Friday, January 5, 2018

More evidence that a California county’s foster-care panic is backfiring

Latest data show, again, that children are less safe since the panic began

The politician is Matt Rexroad, a high-powered Republican political consultant and a member of the Board of Supervisors in Yolo County, near Sacramento. After Rexroad didn’t get to keep a foster child placed in his care, whom he referred to as “Bonus Baby,” he decided the system was putting too much emphasis on keeping families together, supposedly at the expense of child safety.

His well-intentioned crusade set off a classic foster-care panic, with removals of children from their homes skyrocketing to the point where Yolo County now is a contender for the dubious distinction of child removal capital of California.

The column also cited data from the California Child Welfare Indicators Project showing that, in the months since Rexroad’s crusade began and removals skyrocketed, child safety actually got worse.  New data show that this trend has continued.

The key measure of child safety used by the federal government is the proportion of children known-to-the-system deemed by caseworkers to have been abused or neglected who are deemed by caseworkers to have been abused or neglected again within a specific time frame.

Rexroad’s crusade began in March, 2016.  Last month, data on reabuse from the time after the foster-care panic began were available only for children believed to have been reabused in the six months after the initial removal. Those data showed that this measure got worse after the foster care panic – and that Yolo County, which used to do better than the statewide average, now is doing worse.

New data show that’s still true. In the chart available here, and excerpted below, the time period represents the time when the initial allegation was “substantiated” – meaning only that a caseworker believed it was at least slightly more likely than not that the allegation was true.  The percentage figures represent the proportion of such children deemed to have been maltreated again in the six months following. The reabuse rate in Yolo County remains worse than the state average, and worse than it was before the foster care panic:

In addition, for the first time since the Yolo County foster-care panic began, data are available for children believed by caseworkers to have been abused or neglected again in the 12 month period after the initial maltreatment. Those data show a sharp increase in reabuse in Yolo County:

Unfortunately that’s not unusual. Foster-care panics overload child welfare systems leaving workers less time to give any case the attention it deserves. So they make more bad decisions in all directions – taking more children needlessly even as other children are left in dangerous homes.

And of course there’s another key risk to consider: Study after study has found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of foster homes.  Family preservation is, in fact, the safer option for the overwhelming majority of families the overwhelming majority of the time.

That means that rather than being the safer option for children, the approach Matt Rexroad supports actually is riskier.

● The approach Rexroad supports takes risks with children’s futures. That can be seen by the many studies, such as this one, on the rotten outcomes for foster children.

● The approach Rexroad supports takes risks with children’s psyches.  That’s clear from the massive studies of thousands of typical cases, which found that in such cases children left in their own homes typically fare better than children consigned to foster care.

● The approach Rexroad supports even takes risks with children’s physical safety, because of the high rate of abuse in foster care.

That doesn’t mean no child ever should be taken from her or his home. But, because of the foster-care panic, Yolo County is doing a worse job of weighing the risks of leaving a child in her or his own home compared with consigning the child to foster care.

As I said in the original column, I don’t doubt that Matt Rexroad really wants to make children safer.  But the latest data make clear that, as in so many other communities across the country, the take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare is backfiring.