Does Foster Care Protect Children?

by Fatima Badreddine

On Jenna’s eighteenth birthday, she arrived at her home only to discover that her foster parents had taken all of her belongings and placed them in the driveway. She stayed at a friend’s house for a few days, but she soon became homeless. Jenna had been in foster care since she was six years old and was passed around from foster home to foster home. The lack of stability in her life left her traumatized, feeling alone and unwanted. Jenna’s eighteenth birthday should have been a happy day. Instead, it was one of her most hurtful experiences, invoking a renewed sense of anguish and rejection.

Unfortunately, Jenna’s experience illustrates one of many examples of the problems associated with foster care in America. Foster care has been a traumatic experience for children, many of whom are shuffled between different foster homes. Sanda Chipungu and Tricia Bent-Goodley reported in 2004 that after about three months of being placed in a foster home, many children exhibited symptoms of “depression, aggression, or withdrawal.” In severe cases, children exhibited symptoms of “sleep disturbance, hoarding food, excessive eating, self-stimulation, rocking, or failure to thrive.”[1] Like Jenna, more than half of the former-foster children that were surveyed reported that they were not prepared to support themselves after leaving foster care.[2]

However, foster care was created as a temporary injunction to find safe havens for abused and neglected children. Foster care was not designed to be a permanent remedy for abused and neglected children. Rather, the goal was to either return the foster children to their parents, or to place the children for adoption when returning them to their families is inappropriate. However, some children have remained in foster care permanently, being shuffled among different foster homes until they reached the age of majority. This unstable and continuously evolving environment contributes to the psychological problems described by Sandra Chipungu and Tricia Bent-Goodly. Furthermore, some children have been placed in abusive foster homes, meaning that they were shuffled from one abusive or neglectful environment to another. Considering that many children have been negatively impacted by foster care, is it an appropriate method for protecting abused and neglected children?

In Arizona, the statistics for children who have been removed from their home, both temporarily and permanently, are staggering. The number of children in out-of-home care[3] increased monthly from January to June 2011. In January 2011, 10,512 children were in out-of-home care, and by June 2011, 11,082 children were in out-of-home care.[4] These statistics become more significant when compared to the length of time that children remain in out-of-home care. About 22.6% of children remain in out-of-home care for over a year, while 20.7% of children remain in the state’s care for over two years.[5] This means that over twenty percent of foster children in Arizona have not been in a permanent living arrangement for more than two years. Furthermore, the report fails to clarify how long children are in state custody beyond two years, leaving the impression that the Department is attempting to bury this important information.

Likewise, the Arizona Department of Economic Services does not include statistics regarding the mental health and emotional well-being of children under state care. As mentioned above, the longer a child is separated from his/her family and support system, the more likely he/she is to experience emotional distress. Yet, the Department excludes this information from its statistical reports, which prevents the public from reviewing whether the Department adequately meets the needs of foster children.

Unfortunately, some children in Arizona have suffered from abuse while in foster care. Arizona Child Protective Services (“CPS”) does not consistently visit all children in out-of-home care, which is an important element in preventing and reporting foster care abuse. In March 2011, CPS case managers failed to visit 17.5% of children, and licensing case managers failed to visit 11.5% of foster homes.[6] This is a significant amount of children who have not received the minimal monitoring required by the state, thereby increasing the potential for unreported abuse in foster homes and families. In fact, during a mere six month time period, from October 2010 to March 2011, two children in Arizona died while in CPS custody due to “alleged abuse.”[7] The report did not include statistics concerning the number of reported abuses that resulted in harm other than death. Furthermore, the majority of children in out-of-home care are under the age of six[8] and unlikely to have the mental and emotional capacity to understand, let alone report, abuse. Thus, the actual amount abuse inflicted on foster children in Arizona is likely higher than disclosed in the Semi-Annual Child Welfare Report.

Victims of abuse while in state custody may seek restitution through the courts, but this process is complicated by state statutes that grant sovereign immunity to government officials and employees. Although 42 U.S.C. § 1983 permits victims of foster care abuse to overcome sovereign immunity, the burden to overcome it is heavy. As a result, there is minimal litigation in the United States and Arizona involving foster care abuse.

