Report: L.A. foster care system one of most dangerous in nation
The Associated Press
Last Updated 7:20 a.m. PST Sunday, December 28, 2003
LOS ANGELES (AP) - The county's foster care system is one of the most dangerous in the nation with foster children being up to 10 times more likely to die from abuse or neglect than elsewhere in the country, according to a newspaper investigation.
The Daily News of Los Angeles reported Sunday that the coroner's office since 1991 has referred more than 2,300 child deaths to the county's child death review team. More than 660 of the children who died were involved in the child protection system, including nearly 160 who were homicide victims.
Government records shows that 1.5 percent of the 1,225 children who died nationwide from abuse and neglect in 2001 were in foster care. In Los Angeles County, however, 14.3 percent of the 35 children who died of mistreatment that year were in foster care. The percentage in the county from 1991 to 2001 averaged 4.23 percent.
In the various facilities that comprise the county's Department of Children and Family Services, between 6 percent and 28 percent of the children have been abused or neglected. The figures are comparable to the rate in New Jersey, which has long been considered by experts as the most dangerous child welfare system in the nation.
In the general population, about 1 percent of children suffer abuse or neglect.
"When I stepped into this job, I said that too many kids are hurt in foster care," said the department's director David Sanders, who gained the post in March after the forced resignations of the previous four directors. "That is absolutely glaring and the fact this department has never been willing to say that is a huge problem.
"It is clear when you compare us to other systems, we have more kids being hurt in our care than in other systems," Sanders said. "That is absolutely inexcusable. I can't say that more strongly. It is a reflection of a system that isn't working."
Sanders also pointed out that the department's efforts have saved the lived of hundreds of children over the years and the vast majority of foster parents do not mistreat children.
Children advocates say social workers often overlook the warning signs of many children in danger, because they are too busy filling out paperwork and investigating false reports.
The Daily News found that up to half of the 75,000 children in foster care were needlessly put into the system. State and federal laws have created incentives for placing children into the foster care system since the county receives $30,000 to $150,000 annually in state and federal funds for each child placed into the system, the newspaper reported.
"When you overload your system with children who don't need to be in foster care, workers have less time to find the children in real danger," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in Alexandria, Va.
The county has spent more than $36 million since 1990 on foster care lawsuit settlements, judgments and legal expenses, which primarily involved families who claimed social workers' negligence contributed to deaths and mistreatment of children in foster care.
Foster care must be so harsh. I mean, my childhood best friend became my foster brother after his dad died and his mom was incarcerated for leaving the scene of an accident she caused DWI. I had known this guy for years, was nominally my friend. But having him in the house tore the whole family apart. I cant imagine bringing in a total stranger.