Monday, June 5, 2006

Foster care in America: Primetime gets it wrong, part two

            I’d planned to devote this blog entry to discussing in detail the failings in one part of Thursday night’s Primetime program about foster care, the part extolling residential treatment.  But that can wait until tomorrow.  There’s more that needs to be said about the program’s most egregious failing: exploiting an 11-year-old-child.

            The child poured out her secrets about being sexually abused, and about abusing younger children, on camera, her face visible throughout and her real (and unusual, so therefore memorable) first name used.

            As I noted on Friday, there was no one in this child’s life with the moral right to give informed consent.  Her adoptive parents were in the process of abandoning her to the residential treatment center, and the RTC had a vested interest – getting a puff piece from ABC.

            And ABC is likely to cite that permission to justify its exploitation.  The network also may cite an outpouring of sympathy for the child, including people coming forward to say they want to adopt her.  But there are plenty of effective recruitment techniques that don’t require a child to describe on camera how she abused other children, with her face visible the entire time.  (One poster to a message board on the ABC News website, whose comments leave the impression that s/he is a foster parent, already has warned people away from adopting her, describing her as both a “ a victim AND a predator” [emphasis in original].)

            Incredibly, two national child welfare organizations put out press releases associating themselves with this program – after it aired.  One is the Pew Commission on Foster Care, one of those OBRCs (Obligatory Blue-Ribbon Commissions) that often pop up in child welfare.  This one is different, though: While its recommendations rate a C, it’s marketing is A+.  They never miss an opportunity to get their name out there.  While the Commission did not explicitly endorse the program, it did seek to use the program to gain publicity for itself, when it should have condemned the program for its exploitation of a child.

            The second press release, from the Congressional Coalition for Adoption Institute, was worse.  It actually said that ABC News should be “commended” for its efforts.  Perhaps CCAI feels that as long as a television program shares the organization’s adoption-at-all-costs mentality, the ends justify the means.

            But there is another possible explanation.  The press releases came out within minutes of each other, via US Newswire, with the same contact person for each.  So perhaps the problem is simply one flack with very poor judgment.

            NCCPR has e-mailed both organizations urging them to dissociate themselves with the program, and condemn ABC’s exercise in child exploitation.