A Critical Look At The Foster Care SystemFoster Care Outcomes
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The Lost Children

It took the death of Florida's Rilya Wilson in the Spring of 2002 for the issue of children "missing" from foster care to garner national attention. It first came to light that the state of Florida had managed to lose track of nothing less than 500 of its foster care children. Some time thereafter, the body of 17-year-old Marissa Karp was found in Collier County Florida. She had run away from her state-designated foster family in April. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office explained to the St. Petersburg Times that she had been murdered.

Since August of 2002, officials in the states of California, Tennessee, and Michigan have disclosed that hundreds of children are similarly "missing" from their foster care systems.

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services reported in August that 740 foster children were missing from its system.

Shortly thereafter, Michigan foster care officials announced that 300 foster children were missing from their foster care system. Governor John Engler declared that finding these children would be a "top priority." As of November, 2002, the Family Independence Agency (as Michigan's child protection agency is known) had managed to locate only 48 of these missing children.

"Anytime a child is missing, that’s a big concern for us and we make all the efforts we can to try and locate them as quickly as possible," explained Carla Aaron, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. Aaron reported in November of 2002 that nothing short of one out of every 20 foster children were missing from Tennessee's foster care system. Tennessee officials reported that 98 percent of these 496 "lost children" were adolescent runaways.

Here is the article "The Lost Children," much as it appeared on Lifting the Veil in 1997, with some minor subsequent edits



Files are misplaced, cases are reassigned -- handed down from worker to worker, while cases pile up by the hundreds on desks or in boxes.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of children continue to languish with scarce hope of ever being returned to their homes.

Lost without a trace, they are America's disposable children.


In New York City, a 1994 audit conducted by the Office of the Comptroller found that the Child Welfare Administration had incorrect addresses listed in the official record for 20 percent of the foster children in its care.[1]

That represents 12,000 children out of about 60,000 in foster care that City caseworkers can not immediately locate.[2]

Auditors also found that: "Five percent of the children in care were listed as living at the CWA headquarters at 80 Lafayette St., even though more than half of those children had been in foster care for more than two years."[3]

The agency directly responsible for these children had listed 2,574 of them as residing at its own headquarters.[4]

According to a 1996 report: "A significant number of records in the CCRS database reflects inaccurate information, including out-of-date or inaccurate addresses, which affects CWA's ability to locate children quickly."

Based on earlier research conducted by the Office of the Comptroller, the following conditions were found to relate to the 50,702 children then in the tracking system database:

  • 84 children may never have been recorded at all, and 4,422 of the 32,530 children in homes supervised by voluntary agencies have incorrect addresses listed;

  • 4,621 of the 18,172 children in homes supervised by CWA have incorrect addresses listed;

  • 1,103 children (471 of the 18,172 children in homes supervised by CWA, and 632 out of 32,530 children in homes supervised by voluntary agencies) were discharged from foster care, but their records did not reflect this action.

Just how many children may actually be "lost" in the system at any given moment? According to Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi:

We reviewed the timeliness of the data input for 9,663 children placed into foster care from June 1991 - September 1992... The CWA did not record initial placement data within the required seven-day time frame for 8,433 (87 percent) of these children.[5]
Another 1996 review included a random selection of 195 cases, of which auditors could not locate four case files. Two of the four were closed according to the data base; another was an active case; and the remaining record was "signed out" to a CWA Deputy Commissioner who denied having the file. Auditors found file folders lying on floors and in unlabeled and haphazardly arranged cartons.[6]

As of December of 1996, New York City was still in the planning stages for a computer database of abuse and neglect cases, still logging them manually on index cards.[7]

News reporter Anna Quindlen spent a morning with volunteers and staff members of Court Appointed Special Advocates, volunteers who are assigned by Family Court judges to look out for the interests of some of the children in New York City's foster care system.

Quindlen describes their role in trying to locate the lost children: "They are on the phone constantly, trying to track kids who often get lost in the labyrinth of foster care, which is full of dead ends. Think about what it takes to get a straight answer out of any government bureaucracy; multiply that by 10 and that is their job."[8]

In New York, an attorney tries to put a good face on how his agency could have forgotten a brother and sister placed in foster care seven years ago. The two are doing well, the lawyer explains, adding: "Obviously, the foster mother took very good care of them."

"Isn't that just lucky?" the outraged judge retorts.

"It's a system in crisis, to be sure," said Robert Praksti of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. "Kids get lost, their cases get lost, casework turnover occurs over and over."[9]

As chaotic, dysfunctional and even destructive as these systems can be, one might think it challenging to find the one that is "the worst" among them.

Enter the District of Columbia, which has managed to lose track of fully 25 percent of the children in its care.[10]

Unlike many of its counterparts among the states, the District of Columbia has a computerized database, the WARD Tracking System (WTS), which was designed to collect and process information regarding case management, client tracking, and vendor payments.

Does it work? Not according to United States District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, who writes:

the WTS cannot provide accurate information on the number of children in emergency care, how long they have been in that status, and when they are reaching the 90-day deadline for remaining in that status. The WTS also is unable to accurately identify the physical location of all of the children in foster care. Additionally, it does not contain accurate information concerning vacancies in foster homes, nor does it contain accurate information regarding which social workers are assigned to which children.

Judge Hogan concluded: "The Court can only wonder how an agency that cannot track the location of the children in its custody can possibly comply with the remaining requirements of federal and District law, much less with reasonable professional standards."

Caseworkers were not using the computerized WARD Tracking System, which required upgrading. Judge Hogan found: "Instead, CFSD social workers track information on thousands of three-by-five-inch index cards."

The tracking system in use was so chaotic that one percent of a sample group were found never to have been removed from their homes, but were listed by the agency as being in foster care.[11]

Losing children is not something unique to New York City or the District of Columbia. The State of Illinois has managed to lose track of a number of children in its care.[12]

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has also managed to lose track of the availability of its own foster homes, its system having been described by the Chicago Tribune as: "a ludicrous tracking system that amounts to three-by-five file cards kept in piles by placement workers."[13]

The ubiquitous three-by-five index card would appear to be something of an industry fixture.

After a young boy was raped in a Massachusetts foster home, it came to light that Department of Social Services caseworkers and supervisors had apparently managed to overlook a pattern of nine foster children having run away from the home.

