Sunday, June 9, 2024

Victims of abuse in foster care shouldn´t have to choose between compensation and justice

Private foster care agencies in New York tell victims of abuse on their watch: If we don´t get a taxpayer bailout, you might not get compensation for what was done to you.  A lawyer for survivors apparently agrees.

 Last month, I wrote a column for the New York Daily News about the attempt by New Yorks´s private foster care, group home and residential treatment agencies to get a taxpayer bailout of up to $200 million.  Why do they say they need it?  To pay settlements in some of the hundreds of lawsuits filed by survivors of abuse in their foster homes, group homes and institutions, going back decades. Otherwise, the agencies say, the could go out of business.

 They say the going-out-of-business part as if it´s a bad thing.  On the contrary. The group homes and institutions are harmful even when they´re not rife with physical and sexual abuse.  The whole model is a proven failure and there are far better alternatives.  But these giant, greedy, well-connected agencies are scarfing up all the money for such alternatives. (And when I say greedy: Have you seen Ron Richter´s salary for running one of them?)

Losing a few of these places would be a net plus, something I discuss in detail (along with Richter´s salary) in the Daily News column.

Fortunately, New York State lawmakers rejected the bailout. They didn´t buy the agencies’ b.s. – though, unfortunately, some media that should know better did.

And, it seems, the agencies have at least one lawyer for the survivors on their side.  According to the child welfare trade journal, The Imprint:

“These victims’ lives have been ruined forever. They deserve justice,” Helene Weiss, a lawyer whose firm is representing dozens of survivors suing under the Child Victims Act, said in an email. “It is incredibly disappointing that New York State decided not to prioritize the needs of survivors of sexual abuse — survivors who were harmed under the State’s watch.”

No, Ms. Weiss.  The state decided not to prioritize the very agencies on whose watch these survivors were abused. It would be perfectly reasonable to create a bailout fund that would apply to survivors of a given agency only after that agency had gone out of business – but not one to keep the agencies alive.

The story also claims that “All sides of the lawsuit [sic] had urged passage” of the bailout.  It´s not clear if this means all survivors bringing all the lawsuits, those represented by Ms. Weiss or something else.

No survivor is quoted. But certainly for those who haved endured the unendurable, if presented by their lawyers with a claim amounting to something like: “look, if the agencies´ claims about going broke are true, this may well be the only way you´ll see any compensation for what was done to you” no one could begrudge them supporting it.

But what if it were presented a different way?  What if it were presented like this:

If the agencies´claims about bankruptcy are true and if bailout fails, your payment will be delayed: it´s possible you´ll never see a dime.  But if the bailout passes, the message to the agencies will be: You can let this keep happening to children on your watch over and over and over, for decade after decade after decade.  The agencies will get the message that they´re too big to fail and they can get away with anything.” 

In that scenario, the survivors get payment – but would they view that as justice?

I hope no survivor ever has to make such a choice.  But if it came to that, I would begrudge no survivor any answer they chose to that question.  I just hope someone asks.