Recent Grand Jury Reports on Child Protective Services and Foster Care

Some notable Grand Jury reports on child protective services and foster care were issued this June. Find here brief descriptions of those that have been uploaded, along with some other reports of recent vintage. You will also find in this posting some commentary on the issue of false allegations that I did not anticipate writing about when I began this review.

2009 – 2010 Ventura County Grand Jury, Final Report, Youth in Shadow, June 14, 2010.

“Having accurate and current past performance information would improve program planning and delivery of services. Child Welfare agencies, and Social Service and Child Welfare Directors need to know how many youth are in foster care: their ages, how many leave the system each year, and how they are doing. Many counties must rely on old information and rough estimates about the youth they serve in terms of needs, issues, strengths, and experiences.”

“The inability of states to accurately report the number of youth currently in care or who age out each year, and the inability to determine how well they are doing two, three, or four years after leaving care is discouraging and dissuades accountability.”

“More research data is needed to quantify the efficacy of County services for youth who have exited care.”

2010 Mendocino County Grand Jury, Services to Youth at Risk, A Priority to Challenge the Plight of Young People, June 3, 2010.

This one is a rather lean report, weighing in at only 7 pages. There are, however, some observations worth noting:

“The GJ was surprised to learn of the connections between County and private agencies serving youth. The web of services, utilized by multiple agencies, makes it difficult to determine the lead agency and who is accountable for problems that may arise. The GJ also noted duplication of services and potential inflated costs by the non-profit agencies. Instead of joining together in applying for limited funds, they often compete with one another.”

“The GJ is appalled at the continued loss of programs that have proven beneficial to helping young people. Proven programs to assist youth with personal difficulties are essential to improve their chances of living productive lives and staying out of the penal system.”

“The GJ is also concerned about the loss of follow-up on families that adopt children. When an adopted child develops mental or behavioral problems, they frequently end up in group homes. If families continue to accept governmental funds for treating children’s special needs, they should be entitled to continued
support and over-sight.”

Sacramento County Grand Jury, The State of Foster Care in Sacramento County, June 10, 2010.

There is a lot of interest to be found in this report. What I found to be particularly interesting was this statement:

“Allegations against foster parents unfortunately are not an infrequent occurrence. Biological parents who have had their child removed from their home sometimes use allegations against foster parents in an attempt to get their child back. Foster children themselves can also use this method in an attempt to be returned to their parents. Anyone in the community who has a grudge against a foster parent knows that a call to CPS will bring someone to the home for an investigation and cause problems for the foster parent. Some nationwide studies indicate that the rate of allegations that are unfounded can be as high as 90%. CPS is charged with the responsibility to determine which allegations are true. The number of false allegations against a family can “muddy the waters” and bias CPS in favor of the foster parent. When CPS receives repeated allegations against a foster parent, an unannounced visit to the home would help to determine the facts. These visits by CPS to a foster home to check on the welfare of the foster child and adherence to safety regulations are allowed, but infrequently done. Although an unannounced visit to a foster home can be traumatic to a foster parent, such visits can be done in a respectful and sensitive manner.”

The issue of false allegations is indeed a serious one, and as the Jury correctly explains, foster parents are particularly susceptible to them. What troubles me about the Jury’s observations is that they seemed hardly to consider the impacts of the false allegations against biological families. As an earlier San Diego Grand Jury noted, it almost always starts with “a call.”

That call may well be from a disgruntled neighbor, an ex-spouse, a landlord seeking to evict a tenant, or from one or another questionable source. The essential distinction being that such calls against biological parents are often investigated with tremendous zeal, the caseworkers often driven by a “take no chances” removal policy, whereas allegations against foster parents are often disregarded because the system is sensitized to the issue when it may implicate the effectiveness or safety of the “protective service” that it claims to provide.