In Weatherford ex rel. Michael v. State (2003), the Supreme Court of Arizona ruled that foster children could establish liability against state employees for abuse under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court concluded that a foster child “has a right to reasonable safety while in foster care” and that this right required more than protection just from “known or obvious dangers.”[9] So, the Court expanded the previous Grubbs II test to include a negligence liability for social workers.[10]

However, a foster child still has a difficult burden to overcome. He/she must prove that: 1) the social worker was unjustified in acting “with deliberate indifference” by putting or keeping a child in foster care, when the social worker knew or should have known that the child would be exposed to danger; or, 2) the state worker deliberately ignored or refused to obtain information that placing the child in foster care would expose that child to danger, and the worker had “time to consider the placement for a foster child . . . .”[11] Furthermore, the court must consider “the totality of the circumstances” because the social worker is not liable if he/she cannot find placement for the child or is bound by “financial constraints.”[12] The totality of circumstances rule grants wide deference to social workers because the Court does not clarify what constitutes adequate time to consider or find placement. The Court also fails to specify the extent of reasonable “financial constraints.” So, although the Court expanded the state’s liability under § 1983 to include negligence, it simultaneously granted wide deference to social workers, making the plaintiff’s burden difficult to overcome.

Foster care in the United States and Arizona is in a state of chaos and confusion. Although foster care was created as a temporary tool to protect abused and neglected children, a significant amount of children in Arizona remain in foster care for over a year. A year or longer in an unstable and impermanent home environment is a considerable amount of time for a child, making it more likely that the child will develop psychological or physical harm. Until foster care is reformed to account for these issues, it should be reserved as an emergency solution for extreme cases of abuse and neglect that seriously threaten the safety and/or health of the child.

[1] Douglas Abrams & Sarah Ramsey, Children and the Law: Doctrine, Policy and Practice 439 (West, 4th ed. 2010).
[2] Id. at 440.
[3] Defined by the Arizona Department of Economic Security as the number of children in CPS custody “who require placement in a foster care setting.” Clarence H. Carter, Dep’t of Econ. Sec., Child Protective Service Bi-Annual Financial and Accountability Report, at 3 (Ariz. 2011), http://www.azdes.gov/InternetFiles/Reports/pdf/dcyf_ financial_and_program_accountability_2024_report.pdf.
[4] Id. at 3a, 3f.
[5] Clarence H. Carter, Dep’t of Econ. Sec., Child Welfare Reporting Requirements: Semi-Annual Report, at 44 (Ariz. 2011), http:// http://www.azdes.gov/InternetFiles/Reports/pdf/semi_annual_child_welfare_report_oct_2010_ mar_2011.pdf.
[6] Id. at 46.
[7] Id. at 58.
[8] Id. at 39.
[9] Weatherford ex rel. Michael v. State, 206 Ariz. 529, 537 (2003).
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id. at 538.

11 thoughts on “Does Foster Care Protect Children?

Add yours

  1. I agree that foster care may result in harm to children (psychological/developmental, etc.). But the fact is that in many cases, they’re better off in foster homes than in their abusive homes. I think a bigger issue is the screening process that foster parents must go through in order to become foster parents. If we want to avoid many of these issues, I think the guidelines for screening have to be stricter. Furthermore, there has to be more follow-up from CPS case managers to make sure that foster homes continue to be healthy environments for the children.

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  3. driana,
    You said “I agree that foster care may result in harm to children”. There’s no “may” about it, unfortunately, there is a huge body of evidence (scientific as opposed to Clinical Psychology) which proves, not suggests, that children are damaged by the process.

    80% of Foster “Care” Alumni are dysfunctional. Children and even infants are twice as likely to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and somewhere in the order of four times more severe. Rather than me providing the statistics I urge you to check for yourself, just Google “Outcomes for children & Foster Care”.

    Governments have known this for years, so their solution was to increase the numbers of children in long-term foster “Care” being adopted. Sounds like a good plan until you read http://www.Forced-Adoption.com and see what happened. The numbers of “white, healthy” babies being removed from parents, most of whom have never even been accused of harming their child, increased dramatically as the UK Government paid hundreds of millions for local councils to hit “targets”. The numbers of children deemed “less desirable” such as those with disabilities, decreased. The USA Government introduced Targets and bonuses also and as predicted, the numbers of babies being removed increased substantially. The difference was that the USA paid a higher premium to get African American, Hispanic and children with disabilities adopted and the “less desirable” children found adoptive homes.

    Many people don’t realise that if a parent is accused of child abuse or neglect, that they will be tried twice for the same crime in two different Court Systems. If you are found not guilty in the Criminal System you will still be punished in the Family Court System. The Burden of Proof in the Criminal Justice System is “Beyond a reasonable Doubt, in the Family Court it is “Mere Suspicion, that something may or may not happen at some point in the future. On the word of one social worker and decided by one Judge, you will never see your child again. Without ever have even been accused of a crime, you parental rights will be terminated, your child will be put up for adoption and you will be arrested and secretly jailed if you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone.

