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Child Welfare: Keeping Foster Children Safe
Amanda E. Clements
Research and Writing – ENG 215
Laura Howard, PhD.
February 6, 2016
Child Welfare: Keeping Foster Children Safe
The child welfare system was designed to protect children, but instead children are likely to sustain further physical abuse from foster homes, develop mental health issues, or end up on the streets. I am fortunate to have loving and protective parents, so I do not have a firsthand experience with the child welfare system. Children are the country’s future and they need to be protected. It breaks my heart to hear news stories of children who die or experience emotional or physical abuse because the system was not there to protect them. We need to find out what is working within the system and what needs to be changed.
History
Howard Davidson (2008) lists the following history of the child welfare system in the U.S. in the article Federal Law and State Intervention When Parents Fail: Has National Guidance of Our Child Welfare System Been Successful? A provision in the Social Security Act of 1935 allowed the U.S. Children’s Bureau to support state and local child welfare services by distributing $1.5 million to enhance the services. In 1961, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Foster Care Program was created to house children from poor families receiving support through the program. The Social Security Act in 1962 required state court judges to review the need to place a child in foster care. This amendment also required children to be placed in licensed foster homes or licensed non-profit institutions. In 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was established as a state grant program to create and carry out child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment programs. The Victims of Child Abuse Act started in 1990 helped to improve the number of Court-Appointed-Special-Advocate programs and training for juvenile court judges and attorneys. In 1997 the government tried to aIDress the need to make sure children are safe within the system, reduce the foster care population, and push for permanent homes for foster children by enacting the Adoption and Safe Families Act. The Adam Walsh Protection and Safety Act of 2006 was put into place to require agencies to perform criminal record checks and finger-based checks on all foster and adoptive parents. All of these acts put in place by the government seem to aIDress all of the necessary concerns with the child welfare system, but implementing them and making sure they are monitored does not seem to be working.
Overworked Caseworkers
The job of the Department of Children and Family Services along with the state courts and police is to ensure the safety of our children. It is critical they enforce the protection laws and conduct regular visits within the child’s home. The caseworker plays an important role in the child welfare system. Unfortunately, according to ABC News “case workers burn out and leave the profession in very high numbers. The annual turnover rate in the child welfare workforce is more than 20 percent” (n.d.). This is one profession in which having experienced workers is key to the success of the program. The turnover rate stems from the overwhelming workloads and pressure to close cases quickly. With any job, performance is based on the ability to handle issues and tasks in a timely manner. There are no cookie cutter cases and some cases will take more time than others. Caseworkers should not be reprimanded for keeping a case opened when the job has not been completed. Forcing a timeframe on each case will result in more problems and could potentially be life threatening for the children involved. Strolin-Goltzman, Kollar, and Trinkle (2010) state “studies have also found that agency investment in workforce standards-including stability and experience of caseworkers, low caseloads, and high frequencies of contact with youths-result in significantly better rates of discharge within the first two years of foster care placement (p. 48).
Mental Health of Youth
The constant moving from foster home to foster home can result in emotional and mental issues for the children. According to the American Psychological Association (2012):
Children in foster care struggle to cope with the events that brought them into the system
such as caretaker abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse, homelessness, exposure to domestic
violence, and/or parental substance abuse. The negative effects of these traumatic events
are well-documented. At a time when reassurance, understanding, and stability are
needed, children experience unpredictable contact with family, multiple placements, and
an inability to direct their own lives. Unmet mental health needs for foster children can
mean ongoing problems as youth in foster care enter adulthood. (p. 2)
There are many challenges which need to be aIDressed in order to get the necessary care to all of the children in need. The children need to be screened as soon as possible for all issues to be documented and a course of treatment put into place. Proper training needs to be provided for all medical and mental health providers, foster care workers and parents. The lack of providers to treat children with these issues is a major challenge. Another real concern is the financial resources which are needed to combat the problem.
Abuse within the Foster Care Home
Children who are put into child welfare are already coming from a difficult situation and need to feel safe in the place they are sent to. The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (2015) states:
an Indiana study found three times more physical abuse and twice the rate of sexual
abuse in foster homes than in the general population. In group homes there was more
than ten times the rate of physical abuse and more than twenty-eight times the rate of
sexual abuse as in the general population, in part because so many children in the homes
abused each other” (para. 5).
The potential for further abuse is greater the longer the children are kept in foster care. A federal class-action lawsuit was filed against the child welfare agencies of New York City and New York State for keeping children in the system far too long. The New York Times writes about a sixteen year old girl, Elisa, who has been bounced from home to home for more than two-thirds of her life. “She was sexually abused in one, punched by her foster mother in another and hospitalized for depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder after several more” (Yee, 2015). The foster care agencies are responsible for conducting background checks on all potential foster parents, but clearly these are not being done. We should not have the number of abuse reports within the system if the foster parents were being monitored on a regular basis.
Solution
In order to accurately determine what changes need to be made to fix the system, the youths who are currently in the system or have been through it need to be heard. Strolin-Goltzman, Kollar, and Trinkle (2010) did exactly that and found out the youth’s suggestions to fix the problems are increased pay and reduced caseloads for caseworkers. They also suggest keeping the children in the loop especially when a new caseworker is assigned. They need some time to transition to the new personnel instead of receiving no warning a change is taking place.
Placement stability is essential for children in the foster care system. Children need to feel a sense of security and normalcy. Moving from home to home can jeopardize their care for mental health concerns they are facing. Being able to stay in one school, receive aIDitional help in school, and making lasting friendships is vital to the mental health success of children in the foster care system.
References
ABC News. (n.d.). Facts on foster care in america. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/
Primetime/FosterCare/story?id=2017991&page=1

American Psychological Association. (2012). Systems of mental health care for youth in foster
care. Retrieved from www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/trends_fostercare_adoption
2012.pdf

Davidson, H. (2008). Federal Law and State Intervention When Parents Fail: Has National
Guidance of Our Child Welfare System Been Successful?. Family Law Quarterly, 42(3),
481-510.
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. (2015, November). Foster care vs. family
preservation: The track record on safety and well-being. Retrieved from http://nccpr.info/
issue-papers/

Strolin-Goltzman, J., Kollar, S., & Trinkle, J. (2010). Listening to the Voices of Children in
Foster Care: Youths Speak Out about Child Welfare Workforce Turnover and Selection.
Social Work, 55(1), 47-52.

Yee, V. (2015, July). Suit to accuse New York City and state of keeping children in foster care
too long. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/08/nyregion/suit-accuses-new-
york-city-and-state-of-keeping-children-in-foster-care-too-long.html?ref=topics

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