A Critical Look At The Foster Care

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A Critical Look At The Foster Care System Essay, Research Paper A Critical Look At The Foster Care System The Group Homes BY Juvenile Justice May 26, 1999 THE GROUP HOMES OVERVIEW Children entering the shadowy world of foster care are often assigned labels arbitrarily and on a bed-available basis. They may end up spending some time in conventional foster homes, only to find themselves shuffled through group homes, residential treatment facilities, mental hospitals and prisons. Scant attention is given to the needs of these children, and the conditions they are forced to endure are often far worse than those endured by prisoners in some third world nations. THE LABELING OF CHILDREN Kenneth Wooden, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Children’s Justice, explained

to a Congressional Subcommittee that there is little difference in the background and characteristics of children in care regardless of whether they have been labeled “dependent,” “neglected,” “status offender,” “CHINS” (Children in Need of Supervision), or “emotionally disturbed.” It was Wooden’s impression that a “shell game” was being played with the labeling process, with dependent children, relabeled as “disturbed” or “hard to place” being shuttled off to private, often profit-making institutions in ever greater numbers. As a result: Instead of orphanages, we now have so-called “treatment centers”–a “growth industry” which feeds on unwanted children just as the nursing home business depends for its existence on large numbers of the

unwanted elderly. And, as is the case with the elderly, the systematic neglect and maltreatment of children in these facilities is being subsidized by the federal government. In Virginia, former Governor Douglas Wilder discovered the same labeling process to be in use, finding that “children often bounce from agency to agency, from foster to group home to institution, and from funding stream to funding stream.” Wilder explained: “They are often defined by the system whose door they happen to enter: a welfare child if he comes through that door; a juvenile justice child if he happens to come through that system; a school system child; or a mental health child.” Once that label is attached, however, the funding stream may continue to flow, even after a child leaves one

system for another. The former Governor testified that when the names of 14,000 children across four agencies were examined, they turned out to be 4,933 children.[1] Some children are labeled “dependent” or “neglected” and are placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Services, other children are labeled “delinquent” and are under the Juvenile Court or Probation Department, still others are given a psychiatric label and sent to the Department of Mental Health, explained Mark Soler, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center, to a Congressional Subcommittee some years later. The label slapped on the child may well depend on his point of entry into the juvenile justice system, according to Soler. “Indeed, the same child may get different labels at

different times, depending upon the point at which he enters the system. In reality all of these children may have serious emotional problems, and all certainly come from families or other living situations marked by acute crises,” he explained. Whether it is in a group home, congregate care facility, mental hospital, detention center or prison, foster wards of the state often are forced to endure the very worst of conditions. Among the conditions the Youth Law Center identified were children in an Arizona juvenile detention center tied hand and foot to their beds; a Washington State facility in which two children were held for days at a time in a cell with only 25 square feet of floor space; children hogtied in State juvenile training schools in Florida — wrists handcuffed,