Foster Shock: Failing Florida’s Children


“There is unacceptable and then there’s disgraceful. We need to change the system to protect these children from being hurt over and over again. I hope Foster Shock will let people see the dysfunction under privatization and move them to demand action.”

Director and Producer Mari Frankel


The privatization of foster care has been peddled as a panacea sure to cure the numerous ailments of the foster care system since the mid-1990s. The issue rose to the forefront on August 7, 1997, when the National Center for Policy Analysis released a report on the status of children in state-managed foster care, revealing the results of a study conducted by Conna Craig and and Derek Herbert, President and Associate director, respectively, of an organization named the Institute for Children. The report, “The State of the Children: An Examination of Government-Run Foster Care,” by Craig and Herbert, painted a bleak picture of the life endured by America’s estimated 500,000 foster care wards. Indeed, the report provided statistics that were up until that time rather difficult to come by, hence the report enjoyed widespread citation in numerous subsequent reports penned by others, myself included.

More on all of that is to follow.

In these pages, I have endeavored to chronicle some of the more obvious failures of privatization, notably in the states of Texas, in Kansas, as well as in Nebraska. I have also chronicled the excesses of 1998, a time during which a significant amount of incremental tinkering leaning toward privatization was all the vogue.

I turn my attention now to the Sunshine State – which has also enjoyed considerable scrutiny in these pages over time – to introduce a new documentary on the first state to completely embrace privatization, and the consequences that this has had for its foster care children.

Foster Shock

Foster Shock, a new documentary premiering at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, “will share stunning accounts of what’s really happening in some of Florida’s privatized, foster care group homes – at the taxpayer’s expense,” explains the press release describing the movie.

“When children are taken out of an abusive home and put into foster care, you might think they’re in a much safer place. The truth is, for many of these children, the pattern of abuse and neglect just continues,” Director and Producer Mari Frankel explains. The release cotinues to to explain that:

Florida was the first state in the country to fully privatize foster care in an attempt to save a desperately bad system, but what’s the result of the state’s $2.9 Billion annual investment in child welfare? Our investigation found six-digit salaries for CEO’s of private companies running group homes, and little accountability or oversight, leaving some already traumatized foster children vulnerable to be neglected, drugged and sexually abused. Through stories from former foster youth and professionals working on the front lines of the foster care system, you’ll hear firsthand about the years of individual pain and systematic failure.

In describing the documentary on its promotional website, it is thus summarized:

Their stories are shocking. These former foster kids recall being ripped from their dangerous, unstable homes in the middle of the night, separated from brothers and sisters and deposited in a strange place where they didn’t know anyone. The foster family or group home in which they landed may be caring and supportive, or it may be another house of horrors, with sexual abuse, violence and neglect. This happened over and over again.

The filmmakers didn’t go into this project looking for worst case scenarios. They simply asked these young people about their lives in the child welfare system – and found just about any foster kid has the same kind of horrible experiences.

The young people featured in this film are all over age 18, so they have “aged” out of the system, meaning they’re no longer in the state’s care. The film gives their first-hand accounts of what it’s like to grow up this way. Their stories are backed up by a review of thousands of pages of public records and personal files that verify their accounts.

It is rather unfortunate that the documentary will enjoy a limited screening. Just as I was determined to attend “Kids for Cash,” the limited number of screenings in Pennsylvania presented challenges. A trip to Florida would be considerably more difficult at this time. However for the benefit of those who can attend one of these showings, the effort would clearly be well worth the effort.

Hopefully, over time, both of these films – along with some others – may become more readily available to a broader audience over the web.