Thursday, March 24, 2016

Abuse in foster care: The denial runs deep

Here’s the latest foster care horror from Oregon, according to the Oregonian:

Under the watch of the Oregon Department of Human Services, a lawsuit alleges, a young sister and brother were starved so severely by their foster parents and guardians that they weighed the same at ages 4 and 5 as they did at ages 1 and 2.

 Those facts, largely supported by the state’s own examination of the case, are laid out in a complaint filed against the state Thursday. It says the children ended up resembling victims of a famine: their ribs visible, their bellies protruding and their brain development severely affected.

 The suit says caseworkers and their supervisors and managers overlooked repeated specific complaints and glaring red flags… A caseworker saw the children less than a month before doctors at Randall Children’s Hospital determined they were suffering from chronic starvation, but the caseworker did nothing.

That story comes on top of this one, and this one. That’s just Oregon. A federal judge in Texas found rampant abuse in foster care. And in just the past week, there was this from New York and this from Utah.

Of course, there are plenty of horror stories about how children are treated by their own parents. In fact, the current child welfare system was largely built on such stories. When anecdotes collide, it’s time to look at the data.
But not in the highly-selective way Marie Cohen chose to do so in a recent column published by The Chronicle of Social Change.

She wrote that “State data compiled by the federal government show that the proportion of children in foster care who were the subject of substantiated maltreatment in foster care ranged from 0 to 1.34 percent.”
But the figures she cites come from child welfare agencies’ own investigations of abuse in foster care. For reasons that should be obvious, in such cases agencies have a strong incentive to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and write no evil in the case file.
If the figures Cohen cites are to be believed, there are three states – Delaware, Vermont and New Hampshire – where absolutely no children at all were abused or neglected in foster care in 2014. New Hampshire has made that claim for five years in a row. Seriously?

Texas claims that fewer than one-third of 1 percent of foster children were abused in foster care in 2014. In other words, if 300 former foster children were gathered in a room and asked, “How many of you were abused over the course of a year?” only one would raise his or her hand.
That’s not what the judge found.

And in Oregon, which claims that fewer than three-quarters of 1 percent of foster children were abused, state law apparently 
sets a higher standard for substantiating abuse if a foster parent or institution staff are accused than if the accused is a birth parent.

In contrast, research has revealed alarming rates of abuse in foster care. One independent study after another has found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of foster homes, and the rate in group homes and institutions is even higher. And for reasons related to study methodology explained here, even those figures almost certainly are underestimates.

In response, Cohen abandons the fiction of the official figures and simply tells us the homes from which the children were removed must be even worse because the children were removed from those homes. But just because a caseworker says a home was abusive or neglectful doesn’t make it so – particularly since poverty itself often is confused with “neglect.”

Her argument also presupposes that no intervention other than foster care could prevent recurrence of abuse in the cases in which children were removed. But the real question is: How does the rate of abuse in foster care compare to what would happen if families simply got the help they needed?
It’s not hard to answer, considering that even when families don’t necessarily get the help, foster care often is a worse option. There are two massive studies involving 15,000 typical cases in which the researcher made exactly the sort of comparison Cohen demands: What happens to children placed in foster care and left in their own homes, in the same types of cases?

The children left in their own homes typically do better – and that’s even when the families did not necessarily get any help.

None of this means no child ever should be taken from her or his parents. But foster care is an extremely toxic intervention that should be used sparingly and in small doses. Cohen wants to further increase the dose. I prefer less toxic options.

Foster care in Texas: Could they at least stop institutionalizing 11-year-olds?

I’ve previously written about the hellscape of Texas foster care – as described by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack, who found that abuse in foster homes, group homes and institutions isn’t just common, it’s rampant.  She ordered some limited reforms, and also promised to name a “special master” to oversee reform efforts.

After the judge issued her ruling, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) apparently decided they’d get in big trouble if they kept ignoring awful conditions in so-called “residential treatment centers.”  So they suddenly pulled dozens of children out of two of them.   But, of course, they had no place else to put the children.

