The latest report from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), the agency monitoring the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), contained a startling revelation. For the first time in 15 years, children in the District of Columbia have spent the night in agency offices (and even motels) because there were no foster homes available.
Foster homes are scarce around the nation, but the crisis in the District was a direct outcome of decisions made by the child welfare agency. Like many other jurisdictions, CFSA has historically contracted with private agencies to provide foster homes to District youth. As a social worker in one of these agencies, I watched this placement crisis unfold.
Over the past few years, CFSA has been been ending contracts with one or more private foster care agencies every year. Late last year, CFSA announced it was ending its contract with two agencies that served mostly older youth with challenges. One of them, Foundations for Home and Community, was known for taking almost any youth, no matter how difficult their behaviors.
There is a reason Foundations was able to take the hardest-to-serve youth. Using private funds, the agency paid its foster parents considerably more to care for the most difficult-to-serve youth. We don’t want to think about foster parents as mercenary, and most of them are not. But working with hard-to-serve youth should be treated as a profession, as I discussed in a previous column. It requires time and it is often inconsistent with having a full-time job.
When the contract’s end was announced, Foundations’ foster parents were told that they would have to transfer to other agencies if they wanted to continue fostering CFSA youth. I began to hear that these foster parents were refusing to transfer to other agencies with lower payments. Instead, they were staying with Foundations and becoming foster parents to Maryland youth.
….In the spring, I began to hear about kids sleeping in offices but nothing appeared in the press until CSSP issued its report, revealing that 11 children stayed overnight at the CFSA office and four children stayed in hotel rooms while awaiting an appropriate licensed placement between April and June of 2015. …
…….The lack of transparency and the absence of concern among legislators, the press and the public meant that there was nobody to question the decision or press for it to be revoked. Our children deserve better
— Marie K. Cohen
Marie K. Cohen is a writer and child advocate. She previously worked as a social worker in the District of Columbia’s child welfare system. Before that she was a policy researcher and analyst. Find her on Facebook at Fostering Reform or on Twitter@fosteringreform
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