When asked how they could have overlooked such a pattern, DSS Commissioner Linda Carlisle said that with the Department's outdated computer system, there is no way to check how many children have run away from any given home, adding: "We have 3-by-5 index cards, manual records."[14]

But both the computer and the index cards were more than sufficient for department spokesperson Lorraine Carli just a few years earlier. After a scathing legislative report revealing serious deficiencies in foster care tracking was released, Carli said the agency had a good tracking system and reviewed each placement every six months.

"We found that not to be the case," said Gloria Fox, a member of the House subcommittee on foster care, which released the report.

"Clearly, they're working on that," Fox said, but "some people haven't seen their social worker in years."[15]

Among the conclusions reached in the 306-page report:

  • State court backlogs leave children's lives dangling from childhood to adolescence; children shift from home to home in a pattern of "foster care drift."

  • Although increasing numbers of children were entering foster care, DSS had no reliable means for tracking the location of children in its care.

  • Massachusetts had, on several occasions, failed to qualify for federal funding because it had not been in compliance with federal regulations.

  • A serious shortage of foster homes in the state had resulted in many children being placed in "marginal homes" only slightly better than those from which they were removed.

  • Foster parents did not receive vital information about the children they accepted, often resulting in less than adequate care.

  • More minority children were entering the foster care system than ever before, but because the system had few minority homes for them, they were being placed outside their ethnic or racial groups.

"I feel we have condemned children to limbo," said Representative Marie Parente, one of four former foster children on the seven-member subcommittee. "They are suffering silently."

Gerald W. Robinson, then the newly appointed Commissioner of the Department, took issue with several of the report's criticisms. He maintained that DSS did have a reliable tracking system for its children, noting that confidentiality requirements prevented the agency from furnishing the legislators with specific information about children in its care.

He described the state's foster care system as "excellent" and "one of the best in the country," and said that though "all the problems the report points out have some validity, it just doesn't focus on the positive part of the system."[16]

An antiquated computer tracking system would appear to be as common a fixture in child protective agencies are the 3-by-5 index card and a consent decree from a class action suit.

In New Mexico, Children, Youth and Families Department officials can't say how many foster parents they've lost in the last year.

Maryellen Strawniak, who heads the agency's policies and procedures division, said CYFD's computer system is too antiquated to retrieve that information.

From all appearances, the computer system is too antiquated to retrieve any information at all.

Asked about the average number of cases per social worker, the agency in a written response to the Albuquerque Journal said only, "The consent decree allows for a social worker to carry a maximum of 20 out-of-home care cases. The number of cases that a worker carries is also a fluid number."

Asked how many supervisors statewide were carrying cases, CYFD would say only the number "varies over time. We do not track this number on a regular basis."

Nor would there appear to be agreement among the staff about matters as basic as the number of foster homes in New Mexico.

In a recent interview, CYFD Secretary Heather Wilson said the agency had made progress in recruiting foster parents, noting that when she took the job in early 1995 there were only 700 homes and now there are more than 900.

But Maryellen Strawniak a week later said a recent count showed only 732 foster families -- a count which included regular foster homes and foster homes in which children are placed with relatives.

Strawniak said the 900 figure, which CYFD had reported in several public releases, erroneously included relative foster homes that are no longer in use.

Department Secretary Wilson, in turn, said that whatever the accurate number was in 1995, there are still 200 additional foster families now than there were then.[17]

Is it any wonder with systems as chaotic as these that children get lost, even in a small system such as New Mexico's?

Like many other states, New Mexico has come up with a bandaid solution to butress its dysfunctional child protective system -- adding another layer of bureaucracy.

A state law, enacted in 1992, calls for an advisory committee appointed by the governor to assist in development of policies and procedures.

Secretary Wilson said she believes that group isn't necessary because there are 16 other advisory groups with which the department works.

The goal of these boards, according to the Albuquerque Journal, "is to make sure children in state custody don't get lost and forgotten."[18]

In Missouri, pediatrician Dr. Susan Pittman has watched the system move from one publicized crisis to another, and she knows its problems from first-hand experience.

She became a foster mother to two young sisters, and had been told virtually nothing about the children's past when they were assigned to her. Hers was their second foster home, and they had been assigned five different social workers in the 17 months they were in the system. Only one of them had ever visited her home, despite state rules requiring monthly visits.

"I could be killing these children, for all the state knows," she said. "The system has lost its focus, to do what is best for the kids. All it seems to want to do is get a kid into a foster home, no matter whether it's a good home for that particular child, and then forget about him."[19]

Sometimes, it is the children themselves who choose to disappear.

The Houston Chronicle conducted a five week investigation of so-called emergency shelters for children. Writes reporter Claudia Feldman: "At times, it was like boxing with a ghost. The many agencies involved want to protect the children, but some use that cloak of privacy to protect themselves."

Among the findings: "The quality of the shelters is widely divergent. Some are sunny places perfect for kids. Others are gloomy places occasionally dogged by problems like lice and ringworm."

In 1995, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services made 176 placements to the Chimney Rock emergency shelter. As many as four to five youths per month -- nearly a third -- ran away.

Director Ann Hibbert says her staff does not pursue runaways. "Very seldom do they not come back," she says. "And the more we chase them, the faster they run."

Judy Hay of the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services says older children in custody "run all the time. For troubled kids, it's a common way to cope."

She says she doesn't know precisely how many of the children return to the emergency shelters because their placements broke down or no longer fit the children's needs. She estimates it is 25 percent to 30 percent.

Glenshire Village owner Pearl Bolton estimates that once the girls leave her shelter for a permanent placement, 30 percent of them make return visits. Usually, according to Bolton, that means their permanent placement broke down for some reason.

At another Houston area shelter, several caseworkers say off the record that the problem is that they simply can't stand the place. They say they pick children up from the shelter in worse shape than they were in when they came in.[20]

But there are reasons aside from lice and ringworm that children run away from the shelters.

In Utah, a nine-year-old girl had stayed in an emergency shelter for a month and a half before she ran away after a group of older girls beat her up. The child sought help from the Utah Transit Authority's main office about a block from the center.

A Transit Authority employee agreed to drive her home in a company car. But when state officials finally located the girl, she was placed at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute for seven months while her mother fought in court to get her back. Her daughter was eventually returned home.

"They treated her for nothing," her mother told reporters.[21]

In Wisconsin, an 11-year-old girl ran away from her foster home after being sexually assaulted at knifepoint by two men in the basement.

Police contacted a 7-year-old girl, also placed in the home, who told them she had also been sexually abused while in care.