Here’s what happened to one child, as reported by the Dallas Morning News:

An 11-year-old girl from Tyler, who’s had at least eight placements during her nearly three years in CPS custody, was among those shuttled from [the residential treatment center in] Lubbock.
After arriving at the San Antonio shelter, “Mary” (not her real name) was taken for at least one night to a psychiatric hospital, where she was sedated, according to interviews and court documents.
Removed from her birth family nearly three years ago because of emotional and physical abuse, “she does not deal with change,” said Tyler lawyer Karen Bretzke, who represents Mary’s interests.
“When the staff changes a shift, she gets a bit agitated,” Bretzke said. “You have to keep her world as consistent as possible.”

So, let’s review.

She's 11-years-old, she can't cope with shift changes - but the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services institutionalizes her.

No doubt, DFPS would say the usual: Not enough placements, didn’t have a choice, blah, blah, blah.  That’s also the theme of the story, of course, because in Texas many journalists reflexively write off the very idea of not taking away so many children as a bizarre notion concocted by a vast right-wing conspiracy.  This may be partly a response to the fact that a could case can be made for the idea that Texas is largely run by a vast right-wing conspiracy.  But it’s still wrong, and it’s still enormously harmful to children.

This story, for example, repeatedly refers to every child removed from the home, from the moment a DFPS caseworker or law enforcement officer takes the child away, as “abused and neglected.”  In criminal justice, reporters never say that everyone arrested is a “criminal.” They wait for a court to decide.  But in child welfare, children typically are taken away and consigned to foster care for months before a court ever decides the child was, in fact “abused and neglected.” 

But just as the normal standards of due process don’t apply in child welfare systems themselves, often the normal standards of journalism often don’t apply in child welfare coverage.

Or perhaps a lot of Texas reporters just think DFPS is so brilliant, so capable and so competent that the agency could never do things such as confuse poverty with neglect.

So they write the same stories over and over and over and get the same results for vulnerable children: None.  Meanwhile, the number of Texas children torn from their families is skyrocketing, up an average of 500 per month over a year ago.  That won’t change until reporters stop ignoring the only option that works: taking away fewer children needlessly by building a system that emphasizes help to keep families together – so there’s room in good foster homes for the children who really need them.

One state that learned that lesson the hard way is New Jersey. That state also faced a class-action lawsuit.  It ended in a settlement that was notably better than what Judge Jack has ordered so far.  That’s one reason why, at one point, New Jersey significantly reduced the institutionalization of young children.  The state also curbed entries into care.  There’s almost certainly been some regression since, but the lessons still are important for Texas.  That’s because the other reason for the progress was because, for several years, the state’s child welfare agency was run by Kevin Ryan.

Judge Jack has just named Ryan one of two “special masters” overseeing her order.

No one should expect miracles.  But perhaps we can finally expect a little progress – especially if a few Texas journalists decide to stop ignoring what works.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Model for Idaho foster care bill has ugly history

That bill I wrote about earlier this month, which would further privilege the already overprivileged foster parents of Idaho, appears well on its way to passage.

The bill would offer only a tiny window of opportunity for relatives to step forward to take custody of children removed from their parents by Idaho child welfare authorities.  And once a child has been trapped in foster care for six months, no matter why she or he got there, or why she or he was still there, preference for placement actually would shift to the foster parents if they’ve “bonded” with the child.
In short, it’s a bill intended to make life easier for middle class foster parents like Jamie Law, who, the moment she laid eyes on somebody else’s two-day-old infant, declared: “This is totally my kid.”

And why did the Idaho House of Representatives pass this bill unanimously?  Because they were fed a steady diet of horror stories from articulate middle class foster parents, people any state lawmaker could identify with.
According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review,

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told of a 14-month-old boy who was removed from a loving foster home, where the foster parents wanted to adopt him, and sent to an out-of-state home where there was no interest in adoption. Instead, Moyle said, the interest was “because with that child comes a paycheck. Think about that. With that child comes a paycheck. I have a problem with that. It’s morally wrong.”

