Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Foster care in LA: Therolf misleads again…


            Garrett Therolf, the embattled reporter for the beleaguered Los Angeles Times, was among the guests yesterday on Patt Morrison’s program on KPCC Public radio.  Mostly he behaved himself, but he couldn’t resist one more inaccurate cheap shot.  He alleged that safety “indicators” for children whose cases are known to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services “moved in the wrong direction” during the tenure of now former-DCFS Director Trish Ploehn.

            There is no evidence for this claim.

            As has been discussed extensively on this Blog, one indicator may have moved in the wrong direction according to one report.  But more recent data show this indicator may be improving. 

            And even if one regards an alleged one-year increase in fatalities as another “indicator,” and it would be very difficult to find a serious expert in child welfare who does, it is not clear if even this change is real or simply the result of a more subjective definition of a fatality.

            But Garrett Therolf has never let facts get in the way of his “master narrative” at the Times, so there was no reason to think things would be any different at KPCC.  The real question is why two large public radio stations in the area, KPCC and KCRW, keep inviting back on their air a reporter who should (but almost certainly isn’t) facing an internal investigation at his own newspaper for allegedly putting words into people’s mouths that they say they never said.

            I have been wondering for some time where Therolf has been getting this nonsense, particularly the cheap shots about a waiver from restrictions on federal foster care financing.  Presumably, a lot of it is coming from private agencies that are paid for every day they hold children in foster care.  (Remember, pursuant to what might be called the David Lauter amendments to the Times Code of Ethics, such “presumption” is entirely permissible).

            But now it turns out Therolf may be getting some of his misinformation from Janis Spire, Chief Executive Officer of an L.A. group called the Alliance for Children’s Rights.  Spire claimed that the waiver “incentivizes policies that don’t necessarily keep children safe” and generally used her brief time on the program to get in “poonges” – little digs - at the waiver.

            If it were true that foster care equaled safely and keeping children in their homes equaled risk – which is precisely Therolf’s master narrative – then Spire would have a point.  But anyone who has read the research on the high rate of abuse in foster care itself, and the studies that show children kept in their own homes typically fare better than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care, knows that the premise is false.  For the overwhelming majority of children keeping them in their own homes is the safer option.  And it makes sense to “incentivize” the option most likely to keep most children safe.       

            It is particularly disappointing to hear these kinds of comments from the CEO of this particular organization.  The Alliance for Children’s Rights came to prominence a decade ago, when it was run by Andrew Bridge, a former foster child who wrote a searing memoir about his experience, called Hope’s Boy.

            Bridge also is a strong advocate for doing more to keep families together – as can be seen in this passionate op ed column in The New York Times urging New York City not to succumb to foster-care panic.  How sad that one of his successors now is egging on such a panic in Los Angeles.