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Are We Wrongly Panicking Over Foster Care Deaths?

October 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



There’s a fight going on in LA County
over whether or not there is a spike kids’ deaths in and around the foster care system and, if so, what that rise in numbers means, and we ought to do about it.


On Tuesday of last week, the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf
reported that many more kids were dying when being observed by LA’s foster care system than anyone was admitting.

The stories and the figures were indeed horrifying:

More children have died in each of the last two years from abuse or neglect after being under the eye of Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services despite assurances by county officials that the problem was getting better, according to confidential county documents reviewed by The Times.

The number of deaths from abuse and neglect rose from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009, and 2010 so far is on track to be even worse, with 21 maltreatment fatalities in the first eight months of the year, according to the figures. The department publicly released some of the case files of child deaths Monday morning after repeated inquiries from The Times but has not yet released the overall statistics, which have been circulating among senior county officials.

At the same time, the Daily News wrote a somewhat calmer article about what the new figures meant.

Then on Friday, LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich wrote a joint op-ed in the LA Times in which they cautioned that the Times’ reporting took stats out of context and thus ran the danger of wrongly causing a panic that would result in more kids being yanked unnecessarily and harmfully from their families (a worry that several foster care activists have privately shared with me—and anyone else they think will listen).

Here’s a clip from the op ed:

Last year, according to the DCFS, 55 children who had department case histories were homicide victims. That fact alone evokes for many an image of an infant or toddler killed in an abusive home, when the DCFS should have spotted danger.

But “children” includes those up to 18 years old. A closer look at the 55 homicides shows that 35 were of teenagers shot or stabbed to death in assaults, many in gang-related incidents. Three youths were shot by police officers.

The label “DCFS history” applies to any child who has been the subject of an abuse complaint; the history remains with the child even if the complaint was found to be false. These children in most cases were not young children, and few were still under the care of the DCFS.

The number of children killed by parents, foster parents or relatives acting as guardians have been effectively constant since the 1990s. These figures have been overlooked.

Hours after the Ridley-Thomas/Antonovich essay appeared, Therolf fired back in the Times with his own accusation of bad numbers.

Therolf laid part of the problem at the feet of a comparatively new program called the Title IV-E Waiver, under which LA County agreed to cap the sum of funds it can receive for foster care services, no matter how many kids it takes into its care. The “waiver” as it is called, was part of a series of reforms put in place in the last decade, this one aimed at fixing the previous system that in essence fiscally incentivized the county to take kids away from their families—because the more kids taken away, the more bucks the county received.

As predicted, the capped funds waiver system has gotten the Department of Family and Children Services to take fewer kids out of their homes. Instead, DCFS has pushed to help the kids and their families toward health and safety without removal—thus allowing the children to remain in place, but still under county supervision.

The Times suggests that more child deaths have resulted.

Certainly all parties agree that one child death is one horrific tragedy too many. At the same time, the push to put hundreds more kids through the trauma of being torn from families, when many of those families could reasonably be helped—all in response to a panic driven by numbers around which there is questionable agreement—is something that surely all of us would wish to avoid as well.

So, cuidado.

We have a habit in this state of creating awful public policy out of individual horror stories. And much collateral damage results.

Please let’s not do it here.


PS: The state of Florida has used the waiver to improve it’s system, not impair it (in the face of similar criticism).


Source of above numbers: Los Angeles County Inter-Agency Council on Abuse and Neglect

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Times | 7 Comments »

7 Responses

  1. Richard Wexler Says:

    Thanks for another good let’s-step-back-and-take-a-calm-look-at-all-this post. One clarification on what happened when:

    What you describe as Therolf responding to the Ridley-Thomas/Antonovich op ed, links to a “news story” dated October 19 while the op ed ran October 22. The Therolf story actually challenged different numbers used by Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich during a Board of Supervisors meeting. So far, no one has challenged the figures in their op ed.

    Of course the fact that what is purportedly a news story about a Board of Supervisors meeting *reads* like an editorial challenging two supervisors who dared to take issue with the Garrett Therolf speaks volumes about how the Therolf has handled this whole story.

    Also, you write that “As predicted, the capped funds waiver system has gotten the Department of Family and Children Services to take fewer kids out of their homes.” I agree that the number is lower than it would have been without the waiver. I also agree that the number of children in foster care on any given day continues to inch downward. But *entries* into care, the number of children taken from their families over the course of a year did go up in 2009, by 3.5 percent compared with 2008. And if you look only at the last five months of 2009 (which is when my group predicted the foster-care panic would happen) and compare them to the same period in 2008, the increase is 16 percent – again, less than would have happened without the waiver, but still an increase.