As the Jury explains: “Some nationwide studies indicate that the rate of allegations that are unfounded can be as high as 90%.” I would like to clarify this point somewhat. The best information that we have would indicate that between 25 – 35 percent of abuse and neglect reports are deliberately malicious – that is deliberately false. Of the total number of “reports” – that is to say the total number of calls made to the hotlines – as many as 90 percent in some jurisdictions are composed of service requests, rather than actual abuse or neglect reports. A very small number of calls involve severe physical victimization of the variety that most people imagine when they think of “child abuse.” And of those, a smaller number still are actually validated.

Would that industry lobbyists would provide that particular caveat when they throw around statements such as: “Over 3 million children were reported as abused or neglected last year.” Such claims are not even close to ringing as true. Through the magic of such “advocacy numbers,” the truth is entirely obscured, and for the primary purpose of industry expansion and survival.

Some other reports of fairly recent vintage include:

2007-2008 Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury, Final Report, June 2008.

Of particular interest to advocates is the section: Helping Probation and Foster Care Youth Prepare for Adulthood and Independence.

“Each month approximately 3,000 children enter the Los Angeles County social services and probation systems. This statistic, along with findings by a Select Committee of the California State Legislature that 70% of all state prison inmates were formerly part of the foster care system, a homeless rate within 18 months and an unemployment rate of 51% within two to four years after emancipation, led the Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) to investigate why these correlations existed,” reads the introduction.

“Clearly there is a failure in the County to adequately address the needs and issues of young people involved in one or more agencies designed specifically to help them,” the report continues on to explain.

No startling revelations, but there is a lot of useful and up-to-date information regarding foster care financing, caseloads, independent living, education, and outcomes.

2004 – 2005 Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury, Final Report, June 2005.

Also of interest is this previous report by this Grand Jury, examining among other issues in foster care, the concerns about psychotropic medication.

“The County of Los Angeles has approximately 30,000 children and adolescents in ‘Out of-Home Care.’ Children and adolescents removed from families due to abuse and/or neglect are placed under the jurisdiction and protection of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The majority of these children are in licensed foster homes or homes certified by private licensed foster family agencies, group homes, residential treatment facilities and shelters. Many adolescents who have broken laws are in youth camps administered by the Los Angeles County Probation Department.”

“Approximately 6,000 children and adolescents take daily psychotropic medications for the treatment of serious psychological, emotional, and behavioral dysfunctions. Many medications are anti-depressants to treat depression, a common diagnosis in children and adolescents who have been traumatized. Prescribed psychotropic medications are in a class of drugs known as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), a newer generation of drugs proven to be very effective in treatment of child and adolescent depression. These drugs include Celexa, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft. Most remain in off-label status for use with children.”

COMBATING LINK ROT

I have recently upload the reports issued by the 1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury on Child Protective Services and foster care to the Lifting the Veil Scribd database. These are historical works noted for the depth and quality of their investigations. It seemed that every time I rewrote my hyperlinks to accommodate a change, their location on the web would once again be changed. There was also the chance that they would eventually disappear. They are now preserved for posterity – as well they deserve to be.

Be sure to check the Lifting the Veil Scribd Documents database often. Today, instead of downloading reports to my hard drive where they may languish for some time before I rediscover them (as has happened in years gone by) I can immediately upload them to Scribd complete with brief descriptions. No longer will I have to wonder which particular report I had read one thing or another in. Some other advantages to this approach would be that my web finds become immediately available; my Scribd collection may grow with the addition of other documents not directly held in my database, thus eliminating duplicity; and the links in the references to my articles won’t result in the dreaded “404 Not Found” error. All this, without the risk of link rot.

If you are unfamiliar with link rot, and its implications for web-based researchers, the Nebraska Government Web Site has an informative article on the topic of link rot that is well worth reading.

Shame on me for not having downloaded a copy of Strayhorn’s Forgotten Children report when it was online. I have searched the web high and low for a copy, and apparently there are none to be found. Please send one along to me if you should have a copy so that this landmark study, too, may be preserved for posterity.