    Sound like conspiracy theory? Google the case of Fran Lyons or Mark & Nicky Webster. These are UK cases I have been researching but the same happens in the USA. Even the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, Judges, Politicians and highly credible sources have spoken out against this inhumane practice. Search YouTube for Senator Nancy Schaefer and listen to her speeches. You wont think it conspiracy theory when you see how this a huge growth industry and everything I have said here is a matter of public record.

    Dumping children on the street at age 18 is not a new phenomena, it’s “current practice”. In my country, Ireland, Foster “Carers” are paid a salary of €339/per child/per week minimum and Residential Homes ran by private companies charge €4,500/per week/per child. 68% of the boys will become homeless, 3/5 of the girls are preganant or already have a child, 43% of the Irish Prison Population have been in “Care” (80% in Texas), a child is 6 times more likely to die in Irish State “Care” than with their parents, (10 times in Texas).

    The big issue here Adriana is that, at least in my opinion, Governments are practicing Eugenics. The Social Engineers and the flawed clinical psychology that seems to be driving Social Reform and the Law have got it all spectacularly wrong, you cannot improve on nature. The simple answer is to scrap Family Courts and dismantle the Child Protection Industry. Not likely to happen as too many vested interests make too much money and want to protect their livelihoods regardless of how many innocent people are harmed in the process.

    You strike me as a person with a genuine interest in this topic and I would urge you to investigate it for yourself.

    Best regards,

    Joe Burns

  4. Adriana,
    You said “I agree that foster care may result in harm to children”. There’s no “may” about it, unfortunately, there is a huge body of evidence (scientific as opposed to Clinical Psychology) which proves, not suggests, that children are damaged by the process.

    80% of Foster “Care” Alumni are dysfunctional. Children and even infants are twice as likely to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and somewhere in the order of four times more severe. Rather than me providing the statistics I urge you to check for yourself, just Google “Outcomes for children & Foster Care”.

    Governments have known this for years, so their solution was to increase the numbers of children in long-term foster “Care” being adopted. Sounds like a good plan until you read http://www.Forced-Adoption.com and see what happened. The numbers of “white, healthy” babies being removed from parents, most of whom have never even been accused of harming their child, increased dramatically as the UK Government paid hundreds of millions for local councils to hit “targets”. The numbers of children deemed “less desirable” such as those with disabilities, decreased. The USA Government introduced Targets and bonuses also and as predicted, the numbers of babies being removed increased substantially. The difference was that the USA paid a higher premium to get African American, Hispanic and children with disabilities adopted and the “less desirable” children found adoptive homes.

    Many people don’t realise that if a parent is accused of child abuse or neglect, that they will be tried twice for the same crime in two different Court Systems. If you are found not guilty in the Criminal System you will still be punished in the Family Court System. The Burden of Proof in the Criminal Justice System is “Beyond a reasonable Doubt, in the Family Court it is “Mere Suspicion, that something may or may not happen at some point in the future. On the word of one social worker and decided by one Judge, you will never see your child again. Without ever have even been accused of a crime, you parental rights will be terminated, your child will be put up for adoption and you will be arrested and secretly jailed if you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone.

    Sound like conspiracy theory? Google the case of Fran Lyons or Mark & Nicky Webster. These are UK cases I have been researching but the same happens in the USA. Even the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, Judges, Politicians and highly credible sources have spoken out against this inhumane practice. Search YouTube for Senator Nancy Schaefer and listen to her speeches. You wont think it conspiracy theory when you see how this a huge growth industry and everything I have said here is a matter of public record.

    Dumping children on the street at age 18 is not a new phenomena, it’s “current practice”. In my country, Ireland, Foster “Carers” are paid a salary of €339/per child/per week minimum and Residential Homes ran by private companies charge €4,500/per week/per child. 68% of the boys will become homeless, 3/5 of the girls are preganant or already have a child, 43% of the Irish Prison Population have been in “Care” (80% in Texas), a child is 6 times more likely to die in Irish State “Care” than with their parents, (10 times in Texas).

    The big issue here Adriana is that, at least in my opinion, Governments are practicing Eugenics. The Social Engineers and the flawed clinical psychology that seems to be driving Social Reform and the Law have got it all spectacularly wrong, you cannot improve on nature. The simple answer is to scrap Family Courts and dismantle the Child Protection Industry. Not likely to happen as too many vested interests make too much money and want to protect their livelihoods regardless of how many innocent people are harmed in the process.

    You strike me as a person with a genuine interest in this topic and I would urge you to investigate it for yourself.

    Best regards,

    Joe Burns

  5. Well said Joe.

    People keen to take our children for money is beyond disturbing. Only about having no interest in the child at all except to say they are financially of interest. It is abusing the child, abusing the parents. Children are vunerable to adults. Please leave them alone instead of thinking about your finances. And putting them into experiences they would not have if they stayed with thier parents.