Dane County officials received complaints about the men who lived in the home, but never performed required background checks. One man was on probation for having sexually assaulting a minor. The home's foster care license expired three months before the attack, and the county had not gotten around to renewing it.

As a result of a lengthy series of litigation stemming from the attacks, the State Supreme Court ruled that foster children have a constitutional right to safe and secure homes. The County had argued that it had no constitutional duty to protect the girls and that counties are immune from lawsuits in such cases.[22]

Many other children can't run away because they are maintained in detention without legal representation -- locked in prisons and mental institutions.

According to recent Congressional testimony rendered by the Deputy Director of the Child Welfare League of America:

...I have visited children in jails, 9 years old, whose only offense is to have been sexually abused by an adult, in jail because there was no other place to locate the child; children, 13 years old, in straitjackets because of mental illness, in local lockups without legal representation.[23]

The inappropriate use of prison facilities to warehouse allegedly abused or neglected children has long been documented.

The Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families heard testimony that the juvenile justice system is "often used inappropriately because no other services are available."

Among the testimony rendered before the Select Committee:

The juvenile justice system becomes the social service agency of first resort. The only way a lot of these kids can be assured of getting halfway decent social services is by getting locked up...

One witness flatly told the Committee: "There are still neglected and abused children in jail because there is no other place."[24]

The Committee also found that mental health facilities intended for very short term evaluation of children with acute mental health problems "are used to warehouse children of all kinds because the social services system has no other place to put them."

The Committee heard testimony describing life in juvenile facilities, in which "isolation, official neglect, abuse, and suicide of children are all to common."

A witness documented the numerous abuses that occur in the mental health and residential school systems:

In the state mental hospital in South Carolina, children who attempted to commit suicide were stripped to their underwear, bound by their ankles and wrists to the four corners of their beds, and injected with psychotropic drugs. In the Phoenix Indian High School in Arizona, Indian children found intoxicated on school grounds were handcuffed to the fence surrounding the institution and left there overnight. In a private treatment and special education facility in Utah, children were locked in closets for punishment, grabbed by the hair and thrown against walls, and given lie detector tests as part of their 'therapy'.[25]

Marcia Robinson Lowry, who has filed suits against several state operated child welfare systems through the Children's Rights Project, defines the legal status of these children and the protections they must be provided:

Every child who is in foster care is in government custody. Our society long has recognized that when the government takes custody of an individual, there must be basic legal protections to assure that that custody is not inappropriate or abusive. Given the serious problems that pervade many state foster care systems. it is particularly important that children in foster care have such legal protections.[26]

How many children are literally lost while in the care of the child welfare system is a difficult estimate to derive given the chaotic and deceptive nature of the child protective bureaucracy.

A conservative estimate of five percent would provide 25,000, approximately twice the number lost in New York City alone. Ten percent would provide 50,000, which may provide a closer estimate.

What is clear is that those children who are not literally lost are literally forgotten. They languish in inappropriate placements, drifting from home to home for years at a time.

Adding to the numbers of lost children are the others who languish in prisons or mental institutions having committed no offense. For too many children, life on the streets is the only alternative to life in state care. For others, unable to escape, the answer is a solution far more permanent.

The children lose more than their homes. They invariably lose each other, as siblings are almost-invariably separated. In many cases, they lose all sense of cultural identity--their very heritage having been stolen from them. Some lose all sense of who they are, while others lose the very will to survive.

They are among the countless casualties in America's war on child abuse. A war, which as all wars, will result in far fewer casualties once ended.


According to a nationwide study of runaway youths, more than one-third had been in foster care in the year before they took to the streets.

More than one out of five youths who arrive at a shelter come directly from a foster or group home, with 38 percent nationally saying they had been in foster care at some time during the previous year, the study found.

In a new phenomenon compared with past surveys, almost 11 percent of the youths said they were homeless and living on the streets before coming to shelters.

These findings were the most disturbing to emerge from a study of 170 runaway shelters, said survey director Deborah Bass.[1]

Some experts estimate that 45 percent of those leaving foster care become homeless within a year.[2]

A California study in Contra Costa County found that a third of children placed in foster care eventually end up homeless, and 35% are arrested while in foster care.[3]

Dennis Lepak of the Contra Costa County Probation Department explained to a 1988 Congressional subcommittee: "Children are put in inappropriate placements, not designed to offer family counseling, psychiatric treatment, or drug treatment. Children are not prepared to return to families, nor are they provided with a specialized educational and vocational training they need to survive after they become 18."

As a result, says Lepak: "They become the new homeless."[4]

In North Carolina, a six-month investigation conducted by the Charlotte Observer found that: "North Carolina's lack of commitment to foster care is helping create a population of throwaway children, many of whom go on to lives of substance abuse, homelessness, crime."[5]

Eileen McCaffrey, executive director of the Orphan Foundation of America, explains:

Since federal funding guidelines encourage state-run foster care programs to emphasize short-term, crisis-management services, nongovernment players must concentrate on longer-range, skill-development programs. Youngsters leaving foster-care ill-equipped for life on their own often end up homeless or permanently dependent on welfare services.[6]

The disproportionate representation of former foster care children among the homeless population has long been documented. According to the 1994 Green Book Overview of Entitlement Programs: "Several surveys conducted during the mid-1980s showed that a significant number of homeless shelter users had been recently discharged from foster care."[7]

One such study conducted in the Minneapolis area found that between 14 and 26 percent of homeless adults were former foster care children.[8]

A subsequent study of the long-term homeless in Minneapolis found that 39 percent had experienced foster care or institutional care as children.[9]

In New York City, a study determined that between 25 and 50 percent of the young men in the homeless shelters were former foster care wards.[10]

Perhaps the most distressing study of all, conducted in Calgary, consisted of interviews with so-called "street kids." It was found that an astounding 90 percent had been in foster care prior to winding up living on the streets.[11]

Even among the homeless, the risks of continued family disruption are significantly greater than among the general population.

An ongoing study by the Institute for Children and Poverty reveals that homeless families whose heads of households grew up in foster care are at greatest risk of dissolution.