Hard to know where to start with that one. Does Rep. Moyle believe that foster parents normally don’t get paid?  How does he know why the people in the out-of-state home (presumably relatives, though he doesn’t say that) didn’t choose to adopt the children?  Because one of those overprivileged Idaho foster parents told him so? And, of course, no Idaho foster parent ever has seen a child as a “paycheck.”

But let’s assume for the moment that the story is true. If we’re going to go the legislation-by-horror-story route, we need to recognize that the horror stories go both ways.
So let’s start in a state which passed a law that the overprivileged foster parents of Idaho used as a model: Florida.
In that state, 10-year-old Nubia Barahona was beaten and murdered, allegedly by her adoptive father.  Her decomposing body was found in the back of the father’s truck. In the front seat, her twin brother was in convulsions from chemical burns.

Compounding the tragedy: Loving relatives had sought to adopt the children.  But an “expert” said the children were “bonded” to the Barahonas, who had first taken in the children as foster parents.  And Florida law–the one the Idaho foster parents are using as a model–said “bonding” could take precedence over any preference for relatives.
Of course the overwhelming majority of adoptive parents don’t behave as Barahona allegedly did.  It’s an aberration.  But so are the tales told by Idaho foster parents seeking a Florida-style law.  When anecdotes collide, it’s time to look at the data.
As I noted in my previous column about this bill,  study after study has found that placing children with relatives is far better for children’s well-being and, most importantly, safer than what should properly be called stranger care. Relatives also are far less likely to resort to potent and sometimes dangerous psychiatric medications to keep children docile when they “act out.”

The history of the Florida law is also instructive. It has its roots in a protracted custody dispute involving a little boy named Christian who was taken from his mother at birth in February, 2002.
Within days, a second cousin, Tiffany Delk, living in Tennessee, and her husband came forward seeking custody. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) ignored her.  In fact, they ignored at least 100 phone calls from Tiffany Delk over the next several months.  She was not allowed to see Christian until May or possibly October (news accounts differ).

Instead, DCF placed Christian with Denise and Ivar Baklid, strangers who wanted to adopt him.
In October 2002, for reasons that never have been explained, DCF changed its position and supported placing Christian with the Delks. A series of court rulings led to Christian being moved to the Delks and then briefly back to the Baklids until finally the Delks were allowed to adopt Christian.
Even though Christian wound up spending more time living with the Delks than with the Baklids before finally being adopted, backers of the stranger-care parents kept playing the bonding card, arguing that the child was “bonded” to the strangers, and that was far more important than blood ties.
And, once again, because it’s so much easier for legislators to identify with middle class strangers, they got a law passed to give preference to strangers when those strangers provided “continuity of care.”
That law was in effect when Florida DCF decided that the Barahona children were “bonded” to their foster parents–and chose them over relatives to adopt.

Now, Idaho appears headed in the same direction.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

NCCPR in Youth Today on the failures of the child abuse fatalities commission

Child Abuse Fatalities Commission Staggers to a Close

During a congressional hearing in 2011, Michael Petit, who then ran an organization called Every Child Matters, was asked which states do the best job protecting children. His answer: those that have “smaller, whiter populations.”

Today, Petit is the driving force behind the so-called Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, a federal commission that seems to view part of its job as squelching any discussion of the pervasive racial bias in child welfare.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

CECANF shocker: Commissioner blasts work of child abuse fatalities commission in scathing dissent

She publishes it herself after commission chair allegedly threatens to censor dissents.

One day before the release of the final report of the so-called Commission on Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities (or as we call it, the Keystone Kops of Commissions) one of the Commissioners has issued a scathing 24-page dissent that excoriates the Commission not only for some of its recommendations but for its chaotic process and wasteful spending.

