Reform in Foster Care and Child Protective Services, A Foster Care Parent’s Perspective.
Foster Mom turned Advocate.
Through on-going research into Child Protective Services (CPS), I have come across atrocities and some glimmer of hope. I am hopeful that myself, my organization, my fellow warriors and the growing network of advocates are, at least, bringing the negative issues of CPS and Foster Care into public “light” through press, protest, social media and communication with law makers.
My research led me to the great work of Mary Callahan. Mary is a registered nurse and organizer for the Maine Alliance for DHS Accountability and Reform, and is the author of series of books including, Memoirs of a Baby Stealer: Lessons I’ve Learned as a Foster Mother.
For many years, Mary Callahan of Lisbon, Maine was a foster parent to several children in her community, as well as a mother of an autistic child. While in-the-business as a foster parent (i.e., Mary candidly refers to fostering as business … as it is), Mary realized that she was part of the problem. Later, she began to passionately advocate for change in the foster care system throughout her state.
Mary’s stories and opinions offer a great perspective in the campaign for Foster Care / Child Protective Services reform because of her time of service as a foster parent, experience with fostering agency shenanigans and her thoughtful insight on a better foster system for children and families. She must be commended for using her voice to evoke change. Her zeal to share those experiences and voice her frustration simply helps those children and families facing a most traumatic circumstance, family desecration.
Child Trauma. Removal from Birth Family.
When a child is removed from their birth family whether justly or unjust, that child is forever traumatized. Ms. Callahan maintains “there is the abuse from the system itself.” She states, “The trauma of the removal from birth family cannot be overestimated. Children relive the story over and over, usually finding some way to take the blame.”
Furthermore, foster children can be traumatized over-and-over again when there are the secondary removals. She explains, “Every time a child moves from home to home they need to learn a new set of rules. They worry that things could be worse, not better in the new foster home. They may blame themselves all over again and wonder if anyone will ever want to keep them.” Since the children do manifest self-blame for the act and our traumatized, why are they subjected to several moves during their time spent in foster care.
Sometimes a child finds a really great home, stays for years, and then some heartless CPS worker decides to move them. In disgust, Mary exclaims, “It is amazing the excuses that will be given for doing that, but usually it is just a power play. Some foster parent has forgotten who is in charge and needs to be taught a lesson.” It is difficult to comprehend how a social worker or so-called care giver can resort to childish condescending behavior during such a traumatic time in a child’s life.
Mary refrains, “Even the kids who end up with the sainted foster parents have probably gone through hell getting there.”
Foster Parents question the number of children in the system.
There are more than 438,000 children in foster care in the United States on any given day. Much evidence supports the logic of an increased population due to the opioid crisis in America. However, foster parents like Mary have concern for those children that do not necessarily “belong” in foster care. Mary questions, “So why are so many kids in foster care? Why are they being removed over minor issues like a spanking or a messy house? People say, “Err on the side of the child.” The people who say that have a vision of foster care through rose colored glasses … that is so inaccurate.”
Mary shared her disgust for the so-called authorities, experts and decision makers who continue to operate under the current policies or protocols that keep feeding children into the system. There is a safe assumption that set incentive procedures and current protocols that create a surge of child placement (e.g., non-evidence based accusations of child abuse that place more children into foster care.) Mary said, “They, the decision makers, should learn the truth about life in foster care and then remove only children whose home life is far worse than foster care. Nine out of ten kids in care now can go home now if that is the criteria. Then nine out of ten foster parents can get fired.”
Foster Care, is Money an Incentive?
It is reasonable to believe that foster parents should be well paid. After all, they are good people doing the hard work of raising someone else’s child.
From an NPR broadcast, Mary Callahan spoke about her recent op-ed article in the LA Times, “Mercenary Motherhood,” in which she argued that paying foster parents too much for their services is not good for the foster care system, or for foster kids.
Mary explained, “Fifteen years ago, I was one of those people. I took good care of the kids who had been placed in my home after being removed from their birth families for various reasons. But, I also shopped around for the foster-care agency that paid the best, and I took the harder-to-place kids for the same reason.”
Mary reasoned, “I justified my pay by saying it was just like my other profession, nursing. I enjoyed taking care of patients, did a good job, but I still expected a paycheck.”
She explains why money has an effect for foster care parents, “Money can put blinders on you, but since I took mine off and adopted my last two foster kids, I can see many reasons why it is wrong to pay foster parents too much.”
Ms. Callahan surmises:
- It creates a dis-incentive to adopt.
- It creates a conflict of interest for foster parent’s agency reporting.
- It makes kids look down on their own families.
- It attracts people who don’t even like kids.
- Worst of all, it deals a blow to the child’s self-esteem when he learns someone had to be well paid to love him.
Mary contends, “Some foster parents are now complaining that they are not paid enough. A coalition of advocates for foster families in California, for example, has filed a federal suit alleging that what the state pays is less than what it costs to board a dog in a kennel. At first glance it seems that we, as a society, must care more about dogs than kids. But boarding dogs is a “for profit” business. Taking foster kids should be a calling.”