    Later figures Therolf himself posted on the Times website under one of his stories, – but not in the actual newspaper – match ours. And they show that the increases stopped in January and started up again in April and May of 2010, the most recent months for which data are available.

    For details on all this see our report on LA child welfare (especially the data on Page 10), available here: http://www.nccpr.org/reports/LA2010.pdf and our most recent posts to the NCCPR Child Welfare Blog at http://www.nccprblog.org

    Richard Wexler
    Executive Director
    National Coalition for Child Protection Reform
    http://www.nccpr.org

  2. Script Says:

    The right won’t be satisfied until the poor are entirely left for dead.

  3. Answering The Question Says:

    It’s a catch 22 situation Celeste. If there is an incentive to yank more kids from their families because to receive additional funds, you can bet it’s going to happen.
    On the other hand, we need to make sure that the proper funding is received.

    As for the above comment, when you have Mike Antonivich and Mark Ridley Thomas on the same page, it’s evident it’s definitely not a left vs. right issue.

  4. Answering The Question Says:

    We have a habit in this state of creating awful public policy out of individual horror stories. And much collateral damage results.

    Please let’s not do it here.

    Here here. Amen to that.

    PS: The state of Florida has used the waiver to improve it’s system, not impair it (in the face of similar criticism).

    So how about we emulate Florida’s program and see what happens?

  5. Anonymous For Obvious Reasons Says:

    I’m not sure you can actually handle the truth hear, but bear in mind that the truth is largely borne out by Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich with their warning that “the stats are out of context.” Consider, if you will, that both Supervisors have very large numbers of kids in the foster care program in their districts, hence their joint statement.

    Ugly truth is that there is a strong preference to place foster children with foster parents of the same race. Nothing wrong with that, is there. The reason why that preference exists, however, is part of the ugly truth – it’s to keep foster care payments in the “community.” More simply put, there is so much pressure from community organizers to keep that DCFS money in their “community’” that the needs of kids are ignored. Of course, the reasons for the placement won’t be race, rather it will be to “try to keep the kid close to where the parent(s) are.” Why? Why do we want to expose these kids to the unstable and unsuitable ‘parents’ that caused the problem? Is it because another government boondoggle of parenting classes will actually turn them into a responsible parent? Get real. The whole thing is a massively expensive welfare program designed to benefit just about everyone but the kids.

    Kids are fostered out to wholly unsuitable foster care givers who, in so many cases, are charlatans, frauds, hucksters who care nothing for the kids, but only for the bi-weekly DCFS checks. I’ve been to so-called foster care homes in the Antelope Valley and South Central, where as many as 13 kids are fostered to one ‘foster parent.’

    The homes always look the same – a mess. There’s a leased Escalade, Mercedes or Lexus SUV in the drive (necessary for transporting so many of these kids), the 4 or 5 bedroom house has bunk beds sleeping 3 to 5 to a room, there’s a single grossly obese foster care giver who doesn’t know anything about anything, all the kids have major truancy issues, there’s not a school book in the house, neither is there anywhere for the kids to do school work if the were inclined or encouraged to do it.

    But there will be a ton, and I do mean a ton, of electronic equipment for the kids to keep themselves amused while foster mama spends their money. 50 inch flat screens, X-Boxes, you name it, they’ve got it, and the garage is usually kitted out like a sound studio where the kids work on their rap scripts because they’re all going to make it big. Gang graffiti is plastered all over the place but Foster mama has zero, I mean zero, incentive to report the kid for hanging out with gang members in violation of the juvenile court order that typically accompanies these kids, because if she does, that one less DCFS check, and that upsets the figures, doesn’t it?

    Sounds like a racist rant, doesn’t. But when you’ve seen this so many times, it’s a reality that just tears your heart out because if kids are entrusted to these monsters because of a racist policy that gives a preference to racial placements, then don’t try to blame anyone but the racists who enable this nightmare scenario.

    Ridley-Thomas and Antonovich know exactly what’s going on, but they’re both scared that they will lose their base if we actually start taking theses kids out of the communities that caused their problems, and placing them in stable homes where character and environment count, and race isn’t a factor.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Note: If anyone notices missing comments, I took a whole string of comments out. Some were fine, but they would have been odd once the others were deleted. I’ve been so sick this past week that I’ve not been monitoring. I am now.

