The Perils of Foster Care

Hartford Courant staff writer Charles Proctor asked child welfare professionals in Connecticut about the recent study performed by Joseph Doyle on foster children, which we posted about here. This study is being considered the first empirical evidence that children taken out of the home have more problems with teen pregnancy and illegal behavior, and also are less likely to hold jobs than those who remained in the home.

From the Hartford Courant:

[…] The study’s findings suggest that rather than pouring money into foster care systems, “we need money, we need caseworkers to go to families and provide them with services,” Doyle said.

Connecticut DCF officials said the findings affirm their support for keeping children with their families whenever possible.

But critics of the agency have seized on the study to charge that DCF is not doing enough to serve parents and families. They said the agency is more likely to pluck children out of their homes and place them in foster care than to keep them at home. And even when DCF does treat the children and parents in the home, it does not do a thorough job of evaluating families’ needs and monitoring parents to make sure that their child is safe, critics said.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit advocacy group in Virginia, cited federal statistics compiled by his agency that suggest Connecticut removes children from homes at a higher rate than the national average.

According to an index that ranks states with the highest removal rates in 2005, Connecticut came in 24th, with 29.4 children removed for every 1,000 impoverished children in the state. The national average was 24.1.

“The Connecticut mentality can be boiled down to one sentence,” Wexler said. “Take the child and run.”

If children who might be better served with their families are instead placed into foster care, they can drain resources and attention from children who need the out-of-home treatment, Wexler said. The state should focus more money and staff on serving children and parents at home and reserve foster care for those who have an urgent need of it, such as children who face an imminent danger of abuse, he said.

“Connecticut has been constantly obsessed with thinking that the answer to every young person’s problem is an institution,” Wexler said.

Gary Kleeblatt, a DCF spokesman, said the agency has increased the number of families it serves with in-home care from about 2,800 in January 2002 to a little less than 3,700 in April 2007. Over that same period, the number of families DCF serves with out-of-home care remained about the same, from about 5,960 in January 2002 to 5,840 in April 2007. However, it spiked to about 6,600 in 2004. [full text]

I will look up the statistics on where Rhode Island ranks in terms of number of children removed from the home per thousand. In the collaborative spirit of blogging, if anyone wants to look this up and post a link to where the information is available, I would be much obliged.

In Connecticut, it looks like this study may help galvinize a stronger effort to avoid foster care whenever possible and search more thoroughly for other options. Sometimes, however, foster care is necessary.

A Most Fatal Ailment

The ancient Greek historian and essayist Plutarch is said to have written that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” If such is true, then the United States has fallen deathly ill. Consider the following report by Paul Harris in The Observer:

Welcome to Richistan, USA

On the surface, Mark Cain works for a time-share company. Members pay a one-off sum to join and an annual fee. They then get to book holiday time in various destinations around the globe.

But Solstice clients are not ordinary people. They are America’s super-rich and a brief glance at its operations reveal the vast and still widening gulf between them and the rest of America.

Solstice has only about 80 members. Platinum membership costs them $875,000 to join and then a $42,000 annual fee. In return they get access to 10 homes from London to California and a private yacht in the Caribbean, all fully staffed with cooks, cleaners and ‘lifestyle managers’ ready to satisfy any whim from helicopter-skiing to audiences with local celebrities. As the firm’s marketing manager, Cain knows what Solstice’s clientele want. ‘We are trying to feed and manage this insatiable appetite for luxury,’ Cain said with pride.

America’s super-rich have returned to the days of the Roaring Twenties. As the rest of the country struggles to get by, a huge bubble of multi-millionaires lives almost in a parallel world. The rich now live in their own world of private education, private health care and gated mansions. They have their own schools and their own banks. They even travel apart – creating a booming industry of private jets and yachts. Their world now has a name, thanks to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank which has dubbed it ‘Richistan’. There every dream can come true. But for the American Dream itself – which promises everyone can join the elite – the emergence of Richistan is a mixed blessing. ‘We in America are heading towards ‘developing nation’ levels of inequality. We would become like Brazil. What does that say about us? What does that say about America?’ Frank said.

In 1985 there were just 13 US billionaires. Now there are more than 1,000. In 2005 the US saw 227,000 new millionaires being created. One survey showed that the wealth of all US millionaires was $30 trillion, more than the GDPs of China, Japan, Brazil, Russia and the EU combined.

