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May 9th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, often writes to excoriate the state’s child welfare agency for failing to adequately protect children.  She’s right about what she says.  Far too many children, who are known to be at risk of abuse or neglect, die at the hands of adults before CPS intervenes.  The agency deserves criticism and Roberts rightly provides it.

But what’s curious about Roberts is that, for all the cases of parental abuse she cites, she never notices what happens in foster care.  She’s mans the battle stations when parents harm a child, but once it’s in foster care, she forgets all about it.   Time and again she argues for ever greater intervention into family life and bolsters her arguments with the grim reality of what some parents sometimes do to their kids.  It’s compelling stuff as long as you only notice what she’s arguing against; when you notice what she’s arguing for, it gets far less so.

What she’s arguing for is foster care.  After all, when she tells CPS that it should take more children from their parents – and she never misses an opportunity to do just that – the kids have to go somewhere, and foster care is it.  In her zeal to get more kids away from their parents, Roberts never lets on about what happens to them when they’re in foster care.  It’s a good strategy, because readers might not buy her arguments if they knew.

To the Arizona Republic’s credit, this article gives a little of the information Laurie Roberts so scrupulously avoids mentioning (Arizona Republic, 4/28/12).  The article focuses on what happens to kids once they “age out” of the foster care system at the ripe old age of 18.  Once a child gets to be that age, the state stops paying the foster parents and the child leaves home, ready or not.  Few of them are.

The prospects for kids who age out of foster care are grim.

Studies show that half won’t graduate from high school, one-quarter will be homeless for a while, and more than half will be unemployed within a year or two of leaving the child-welfare system…

“There aren’t enough people out there who will commit to these kids after they turn 18. And that’s usually when they screw up,” said Mary Schraven, who runs the youth-in-transition program for Jewish Family & Children’s Service…

“The systems that we ask them to live in are not normal,” said Tonia Stott, a postdoctoral scholar at Arizona State University who researched Arizona foster teens who aged out. “Ultimately, we want them to be normal, but we don’t provide them any normal context to grow up in.”

Studies also show that foster kids who have aged out of the system are far more likely than other kids to use illegal drugs, be homeless, take part in crime, be depressed and unemployed.  They’re less likely to take part in higher education or form stable relationships.

The State of Arizona doesn’t leave these kids completely high and dry, but the fact is, few foster kids avail themselves of the services offered.  A fair number of them return to the families from whom they were taken in the first place.

The article is about foster children after they’ve aged out of the system.  It doesn’t deal with children’s experiences while in foster care, and they can be pretty grim as well.  Although most foster parents do their best, and many are a godsend to children in real need, the average child in foster care does far worse than the average child elsewhere, including those who live with moderate abuse or neglect.

It’s easy to look at child welfare agencies and criticize.  Heaven knows they need it, and Laurie Roberts is right to point out the cases in which CPS failed and a child died.  But the full picture is far more complicated than Roberts lets on.  There’s a side to the child welfare coin that’s as dark as the one she looks at.

Thanks to the Arizona Republic for taking a peek.  I hope Roberts reads the paper she writes for.

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