OR: "Where is Charles Dickins When You Need Him?"
It's been nearly ten years since I left my position at a local (now closed) foster family agency, to take the next steps on my career path. We case managers were continually feeling the pressure to "place children," and monitor the situations in the foster homes. Our weekly visits were ostensibly to oversee the safe and proper care of these minors, and to ensure that the orders of the Juvenile Court judges and County Social Workers (CSW's) in the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) were followed. Implicitly, however, we were charged with doing whatever possible to make sure that the placements didn't "fall apart," which would ultimately mean lost revenue for the foster parents and our agency.
Bottom line -- many foster children are still not safe in this country. Being minors, they are represented by social workers, attorneys, judges, AND foster parents--the best of whom may be good-hearted, but poorly trained in the psychological processes of traumatized children, and also very overwhelmed. On the other end of the spectrum, I encountered all too many who thought of foster care as purely a business, or the children as an inconvenience. One man called me up on my duty day, and said, "Hey, I hear you pay people to take in kids? How much?" When I stated that it depended upon the the age(s) and number(s) of children that could be placed with him, and his successful completion of our orientation program, this man hastily said, "Yeah, I'll get back to you." We also fielded calls such as the frazzled mom who wanted us to "take my ungrateful daughter and teach her a lesson," and the couple who wanted placement so they could go on a cruise for their anniversary.
Then, after what would seem to be good matches and smooth placements, I would often get middle-of-the-night pages from foster parents, demanding to "PICK THESE KIDS UP RIGHT NOW!" The misdeeds? "They're going to the bathroom too much," "They're not staying in their rooms--can't I just lock them in," "There's too much sibling rivalry; my own kids never fought like this," "He's using the f-word at our dinner table. This is a Christian home!" And those are the tamer calls I got. I would be on the phone, trying to bring myself out of my sleep, giving these foster parents a crash Child Psychology 101 course, and begging them to please wait till I got there first thing in the morning and not do anything rash. Then I would be at the home, as promised, trying to get them to see that these were damaged, traumatized little ones. Despite whatever horrific situations existed with their biological families, it was what was familiar to them. In their minds, all the kids had to do was act up, and they would magically go back to whatever home they had. To expect them to sit with hands folded and be grateful little cherubs was too much of a stretch for them. Sometimes I got the message across--and too often not. In the latter case, I would sigh, call the CSW, and the disruptive process would begin yet again for the children.
And then there were the biological family members. A tiny handful would comply with the court mandates and get their kids back, and it was happily ever after. Others, however, would promise to visit--and wouldn't show up, leaving the kids to be crying, disappointed, and prone to acting out when I took them back to the foster homes. Or worse, there would be those who would spend what was supposed to be time with their children, ranting to me about the injustices of the "system," and that they had "RIGHTS."
Returning to the earlier bottom-line reference: children ARE inconvenient. They need lots of care--from either biological family, or others who can do the job appropriately. As long as this basic human need exists, there will be a need for a social system like DCFS. Please don't misunderstand--my agency did have wonderful foster parents, ones who realized the true nature and enormous responsibility that is foster care. There were also terrific CSW's, and they were prepared to suck it up and handle the hectic, heavy caseloads assigned to them. But until we stop just paying lip-service to family values, patch up the holes in our social safety net, and truly value our children, tragic oversights of the DCFS system will be perpetuated.
Los Angeles County child welfare official falsified death reports, two employees claim - latimes.com