Cook County Judge Patricia Martin, the presiding judge of the Court’s Child Protection Division, and one of only two African-Americans on the Commission (the other is Commission Chair David Sanders) published the dissent herself after, she says, Sanders threatened to edit or censor entirely dissents he didn’t like.

We don’t agree with all of Judge Martin’s recommendations, but her report adds vital context to the debate over child welfare – and crucial insight into the stumbling, bumbling way the Commission did its job.

Among the revelations:

● The final report includes major changes made after the Commissioners took their final votes.  “Those changes were incorporated into the Consenting [Majority] Report without being seen, deliberated or voted upon by the entire Commission.”  The report even went to the printer before Martin was allowed to see it, she says.

● Poor people paid for the Commission.  The Commission spent lavishly - $4 million over two years – traipsing around the country holding hearings and hiring a 20-person staff.  That would be less of a problem if the money had not come directly out of poor people’s pockets.  It turns out, Martin says, the funding was drawn from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) – the program that replaced “welfare as we knew it” in 1996. 

So money that was supposed to go to help poor families with things like day care – so they are less likely to have their children taken away on “lack of supervision” charges – was diverted to fund a Commission whose recommendations, if enacted, would lead to many more children being taken needlessly from their homes.

Sadly, this is only the most flagrant example of using TANF as a child welfare slush fund.  States have been doing it for years.

● Martin says the Commission “misrepresents or ignores” the experts who testified at the hearings.  One example she cites is the Commission’s embrace of the latest fad in child welfare, “predictive analytics.” Martin writes:

[T]he Consenting Commissioners recommend immediate implementation of “predictive analytics.” First, predictive analytics needs further testing and requires the building of a solid data infrastructure in order to work. Second, the expert testimony emphasized the inherent limitations of predictive analytics.

Martin then quotes the testimony of Prof. Emily Putnam-Hornstein of the University of Southern California School of Social Work, who told the Commission:

“[W]e would be mistaken to think about predictive risk modeling, or predictive analytics, as a tool we would want to employ with that end outcome specifically being [preventing] a near fatality or a fatality, because … I don’t think we will ever have the data or be able to predict with an accuracy that any of us would feel comfortable with and intervene differently on that basis.”

● Martin also blasts the process by which the Commission developed its signature recommendation – something it called a “surge” until it tasked its huge staff with coming up with a better euphemism.  Under the “surge” caseworkers would reinvestigate thousands of cases in which they already had decided to leave children in their own homes under supervision – disrupting the families all over again.

Martin calls this recommendation “another example of this practice of selective citation and arbitrary creation…”  She writes:

Not one witness recommended nor intimated such an approach to eliminate fatalities. Instead, Commission leadership unilaterally decided to include it as a “signature recommendation.” More troubling is that this recommendation encourages foster care placements despite expertise and research that demonstrates that the better path for our children is providing services in home. While purporting to “save lives immediately,” this signature recommendation corrupts theConsenting Report.  … The Consenting Report reads like a tabloid or infomercial relying on sensationalism to convince Congress and the Administration to eschew their good sense and spend an additional $1 billion annually on this recommendation. [Emphasis added.]

● Martin also blasts “The unorthodox process for editing the Consenting Report…”  She writes:

Commissioners have been allowed to submit changes and additional materials after the final vote. Those changes were incorporated into the Consenting Report without being seen, deliberated, or voted upon by the entire Commission. Moreover, the final report incorporating those changes was not released to this Commissioner prior to submission for printing. A simple comparison of the voted upon draft and the final report reflects substantive changes. Thus, the full Commission was deprived of information to perform its duties and/or select commissioners were granted favor to privately shape the report devoid of deliberation. … Therefore, it is this Commissioner’s position that the validity of the Consenting Report must be viewed with trepidation. [Emphasis added.]

