The Foster Care Revolving Door

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A new report was released this week analyzing the nation’s foster care system and making recommendations for what states and courts can do to improve services for children. Sadly, on a typical day, over half a million American children are in foster care. These children usually stay in foster care for three years and change families an average of three times. Such information is the bottom line in terms of the challenges facing the $7 billion child-welfare system in America.

For the past year, the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care has been studying foster care in order “to develop a practical set of policy recommendations to reform child- welfare financing and strengthen court oversight of child- welfare cases.” Its report laid the blame for foster care problems on “federal funding mechanisms” and “long-standing structural issues in the judicial system.” Likewise, their recommendations focus on two areas give states greater flexibility with federal funding and provide more help to courts. A third general proposal calls for greater accountability from the child-welfare agencies and the courts.

Up to that point, everything looked promising. Then, the report turned specific and, in the process, political correctness took over. The old “throw money at the problem” mentality prevailed as the commission advocated: preserving and expanding entitlements; including Indian children and children in U.S. territories; expanding funding for adoption and guardianship, and case-worker training; expanding services; allowing open-ended funding for State Automated Child Welfare Information Systems; setting up outcomes-based evaluation measures which require establishing multi-disciplinary state commissions; allowing states to “reinvest” federal funds; and adding another $200 million in federal funding.

Not surprisingly, the National Association of Social Workers applauded the Pew Commission’s report, especially the provision of “additional resources” (including the item about forgiving school loans for social workers at the bachelor’s and master’s levels) and “flexible” federal funding. As they put it, the Commission’s recommendations provide both the “will” and the “wallet” for comprehensive reform.

While some experts question whether these initiatives will work in providing the “will” to get children out of unsafe, unsatisfactory and/or temporary situations, the “wallet” certainly is provided; some estimate the cost of implementing the report’s recommendations during the first year at about $400 million. That’s an additional $800 per child added to the $16,000 per child already spent per year. Surely, these children deserve more for that money than to be shuffled from one unsatisfactory foster home to another during at least three long years of uncertainty and misery.

Janice Crouse, Ph.D., is senior fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute .

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