Abusive and self-serving treatment of children is one of the most abhorrent acts imaginable, particularly in an environment intended to provide safety and security such as foster care. 27 years ago, California altered its legislation, privatizing a portion of foster care in an effort to cut costs and ostensibly provide improved care for children in the process. 27 years later, it is apparent that the introduction of privatized institutions was quite simply one of the biggest mistakes the system could have made.
Appalling cases of abuse have been consistently reported throughout the privatized foster care systems in California. Some of the uncovered cases read like a Hollywood script for a disturbing horror film. A December article in the Los Angeles Times exposed instances including children beaten with belts, emotionally traumatized by threats, and even sexually molested by their foster parents, and found that “those living in homes run by private agencies were about a third more likely to be the victims of serious physical, emotional or sexual abuse than children in state-supervised foster family homes.” Additionally, “[Two children] were found barefoot in January, huddled under a blanket against the biting High Desert winter cold, two kids on the run from a former foster mother, who had bound their hands with zip-ties and beat them.”
Without question, California’s privatized foster care system is now more expensive and more dangerous than the previous government-run homes it replaced. In Los Angeles County, four children have been killed directly as a result of abuse and/or neglect by their foster parents. Disgraceful circumstances like these are occurring because of an almost non-existent screening process, which further contributes to the issue by approving even convicted criminals as foster parents. What’s more appalling is the lack of oversight and failure to discipline derelict agencies. The foster care system is so poorly monitored and maintained that even agencies and individuals with a history of abuse are provided the right to care for children. Reports of abuse are virtually ignored by county social workers. The system’s desperation has created an approval process that is about as painless as getting approved for insurance.
Roughly 60,000 children end up in California’s foster care system because of abandonment, neglect or abuse. The majority will come to live with a relative, but those without such a luxury will end up in foster homes that are either privately owned or run by the state government. It is imperative that every Californian takes notice to what has resulted from privatization.
I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I wish to throw stones or unfairly criticize the government. The truth is, there are myriad hard working individuals devoted to the herculean task that is protecting our children and placing them in stable foster care environments. But from a personal standpoint, I feel that raising awareness is a critical first step toward imposing proper allocation of time, money and resources to fix this broken system. Simply being informed of the current state of foster care can completely alter one’s perspective.
Through volunteering with Covenant House California, a non-profit agency dedicated to helping at-risk homeless youth living on the streets, I’ve gained a newfound perspective on the realities of the foster care system through shared first-hand experiences. During Covenant House’s annual Sleep Out this past November, when local business leaders spent one night sleeping on the streets in solidarity with homeless youth, I had an opportunity to interact with several homeless kids, many of whom had lived in foster homes.
Each had an unfortunate and often tragic story of their foster care experience, and each turned to living on the streets as a preferred option to living in a foster home. It’s easy to read about the failing foster care system in the newspaper and feel bad. It’s also easy to write a blog proclaiming what is wrong with foster care. But it becomes personal when you experience first-hand accounts from individuals who have lived through it. That, for me, is why informing the public of the issues at hand is so important.
What is happening to our children is intolerable, and in order to enact change we must all work to call attention to the issue in the hope of garnering support for increased oversight, de-privatization, and a tested screening process that ensures children in need of homes find foster parents with the best of intentions. All children, particularly those in need, deserve nothing less.
// Sam Solakyan