And Martin describes what she had to do to get her report published:

[T]he independent submission of this Dissenting Report is yet another reflection of the flawed process. As the reader may be aware, there were two dissenting commissioners. The process was structured such that the opinions of individual commissioners were limited to two page letters to be printed with the Consenting Report. No commitment was made for dissenting opinions. Instead, the Chairman of the Commission stated that he would review dissents and then decide unilaterally whether to exclude the dissent, to edit the dissent, or to include the dissent without alteration in the Commission’s official submission to the President and Congress. As a result, this Commissioner chose to submit the two page letter and to absorb personally the costs of printing and distributing this official document.
We're doing our part to get the word out.  We've posted Judge Martin's dissent here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

You can’t have child protection without family preservation

[THIS PARAGRAPH WAS UPDATED IN FEBRUARY, 2018] In 2016, I had an opportunity to debate child welfare finance with Sean Hughes in the Chronicle of Social Change.  Of course I knew that, wince I was writing for the Fox News of child welfare, the deck would be stacked.  And sure enough in his introduction to one latest installment, Daniel Heimpel chose to repeat what I view as The Big Lie of American child welfare – the idea that child protection and family preservation are at odds. (Later, Heimpel proved to be so afraid of any dissent that he moved this column behind the Chronicle's paywall. So I moved it here.)

In his discussion of our columns on the foster care “entitlement” under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, Heimpel tells us:

If you believe that the mandate of child welfare agencies should go beyond child protection, and focus on keeping families together, then these dwindling dollars tied predominantly to caring for children only after they have been separated from their families is a real problem.

 If you believe that the child welfare system is really about child protection, and that keeping families together is the provenance [sic] of other agencies, then the entitlement is acting how it should.

 This is the philosophical debate within the field …

No, Daniel, it’s not.
I believe the child welfare system is about child protection. So does every family preservation advocate I know. But we don’t equate child protection with child removal. Focusing on keeping families together is not “go[ing] beyond child protection,” it’s how you achieve child protection in the overwhelming majority of cases.

The real philosophical debate is: Which works better to keep children safe: Foster care or family preservation?
Obviously, I believe the answer, backed up by a mountain of research, is that for the overwhelming majority of children, in the overwhelming majority of the instances, family preservation isn’t just more humane than foster care and less expensive than foster care, it’s also safer than foster care.  Links to that mass of evidence can be found here.

It is equally obvious that Heimpel disagrees. We can and should debate that. (As noted above, Heimpel turned out to be afraid to do that.)
But neither I, nor anyone else I know in the family preservation movement, take second place to anyone in our concern about keeping children safe. It’s why we became advocates for family preservation in the first place.
In my case, it didn’t happen all at once. It’s been almost exactly 40 years since I did my first major story about foster care, a radio documentary while I was a journalism student. I interviewed a woman who was, at the time, 21.
By the time she was nine years old, she had been in nine different foster homes. She told me she survived by keeping the rage inside, “unlike my five brothers who have been in every jail in New York State.”
This is some of what she said:
My bitterness is not that I went through what I did. My bitterness is that I don’t think it should have had to happen. There was no reason why my family’s life should have been destroyed.

 The people that I’ve seen, the kids that have emerged [from foster care] are dead.  Their hearts are functioning. The ‘ol heart’s pumping the blood around. But they’re basically dead inside. It’s been killed. Either they had to kill it to survive physically, or somebody else killed it in them – whatever it is that makes people human.

After speaking to this woman for two-and-a-half hours, I reached three conclusions:
First, I was very glad I’d chosen journalism as a career.
Second, I knew I would keep coming back to the story.
And third, we could fix this if we just got all those rotten birth parents out of the way and got all these children adopted.
Hey, two out of three isn’t bad!
But as I did keep coming back to the story, I kept finding that the facts on the ground were not matching what the most widely-quoted, so-called “experts” were saying. I kept hearing “child abuse crosses class lines,” but all I kept seeing in the system were families who were poor, and the “neglect” for which they lost their children often looked just like poverty itself.

When the dichotomy became too much to bear, I wrote a book about it called Wounded Innocents. Working on the book led me to lots of experts who usually were ignored. And that led me to the research showing family preservation to be the safer option, a body of research that just keeps growing.

