Monday, January 9, 2012

Foster care in America: Child abandonment, Casey-style, part one

New Casey initiative is was silent on wrongful removal, racial bias in child welfare.

UPDATE: 12:30PM Casey breaks its silence on keeping families together, amends press release (but  doesn't let on it's amended)

            The Annie E. Casey Foundation (a former funder of NCCPR) sent a disturbing signal last week that it is abandoning any serious effort to stop the  needless removal of children into foster care.  Worse, it is putting in charge of an effort that should be countering stereotypes about family preservation someone who has promoted those very stereotypes. (M0re about that tomorrow.)

            Casey announced creation of something called the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC – get it?) “to enhance the existing network of state child welfare policy advocates working to achieve comprehensive reforms for children and families involved in child welfare systems.”

            But the reform efforts SPARC will “enhance” are anything but comprehensive.  According to the press release in its original form:

SPARC will support a broad range of policy efforts, including permanency for older youth, child-focused adoptive parent recruitment, post-adoption services, educational stability for children in foster care, funding for permanency efforts, eliminating unnecessary delays in court processes, improving legal representation for children and families involved in the child welfare system, better regulation of psychotropic medications for children in foster care, reducing institutional placement of children, and customized services for immigrant children and their families.

UPDATE, 12:30PM: Responding to pressure from NCCPR (there've been lots of "hits" on this post from Casey Foundation websites this morning) Casey revised the press release.  The new first sentence includes the words "strengthening families to safely prevent removing children from their homes."

The problem of course, is that this means only that, for those behind this project, family preservation is, literally, an afterthought.  There still is no mention of family reunification, or fighting racial bias.

And the date on the release remains the same - Casey gives no clue the release was changed.

            Anybody see anything missing in that list?  The trade journal Youth Today spotted it immediately.  According to their story:

The interests of SPARC focus mostly on youths who have already been removed from their families and placed in foster care.

            Mostly?  How about 99.99 percent.  There is barely a word about working to prevent children from being torn needlessly from everyone they know and love in the first place.  And while there is plenty about adoption on SPARC’s list, there is not a word about doing a better job of reunifying families.  (In addition to the obvious references to adoption “eliminating unnecessary delays in court processes” is code for “rush to terminate parental rights.”)


            I’ve had the sense Casey was moving in the direction of abandoning family preservation and pushing only adoption and making foster care “better” at least since Patrick McCarthy succeeded Doug Nelson as CEO more than a year ago.

Casey continues to do good work reducing the use of the worst form of care, group homes and institutions, but SPARC’s priorities make clear the Foundation thinks reducing entries into care from more than 300,000 per year to the current 254,000 per year is enough.

            In fact, evidence from the states doing the best job of safely keeping children out of foster care suggests that far more can be done, and tens of thousands of children continue to be traumatized by needless foster care every year.

            SPARC’s priorities also confirm that Casey’s goal is permanence for children – regardless of how it is accomplished.  Permanence is, indeed, among the most noble goals in child welfare. But it also signals that Casey doesn’t much care how permanence is achieved – and might even prefer getting more kids into those nice middle-class adoptive homes rather than sending them back to the poor but loving homes from which most of them were taken.

            The only hint of even the slightest interest in keeping families together are the words “and families” at the end of the item on legal representation and the section concerning immigrant children.

            Also notably absent: anything about combating the racial bias that permeates American child welfare.

            Casey priorities also are clear in its choice of partners for this effort.  They’ve included the best of the adoption advocacy groups, a group which also has led the fight against orphanages.  Their inclusion is reasonable.  But there is no organization supporting family preservation.  Even a longtime previous Casey partner, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, which has been a leader both on family preservation and racial bias issues, is absent.

            So when Casey writes that SPARC  “will also target assistance for ‘big wins’ — helping a few states gain significant achievements that could inspire policy change on a national scale” it’s not hard to guess what those will be. Probably things like getting another state to extend foster care to age 21.  There’s nothing wrong with that – in fact it makes sense.  Real parents generally don’t abandon their children at age 18; the state shouldn’t either.

            But as is discussed in our most recent Blog at Youth Today, new research suggests severe limits to how much this actually accomplishes in improving the dismal outcomes for foster youth “aging out” of the system.  It would make far more sense to put at least some of the billions expended on this into stopping so many children from ever aging in.  But that is not on SPARC’s agenda.

            Even worse is who Casey chose to head up this effort – someone who just last month saw the kind of journalism that often can set off a foster care panic and tried to throw a little gasoline on the fire.  That’s not the kind of “SPARC” that child welfare needs.
            That story tomorrow.