Individuals who grew up in foster care are 30% more likely to be substance abusers and 50% more likely to have a history of domestic violence than the overall homeless population. Twice as many of these heads of households have already lost at least one child to foster care.[12]


A 1991 federal study of former foster care wards found that one-fourth had been homeless, 40% were on public assistance and half were unemployed. Connecticut officials estimate 75% of youths in the state's criminal justice system were once in foster care.[13]

According to a survey by the National Association of Social Workers, 20 percent of children living in runaway shelters come directly from foster care. Children placed in out-of-home care, regardless of the reason, are at higher risk of developing alcohol and drug problems. The survey also found that 80 percent of prisoners in Illinois spent time in foster care as children.[14]

Karl Dennis, executive director of the Illinois based Kaleidoscope, the first child welfare agency in the country to provide unconditional care for children, says that in California, 80 percent of the adults in in the correctional facilities "are graduates of the state; the juvenile justice, the child welfare, the mental health and the special education systems."[15]


The outcomes many former foster children may face are not limited to homelessness and imprisonment. According to the Youth Law Center, which has filed suits against several child welfare and foster care systems on behalf of abused and neglected children as well as foster care wards:

Lack of stability and a permanent home are evident in the extraordinarily high incidence of substance abuse, homelessness and psychological problems among former foster children.[16]
Under a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, Westat, Inc. released the second phase of a two-phase report in 1992 as a follow up on youths who had been emancipated from foster care during the period from January 1987 and July 1988.[17]

Westat found that the status of older foster care youth 2 1/2 to 4 years after discharge is "adequate at best" and that services are needed for this population to improve their outcomes. The 1994 Green Book describes the results of the second survey:

Westat reported that only 54 percent of the study population had completed high school, 49 percent were employed at the time of the interview, 38 percent maintained a job for at least 1 year, 40 percent were a cost to the community in some way at the time of the interview (receiving public assistance, incarcerated, etc.), 60 percent of the young women had given birth to a child, 25 percent had been homeless for at least one night, their median weekly salary was $205, and only 17 percent were completely self-supporting.
The situation would appear to be somewhat worse in the state of Florida with respect to the percentage of high school graduations.

In 1996, a suit was filed in Tallahassee Circuit Court that accused the state of Florida of failing to adequately educate its foster children. Miami attorney Karen Gievers filed the suit claiming that while 73 percent of Florida children graduate from high school or get an equivalent diploma, less than half of the state's foster children do.[18]

Jean Adnopoz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center, says children who spend years drifting between foster care homes "can't be expected to come out in any way that would appear to be healthy."

"If you have a child with no psychological parents, essentially adrift in the world, you are headed toward all sorts of bad outcomes," she said. "And we as a society are going to pay and pay and pay for it."[19]

Says Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry:

Foster care systems established and funded to serve children are failing, producing only more damaged graduates who will go on to produce new generations of damaged children, who will continue to lead unspeakably tragic lives and who will increasingly tax our public resources.[20]

Lifting the Veil: Reasonable Efforts


"I knew I would be here, I knew in my worst, worst moments, I knew that I would be here again," said George Miller, Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

Ten years earlier, he had set out to help craft the legislation that was to change the child welfare and foster care systems.

"We were alarmed 10 years ago by the studies done at Stanford that indicated that in California you get 6 minutes on the average for a court review to review 6 months of your life. Which may in some instances be half of your life, if you are an infant," said Chairman Miller.

"We were alarmed; and now we hear there is 30 seconds spent on the periodic review. It is a clear violation of the law. Periodic review without advocates -- clear violation of the law."[1]

The law that George Miller and the distinguished members of the Select Committee would enact would come to be know as Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, or Public Law 96-272. The Act included a provision that "reasonable efforts" be made to prevent placement in foster care.

Ten years after he and the Committee drafted the legislation, here he was again, reminding the members of the Committee that the stories they heard that day were no different from those they had heard a decade earlier--that little, if anything, had changed.

Several months later, Chairman Miller would once again call the Select Committee to order by explaining to its newer members how Public Law 96-272 came to be enacted:

A dozen years ago, I initiated an intensive investigation of our nation's foster care program. That query began when an official of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare admitted to me that the government had no idea where many of the 500,000 foster children were living, what services they were receiving, or whether any serious attempt was being made to reunite them with their families.

The role of the government was limited; we paid the bill, often for warehousing children in institutions and inappropriate settings, without services, without accountability, without any significant efforts to address whatever catastrophe had driven them into this Dickensian disaster of a system.

We heard stories of children taken from their homes, shipped hundreds of miles away to other states where they were kept for months, or even years, in unlicensed and unsuitable places. And we responded.[2]

The legislation would enjoy wide bipartisan support, as a Boston Globe columnist explains: "Religious conservatives were denouncing the breakup of families. Libertarians were attacking 'child-snatching' agencies that invaded homes. Liberals were accusing agencies of taking away poor minority children instead of giving their families needed services."[3]

The reasonable effort requirement of P.L. 96-272 was implemented, in part, because the Congress determined that a large number of children were being unnecessarily removed from their homes.

As a California-based Grand Jury explained: "Public Law 96-272 mandates prevention of unnecessary separation of children from their families by providing social services to these families."[4]

Then, as now, there were no services being provided to prevent the traumatic and often needless removal of children into state care, the Child Welfare League of America recently explained to a Senate Subcommittee:

"Reasonable efforts" became part of P.L. 96-272 because at that time, foster care was virtually the only option available and there was recognition that alternatives were needed. Placing children in an overwhelmed, under-serviced foster care system was not then and is not now conducive to positive outcomes for children. In fact, there were many instances then, as now, of children being removed unnecessarily from families. It is important to recognize that children almost always are traumatized by removal from their own family.[5]
As Chairman Miller pointed out, the federal government often had no idea where many of the children were. The government paid the bill, often for warehousing children in institutions and inappropriate settings, without services, and without accountability.

Hence, Public Law 96-272 also included a provision that a reasonable system be developed to identify the hundreds of thousands of children in state care.

"The goals of the Act are modest," Children's Rights Project attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry explained to the Congress.

"As a condition of federal funding, states must have a reasonable information system to identify the children in federally-funded state custody. Under this law children come into state custody only after 'reasonable efforts' have first been made to keep them at home with their families.

"Once children are in state custody," Lowry explained, "a permanent plan is to be made for each child with the goal of returning them to their families, through the provision of services, or if that is not possible, that adoptive homes be sought for them. The Act also requires that children be kept in the most family like settings possible while in foster care, and that the children's status be reviewed periodically."[6]

The problem of "foster care drift," in which children are shuffled through multiple placements for years of time was also a factor.