So after 40 years of following this issue, 26 of them as an advocate, I’ve about had it with seeing people who invent outstanding alternatives such as the Homebuilders IntensiveFamily Preservation Services program, and people who put their careers on the line every day fighting to transform child welfare systems being stigmatized and stereotyped as being less concerned about child protection than all those people who built the terrible system we have now. The kind of people who gave us this hellscape, and this one, and this one; people who almost always mean well but nevertheless keep right on destroying in children “whatever it is that makes people human.”

Responding to the Big Lie of American child welfare

O.K., this time it's personal.  An excerpt from my latest column, originally published in the Chronicle of Social Change:

After 40 years of following this issue, 26 of them as an advocate, I’ve about had it with seeing people who invent outstanding alternatives to foster care such as the Homebuilders Intensive Family Preservation Services program, and people who put their careers on the line every day fighting to transform child welfare systems being stigmatized and stereotyped as being less concerned about child protection than all those people who built the terrible system we have now. The kind of people who gave us this hellscape, and this one, and this one; people who almost always mean well but nevertheless keep right on destroying in children “whatever it is that makes people human.”

Read the full column here

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Don’t be afraid of the Block Grant Bogeyman

In my previous column on child welfare finance reform, I wrote about the incentives that push governments toward needlessly tearing apart families. Those incentives exist for everyone from the frontline caseworker to the child welfare agency chief.

There are political incentives linked to the popularity that comes with “cracking down on child abuse” versus the price to be paid for trying to help families in which the parents have been demonized. And, of course, the financial incentives: the huge, open-ended entitlement under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act that allows states to be reimbursed for a large share of the cost of foster care for every eligible child.
With all the incentives, it’s no wonder that poverty is so often confused with neglect and so many children are needlessly consigned to the chaos of foster care.

Yes, sometimes child welfare systems will swim against that tide. Once in a while, a child welfare leader, and the governor who appointed that leader, will demonstrate amazing courage. Occasionally – well, twice, actually – class-action lawsuits lead to exceptionally enlightened settlements.

But all it takes is for the governor to change and more cowardly leadership to cave in to demagogic news coverage, and it’s back to business as usual.
So it’s no wonder that when Prof. Leroy Pelton, former director of the School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, traced the rise and fall of foster care rates through most of the 20th century in his 1991 book, For Reasons of Poverty, he found that the single biggest factor was financial incentive. More recently, the rate of known child abuse in this country peaked in 1993. Yet entries into foster care did not start to decline until 2006, and now entries are increasing again.

Something is needed to push back.
Opening up the current IV-E entitlement to “preventive services,” as is proposed under the “Family First Act,” won’t do it. For starters, from what little is known so far, it seems the bill will reimburse a very limited range of services (mostly those geared to making the helpers feel good rather than the concrete services most families need) and for a very limited time. And the knives are already out for another part of the bill that would curb the use of group homes and institutions.

But even if that bill were more generous, there is no way that overwhelmingly poor families who are disproportionately people of color and who are viewed by the general public as the worst of the worst can compete for the same pot of money against more affluent, more-likely-to-be-white foster parents, group homes, institutions and the foster care industrial complex that stands behind them.
Waivers help a little – Sean Hughes agreed in 2013, but now he’s against them – but there needs to be a much more powerful brake on the profound incentives to take the child and run. That means there must come a point where governors and mayors are told in effect: If you want to take away more and more children needlessly, destroying the lives of many of those children, then you’re going to have to pick up the tab yourselves.

But whenever anyone tries to change the way the federal government pays for child welfare services, the response is the same scary refrain: If you change our sacred “entitlement” to foster care money, you’ll be creating a block grant – and we all know what that means!

