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.