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Latest report on the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency- “Progress… stalled.”

The court-appointed monitor’s latest report on D.C. Child and Family Services Agency points out

that the number of children being adopted out of shelters and foster homes has slowed. Between 2005 and 2008, adoptions finalized in the District dropped from more than 250 a year to fewer than 100, the report said.

The Washington Post published an article yesterday, Report Faults Extended Foster-Care Stays, detailing the agency’s (now in receivership, under court oversight) inability to move more kids into permanent adoptive homes:

“Progress in reducing length of stay in foster care and ensuring a permanent home for every child has been stalled,” Meltzer wrote in the report, made public yesterday.

The article breaks it down by the numbers:

Children spend too much time in foster care, according to a newly issued report by monitor Judith W. Meltzer. Of the 2,237 children in foster care in the District, the report found that 60 percent had been in the city’s care for 24 months or more at the end of last year, and that almost 600 had been in the system for five years or more.

This, despite adoption promotion as public policy and the interconnecting webs of financial assistance, tax credits, outright grants, and various other incentive programs I’ve spoken of here before. (Also see District of Columbia, here, as but one example) many of these kids seem bounced around endlessly, left to eventually age out.

The report found kids still being kept in forms of temporary care.

Meltzer, appointed to track the child welfare agency by a federal judge, found that too many children in foster care were being placed in shelters and other non-family homes or moved from one temporary home to another while awaiting final adoptions.

DC’s “answer” to the kids’ lack of permanency? Stepping up foster parent recruitment, perhaps in hopes that some might use fostering as a stepping stone towards becoming eventual adoptive parents.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and acting CFSA Director Roque Gerald launched a month-long campaign yesterday to recruit more District-based foster parents.

Unfortunately, recruitment of more foster parents sounds like slapping on another band-aid.

(Also be sure to note some of my definitions of “special needs” or “foster care” in this piece, as such should be kept in mind when one discusses foster parent recruitment.)

A.G. Nickles has been trying to get CFSA out from under court supervision for some time now.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles defended the District’s efforts yesterday and said the agency is being more careful in reviewing cases and homes — a big reason why many children remain in foster care.

<biting sarcasm>

Gee, ya think?

Considering (to name just two cases I’ve blogged about recently) the high profile Banita Jacks case, and here in Maryland the equally high profile Renee Bowman case (the Bowman girls had been adopted out of and placed by the DC system) Yeah, I’d say carefully reviewing cases and homes and screening prosepctive adopters more stringently might not be the worst idea. D’oh!

</biting sarcasm>

Also be sure to see my earlier post, Adoption subsidies for frozen corpses, more on the Maryland nightmare, which covers both cases and goes into some detail on the ongoing situation with the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.

That said, fast-tracking adoptions for the sake of adoption promotion and clearing out backlog in order to get out of receivership (as some will push DC CFSA to do) is no answer either. (Not that there are enough prospective adopters waiting in the wings for these kids even if the District were willing to try to clear the books.) It’s readily apparent the damage just rushing through adoptions in any attempt to come off looking good can do.

Notions of ‘A Home, ANY Home’ cannot provide answers for these kids.

As the numbers show, many of these kids have been bouncing through the system over the course of years. They need stable situations with people that are at least familiar with, preferably comfortable with and well trained to handle some of the myriad of issues they’re going to be facing. The idea of ‘a family, ANY OLE foster family will do’ is just another a recipe for disaster.

At the Ethics and Accountability in Adoption conference over a year ago, conference attendees were ‘treated’ to the Ad Council’s (not the ‘good guys’ in my book to begin with) video clips from their prospective adoptors recuitment ad campaign.

The idea behind the campaign came from marketing research that showed people were hesitant to consider becoming adoptive parents due to the perception that one had to be “a perfect parent” or at minimum an extraordinary parent to consider adopting. So a series of ads marketing the concept of becoming adoptive parents were developed, each ending with the tag line

“You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent. There are thousands of teens in foster care who would love to put up with you.”

Down the righthand side of this page explore some of the video and radio “campaign materials.” Some useful examples include:

  • Gift
  • Consoling
  • Band
  • Phone
  • Pink Uniform
  • Foodie
  • Questionnaire

(Though be aware, if you’re an adoptee who’s ever had an adoptive parent who doesn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, or who ruined something that mattered to you, such as a foodball uniform, or who thought giving you gifts that were more to their tastes than yours was appropriate, you may find looking at some of these somewhere between uncomfortable and infuriating.)

The real underlying messages of course, being that you can be an incompetent boob with no special skills or clue what-so-ever, but the State will still entrust even an idiot like you with a foster kid.

That, and apparently these kids don’t need the special, the extraordinary, or the best. Hell, from the looks of the ads, the prospective adopters don’t even need to display basic competence.

The ads carry the underlying message the kids should be/will be willing to settle for whatever human dregs that can exhibit a pulse that the state can scrounge up willing to take ’em. Then be damn grateful for such every day of their lives, hideous sweaters and all.

“Couch” in particular makes it clear, the mere act of processing oxygen is apparently considered (in oversimplified government supported media portrayals anyway) enough of a demonstration of “parenting skills” to qualify one to get a hold of a kid. After all, the boy’s not white and he’s a foster kid, he should be damn happy someone bothered putting a roof over his head, right?