It’s especially useful for trying to scare big government tax-and-spend liberals like me. But it’s about as real as the bogeyman a child may think is under his bed.
Consider the two most recent proposals that opponents labeled “block grants,” both of them more than a decade old.
One, championed by former California Congressman Wally Herger (R), would have given states all the foster care funding they then were receiving under the IV-E entitlement, plus annual increases for inflation.
But states no longer would get more money for taking away more children. The plan would have applied only to IV-E, and would not have folded in any other funding streams. Any savings from reducing foster care would have to be plowed back into child welfare.
The foster care industrial complex was apoplectic.
Too bad. Because the Congressional Research Service later estimated that had this become law, states would have gotten $5 billion more in funding between 2005 and 2010 than they actually got by clinging to the “entitlement.”

The George W. Bush administration proposed a variation: a voluntary program in which states that wanted the option could negotiate a flat amount with the federal government. There would be annual increases for inflation. Both sides would be locked into the deal for five years. But any state that didn’t like the terms could keep the entitlement – and lose out on its share of what turned out to be a $5 billion bonanza.
The foster care industrial complex was still apoplectic, which raises the question: What part of “voluntary” don’t they understand?
Unfortunately, those who conjure up the Block Grant Bogeyman did not learn from their $5 billion blunder. So let’s look more closely at those so-called “block grant” proposals.

For starters, they weren’t block grants.
Back when the modern era of block grants began, in the Nixon administration, large numbers of different funding streams were thrown together, and then the total dollar amount was cut.  In contrast, the flexibility plans dealt with just one funding stream, Title IV-E, allowing those funds to be spent not only on foster care, but also on better alternatives. And there was no cut in funding.
To which the Block Grant Bogeyman replies: What about the future? After all, look what happened to the Social Services Block Grant and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Block grants are easier to cut! Beware! Beware!
But entitlements are just as easy to cut; you simply change the percentage of costs to which the state is “entitled.” It requires no constitutional amendment or super majority. In contrast, the Bush administration plan would have locked in the federal government to five-year contracts with every state that volunteered. For those five years, those funds really couldn’t be cut.
Whether or not programs are cut has nothing to do with the funding mechanism; it has to do with whom they serve. SSBG and TANF serve poor people who are widely despised – many of the same people served by prevention and family preservation programs – so they get starved.
Foster care separates the good children from the “bad” parents – making it far more popular. Because it is a middle class constituency and because a whole industry has grown up around it – complete with high powered lobbyists – it is far less vulnerable to cuts.

But having been scared off by the Block Grant Bogeyman, states lost out on an opportunity to gain $5 billion more in child welfare funding.
To which the Block Grant Bogeyman would reply: Yes, but what if the number of kids in foster care goes up?
But foster care is not a force of nature. It’s the result of decisions made by human beings. Were IV-E funding not an entitlement, states would have an incentive to invest in things like comprehensive drug treatment programs. That way, they wouldn’t have to rip apart more families every time a new “drug plaguesweeps across the nation – something that happens every few years, always accompanied by hysterical news accounts declaring it to be the Worst Drug Plague Ever.

If IV-E were not an entitlement, states would have an incentive to invest in rent subsidies, to help the 30 percent of foster children who could be home right now if their families just had decent housingThey would have an incentive to invest in child care so thousands of children wouldn’t be taken every year because of “lack of supervision” charges.

But foster care is an industry, consisting of worthless residential treatment centers and all those group homes and all those providers. Some know better, and others have persuaded themselves that all those children really, truly must be in foster care. When there’s so much at stake, rationalization is powerful.

So they conjure up the Block Grant Bogeyman to scare us back to the status quo: a take-the-child-and-run system of child welfare that, as one study found, churns out walking wounded four times out of five.

Now that’s something to be scared of.

This analysis originally appeared as part of a series in the Chronicle of Social Change entitled: “Dollars and Priorities: The Financing of Child Welfare” where it can still be found for the moment. Since the Chroniclethe Fox News of child welfarehas taken to suddenly moving much of my work behind a paywall, I'm reprinting it here, with some updates and changes to the links.