Here is an excerpt from the dialogue on NPR:
NEARY: Now, as I have mentioned, you were a foster parent for many years. You accepted money for it. What made you start to think that that’s a bad idea?
Ms. CALLAHAN: Well, you know, it was a gradual process of realizing that the system was broken. But the last part of it that I accepted was that money was part of it. I was enjoying the money. I was taking difficult kids and getting as much as 5,000 a month tax-free for two kids.
And what a lot of people don’t realize is that even the lower level of pay, with the kids that are supposedly easier kids, it’s tax free, there’s extra money for clothes that comes three times a year, recreations paid separately, you can have your phone bill and mileage paid. So, it isn’t as little money as they sometimes make it sound. But at a certain point, I realized money was really a huge part of it and that even I had kind of followed the dollar signs.
NEARY: That figure you gave us, 5,000 a month, I was a little surprised to hear that…
NEARY: For two kids, I thought that…
Ms. CALLAHAN: They’re given a…
NEARY: I thought that it was like most foster care systems gave like less than a thousand a month.
Ms. CALLAHAN: Well, you know, just using Maine as an example back when I was doing it, the lower level of pay was around $500 to $700 a month. But 70 percent of the kids were considered treatment or therapeutic level, which is the high – it jumps up to like five times the lower level of pay.
NEARY: Oh, I see.
Ms. CALLAHAN: And, yeah, and most people don’t realize that. And there are a lot of people out there, actually, making a pretty good living as I was. I was, you know, barely working as a nurse, making that kind of money. But then you start making decisions, you know, when you think about, well, when this child goes back to his mother, I lose half my pay.
Ms. CALLAHAN: And then they ask you, well, how did this child’s visit with his mother go, did you have any concerns? And you’re likely to go to the road of, well, I did have some concerns. And the person who asks the question is also going to, you know, their agency loses money if the child goes back home or gets adopted.
NEARY: Did you actually find yourself doing that? I mean, did you find yourself…
Ms. CALLAHAN: Yeah, in retrospect, I realized that I was not encouraging things to happen with birth family because I did, sort of, panicked at the thought of losing that much money. Even adoption, which, you know, when it was brought up, the first thing I would think is, how am I going to afford to lose the money, you know?
Ms. CALLAHAN: And then in retrospect, when I first started and got less money, and it was more about doing a good thing, I was making different decisions.
Money is naturally a motivator for foster parents.
Adoption Incentives (Bonuses)
When it comes to Adoption Incentives, there is an established system in place. Authorized under title IV-E of the Social Security Act, and amendments, the Adoption Assistance Program provides Federal matching funds of 50 to 83 percent, depending on the state’s per capita income.These incentives are thought to aid in the transition of foster children to permanent adoption. Congress passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997, the reform bill was meant to ensure that children were left in foster care. The bill declared that children would return to their families of origin in a timely fashion. But if they remained in foster care for 15 out of 22 months, foster care agencies were required to begin the process of severing legal ties to their biological parents and looking for adoptive homes.
In 1984, 12,000 adoptive parents were receiving a federal adoption assistance subsidy each month for a child they had adopted out of foster care. By 2013, that number had risen to almost 450,000.
In 2008, the program was funded at $2,160,000,000.00.
Funds are also available for a one-time payment to assist with the costs of adopting a child as well as for monthly subsidies to adoptive families to assist with the care of the eligible child.
While the federal government pays bonuses for adoptions, no similar bonuses are paid to the states for reunifying children with their families.
As an incentive, the federal government agreed to pay $4,000-$6000 to the states for each child adopted from foster care. In 2008, the Fostering Connection to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act increased payment for older and special-needs children to between $8,000 and $12,000.
In 2012, Dawn Post, co-director of the Children’s Law Center of New York, and child and parent lawyer Brian Zimmerman published, “The Revolving Door of Family Court: Confronting Broken Adoptions.” Post writes: “The hyperbole centers around locating loving, safe, and permanent homes for children. However, the reality is that adoption bonuses places value on adoption for the agency above all other forms of permanency, even when adoption may not be the most appropriate option for some families… By rewarding states for increased numbers rather than for better outcomes, inappropriate or poor placement decisions may result.”
For many critics, the possible perverse incentives this creates is concerning!
Then, there is the money that states pay to adoptive parents.
Some adoptive parents receive between $600 to $1,700 a month per family to care for an adopted child, depending on the age and special needs of the child. The stipend was created to help low-income parents care for children they might otherwise be unable to afford. It is often particularly important when families adopt their own kin, as well as because many of the families that do adopt children out of foster care are low-income.
However, this important benefit can create its own perverse incentives, motivating some adoptive parents to adopt for financial gain. In their report, Post and Zimmerman write: “Allegations against adoptive parents for failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care are quite common.”
In 2016, there was approximately $55,228,000.00 in bonuses paid out that year.
We at No Blue Line are working with policy makers to change these Bonuses to include and “incentivize” Foster Care Agencies and care givers to diligently pursue helping those children in the system to be reunified with their birth families as necessary.
If this article has touched you in some way, please feel free to comment. We want to create a dialogue and gather any input that helps us in our pursuit of CPS and Foster Care Reform.