The rich have now created their own economy for their needs, at a time when the average worker’s wage rises will merely match inflation and where 36 million people live below the poverty line. In Richistan sums of money are rendered almost meaningless because of their size. It also has other names. There is the ‘Platinum Triangle’ used to describe the slice of Beverly Hills where many houses go for above $10m. Then there is the Jewel Coast, used to describe the strip of Madison Avenue in Manhattan where boutique jewellery stories have sprung up to cater for the new riches’ needs. Or it exists in the MetCircle society, a Manhattan club open only to those whose net worth is at least $100m.

The reason behind the sudden wealth boom is, according to some experts, the convergence of a new technology – the internet and other computing advances – with fluid and speculative markets. It was the same in the late 19th century when the original Gilded Age of conspicuous wealth and deep poverty was spawned by railways and the industrial age. At the same time government has helped by doling out corporate tax breaks. In the Fifties the proportion of federal income from company taxes was 33 per cent, by 2003 it was just 7.4 percent. Some 82 of America’s largest companies paid no tax at all in at least one of the first three years of the administration of President George W Bush. [full text]

Now Introducing, Schizophrenic Mice

In today’s installment of “On the Cutting Edge of Research,” Reuters is reporting that “scientists have genetically engineered mice that develop the physical and psychological characteristics of schizophrenia.” I am not making this up. The article goes on to say that, “when these genetically altered mice matured, they showed increased agitation in open spaces and had more trouble finding hidden food than healthy mice and less interest in swimming.” Wow, that’s amazing. Who knew that mice had any interest in swimming? I wonder if they take a dip au naturel or wear miniature Speedos. Oh, and what’s up with hiding their food? As if being given schizophrenia by their human overseers weren’t bad enough, the poor little critters have to stumble around in a delusional state (Texas?) and deduce where their dinner is concealed. Oh, well, I guess them’s the [psychotic] breaks.

US Med Students Study for Free in Cuba

This CBS Evening News story by Kelly Cobiella raises some interesting questions. The story tells about 12 US medical students who are graduating from Medical School in Cuba, having been given six years of free education and training in exchange for a commitment to serve needy communities back in the US. Cobiella interviews one of the medical students who was filmed in Sicko when the 9/11 workers were being seen by doctors in Cuba. Evelyn Erickson, the medical student interviewed, was sympathetic for the problems of the 9/11 workers. From the article:

Evelyn Erickson is from Washington Heights in New York City. She was lured to Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine by the promise of a free education — a gift of sorts from the Cuban government.

Fidel Castro started the school in 1999. His goal was to train people at no cost, in return for their pledge to practice medicine in poor communities back home — an offer extended to a handful of U.S. students in 2001.

It’s a world away from the United States. Home for Evelyn and her fellow students was an old army barracks with bunk beds, cold showers and a four-dollar-a-month stipend. And, unlike the U.S. where students spend four years in classrooms and labs, these students spend six years in classrooms and clinics.

“They were calling me doctor, and I was like, ‘No, no I’m not the doctor. I’m the medical student,'” Evelyn says. “But what happens is that we are the people who examine the patients from the very beginning.”

They also learn about a much different healthcare system, which was documented in the recent Michael Moore film Sicko, where all services are free and everyone is covered.

“I was one of the people that was there translating for these patients when they came here to Cuba, and so I was actually there hearing their story,” Evelyn says. “And I think it proposed a really good question about looking at our medical system and seeing what kinds of things we need to change.”

Still, Cuba is no healthcare paradise. The hospitals are crumbling, doctors make about 20 dollars a month and there are shortages of almost everything from drugs to high-tech equipment.”

A free training for an MD is nothing to sneeze at, but Ericka and her fellow classmates were definitely not living the high life in Cuba, being housed in decrepit-looking barracks spray-painted with graffiti, taking cold showers, and making only $4 a month. But at the same time, what did they need to spend money on in Cuba? And remember from Sicko, an asthma inhaler in Cuba costs .02 cents.

Still, seeing the pictures of the barracks where the medical students were housed is a stark reminder of how poor some countries are, particularly countries that fell under Communist rule. It brought me back to a trip I made to Czechoslovakia when I was 21, after graduating from Hunter College and before taking my first job as an Assistant Editor for The Hudson Review. It was shortly after the “Velvet Revolution” and while there was a spirit of rebirth in the air, buoyed by tourism dollars pouring into the country, there were also painful reminders of a country that had lived under a repressive imperialist power. There was no sense of abundance of material goods or food. And there was a certain hollowness to the social community, a lingering sense of distrust and fear.