  6. Why do you assume that every foster parent only does it for the money? AZ has cut the amount of money they give to foster parents in this economic climate, so most foster parents have to use some of their own money to take care of the kids. For the majority, it’s not about the money. I’ve met many foster parents in my previous jobs, and they have done amazing jobs at caring for the kids and providing safe and stable homes–something that most of these kids have never had. You say we should leave the kids alone. You mean leave them in homes where they are being abused and/or neglected? How is that better than trying to find safe home for them? I’m aware that there are situations where some foster parents are abusive of the system or the kids. This is why I advocate for reforming the system. But I don’t see the good that can come from abolishing it completely.

  7. Adriana, I didn’t say that Foster “Carers” are ONLY doing for the money, I’ve met lots of Fosterers and Foster Kids and many nice people whom I would say the vast majority have the best intentions. The budgets in Ireland and the UK have been cut too.

    I’m judging Foster & Residential “Care” mainly on ONE factor, the Outcomes for these children. There is a certain presumption that when the State steps in and says to a parent; “You cant look after your kid, we will do it for you”, that the care provided by the State would be CONSIDERABLY better than what a parent could provide, it’s not, it’s CONSIDERABLY worse. It’s not worse because of abusive or neglectful Foster “Carers”.

    It’s because the child is suffering, having being removed from it’s security net. Children are seperated from their parents, siblings, friends, grand-parents, aunts & uncles, cousins, neighbors, often from their school, swimming club, football club, music lessons, familiar environment, toys and everything that makes a child feel secure. Foster “Carers” cant love a child the way a family can. You don’t have to a psychologist to understand this concept, any human being can relate, parent or not. Is it really better to remove the child? the evidence says otherwise.

    From WikiPedia;
    The negative effects of foster care

    Individuals who were in foster care experience higher rates of physical and psychiatric morbidity than the general population and suffer from not being able to trust and that can lead to placements breaking down.[26] In a study of adults who were in foster care in Oregon and Washington state, they were found to have double the incidence of depression, 20% as compared to 10% and were found to have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than combat veterans with 25% of those studied having PTSD. Children in foster care have a higher probability of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and deficits in executive functioning, anxiety as well other developmental problems.[27][28][29][30] These children experience higher degrees of incarceration, poverty, homelessness, and suicide. Recent studies in the U.S. suggest that foster care placements are more detrimental to children than remaining in a troubled home.[31][32][33]

    Read the bottom of the last paragraph or see the entire study here http://www.mit.edu/~jjdoyle/doyle_fosterlt_march07_aer.pdf

    To answer you question “re leaving children in a supposedly abusive home”, I would say Yes.

    If social workers acted as their counterparts who work with the elderly & disabled ie as Advocates rather than Prosecutors and were given the option of helping support families as opposed to destroying them in Family Courts then everyone would be better off especiall the children. Scrap the Family and let Police deal with the crime of child abuse or neglect. The Social Engineers who make millions out of this will never let that happen unless every parent understands and cares enough to do something about it.

  8. How about Foster care results in DEATH of thousands of children every year! Guidelines for these poor innocent children are inadequate if not non existent. Absolutely there should be a stricter screening/investigation of these proposed foster parents but we should be taking a look at some of the idiots who put these children in such harms way. Maybe they need to be replace with people who actually care what happens to them.

  9. The poor children taken into care, are at risk of abuse by Foster Parents. then when they grow up and become parents their children are removed because Social Services say they do have the ability to love and raise their own children because they grew up in care. WHOSE FAULT is that the Social Services who put them in care will now steal their babies for adoption. Take the children from the poor and sell them to the rich . the rich do not care where they get the babies from as long as they get one. All the poor foster children want is a loving family life and they would more then likely be better parents because they know what children need most which is LOVE AND PROTECTION. My heart breaks for these poor children who have no say in what happens to them, they are removed from parents who in some cases have not done anything wrong denied the love of family life .SHAME!!!!
    SHAME !! ON ALL WHO DO NOT LOOK AFTER CHILDREN. ABOLISH FAMILY COURT. I VOTE FOR NEW FAMILY TRIBUNAL TO REPLACE CLOSED FAMILY COURTS AND STOP UNQUALIFIED PEOPLE REMOVING CHILDREN
    FROM THEIR FAMILIES

  10. Hello I am a foster child and I just want to say that I thank God everyday for my foster family. My foster family protected me, loved me, and gave me a second chance on a good life. I know that not all stories are like ,ine but I love my foster family and am still in touch with them I went into foster care at 15 years old. I am 50 now

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