Children committing suicide in CPS/DCFS care

“… laws, according to state documents, encourage counties and their private contractors to earn money by placing and keeping children in foster care. The county receives $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues annually for each child placed.”

[While reading this, please keep in mind the age of the story. The statistics have not decreased in the past 9 years, but on the contrary have increased.  Although the beginning doesn’t give the full impact of the article,  please do read on as you will find it increasingly interesting and somewhat enlightening. ]

Children committing suicide at younger age.

Los Angeles County’s child protective system is one of the most violent and dangerous in the nation, and its foster children are up to 10 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect than elsewhere in the country, a two-year investigation by the Daily News has found.

In 2001 in the United States, 1.5 percent of the 1,225 children who died from abuse and neglect were in foster care, but in the county 14.3 percent of the 35 children who died of mistreatment that year were in foster care, government statistics show. The percentage in the county from 1991 to 2001 averaged 4.23 percent.  The taxpayer-funded county and state systems are so overwhelmed with false allegations – four out of every five mistreatment reports are ruled unfounded or inconclusive – and filled with so many children who shouldn’t even be in the system, experts say, that social workers are failing in their basic mission to protect youngsters. Nationally, two out of three reports of mistreatment are false.

Since 1991, the county Coroner’s Office has referred more than 2,300 child deaths to the county’s child death review team – and more than 660 of those dead children were involved in the child protective system, including nearly 160 who were homicide victims.

In many of these deaths, county Children’s Services Inspector General Michael Watrobski made recommendations to the Department of Children and Family Services to conduct in-house investigations to determine if disciplinary action was warranted against those workers involved in the cases.

Of 191 child deaths Watrobski investigated since 2001, he made a total of 63 recommendations to address systemic problems to improve the way the system works in an effort to reduce the number of child deaths.

Despite spending more than $36 million on foster care lawsuit settlements, judgments and legal expenses since 1990, DCFS disciplined less than a third of the social workers responsible for the lawsuits, most of which involved families who alleged social workers’ negligence contributed to the deaths and mistreatment of their children in foster care.

“That’s pathetic,” county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said.  “When you have a department that is responsible for the health and safety of children there is no excuse to have a dismal record of
accountability like this.”

Meanwhile, in the various facilities that make up the county’s foster care system, between 6 percent and 28 percent of the children are abused or neglected – figures comparable to the rate in New Jersey, which many experts have long called the state with the most dangerous child welfare system in the nation.

In the general population, only 1 percent of children suffer such mistreatment.

“When I stepped into this job, I said that too many kids are hurt in foster care,” said DCFS Director David Sanders, who started in March after the forced resignations of the previous four directors. “That is absolutely glaring and the fact this department has never been willing to say that is a huge problem.

“It is clear when you compare us to other systems, we have more kids being hurt in our care than in other systems. That is absolutely inexcusable. I can’t say that more strongly. If is a reflection of a system that isn’t working.”

Despite the staggering number of child deaths and mistreatment of thousands of children, Sanders said the department’s efforts have saved the lives of hundreds of children over the years. He also noted that the vast majority of foster parents don’t mistreat children.

And child advocates say for the first time in the county’s history the DCFS director is taking unprecedented steps to reduce the number of deaths and percentage of foster children who are mistreated.

“In the past, the system has failed to protect children in its care,” said Andrew Bridge, managing director of child welfare reform programs at the private Broad Foundation. “The new leadership at the department has been left with that legacy and is taking aggressive steps to fix it and protect children.”

DCFS statistics show the percentage of foster children abused and neglected averages about 6 percent, but in the foster homes supervised by private foster family agencies, an average of 10
percent of children are mistreated. However, the rates range up to 28 percent in some homes, Sanders said.

Statewide, the rate averages close to 1 percent.

In New Jersey, the foster care mistreatment rate ranges from 7 percent to 28 percent in different parts of the state, said Marcia Lowry, executive director of the New York City-based Children’s
Rights advocacy organization.

Of 20 states surveyed in 1999, the percentage of children mistreated by foster parents averaged a half percent. The rate of abuse ranged from one-tenth of a percent in Arizona, Delaware and Wyoming to 1.6 percent in Illinois to 2.3 percent in Rhode Island, according to
federal statistics.