One thing that interests me about this is that despite being a very poor country, Cuba finds room in its medical school to train American doctors for free, so they can return to the US and practice medicine. They are willing to help us in this way, even in their extreme poverty as a country. They are helping us. It makes me question what we, the wealthiest country in the world, are doing to help them.

Victory for Citizen Activism in Cranston?

According to the Projo, there is talk of a resolution on the horizon for the concrete plant opponents in Cranston. But it may just be talk. In fact, it sounds decidedly like just talk if John O. Mancini, lawyer for Cullion, doesn’t even know about the proposed resolution, as he suggests in the article. From the Projo:

CRANSTON — Mayor Michael T. Napolitano has been quietly informing City Council members and neighbors of a half-built concrete-batching plant off Pontiac Avenue that he is working on a resolution to the year-long controversy surrounding the project.

The mayor, who has declared his opposition to the plant, has remained tight-lipped about the details of his proposal.

And residents, who call Napolitano a half-hearted ally in their fight to block completion of the project, say they are skeptical that the mayor’s talk of a resolution is anything more than an attempt to score political points with the neighborhood.

“He hasn’t been strong enough,� said Suzanne Arena, a spokeswoman for Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development, an opposition group that has raised concerns about traffic, noise and pollution.

But Ernest J. Carlucci, the mayor’s director of administration, defended Napolitano.

“This administration,� he said, “is doing everything within its power to rectify this situation.�

John O. Mancini, a lawyer for Cullion Concrete Corp., the company trying to complete the plant, said the city had not yet approached his clients about settling a contentious court battle over the project.

But he said Cullion, which suspended construction of the plant in June 2006 amid the growing controversy over the project, would be open to discussions.

“If there’s a way to resolve this short of litigation,� he said, “we’d be willing to hear it.�

Linkin’ Log (for 07-29-07)

If you’re not outraged or concerned, then you’re not paying attention…

• Certain Degrees Now Cost More at Public Universities—As if being unable to afford tuition at a private university were not bad enough, the New York Times reports that some students who attend public universities are beginning to find themselves priced out of certain fields of study, thanks to the collegiate version of à la carte pricing.

• Bush Administration Utterly Callous Toward Iraqi Refugees—Writing in The Progressive, Amitabh Pal describes the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Iraq and takes the Bush administration to task for so meagerly providing assistance to “the more than two million Iraqis rendered nationless due to its misadventure.”

• Friends mobilize on Facebook to protest boy’s deportation—From the McClatchy Newspapers, a heartbreaking story about all that is wrong with this nation’s immigration policies, as exemplified by an 18-year-old honor student from Miami who has been in this country since the age of 2 yet is scheduled to be deported to Colombia because he is undocumented.

• White House Trims Investigators Tracking Environmental Crimes, Below Level Ordered by Congress—The Associated Press (via the Environmental News Network) reports that “fewer U.S. environmental cops are tracking criminal polluters these days” (in defiance of federal law) and there has been “a significant decrease in the numbers of criminal pollution investigations and civil lawsuits and the amounts of fines assessed under President Bush.”

Cleavage Crisis! Cover the Children’s Eyes!

Our vigilant press just gave us a penetrating report on the President’s lower bowel, and now there’s a new crisis. Hillary Clinton wore a v-neck sweater, and there were reported sightings of…cleavage.

I’m not an expert on the semiotics of dress, so I wouldn’t pick up a message unless she wore a shirt with a picture of Che or the Confederate flag. What she was wearing looked pretty ordinary to me, (you can see a picture and judge for yourself here), but the fact that her clothes trumped her speech tells us a lot about the judgments women face, all the more if they are public and powerful. There is a great editorial in the New York Times, which would not normally be accessible online unless you have account. You can, however, go to Greenpagan, that is posting the editorial. Judith Warner says it better than I ever will in my dreams.

You see, I’d always thought that, when you reached a certain age or a certain stage in life, you sort of bought your way out of the sexual rat race. You could be a ‘person of cleavage’, to borrow a Pulitzer-worthy phrase from Ruth Marcus, a Post columnist, but you could nonetheless make it through your day without having to give the matter much thought.

After all, isn’t every woman past a certain age, at a certain weight and after a certain amount of breast-feeding, a ‘person of cleavage’? And aren’t you allowed, at a certain time of life, to escape from the world of at least my youth, where you couldn’t walk down the street licking an ice cream cone without inviting a stream of leering commentary?

I always thought that middle age afforded some kind of protection from prying eyes and personal remarks. I thought this was the silver lining to growing up and growing older. Clearly, I was wrong.

For the rest of this fine essay, click here.