The news stories are happening way too often. Children in the protective custody of the state of Texas are placed in foster homes only to be abused by their foster parents. Victims of maltreatment are revictimized by the system that is supposed to keep them safe.
The data on this problem is disturbing.
From 2010 until 2013 the likelihood for a child to be abused in the state of Texas ranged from 9-9.4 per 1000 children. This rate remains pretty steady and is slightly less than 1%. During the same period the likelihood for a child in the foster care system to be abused by caregivers tripled. This means that in 2013 children placed in foster care only had a 66% reduction in the likelihood of being revictimized. This is completely unacceptable. This means a child that is a confirmed victim of abuse should have a reasonable expectation of placement in a safe living environment and only improves their chances for safety by 66% compared to the general population of children. An improvement for sure but the chances for abuse in the foster care system should be much closer to zero. Recently a judge in Texas has ruled the CPS system in Texas to be unconstitutional due to the rampant problems in the system.
If you read news stories about foster care problems, inevitably it will be reported that caseworkers are overworked and underpaid. This has been the report for all the years that I have been involved in the foster care system (over 20 years). Some the current complaints include:
- More than 30 percent of investigators — the ones on the front lines of protecting children from abuse — leave each year.
- One out of every six new hires quits within the first six months.
- Caseworker salaries have barely moved. In 2007, entry-level investigators earned about $34,600. Today it’s $36,700.
- State officials say investigators generally juggle about 20 cases at a time, but a state-commissioned study recently showed that the real numbers vary wildly. At one point during the last year, investigators in South Texas averaged as many as 85 cases each. The Child Welfare League of America recommends that investigators carry no more than 12 cases at one time.
- Caseworkers are so bombarded with paperwork that they spend just 26 percent of their time with children and families.
These problems are just a small sample, but they highlight the primary issues of high turnover and lack of contact with children/caregivers.
As a consultant I have worked with many foster care agencies in the North Texas region. I currently collect outcomes for some of those agencies and have been doing so for close to 10 years. The non-profits are institutional group homes, a model considered by most in the child welfare industry to be an outdated dinosaur that should be eliminated. A fact highlighted by the statistic that less than 5% of foster children in the state of Texas are placed in institutional placement.
The interesting finding is that in all my years of collecting data with these agencies (on over 1000 children) there has never been a report of child maltreatment. This difference compared to the .29% abuse rate in foster care is what we would call statistically significant. It is time for the state of Texas, the media, and professionals in the child welfare arena to stop using the same old tired excuses for the problems in foster care. Stop telling our communities and children that the problem will be solved by throwing more money at it. It is time for a complete reevaluation and overhaul of the system as it exists. It is time for the state of Texas to be courageous, as it has in many other political arenas, and reject the policies and practices that are being promoted from the federal government in the area of child welfare. The citizens and caregivers in Texas know what is best for the children in Texas.
Maybe it is time to reconsider this long held belief that institutional group homes are bad for children. Let me offer three reasons.
Most of the institutional group homes providing foster care are faith based. Though religious values are not a guarantee against abuses, they offer a protective factor. Many of these programs are operated by administration and oversight boards that maintain a standard for program values and treatment of clients. The good that faith based programs have offered western society far outweigh the problems that have occurred.
Many children placed in institutional group care live in one home for their entire placement. Many experts agree that frequent placement changes are a significant problem in the foster care system. Currently in foster homes only half of children have 2 or fewer homes they they live in while in foster care. This compares to one home for many institutional programs during the 1-2 years a child lives with them.
Institutional group homes form a community or network of relationships. Many talk about the virtues of it “taking a village” and institutional group homes embody this concept. Children in these programs not only have a stable set of caregivers, but other caregivers living in close proximity, and administrative staff (caseworkers, counselors, spiritual mentors, etc.) that see them on an almost daily basis.