"These amendments were precipitated by studies which showed that the public child welfare system had become a holding system for children living away from parents, rather than a system assisting parents in carrying out their roles and responsibilities and providing for alternative permanent placement for children who cannot return to their own homes," explains the Departmental Appeals Board of the Department of Health and Human Services. "Thus, one of the goals of Public Law 96-272 was to ensure that children do not remain adrift in the foster care system."[7]


The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act did enjoy some measure of success during the first few years following its passage.

The number of children in foster care during the mid-1970s was reduced from its high of half a million to a low of nearly half that number, or 262,000 in 1982.[8]

Chart: Foster care population trends and the reasonable efforts requirement of PL 96-272
The reasonable efforts requirement succeeded in reducing the foster care population to nearly half of its previous level.

Lack of federal enforcement resulted in the subsequent doubling of the foster care population, which exceeds previous levels today.

    Source: Compiled by author

The reasonable efforts requirement suffered from a near-complete lack of enforcement on the federal level.

The only method of enforcement the Congress devised was that of providing incentive funds to states who complied with the requirements of the federal law. States would "self-certify" compliance, but would be subjected to periodic audits by the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure their compliance. In the event of failure, the state would return those incentive funds over and above the federal contribution.[9]

These periodic audits of state compliance would come to be known as "section 427 reviews."

Over time, the states would learn that these reviews were all but meaningless, as Michael Petit, Deputy Director of the Child Welfare League of America recently explained to the Congress:

Having served as a State administrator myself and having interviewed hundreds over the years, 427 is a meaningless process for most of the States. It represents no kind of sanctions to the States whatsoever. It is viewed as a paper tiger.[10]
The reasonable efforts requirement also suffered from the lack of a clear definition.

A 1993 study determined that "the reasonable efforts requirement has not been formally defined in federal legislation or regulation, nor has it been addressed conclusively by the courts."

The report stressed that the lack of definition in the reasonable efforts requirement "leads to confusion, burdens the courts, and allows states and agencies to disregard it."

The report also asserted that those states, jurisdictions, and agencies which did adhere to the requirement did so without federal guidance.[11]

Indeed, the failure of the federal government to provide effective oversight has long been an issue. In 1986, six years after the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act became law, Mark Soler, director of the National Youth Law Center explained:

In foster care, the Department of Health and Human Services has failed to promulgate meaningful regulations to implement the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. It has applied even the minimal Federal regulations that were developed in an inconsistent and arbitrary manner, resulting in confusion among State officials and only token implementation of the laws protecting children.

There is no clear Federal voice as to what is required under Public Law 96-272.[12]

"I never thought we would be here this long," said a frustrated George Miller two years later. By this time, eight years had elapsed since he and the members of the Select Committee had gone through the tortuous process of crafting the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act.

"I think what has been demonstrated here is that you may have a system that, for lack of a better phrase, is simply in contempt," said Miller. "This system has been sued and sued and orders have been issued and people have just continued on their merry way. And HHS has just continued to look the other way. You have a system that is not only somewhat out of control; it is also illegal at this point."

There was no expression of interest on the part of the administration in getting the child welfare system back on track, said Miller, and as a result "what we see is that it is chewing up an increasing number of children in the process."[13]

"The reviews that are done of the States are irresponsible," said Marcia Robinson Lowry. "States are passing HHS audits with systems in which no reasonable person could consider children are being well treated. It is virtually impossible to fail an HHS audit."[14]

Nevertheless, several states have managed to accomplish just that.

Louisiana was among those states to accomplish the impossible, having failed its compliance audit. When asked what her state had done about it, Sydney Olson, then Assistant Secretary in charge of child welfare has no idea what, if anything, her agency had done, prompting the exasperated Chairman George Miller to ask: "What do you do in this department?"

Perhaps the best indication of the states contempt for federal oversight came when Congressman Thomas Downey, who was co-chairing the hearings, read aloud from the prepared testimony of Olson's predecessor as provided at the hearings held one year earlier, comparing it to the testimony Olson had just delivered. Word for word, the excerpts were identical.

"This reminds me of the book reports I used to do in high school," said Downey, adding that he had recycled them in the tenth and twelfth grades. "My reports didn't change. Remarkably, apparently neither does your testimony from year to year."

Added the frustrated Chairman Miller: "What you are really engaged in is state-sponsored child abuse."[15]


In 1984, the Office of the Inspector General of HHS identified 28 states "that were having difficulties in satisfying the program requirements."

A full decade after the implementation of the Act, between the period of March 1990 through October 1992, several states and the District of Columbia managed to accomplish the impossible and fail their compliance audits.[16]

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, for example, was found ineligible to receive $5,634,432 in federal incentive funds for fiscal year 1991. Federal reviewers determined "that Illinois was well below the 90% compliance level required for that year."

Reviewers found "overwhelming evidence" of the state's lack of compliance. During its review, they found the first 8 out of 12 sampled cases out of compliance. Continuing the review, they concluded that 52 of 107 sampled cases were out of compliance.[17]

In a similar action, Illinois raised a number of legal arguements, among them contending that if disallowances based on the review methodologies "are not outright unlawful, they are clearly against stated Congressional policy and must on that basis be deemed arbitrary and capricious."

The Appeals Board was unpersuaded by this argument, however, as Illinois had already raised it in the previous action.[18]

In 1995, the HHS Departmental Appeals Board determined that of 100 sampled payments for which the state of Pennsylvania had filed for federal reimbursement, 25 were found to be ineligible, primarily for lack of proper judicial determinations with respect to reasonable efforts having been rendered to prevent removal, or determinations that remaining in the home would be contrary to the best interests of the child.[19]

The state of New York is among those to share the dubious distinction of failing an HHS compliance audit. This case merits review at some length, as it details the extent to which the states will go to maximize federal foster care revenue.

The disallowance was based on an audit of State claims for foster care maintenance payments made by the New York City Department of Social Services.

Federal auditors determined that the City had made errors in determining eligibility, or had failed to document eligibility, in 186 of 257 sample cases, projecting a disallowance of $64,123,732.

Auditors also initially disallowed an additional $27,991,567 which was claimed for "administrative costs."

