other reasons kids we've known have moved: We experienced some children exhibiting behaviors that got their level of care moved up to where we were no longer licensed to care for them. Some children bounced because they wanted them moved to the city where their already-adopted siblings lived to make visitations more frequent. Some of our kids were moved because children in their other foster home were abusing them.

My husband and I are foster parents and though I know generally outcomes are bad for kids in care at least I know that we never actively engaged in traumatizing any of the kids we cared for, which is more than I can say for the system itself. It's hard to gain a child's trust when you are required to present them to their abuser once a week for a visit.

I feel like foster parents often get the brunt of the blame when plenty of us are really, really acting in good faith. But our government/welfare system is the REAL parent of children in foster care and, not surprisingly, The State is a TERRIBLE mother.
posted by Saminal at 8:30 PM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Saminal: I feel like foster parents often get the brunt of the blame when plenty of us are really, really acting in good faith.

As another foster parent reading this thread, this is the truest thing. Most of us are doing our best in what is an incredibly flawed system. We have to do the best we can with very limited resources, both monetary (any foster parent can tell you that the stipend does not adequately cover expenses, even with Medicaid and daycare assistance) and otherwise.

My foster daughter was placed with us when she was four weeks old. She's two and a half now, and neither of her parents have completed any of the various programs or trainings the county asked them to complete. No amount of in-home support could have convinced her mom to complete a court-ordered parenting class, or to absorb and apply the information she'd have learned in it. No amount of money could have kept her from making choices that were unsafe for the child I'm raising. She knows that she is not able to be a parent at this point in her life, and has agreed to surrender her rights to our child provided that the child stay with us. She wants her daughter to keep being raised by the family she knows, where she's safe. We want the mom to continue to be a part of her life in a way that is safe for all of us. This will never be an easy situation, but we will keep doing our best for this child, and the others who will come after her.

Because she will only have been in two homes (her home of origin and ours), I wonder how she fits into the heartbreaking statistics from TFA.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:25 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


Well it's not the foster parents fault (the many who are doing there very best and more), foster parents are often dealing with secondary trauma and under-resourced and often are not even permitted to adopt the children they bond with even if the parents rights eventually get severed which is totally messed up. I really don't understand why we are giving sexual abusers and people who have heinously physically abused their children more "chances"; behavioral change is a slow difficult process that requires personal choices from the individual and usually involves slip ups, failure, and sometimes a total lack of ability to modify behavior even when the person is trying their very best and using the resources available. Kids don't deserve to be exposed to all that. Yes they can love their family, they can understand that life itself may have broken their parents who may have been beautiful people if it weren't for xyz factors, but they can process all that a lot better form a distance and in the care of safe people who are meeting their needs, not only their physical needs but their emotional needs for secure lifelong family.

The social workers also are dealing with secondary trauma and either taking on that pain, or shutting it off and getting numb to it; and their decisions are understandably not always the best. This is why we need AS A SOCIETY to take on more accountable for the vulnerable among us- and to get educated and come up with better strategies to make that happen, even given all the structural challenges of doing it.

We need to stop saying as communities "Oh this is too hard, I just can't think about it." We all need a break from seeingthe sufferingin the world, I'm not saying not to give yourself the space from it you need, but we all need to nudge ourselves to take on whatever we can to make this better rather than shutting down from it entirely- both in the form of advocacy and working towards large structural changes, and also in the interpersonal ways of being mentors and volunteers and participating in making communities accessible for families who are struggling emotionally or financially. We can all point out things in communities we already are in, where we can see how someone on a survival budget couldn't access the resources and try to make more programs that have sliding scale fees for low income members, or scholarship programs.

I know that none of these things provide the feeling of FIXING everything, but change is sometimes a slow process that once it takes off in the actions of a LOT of people, it actually starts to pay off, like we're seeing with GLBT rights. It started off very slow and seeming impossible but a lot of dedicated people kept going and kept asking people to push themselves to change and despite an uphill battle that seemed to do very little, I think it's at the point where we starting to see huge structural changes.

It can happen. If you can start even with a shift in your thinking from "this is too hard to think about or change and abused children and families in poverty are a fact of life" to "maybe this is something we can do better and we should act accordingly because it can only change through our actions" that's a start.

Also sometimes when we think about suffering like this, our guilt and shame over not being able to fix us, actually makes us retreat from doing the little we CAN do. If letting go of being guilty over your limitations as a human helps you do MORE, that would also be ideal. We are limited beings, we can do more when we accept and respect our limitations and focus on the things we are able to do, with the attitude that we will grow and push ourselves in our areas of difficulty if and when it is healthy and we feel able to do so without harming ourselves or overextending ourselves into poor physical or emotional health.
posted by xarnop at 7:36 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I was a ward of the state for five years, and the best thing that's ever happened to me was receiving a full-ride scholarship to college because of a Fostercare2Success scholarship (formally known as the Orphan Foundation of America scholarship). Even then it was a struggle to get a car and get adjusted to life as an adult, but I can't imagine aging out without any family ties and no hope at all for the future. I am very aware of how unusual and lucky my situation was, and I wholeheartedly believe that if you want to give kids in that type of situation a future, money talks and bullshit walks.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:49 AM on May 14 [7 favorites]


Prima facie this is a good experimental design but it's hard to say how confident we should be in the results.

I haven't read the whole paper, but the obvious failing of this design is heterogenity: high-removal case workers might not be like lower-removal case workers. You could imagine that high-removals are just bad at their jobs and making inappropriate removals (violating monotonicity). I also don't have complete confidence in how they spatially clustered the data; the zip-code*team*hispanic*year fixed effect may be so sparse as to break some of the identifying assumptions. They descibe how the teams work in counties with 8 social workers, but half of the data comes from Chicago where the child to team assignment isn't described. The standard errors are quite large, and it's not obvious if this is due to the super high number of fixed effects or what (but they may explain later).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:43 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]


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