Thursday, November 10, 2011

Foster care in America: Another excuse for high rates-of-removal bites the dust

I hear it all the time when I point out to reporters in certain states that their states are extreme outliers when it comes to tearing apart families – states like Nebraska, Iowa, Rhode Island and South Dakota, among others.

The reporters ask the flack for the child welfare agency and she or he almost always comes up with the same excuse: “We’re different,” the flack claims, “unlike other states, we count children placed in foster care through our juvenile justice system, not just our child welfare system.”

I then ask the reporter: What percentage of placements do they claim are juvenile justice placements?  It turns out that the percentage is so small that, even if you deducted those placements the extreme outliers remain just that - extreme outliers.

But there is another problem with this argument: If so many states are saying they’re unusual – if not unique – because they count these additional placements, it can’t really be all that unusual.

The federal government doesn’t actually count how many states include juvenile justice cases.  But one state legislature’s audit staff has.

Staff for the Performance Audit Committee of the Nebraska Legislature got tired of hearing this excuse.  So they checked with Casey Family Programs which actually asked the states.  The findings are in this report on pages 31 and 32.  It turns out that the majority of the states, 31 in all, include juvenile justice placements in the counts of entries into care and the snapshot number of children in foster care that they send to the federal government.

So the assorted public officials, agency leaders and flacks who have been blithely using the juvenile justice placement excuse all this time either are grossly ill-informed, or they are lying.