The 186 disallowed cases included:

  • 76 children who were not removed from the home of a specified relative as a result of a judicial determination, or were no longer under the jurisdiction of the court, or did not have a timely judicial determination

  • 65 children who had judicial determinations which did not contain evidence that the court had reached a decision to the effect that continuation in the home would be contrary to the welfare of the child, or that reasonable efforts were made to prevent removal or made it possible for the child to return home

  • 58 children who were not eligible for AFDC either initially or during their placement in foster care

  • 22 children who had neither a Social Security number nor an application for a number prior to April 1, 1985

  • 15 children who were not removed from the home of a specified relative, or were not physically removed from the home, although foster care payments had been claimed for them

  • 16 children who were no longer in foster care yet payments continued
  • In addition to all of this, 5 case folders were not found, 6 case folders were inadequately documented, 15 children were ineligible because responsibility for their care and placement was either not imposed on New York City or was transferred to private agencies, another 4 children were voluntarily placed into care without a signed voluntary agreement in violation of regulations, while another 3 children were ineligible because they were not United States citizens or legal aliens.

    On appeal, it was found that "the auditors were in a sense being conservative in using the percentage of payments found in error, rather than the percentage of children for whom those payments had been made." Auditors found that 76.6% of the children in the sample, as compared to 52.6% of the payments, were in error.[20]

    True to form, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has continued in its efforts to undermine the few meager protections offered to children by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act.

    In August of 1994, the Department issued a report citing some of the same disallowances detailed here, including that of New York, presenting them as examples of the "proliferation of rules" which when tied with penalties for noncompliance have "hampered the States in their administration of the Federal Foster Care program."

    Incredibly, the report argues that: "The children in need of foster care services may be deprived of Federal support because the State's difficulty in meeting the precise statutory requirements prescribed for the use of Federal funds."

    "There is no allowance for or definition of 'substantial compliance'," says the report.

    Apparently, the Department of Health and Human Services is of the opinion that 76.6% of all children in a sample group in New York; 52 of 107 sampled cases in Illinois; and 25 of 100 cases in Pennsylvania being out of compliance would constitute "substantial compliance."

    The continued efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services to derail the Act have served well to undermine confidence in its key provisions.

    As the report notes: "In recent months some of these eligibility requirements have been viewed as 'technical' in nature by Members of Congress and State officials."

    The law was destined for failure, as the Department of Health and Human Services was hostile to the law from its inception, wrote George Miller in 1990. "Frankly, we don't know whether or not the law works because the Department of Health and Human Services, throughout the 1980s, failed to enforce compliance.

    "One of the first acts of the Reagan administration in 1981 was to try to repeal the law. When the Congress wouldn't let that happen, the Department effectively repealed the law through its lax enforcement."

    Adds Miller: "I'm asking the same questions I asked more than a dozen years ago when we developed this landmark legislation. And still there are no answers."[21]

    But the hostility toward the legislation on the part of the Federal leadership was not the only factor leading to the failure of the Act. The real battle would be fought by a variety of special interest groups with vested interests in maintaining the levels of children in foster care, and by a bureaucratic structure intent on ensuring its own survival.

    Lifting the Veil
    The Reasonable Efforts Requirement - Part II


    As of 1990, George Miller and the members of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families had counted over 45 lawsuits which had been won by child advocates based on violations of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act.[1]

    As of February of 1996, 11 such lawsuits were pending against child welfare administrations around the country.[2]

    "Lawsuits have certainly increased in the last five to 10 years," says Judy Meltzer of the Center for Social Policy in Washington. The center is the court-appointed monitor for the District of Columbia and has worked with systems in Alabama, Missouri, Connecticut, Arkansas, Milwaukee, and Kansas City.

    "The biggest challenge is coming up with remedies that are realistic, but it has to start with leadership and a culture change in the bureaucracy," says Meltzer.[3]

    The Center for Social Policy has its hands full monitoring these troubled systems.

    In Arkansas, for example, the civil action asserted, among many other things, that its Division of Children and Family Services had failed to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect, to make "reasonable efforts" to keep families together, and to provide adequate care to children placed in foster homes.[4]

    The Connecticut action was filed after the state social services commissioner likened the system to a "hospital emergency room" and decried the "senseless, merciless destruction and devastation of our children."[5]

    A 1992 study of the state of Kansas found that reasonable efforts had not been made in 54.8 per cent of cases. In 86.8 per cent of cases where a child was put in foster care, Kansas failed to make the required reasonable effort to reunite him with his parents.[6]

    Long after a settlement to a lawsuit largely based on Public Law 96-272 was reached in Kansas, reviewers in 1995 found the state to be out of compliance with at least 23 out of 47 settlement elements. Among the many problems reveiwers identified:

  • the Department didn't properly assess and screen abuse or neglect reports it received

  • Risk assessments weren't conducted as required

  • Family-based assessments weren't completed

  • Family service plans weren't completed

  • The Department didn't request ex parte orders or removal by law enforcement appropriately

  • Confirmed reports of abuse and neglect by foster care providers weren't entered into the Central Registry, as required.

  • Reviewers found the Department didn't even have a written policy manual.[7]

    Frustrated legislators finally took the measure of privatizing every aspect of the Kansas child welfare and foster care programs, with the exception of conducting investigations. Kansas is the first state to undertake such a drastic measure, having realized that bureaucratic and administrative barriers will forever prevent reform.[8]

    "Few if any states are in compliance with the law," says Marcia Robinson Lowry.

    In Louisiana, the Children's rights project found that only one-third of the children coming into foster care had received any family services prior to placement. And, while the law required placement in the most family-like setting, about fifty percent of those children in institutional placements were there unnecessarily, according to the state's own criteria.

    In New Mexico, none of the children in state custody had plans containing elements relating to a consent decree based on Public Law 96-272. Sixty-five percent of the children eligible for adoption had never been referred to the adoption unit. Six month reviews did not occur as required for 25 percent of the children.

    In spite of all this, New Mexico passed its federal compliance audit.

    In Kentucky, children continued to languish in temporary foster homes in Louisville even when everyone thought they should have been adopted. Only 55 percent of foster children received a case plan within the mandated six months of time.[9]

    The extent to which some agencies can continue to function while being so far out of compliance with the basic provisions of the law is often amazing.

    In Guilford County, North Carolina, a 1996 audit determined that each file reviewed had "significant errors in reference to organization, documentation, social work practice and policy compliance."