Susan Lambiase, associate director of Children’s Rights, was surprised to learn of the percentage in Los Angeles County, calling it “absolutely horrendous.”

“(Los Angeles County is) a child welfare system in crisis because the children are getting pulled from their homes to keep them safe and the system cannot assure that they are being kept safe,” said Lambiase, whose organization has filed about 10 class-action lawsuits to place state child welfare systems under federal consent decrees and is considering what action it might take in Los Angeles County.

“It’s unacceptable,” she said. “This is a malfunctioning foster care system given that its role in society is to protect children from abuse and neglect.”

Critics say social workers are so busy filling out paperwork and investigating false reports that they are overlooking the warning signs of many children in the community in real danger and are not
able to properly ensure the safety of children in foster care.

“When you overload your system with children who don’t need to be in foster care, workers have less time to find the children in real danger,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National
Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Alexandria, Va.

The Daily News investigation found that up to half of the 75,000 children in the system and adoptive homes were needlessly placed in a system that is often more dangerous than their own homes because of financial incentives in state and federal laws. These laws, according to state documents, encourage counties and their private contractors to earn money by placing and keeping children in foster care. The county receives $30,000 to $150,000 in state and federal revenues annually for each child placed.

Adrianna Romero Cram, Oregon foster child who was murdered in Mexico at age 4.

Some examples of settled cases involving the deaths of foster children include:

–Long Beach resident Jacquelyn Bishop, whose twins were taken away because she hadn’t gotten her son an immunization. Kameron Demery, 2, was later beaten to death by his foster mother.

The foster mother was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to prison. In 2000, the county settled a wrongful death case with Bishop for $200,000.

–Gardena resident Debra Reid was awarded a $1 million settlement last year for the death of her 9-year-old son Jonathan Reid, who had been in foster homes in El Monte and Pomona. He died of an asthma attack in 1997 after social workers didn’t notify the foster mother of his severe asthma and diabetes conditions – a tragic irony, because the boy was placed in foster care after county social workers alleged Reid was neglecting her son by not providing appropriate medical care for his diabetes and asthma.

Reid’s other son, 10-year-old Debvin Mitchell, who received $100,000 as part of the settlement after he was wrongfully detained, said his foster parents were “brutal” to him during his one-and-a-half years in multiple foster homes.

“I thought that it was cruel and unusual for being beaten like that for no reason,” said Mitchell. “When I came home, I had bruises everywhere. I feel good to be back with my family where I don’t get beaten for silly things for no reason and most of all I’m glad to be back with my mom.”

Anthony Cavuoti, who has worked as a DCFS social worker for 14 years, said the department does a poor job of protecting children.

“The nominal goal is to protect children, but the real goal is to make money,” he said. “A caseworker used to have 80 to 100 cases.  Now we have 30, but we have to file five times as much paperwork. If the workers put kids before paperwork and administration, they are going to be forced out or harassed. With such a mentality, children are always in danger.”

In a historic step to address the problem at the root of the system’s failures, Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash recently called for a historic reevaluation of half of the 30,000 cases of children in foster homes to determine who could be safely returned to their families or relatives.

If properly done by providing the services families need, experts say this step combined with the DCFS request for a federal waiver to use $250 million of its $1.4 billion budget on services to help keep families together could ultimately reduce the number of children in foster care and social workers’ large caseloads, giving them more time to help protect children in truly dangerous situations.

“The court system itself should only be for those cases that reflect serious cases of abuse and neglect,” Nash said. “We have to have more of a talk first, shoot later mentality rather than a shoot
first, talk later mentality. We can do a much better job.”

Sanders said more than 25 percent of those children will probably be able to return home. Concerned that two-thirds of his 6,500-employees are working behind desks, Sanders said he plans to move 1,000 staff promoted to office jobs by previous directors back to the streets as social workers, which will reduce caseloads and give workers more time to spend with families, a critical element to assure the safety of children.

Source : https://amiablyme.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/children-committing-suicide-in-cpsdcfs-care/

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