the foster-care industrial complex to discredit reform. It diverts attention from the actual incentives, which are plenty bad enough. Governments don’t make money on foster care because there is no state or locality anywhere in America for which another level of government pays 100 percent of the cost of foster care. There is no state-run system that gets 100 percent of its foster care costs reimbursed by the federal government, and there is no locally-run system that gets 100 percent of its foster care costs reimbursed by the state and federal governments combined— though there are places where it comes close. But the financial incentives are still awful for two reasons: • Foster care money from the federal government helps pay the salaries of thousands of people who keep the family policing system running, from the “cop on the beat” – the frontline caseworker – to the “police commissioner,” usually called a secretary of human services or something similar. Nobody wants to be out of a job. • Financial incentives may reduce the cost of foster care for state and/or local governments to the point that it is a less expensive option than better alternatives. Consider a hypothetical example: Hypothetical comparison: Total cost of foster care vs. total cost of a better alternative
Suppose in Community A, a mother and her child are living in unsafe housing. It costs $15,000 to keep the child in foster care for a year, but a $600-a-month rent subsidy would cost $7,200 over the same period. The better alternative is cheaper. Hypothetical comparison: STATE OR LOCAL of cost of foster care vs. cost of a better alternative
But what if the federal government reimburses two-thirds of the cost of the foster care and nothing for the rent subsidy? Then the state still is paying $7,200 for the rent subsidy, but
only $5,000 for the foster care. The Non-Financial
Incentives Also Are Awful Even when foster care doesn’t cost less in total dollars, there are other incentives to misuse and overuse it. For starters, as now has been exhaustively documented, the instinct to “take the child and run” comports with our biases about both race and class. 6 And while a knee-jerk rush to take away children is not safer for children, it is safer for everyone else involved. People who work in family policing systems often say: “We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” That is not true. I have followed issues involving “child welfare” systems for more than 46 years. In all of that ______________ 6 See generally Roberts, supra note 4.
58 | FIJ Quarterly | Summer 2022
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