    There was not a single case reviewed that would have passed the federal foster care review, auditors wrote.[10]

    The state of Pennsylvania managed to consistently violate virtually every provision of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, including the reasonable efforts requirement, as the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained:

    The first cause of action involves the alleged violations of rights conferred by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, including the right to reasonable efforts to keep the children in their home or to enable them to return home; the right to timely written case plans; the right to placement in foster homes that meet nationally recommended standards; the right to appropriate services; the right to placement in the least restrictive, most family-like setting; the right to proper care while in custody; the right to a plan and to services that will assure permanent placement; the right to dispositional hearings within eighteen months of entering custody and periodically thereafter; and the right to receive services in a child welfare system with an adequate information system.[11]
    So, too, did the court in the District of Columbia determine that the agency had:

    consistently failed to provide services or otherwise use "reasonable efforts" to prevent placement. The result has been an increased risk of arbitrary or inappropriate placements as well as an increased cost to the District.
    Based on the case records of children in foster care as of December 1989 whose goal was return home and who had entered into care through voluntary placement, the Court found the agency "had failed to provide services in 77 percent of their cases."[12]

    The reasonable efforts requirement is barely even considered in some jurisdictions. In Illinois, for example, court reveiwers found that "the obligation of DCFS to extend reasonable efforts to keep families together reportedly is never discussed on the record."

    One judge reports that he has resisted providing guidelines to the agency on what constitutes reasonable efforts, since he fears it would set a minimum standard that would rarely be exceeded.[13]

    Even the permanency planning provisions of the law have barely been applied.

    "In Arizona the concept of permanency appears to be tantamount to adoption," reviewers wrote, adding that this indicates a clear departure from the national consensus on children's needs for permanency.

    Of 4152 cases reviewed, only 52 percent contained adequate documentation, while the standard for documenting contacts was met in less than half of the compliance categories.[14]

    Few know the child welfare system as intimately as does George Miller, former Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

    Miller explained that the child welfare system is a system that "removes children without cause; where reviews of their status are perfunctory if not non-existent; where volunteer children do not receive such reviews; where they continue to be moved time and time again without determining if this is for the benefit of the child."[15]

    It was these conditions that the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was intended to address. Yet, the law has routinely been disregarded by child welfare administrators, to the detriment of children and families.


    The requirements of Public Law 96-272 are neither unreasonable, nor overly proscriptive. States must provide some reasonable efforts to prevent removal by providing appropriate services as an alternative to placement. They must also document the reasons for a child's removal from the home, and provide some measure of oversight through the courts.

    Those children who cannot be reunited with their parents must be provided with permanent and stable adoptive placements.

    Why haven't the modest goals of Public Law 96-272 been realized? Why do children continue to be unnecessarily removed from their homes, only to languish in inappropriate placements for years at a time?

    Part of the answer is the near complete lack of meaningful federal oversight, but the lion's share of the blame may be lain squarely at the feet of the child welfare bureaucracy itself.

    Fiscal incentives contribute to the crisis. In the more conservative post-sixties era, most federal social services dollars were actually going to create "an expensive, punitively-inclined child protection apparatus which was to take over Departments of Social Services," argues sociologist John Hagedorn.[16]

    By the end of the 1970s, nearly three quarters of all child welfare dollars were being spent on foster care supervision and payments.[17]

    Notes Hagedorn: "The tendency within social work toward investigation and child removal has been strengthened by changes over the past few decades in the structure of social service bureaucracies. Departments of social services have restructered in such a manner to facilitate investigative and child placement functions."

    Hence, argues Hagedorn: "Investigation of poor families and removal of children into foster care have crystalized as the core tasks of social work, those tasks which define what line workers do on a day-to-day basis."

    As Dr. Leroy Pelton, former special assistant to the director of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services explains: "An increase in the number of caseworkers would not necessarily have led to more removals were it not for the fact that foster care was the primary resource that child welfare agencies possessed."[18]

    Public Law 96-272 may have been doomed from its inception, as the spirit and intent of the legislation ran contrary to the bureaucratic imperatives of administrative growth and expansion of the child welfare apparatus.

    As Hagedorn explains:

    The expansion of "social services" in the 1970s had little correlation to improved services for children and families. Rather the chief beneficiaries of increased social service spending have been urban social service bureaucracies, who have used the funds to adapt to a punative climate, expanding their capacity to investigate poor families and remove children from their homes.

    It was against this backdrop of administrative expansion that Public Law 96-272 was passed.

    Nowhere is the bureaucratic imperative for expansion more apparent than in George Miller's home state of California. Notes the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families:

    In California, we are finding overloading of the system with children never intended for foster care, for the single purpose of reducing state costs by qualifying otherwise ineligible children for Federal reimbursements.[19]
    A recent study conducted by the conservative Pacific Research Institute would bear this out. The Institute found that "the child welfare system has squandered the resources it has been given and effectively worsened the problems it set out to solve." After 15 years and $10 billion, the plight of California's children has worsened:

    Despite the emphasis placed on permanency, the California child welfare system continues to fail the children it was intended to help. In the last decade, it has grown into an enormous, self-perpetuating bureaucracy that exacerbates the very problems it is supposed to solve.
    The problems are attributable to "structural aspects of the child welfare system that reward both county agencies and child caregivers for keeping children in the system," the Institute found.

    "While the fiscal and economic costs of this are enormously high, the real cost is incurred by the children who are deprived of a healthy family by a system that puts its own welfare above theirs," the Institute concluded.[20]

    The bureaucratic imperative for expansion has long been documented in California.

    A Santa Clara County Grand Jury examined the funding mechanisms that drive foster care placements:

    The Grand Jury heard from staff members of the DFCS and others outside the department that the department puts too much money into "back-end services," i.e., therapists and attorneys, and not enough money into "front-end" or basic services. The county does not receive as much in federal funds for "front-end" services, which could help solve the problems causing family inadequacies, as it receives for out-of-home placements or foster care services. In other words, the Agency benefits, financially, from placing children in foster homes.
    The report ominously concludes: "The Grand Jury did not see clear and convincing evidence that the foster care system operates with the best interest of the child in mind. It did find that the interest of the child often took a back seat to the interest of others."[21]

    Elsewhere, Cindy Perry, Chair of the San Diego Juvenile Justice Commission writes: "The safety and well-being of the child is not always the primary concern in the management of cases being handled by Children's Services."[22]

    "It is time that we put an end to this confusion," wrote County Supervisor George. F. Bailey to the San Diego Board of Supervisors. "More importantly, it is time that we put a stop to a system which seems to perpetuate itself without accountability or without regard to what it is doing to children and families."[23]


    The imperative for expansion and survival is not limited to any one particular state. Rather, it pervades the child welfare system, which is itself structured as a bureaucratic civil service system.