It’s pathetic. Through campaigns like this, the State makes it quite clear, it’s so desperate to get these kids off the books they’re broadcasting the (somewhat inaccurate) message any ditz or bozo can get a hold of one.

The clips of course, were designed to feed into a photolisting website. (I consider photolisting sites the Sears wishbook of adoption marketing. Or perhaps to appropriate a few lyrics, “How much is that Bas-tard in the win-dow…?” ) The underlying concept of marketing kids the way companies market other consumer goods is just another vile facet of of the ongoing commercialization of the child redistribution market.

Utilizing such tactics to market foster kids, a population already vulnerable to various other forms of marketing exploitation, merely plays on the kids own hopes and hunger for something other than being shifted around from staging area to staging area throughout the system.

For an example of a photolisting based stunt tactic see my earlier post, High speed photolistings, will the adoptions crash and burn? To quote that piece here briefly:

One of the problems with such, this notion all too often phrased as “anyone can adopt” is that that’s a phrase that very definitely comes from the perspective of the state trying to offload the kids. From the kids perspective, it can’t be a matter of just anyone, adopters need to be the ‘right’ someone. Doubly so in cases where kids come with ’special needs’ whether past abuse or health issues. These kids don’t just need a home any home, they need a home where they’re going to be ok.

Messages like ‘anyone can adopt’ are recipes for disaster. ‘Special needs’ kids don’t need to be shipped off into a new situation filled with abuse or even sexual abuse, they need a home conducive to helping them, and yes, that does often mean finding special people. That’s part of the deep problem with the foster system mess. Every kid placed, no matter where, is counted as a victory because the condition for declaring victory is numeric, quantity not quality.

I find even a brief exploration of the site’s (child) search feature akin to deciding whether one wants to shop online for a pair of red leather pumps or brown slingback sandals.

Unfortunately, as the Post article hints, Jacks and Bowman are but mere dust on the tip of what may be a massive iceberg, a situation CFSA is likely too overwhelmed to begin to handle.

The agency came under increased pressure and scrutiny last year after Banita Jacks, a Southeast Washington woman, was arrested on murder charges in the deaths of her four daughters. The girls’ bodies were found by federal marshals in January 2008; in the aftermath, the agency was flooded with hundreds of reports of abuse and neglect.

The organization that sued on behalf of the kids, (which led to the receivership in the first place) also spoke out after this latest report was issued.

Children’s Rights, the national advocacy group that filed the court case, is fighting efforts by the Fenty administration to end the court’s oversight. The child welfare system was put in receivership for five years before being placed back under the District’s management in 2000, with the court setting benchmarks for changes. A hearing in the case is set for tomorrow before U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan.

“The federal court has found time and again that D.C.’s abused and neglected children and vulnerable families are entitled to a level of care and service that the District is still simply failing to provide,” Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, said in a statement yesterday.

“The city basically said they have done all they’re going to do, and enough is enough. But that’s not what the court order requires and that’s not what these children need,” she said in an interview.

Back in February, as noted in another Washington Post article, CFSA Is ‘Not Ready,’ Judge Says, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan (who will be the Judge at today’s hearing) expressed similar sentiments.

The judge also reflected on the 20 years he has been involved in the case. He said the District made great strides and “a couple years ago, the agency was on its way out” of court supervision.

But when Banita Jacks was found living with the decaying corpses of her four daughters last year, the agency was flooded with reports of abuse and neglect. Hundreds of cases piled up, social workers were crushed by huge caseloads and almost 25 percent of the frustrated workforce walked out.

The agency “fell back to 20 years ago,” Hogan said.

As for DC’s foster kids? In theory at least, they’ll be placed with people who have to jump through at least a FEW more hoops than merely snoring on a couch.

It’s May and that means it’s National Foster Care month. The DC campaign materials can be found here. Glance through the 15 page “How Foster Parenting Works in DC” booklet available on the site. Pre-service training is 30 hours with 15 hours annually to maintain a foster license. CPR and First Aid classes are required and there’s a home study (see page 7.)

An article from two days ago about the initiative can be found here. Immediately, I noted the goals of the campaign and the hoped for numeric scope of the campaign.

Mayor Adrian Fenty says it’s the older children in the system who desperately need foster homes the most. “We want to keep brothers and sisters together while in care, open our homes to young people who have disabilities and accept kids in short notice in emergency situations.”

In the next 18 months, D.C. Child and Family Services says its goal is to place 60 young people into licensed foster homes.

While this may move a few of the kids out of temporary situations such as shelters (if indeed, such were a goal of the campaign, but hey even one kid moved out of a shelter and into a foster family is a victory for that kid) the problem of kids left to long term foster care remains central to DC’s children’s services woes.

One Response to “Latest report on the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency- “Progress… stalled.””

  1. Baby Love Child Says:

    Just a brief note to point out the hearing was postponed until June 29th. See-

    Arguments Rescheduled in D.C. Child Welfare Case

    The reason given was-

    “D.C. officials asked the judge Thursday for additional time to submit more current data, which they say better reflects the agency’s improved performance.”

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