They Did What? Trends in Foster Care Incidents

  I often hear complaints from houseparents about all the regulations and paperwork we have to deal with.  It is true that less regulation would make it easier to do our jobs and allow for more time building relationships, however as long as there are people like those described in the article below we are going to continue to get more regulation.  Your response might be that we need to do a better job keeping those people out but the problem is that it is easier said than done.  I have met new houseparents that I thought were going to be great turn out to be total psychos.  You often have no idea what your getting until after you got them.

The only hope we have to slow future regulation is to do our job and do it well.  Think about the things you do and how that might possibly effect the children or perception of others. If you know someone is doing things they shouldn’t, you need to report them.  It sucks to be a snitch, but it sucks more to have more regulations to live with as consequences for their actions.

(The article was written for foster parents, but it could just as easily been written for houseparents.  In fact, I have seen some similar things in my years as a houseparent.)

They Did What? Trends in Foster Care Incidents

By Michael F. Quinn M.A. SSW Fair Oaks Office

In October of 2008, I attended a Southern California foster care conference featuring members of Community Care Licensing (CCL) division of the State Department of Social Services, the people who provide oversight for private foster and group home agencies operating throughout our state.

A keynote speaker from the CCL Legal Division informed the several hundred in attendance of recent incidents involving foster care agencies, including foster parents and agency staff, that ultimately wound up being reviewed for administrative action by a battery of CCL lawyers. When an unusual incident in private agency residential care is brought to the attention of the CCL legal staff it is due to the serious nature of the incident, and is investigated to help legal staff understand how issues are evolving.

There are some examples of recent trends in issues and incidents that bear mentioning. These include:

  • A foster parent in Southern California posted pictures of herself on MySpace.com that included shots of the provider holding a foster child while dressed in gang attire and flashing gang hand signs. One picture had the foster mother holding a marijuana pipe and a handgun.
  • A Central California-based foster family agency social worker didn’t check in on a provider who was bedridden from a debilitating illness. The foster mother turned her daycare and foster care child supervision duties over to two teen foster girls who gave grapes to a daycare child as a snack. The child nearly suffocated from a single grape that blocked his windpipe and he has permanent brain damage as a result.
  • A Northern California-based foster father was arrested at an airport in Miami, Florida for possession of drugs. A routine search of the man’s laptop computer revealed a marijuana growing operation at his California foster home.
  • A Southern California duallicensed care provider had combined daycare, foster care, biological, and adoptive children under the same roof, for a total of 27 children.
  • A Northern California agency social worker was arrested for armed robbery.

While recognizing that unusual incidents involving foster children occur daily in California (the sheer number of kids in care guarantees this reality), those listed above revolve around two common themes: improper use of technology and poor oversight.

It’s not just immature adolescents who are using cell phones, laptops, and personal websites for inappropriate or illegal ends, it’s adult care providers! As a technology (see tool) is incorporated into our society, sadly, it’s oftentimes used to further both positive and illegal agendas. For every advance in communication technology, it seems there likely will be advances in bad human impulses finding their way online or onto portable hard drives.

Other incidents revolve around a familiar industry theme; poor agency oversight. This is why agency staff must inquire who is living in a foster home and determine if there are any changes in the family composition. That being said, no one can justify 27 children under one roof , that ’s a bit too many!  The CCL speaker speculated that the downward trend in the economy has resulted in many new foster care applicants who see an opportunity to house needy relatives or ensure income levels via taking foster or daycare children into their homes.

What will the recent incidents described lead the oversight agencies to recommend?

Regulations are in the works to prevent dual licensing of providers (daycare and foster care). So is a system for monitoring any changes in the criminal background status of care providers and agency staff members. Plus, more mandated paperwork is likely to ensure that agency social workers visit foster and daycare facilities as mandated by agency charters.

Finally, the incidents reaching the CCL Legal Division underscore that foster and residential group home care is a dynamic industry reflecting changes in our society in terms of technology and the struggle to use it responsibly.

As the former district attorney and CCL Legal Department representative summarized it, all those forces combined are what keep “CCL lawyers gainfully employed.”

Mr. Quinn has been a social worker and foster family agency supervisor for 25 years in residential foster care and group home settings. He has authored handbooks for foster parents, group home staff, and private agency caseworkers and is a contributor to the Foster Parent College online training catalog. He is currently a Supervising Social Worker for Nepenthean Homes FFA in Fair Oaks, California.

This Article is reprinted with permission from “Foster Parent College Connections” and directly from the author.  You can find out more about foster parent college by visiting their website www.fosterparentcollege.com.  They have some great resources for foster parents and houseparents