    The bureaucratic civil service model is ill-suited to serving the needs of children and families, argues a Massachusetts Commission.

    A blistering 280-page report issued by the 1993 Governor's Special Commission on Foster Care recommended abolishing the civil service system used by the Department of Social Services in the hiring and promotion of workers, finding the agency to be on the verge of organizational collapse, with management and leadership failures having left the department virtually paralyzed.

    As a result, the Commission said, the Department is unable to effectively serve the needs of children and families and that many children, while in the care of the department, suffer continued and repeated abuse and neglect.

    The Commission called for a complete restructuring of the agency, saying that without an overhaul, any other recommended changes will be nearly impossible to undertake.

    "This commission is asking for nothing less than a serious reformulation of the objectives of the state's child protection and child welfare systems," said Dr. Eli Newberger, a Commission member and director of family development programs at Children's Hospital.[24]

    Says ACLU attorney Benjamin Wolf, who filed a landmark suit against the Illinois child welfare system: "Bureaucracies have a different agenda than placing a kid with someone who loves them. The incentive for the bureaucracy is to fill a slot, find a placement, a bed."[25]

    "Child welfare's bureaucratic solidity, growing since the 1930s, had created an institution whose primary mission became its own survival," writes Renny Golden. "Community and family needs did not, and would not, supersede the bureaucracy's existence."[26]

    At the heart of the problem are the fiscal incentives for maintaining children in care.

    Notes Conna Craig, of the Boston-based Institute for Children, the foster care funding system "gives child welfare bureaucracies incentives to keep free-to-be adopted kids in state care. State social service agencies are neither rewarded for helping children find adoptive homes nor penalized for failing to do so in a reasonable amount of time."[27]

    In her home state of Massachusetts, child welfare agencies are known to defer requests for termination of parental rights until children reach the age of seven, says Craig. At that age, children are deemed to have special needs, and child welfare agencies can request more funds from the federal government for their care.[28]

    Worse, federal grant funding is structured such that any reduction in an agency's foster care caseload results in a loss of agency revenue by virtue of "negative grant funding."[29]

    But foster care dollars are not the only available funding stream for agency expansion.

    In Contra Costa County, California, a recent lawsuit alleges that the County has maintained adoptable children in foster care for the sole purpose of misappropriating their social security funds. In one case mentioned as representative in the suit, a child was found to have six social security numbers, not one of which was her own. The practice is alleged to have continued for years.[30]

    In Virginia, according to former Governor Douglas Wilder, "children often bounce from agency to agency, from foster to group home to institution, and from funding stream to funding stream."

    They are often defined by the system whose door they happen to enter, according to Wilder. As a result, the taxpayer foots the bill for more children than there actually are in the system. Said the former Governor: "In Virginia, for example, we found that of the 14,000 names of children across four agencies, they were, in fact, only 4,933 children."

    During fiscal year 1989, taxpayers spent over $100 million on groups homes or institutional care for these 4,993 children, and another $72.8 million on restrictive, out-of-community programs, according to the former Governor.[31]

    Opportunities for the diversion of funds for bureaucratic expansion abound, and with precious little oversight or accountability.

    As detailed elsewhere in this series, the State of New York diverted more than half of its claim for Emergency Assistance funds, which are intended to help needy families in crisis, to offset "administrative costs" for child protective workers in Fiscal Year 1994. The amount in question totaled over $230 million.

    California amended its definition of a family unit such that the income of one child is measured against an income of $92,800 to determine eligibility for emergency aid, while Colorado set the family income requirements for emergency aid at $75,000. Pennsylvania and Connecticut have similarly arranged their financial affairs to maximize the influx of federal revenue.

    Notes the Inspector General, all of this is done to offset the costs of operating the state's respective juvenile justice, foster care, and child welfare systems.[32]

    Reducing or capping the funding has little impact, as there are so many funding streams from which to draw. And, help is always just a phone call away.

    When the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts went looking for ways to reduce the financial impact of block granting of the AFDC, Emergency Assistance, and the JOBS programs on Texas human services agencies, all he had to do was pick up the telephone and consult with experts in the area of maximizing federal revenue--child welfare administrators in other states.

    After conducting interviews with Teresa Kinsella and Susan Masciolic, of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, and Dennis Bothamley, of Andersen Consulting, Inc., he determined, among other things, that state agencies should shift their claims from Emergency Assistance to Medicaid.

    "By shifting its claims from the EA block grant to Medicaid, which offers federal matching money, the agency will receive additional federal funds," writes the Comptroller. The Medicaid funds may in turn be used "to cover both their direct costs--such as employee salaries--and indirect costs--such as rent and janitorial services."[33]

    The disdain for the needs of families and children held by child welfare officials is nowhere more apparent than in Illinois, where at least $1 million earmarked for the training of foster parents was authorized by former department head Sue Suter to be diverted to cover the costs associated with temporary secretaries, bottled water, trash collection, equipment, furniture, utility bills and office rent.

    "This agency has a history of taking funds intended for foster parents and children, and, through one ruse or another, using it to support the bureaucracy," said ACLU attorney Benjamin Wolf.[34]

    The very funds intended to aid families in crisis--and to prevent unnecessary placement in foster care--are routinely used by these agencies to promote their own bureaucratic expansion, while foster care remains the primary resource the agencies possess.

    The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act suffered from the failure on the part of its designers to address the fiscal incentives driving foster care placements, and the bureaucratic imperative for continued agency expansion.

    But the growth of the child welfare system "is not merely the product of the self-interest and cynicism of those bureaucrats, social service professionals, and foster parents who soak it financially for all it's worth," writes Dana Mack of the Institute for American Values. "Even purged of corruption, the system would be too unwieldy to function in the public interest."

    The very nature of the system invites confusion and mismanagement at all levels, writes Mack.[35]

    Says Marcia Robinson Lowry,"the mismanagement in these agencies is astronomical. The misuse of resources is staggering."

    "If businesses were run the way these systems are run, they would go bankrupt very quickly," she adds. "The only people who are going bankrupt now are the kids and their families."[36

    Come To My Garden is the background for The Illinois_Family_Rights_Association. The music is written by Lucy Simon and Marsha Mason for the 1999 Broadway Music "The Secret Garden."
    I hope you enjoy it.