FIJ Quarterly - Summer 2022 Edition

time, I have never heard of anyone in the system, from caseworker to commissioner, who has ever been criminally prosecuted, fired, demoted, suspended, or even slapped on the wrist for taking away too many children. All of these things have happened to workers who left one child in a home where something went wrong. When it comes to taking away children, the people who work in family policing are not damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They’re only damned if they don’t. Similarly, judges in New York City admitted to a blue-ribbon commission that they would rubber-stamp requests to remove children even when they felt the family policing agency had not made an adequate case because they were afraid of being on the front page if they refused such a request and something went wrong. 7 So even when foster care still costs a state or locality money, financial incentives make it less painful for family police to do what they want to do anyway. There is another part of the family policing system, a part that is at least as important as the government that does make money on foster care: private agencies. Most family policing systems are a mixture of private and public. Private agencies typically run the group homes and the institutions; sometimes, they oversee family foster care as well. These agencies typically are paid for every day they hold a child in foster care. Send the child home, and the reimbursement stops. That’s why that private agency administrator in Maine told Mary Callahan no children in their “care” were going anywhere until they were sure they had enough to “make payroll.” Most of the time, however, they are not so honest, not even with themselves. They rationalize. They convince themselves that all those children are from profoundly “dysfunctional” families, leaving them with Financial Incentives for Private Agencies

intractable problems, so they absolutely must stay in “care” for a long, long time. Illinois proved them wrong. By 1997, as a result of a foster-care panic—a sharp, sudden surge in removals of children from their homes in the wake of a high-profile child abuse tragedy 8 — Illinois had more than 50,000 children trapped in foster care on any given day. 9 Then, although they did not change per-diem reimbursement, the state required that private agencies move 25 percent of the children in their care into permanent homes each year— and they measured foster care recidivism, the proportion of children who returned to foster care, to be sure agencies didn’t simply dump the children. 10 Lo and behold! The dysfunctional became functional, the intractable became tractable, and by 2004 the Illinois foster care census was under 20,000. 11 By 2017 it was down to 16,000. 12 Then, and now, Illinois was operating under a class-action lawsuit consent decree. The decree calls for independent monitoring. The ______________ 7 Special Child Welfare Advisory Panel for New York City, Advisory Report on Front Line and Supervisory Practice . March 9, 2000, p.49. 8 For a discussion of this phenomenon, see National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, NCCPR Issue Paper #2: Foster Care Panics . Updated Nov. 21, 2021. https:// and for a detailed discussion of the Illinois foster-care panic, see Wexler, Richard. “The Children's Crusade.” Chicago Reader , March 23, 1995. https://chicagoreader. com/news-politics/the-childrens-crusade-2/. 9 Rolock, Nancy. Trends in Illinois’ Child Welfare System: A 25 Year Retrospective, 1985 to 2010 . University of Illinois at Chicago Jane Addams School of Social Work, Child Welfare Research Collaborative, July 2011, p. 4. https:// trends-in-illinois-child-welfare-system-center-for- adoption-studies 10 Personal communication, Jess McDonald, former director Illinois Department of Children and Family 12 U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, (HHS) Administration for Children and Families, “Numbers of Children in Foster Care on September 30th, by State, FY 2011 to FY 2020.” trends-foster-care-adoption (Scroll down to “State Data Tables.”) Services, April 11, 2022. 11 Rolock, supra Note 9.

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