Thursday, November 4, 2010

Foster care in California: A bigger Band-Aid for the wrong wound

            Few things say more about the real priorities of America’s child welfare establishment than the most recent big law about foster care to pass Congress.

            There actually is some good stuff in the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act.  The law provides federal reimbursement for subsidized guardianship – and that was enough, finally, to get New York to join other states in offering this smart, sensible option for children who really can’t return to their own homes. (The law passed over the strong objections of New York City Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner John Mattingly.) 

            Even a provision allowing young people to stay in foster care to age 21 (again if states opt in) falls into the category of lesser evil.  If the only options are being bounced from foster home to foster home and being kicked out at 18 or being bounced from foster home to foster home and being kicked out at 21, the latter usually isn’t as bad.

            In fact, there’s only one really bad provision in the whole law -  a “delinking” of federal reimbursement for adoption subsidies from previous limits.  It’s a first step toward trying to do the same for foster care payments.  Unless such “delinking” is part of a much bigger, more comprehensive reform, it will do enormous harm to children.  (For details see our paper on child welfare finance.)

            But by and large, the problem with the Fostering Connections act is what’s not there. Consider the categories on a website devoted to the law:

● Adoption
● Education
●Older youth

            Notice anything missing?

            Even though groups like the Child Welfare League of America, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Center for Law and Social Policy and the rest of the child welfare establishment prattle on incessantly about how the first priority should be keeping children safely in their own homes, somehow the Fostering Connections Act has not one word – and not one penny to advance this supposed top priority.  There’s plenty about what is said to be the second priority – adoption – it’s even in the name of the law. 

            And, of course, the foster care providers among CWLA’s member agencies win big with that three more years of foster care.

           How odd.  Unless, of course, all that stuff about really, truly wanting to avoid foster care is just a lot of empty rhetoric to hide the child welfare establishment’s real priorities.

           All of which leads me to the obscene spectacle that played out in California last month when governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 12, the bill implementing the Fostering Connections act in California: An orgy of self-indulgent self-congratulation by that state’s child welfare establishment, which did not lift a finger to add anything to the bill to keep children out of the system in the first place. 

           As I discuss in this op ed column in the San Jose Mercury News all they did is put a bigger Band-Aid on the wrong wound.