Sunday, October 5, 2008

Supply and demand

    There is an old Peanuts cartoon in which several of the characters are trying desperately to find some way to keep Snoopy warm as he sleeps atop his dog house on cold winter nights. Finally, Linus offers a suggestion: Why not have Snoopy sleep inside the dog house? The other characters simply roll their eyes; to them the idea was too absurd for words.

    I often think of this cartoon when reading child welfare stories; most recently last week, when I read an AP story about how the lousy economy is making it harder to find enough foster parents. The story is filled with unexamined assumptions about this "shortage" and how harmful it is to children.

There is one comment after another from saintly foster parents who just can't make it in today's economy what with the terribly low pay they get. (How do the impoverished birth parents from whom these children are taken make it? The story doesn't say.) There even were complaints that some foster parents were not reimbursed for the cost of day care for their foster children. Presumably, that would include children taken from their own parents on "lack of supervision" charges when they couldn't afford day care.     

But almost all of the story takes place in Oregon. In 2006, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, Oregon took away children at a rate more than 50 percent above the national average. Oregon took children at a higher rate than all but 15 other states. But you can search the story in vain for anyone offering a common sense suggestion like: Why not ease the "shortage" of foster parents by seeing if Oregon can stop taking away so many children needlessly? But then, I guess such a suggestion it would be as preposterous as, oh, keeping the dog warm by having him sleep inside the doghouse.