April 30, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Here, Naomi Schaefer Riley of the American Enterprise Institute, takes on the issue of child welfare agencies and how they disserve children, the very people they exist to benefit (AEI, 4/20/18). There can’t be too much criticism of those agencies. State CPS do, on balance, a pretty poor job of protecting or providing needed services to kids. But sadly, Riley’s take on her topic is extremely limited and one-dimensional.
It appears in her first sentence and doesn’t get much further.
Why do our courts make decisions about the fate of children on a timeline designed for adults?
It’s a fair question; too bad Riley never answered it or really even tried. The gist of the issue is that kids, particularly very young ones, exist short-term. Obviously, a case that takes two years to resolve is one thing for adults and something else entirely for an infant, a toddler or even an older child. So yes, children could benefit if their situations were resolved more quickly.
Or would they be? Riley uses a single example to illustrate her point, but unfortunately never grasps the limitations that places on her analysis. Briefly, Rachel Schneiter began caring for a newborn whose mother was clearly incapable of caring for it or her two older children.
Schneiter recalls the “terrible conditions” she saw when she arrived at the home (which was part of a supportive housing facility): “There were dirty, stool-filled diapers left on the floor. There was garbage covering every surface.”
So Schneiter became involved with the mother, attended the birth and became the child’s godmother. Soon enough, Erie County CPS took the two older children into foster care and the mother asked that Schneiter be appointed the newborn’s guardian. The little girl spent the first year of her life with Schneiter and her husband, at which point, CPS decided to “reunite” her with her two older siblings. Never mind that the little girl knew nothing about the two older children and had no relationship with them.
So Schneiter went to court to try to convince judges that the child’s best interests lay in a continuing relationship with her and her husband. She succeeded, but the entire process took two years and apparently hasn’t yet been finally decided. Needless to say, taking the child from the Schneiters and giving her to foster parents she’d never met, with two brothers she’d no concept of, and all the while receiving visits from the Schneiters, wasn’t in the child’s interest.
That of course is Riley’s point. But the answer to her initial question – why does it take so long? - never appears. Had Riley ventured to answer it, she’d have produced a much more in-depth and interesting article.
After all, it was just two weeks ago that the Buffalo News ran an article on the catastrophe that is Erie County CPS. I reported on that here. In a nutshell, Erie County’s problems are what we’ve seen time and again elsewhere. Too little money to pay caseworkers means too few caseworkers and too high turnover of those who do come to work. That means the caseworkers on the job are too inexperienced on average to do a good job and, in any event, carry too-high caseloads.
Almost certainly all that played a big part in their incompetent treatment of the little girl in the Schneiters’ care, but not a word of it appears in Riley’s piece.
Laudably, she briefly comes to grips with the impact of a dysfunctional CPS system on foster parents.
Unfortunately, the Schneiters’ story is not uncommon. I hear from foster parents all over the country who are the victims of “arbitrary and capricious” decisions by child welfare caseworkers. It is hardly surprising then that a study from the Foster Care Institute found that turnover rates for foster parents ranged from 30-50%.
There is not much data on why foster parents decide to leave the system. A lot of states don’t seem particularly curious about the answer. But a 2004 survey of New York families who fostered found that of those who stopped, “dissatisfaction with agency” was the second most common reason after “adoption of foster children.”
We’ve seen this before as well. The low funding and general incompetence of CPS agencies affect not only the children they’re supposed to serve, their parents and courts, but foster parents as well. The piece I wrote here back in 2016 about Washington State could apply word for word to the situation in Erie County described by Riley.
[Foster parent Veronica Moody] watched as the children she cared for suffered in limbo, unsure of where they belonged, while the state bungled dealings with their birth parents. Most of the kids’ cases went through at least four caseworkers as they lived with the Moodys, setting back progress by months each time while the new workers got their bearings and developed new plans…
“All the problems the state causes, due to lack of resources and lack of training, make our job as foster parents very difficult,” Moody said. “It burns you out.”…
Foster parents say they’re being driven away by a state agency plagued by heavy workloads and high turnover. Overwhelmed state social workers often don’t return calls or email, leaving parents feeling unsupported and disrespected. Caregivers say they’re treated like “glorified babysitters” instead of team members. If they complain, they say the state opens trivial investigations or threatens to move the kids….
The low morale seeps through the system, and foster parents feel it keenly, according to the results of an annual DSHS survey released in May. The report said foster parents were “significantly less likely than in the prior year to say that workers listened to their input.”
But the deficiencies in Riley’s piece don’t stop there. Having failed to consider why the process for the little girl in her example is taking so long, she also failed to consider why it shouldn’t. Yes, what happened to the child is outrageous and unnecessary. But here are some facts Riley might ponder:
Parents have parental rights. No child protective agency is free to ignore them or give them short shrift, much as they might like to. As a state agency, CPS is required to afford parents the full panoply of constitutional and statutory rights to which they’re entitled. Would Riley deny them those rights (if she could) in order to avoid deciding children’s issues “on a timeline designed for adults?” I doubt it.
And what does Riley know of foster care? In her example, the Schneiters look like far better parents for the little girl than her own mother, but, to say the least, that’s not always the case. Indeed, on average, foster care is far less preferable for kids than is parental care. Whether she knows it or not, Riley’s arguing for CPS agencies to more easily and quickly take children from parents and place them into foster care. As a matter of policy and based on the known data on foster care vs. parental care, that’s the very last thing we should do.
So, if she were queen and ruled by fiat, what would Riley do? Take away parental rights in favor of state care of children just so the process can move forward in “child time?” Riley didn’t take the time to think through her article. I expect better of the AEI.
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