  7. Theresa Ayala Says:

    4085148916. My name is Theresa and i live in santa clara county. For alnost a year now ive been teeorized abot kds ive had but lost to child protective services one is joseoh who i had a close relashionship. At one time just a couple of years ago. We were still talking and it aeemed as he looked forward to our visets. When he first went to dorthys she made sevearl remarks about his knowledge in Gods word she coukd tell that he had been exposed to church and even gave me thumbs up. But later years later she changed what she said into joseoh dosenr remember. She do alot of his talking for him as he became more involved. In sports he s small an had club feet and need surgry after that somthing changed drastically. I had tbe feeling the doctor who did the surgry was also responsible. For doing my moms feet as well in 1975or6. And that Scott Stapp Step father. Was a man i also reconized. And who is active in the same area as my son.whos been undee the goverments care because i wasnt fit to protect him and guide him into the man that is required to be a productive member of society. Over the years there has been sevearl police officers social workers judges and stars who might have adopted my children and some who might of gotton the short side of tbe stick accidentally. Was lead by people who claimed. To be creditable. Workers of the state were aware of furture property s money. Who knows that they were planing for tbemsefs or even be goverment who feels justied since they have been paying coukd easliy kill my kids by trafficking them. To saranic cults through the music pages if face book and my fooish involvement with those same pages that lead up to this very moment for an exzample shamanism. Who belive in the dead my daughter was born on there day whom i havent seen or heard in over year. Or i noticed cinnabon brown father on those pages. Serial killes brothers sisters. Think about it. There are are a thosand ways to change yoyrself every page has hair nails wieght color. Trim cuts friends of friends deception is mastered by what we think we see and mist people on e web are socially. Tuned nt like myself who believes. everyone is a great person. Face book is for that very reason to offer a false apearing of any if those people is 99.9 lie and the truth is we hide behind those wanted poluce wanted FBI a matter of when i comes to traffcking drugs children. Familys 100 out of 100 a corrupted. Country. Worker police probation undercover FBI also an addict alcoholic. Sexually corrupted. And 100 percent has an alias. Names more thn one and why think of it like VD who ever has only. Gonorrhea. Noone if theres one count n two or three. That a fact but you all ignore or chouse nt see. So im begging forget the fact that im an addict. Forget the fact that i failed every last kud Ive had because i have is why im beggibg you. To help fibd these kids i feel so strongly that they have been singled. Out throgh the history pages of breaks and lunches with these cps workers taljs at home my aunt sold a million dallor piece of propery a ranch also my coysin my dad ect people could have planed it ling ago and made plans to interrupt. A rite due to any of them who would know or care. These people did not fail to plan but counted on the day that they would fullfil a due right even death if need be. Im not kidding at all its still re meditated. Murder robery whatever its wrong. And easy to do with somone like myself. Whom everyone diregards resently i went to the FBI a man and relative. Of somone who counting on votes disregarded me akso disregading my kuds and family. With out money there is sapport ecusee my french. Without action you dont have a foot to stand on. All society needs. Is some clubs stones and caves. Dinosors too because tbe beginning is the onky place left if now is the end the new world wraped up in cloaks. And donestic violence. A world f men savages and women punching bags. Uncivilized. A few cops ive known.many have high drive for sex fights wiegh lifting shotting hunting speeding one i know was almost paralzed and still they keep on. Sad to say when they cheat its always the 301 306 area whee they work with women who have no esteem are suddeny flaterd by an officer soecial favors fair exchanges i shoukd know and that a fact one compromise. Will surly lead to another more secret from two or three isalk you need in any court room in the united States what about groups. Who are sold out forvlets say 100.0000 more per person for getting rid of niggers gang bangers sluts those unproductive leaches who hasnt served ne day defending this country as though there any thing left for those men and women who have. And who has been denied housing because. Person like myself has filled uo that space. Besides the goverment will thank us they say whike the oeopke paint card board boxes and walj back and forth. After it looks n Tv but lets say war on realky protecting the people really realky rch poor black white slave or free well here yoyr moment for sgtrangers youll never meet. Noble isnt it. But the price is high. Thats whatvfeed the chikdren trucks are for. Whos making there next hit list you gave donating to the united way. Your not really watching imagine all the christain stuff you buy oh my God do you ever image ronald mc donald milesting your kuds as you fill out the cheese burger form with date if birth address visa eye color age damn spin the wheel and give two and from around tbe world like tbe rapture taken and never seen again. So paanoia is fiting becauae it could be you in my shoesit dosent matter trafficking kuds s tbe number ine money for an over populted country Look nigera. As if there only taken black kids cone on men are alaways going to be men. Pleaae call the goverment about santa clara county child protetive servces tbe hospitiol system foster programs we need an audit. An accounting if these kuds that are taking for furture proffits bonus. Its a bissness and a legal wat to kidnap yor kids and sell them to the highest bidder. Thank youb

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