Many foster parents are loving people who want to open their homes to a child or children in need. They take the subsidy given by the state and use it as it was intended to support the child, provide for their physical, emotional, spiritual and developmental needs and ease the burden on the household of having another child in the home.
However, there are those foster parents who take children in as a means to supplement their income, or to provide an outlet for their abusiveness.
Federal law, through the Adoption and Safe Families Act, requires criminal background checks for any prospective foster parent. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act also requires a fingerprint based check of national crime data before a foster child can be placed in the care of any adult.
Placements will be denied if the prospective parent has been convicted of felony child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against children, a crime involving violence such as rape, murder, sexual assault...but not including physical assault or battery. Placements will also be denied if in the past 5 years, the applicant has been convicted of a felony for physical assault, battery or a drug related offense.
All states must comply with the federal laws, but some states also add other requirements as well.
If these background checks were sufficient to prevent foster care abuse, then there wouldn't be so many stories in the news about foster children being abused.
Trudy Festinger, head of the Department of Research at NYU's School of Social Work, did a study in Baltimore that found that 28 per cent of the children in foster care had been abused while in the system. The ACLU's Children's Project estimates that a child in the care of the state is ten times more likely to be abused than one in the care of his parents.
Although there is already a dearth in needed foster care placements, its absolutely worth it to tighten up the requirements for foster care parents and protect children from further abuse. Some potential, needed changes which could be implemented on a federal or state level without significant costs to any state that is properly monitoring their placements would include:
- Disallowing any person convicted of a felony from becoming a foster parent unless they were a juvenile at the time of the felony.
- Requiring monthly record-keeping and documentation of how foster care subsidies are spent, subsidies which can be reduced by the amount of inappropriate expenditures. This will discourage those who are in it for the money from pursuing foster care as a means of padding their income.
- More thorough investigation of potential foster parents including a check for prior abuse and neglect substantiations (some states do this already) and interviews with any former natural or foster children who have lived in the home.
- Most importantly, a report of abuse from a foster child about any foster parent should result in immediate required removal of the child from that foster care setting followed by a thorough investigation of the situation before that foster family can take another placement. Certainly, some children will use this to 'forum shop' for a foster parent they like better, but so what? It cannot hurt to investigate, and if foster children know that they will be heard and removed rather than potentially ignored and left in the care of real abusers, they may be more likely to speak up.
- Finally, federal law should require states to provide trauma assessments and long term trauma specific therapy, as well as pay monetary damages into a trust for the child upon their 18th birthday to any child who is substantiated to have been abused in a foster care setting. Putting this expense on the states may make them more eager to thoroughly investigate the homes they place foster children into.
The laws must be strengthened to protect abused and neglected children from being further abused in the interest of their protection.