I have spent a number of chapters outlining what I feel are the problems related to the foster care system, including CPS. I have spoken in generalities as to what I would do to reform it.
This will be but chapter 1 of a 4.. In this chapter I will give an overview of reform for the entire system, chapter 2 will be Child Protective Services (CPS) reform, chapter 3 Foster Care Reform and finally chapter 4 will be Adoption reform in general and specifically adoption from foster care.
I believe having been a child within the foster care system from birth until age eighteen; I have an expertise on the subject that cannot be gained through a textbook.
After much consideration I would like to lay out the details of the actual reforms I would like to see advanced. The reforms are comprehensive in a number of areas. However, I would not pretend to know all the problems of the system, nor would I have the audacity to presume to have all the answers. This is not intended to be a complete answer.
It is my hope that this, and the chapters to follow will begin a much needed intelligent dialog on not only the need for reform but also looking at potential solutions.
To admit there is a problem and continuing to complain about those problems is not enough…it is time to proposing solutions and begin demanding action.
Let me first address the system overall. I feel the system is broken beyond repair in its current format.
It is my belief it has created a national crisis in child welfare. It can only be addressed on a national level rather than individual states or counties.
A national emergency must be declared and the system must be placed under the control and enforcement of the federal government. I know some with cry foul, that this is a states rights issue. The federal government has given states far too many opportunities to correct their programs and they have failed. Meanwhile families and children continue in the quagmire of the system as it is known today.
There are no national standards, codes, procedures that the states must comply with. These must be established for CPS, foster care and adoption just as they have been for eligibility for other federal child welfare programs.
I feel it needs to be federal because we are talking about humans. Humans (the children) should be treated the same way in Oregon as in Maine as in Kansas.
You see, all states should be on the same page regarding how children are treated when they are taken away from bios, how their parents should be dealt with and what needs to happen to them regarding reunification with their children, if possible. If not; how those children can be adopted by a family that wants them.
Imagine losing some of your basic legal rights — things you take for granted — simply because you have left one state and entered another.
Perhaps you find yourself suddenly taken into custody by an officer of the law and placed – against your wishes and despite your protestations — in a “secure facility” where no one bothers explaining what has just happened to you. (Nor what may happen next!)
Imagine the political uproar if adults were submitted to such arbitrary treatment — say, in New York but not in New Jersey, or in Ohio but not Indiana – for what is considered an offense in one state but not another. Wouldn’t there be a chorus of outrage that long-cherished principles such as “equal protection under the law” were being violated?
Why, then, is it acceptable for the treatment of children to vary so arbitrarily simply on the basis of the state they happen to live in?
Don’t they have certain basic rights as citizens of the United States of America? Or are they truly nothing but second-class citizens, too often to be neither seen nor heard?”
Let’s use driving laws as a basis for seeing how ridiculous a hodge podge of laws are regarding CPS, foster care and adoption. They are the same laws in every state; stopping at a red light, the meaning of yield, speed limits in residential areas etc. Can you imagine driving cross country, each city, county or state having different basic driving laws and having to know ALL the different laws??
How much more important are our children and the laws that affect them and their future?
Therefore I propose: Congress MUST improve its role in the system. They, through the legislation MUST establish uniform codes, policies and procedures that hold states accountable for the treatment of children in their care.
Enforcement and accountability are of primary importance. There are some laws on the books today that just sit there non enforced and no one is held accountable. Besides perjury which is addressed in other chapters.
States MUST be held accountable for their actions whether on a state or county or local level. Federal tax dollars go to the states for their child welfare programs. If states or those under their jurisdiction have it proved they failed to comply with any portion of legislation finally passed, a price should be paid. States should loose a degree of funding, put on probationary status for close monitoring. If the state or those under their jurisdiction continue to be in non compliance the MUST step in and completely take over their CPS, foster care and adoption programs.
Just as judges, social works and others will be held accountable under my proposals dealing with these specific areas; so to MUST the states. They MUST follow the law!
These reforms do not conclude that all CPS or foster care workers are bad. A number of them do their job very well and in the best interest of the child.
However, they many times do not have clear policy, procedures etc. laid out for them. They can also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The reforms laid out are many times for their benefit as well as for the families and children affected by the current child welfare system.
A National Federal Registry MUST be established for ALL involved in CPS, foster care and adoption. A Federal registry would have a person’s record and could be checked by any county or state prior to their being able to be a probate judge, CPS or foster care worker, biological parents who had children justifiably removed, foster parents or adoptive parents. If any of the above persons move from one county or state to another their record will follow them giving them less opportunity to fail a child again. They cannot ‘escape’ to another jurisdiction and continue the cycle.
Placement on this national registry MUST only be done after a final disposition has been rendered by a court. The court should be the only entity allowed to enter persons on this data base.
ALL those involved within CPS, foster care and adoption MUST be required to undergo training, beyond their degrees, in child welfare.
Training should not only include policy, procedure, the law etc. but must also include how their decisions impact families and children. Attempts should be made to include former foster children and parents within the training curriculum as they were the ones who lived within the system twenty-four/seven…they are the true experts.
Training would be at their initial employment and will continue at an on going basis…failure to comply would be grounds for termination.
A psychological review should also be required. Today far too many people enter this field with their own “baggage.” This review would determine if this baggage would hinder their doing their assigned job in a fair, just manner without preconceived notions. It would also determine if they actually have the capacity to deal with the great stress they will be under.
We need to make sure the right people are in the job, present ongoing training and support. Far too many workers leave the field after a short time due to stress, burn out or should not have been in the field in the first place.
A “review board” comprised of persons independent of the system should be established. This could be on a county level. The board should include people from the public not associated with the system. IE: company leaders, religious, teachers, physiologist not employed by the system, attorneys familiar with child law, former foster children and/or parents.
This panel will have NO CONNECTION whatsoever with any agency dealing with child welfare. They must be independent and report strictly to the courts when wrongdoing is found on the part of any worker.
Terms should be established for their service not to exceed two/two year terms. This will allow for their not getting burned out or too close to those within the system. A funding mechanism needs to be found so the review board is fairly compensated for their work.
There reviews should not only include individual case review but also an ongoing review of the system as a whole. They should have full subpoena power.
In the chapters that follow, a specific plan to reform CPS, foster care system and adoption will be laid out. It is my firm belief that child welfare will not truly be in the best interest of the child unless ALL THREE sections are reformed at the same time. They all play an integral role in child welfare, reforming one area and neglecting the other two would lead us down the road to further failure…the children cannot afford to allow us to travel this road any longer.
To me, all the reform details I outline will need to be made part of legislation passed by the United States Congress. This will insure uniformity across the country. The legislation will also need a strong enforcement mechanism to go with it.
The next chapter will address in detail reform of Child Protective Services (CPS).