Foster system is destroying children

By Barbara Hollingsworth

May 11, 2009 /  Washington Examiner

Judith Meltzer, the court-appointed monitor for D.C.’s famously horrible foster care system, recently reported that “progress in reducing the length of stay in foster care and ensuring a permanent home for every child has been stalled.” Wonderful.

What to know what the future is likely to hold for 600 children stuck in the Children and Family Services Agency’s Dickensian foster care system for five years or more? Ask Ron Huber. The Mount Airy resident spent most of his childhood in foster care, and recently published a book describing its horrors.

The retired Army staff sergeant and current GS-14 says he was “scarred for life” by the treatment he received at the hands of foster parents after he and two of his four brothers were taken away from their neglectful, alcoholic mother at the tender ages of 4, 3 and 2. Another brother died from a rat bite, and the youngest was adopted out.

The three boys put into foster care in Rockford, Illinois were constantly beaten, emotionally abused and forced to work on “slave farms.” Huber’s childhood memories include being forced to kneel on bricks, being belittled for poor grades, and watching one foster mother force his five-year-old brother’s head into a toilet because he wet the bed.

“I never saw any love during my whole childhood,” Huber told me. In “Facing the World Without Love,” he finally comes to terms with his loss, including a disastrous first marriage to a German woman who married him just so she could come to the U.S. “I married my foster mother,” he confesses. Happily married for the second time, he still vividly recalls the stinging tears he shed whenever he saw a parent hug their child.

The pain was even worse than what he suffered during the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam. “It’s just so prolonged,” he explained. “Nobody cares about you. And foster care is just as bad now as it was back then.”

Back then, many abused children were taken in by people who exploited them as cheap labor. Today, federal payments to states turn defenseless children into a different sort of economic asset.

But St. Louis Presiding Family Court Judge Jimmie Edwards says he’s no longer sure that terminating parental rights is the right thing to do. “There was a time when people felt that we needed to fix abuse and neglect by punishing the parent and taking away the children,” Judge Edwards told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have the children of these parents. They’re now teenagers, and they are still in the system.” When they age out of foster care at 18, many will be emotionally crippled orphans with no families, no money, and no one to guide them into adulthood. Thanks for caring.

“On any given day, 30 percent of D.C. foster children are trapped in the worst form of foster care: group homes or institutions,” says Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.  According to Meltzer’s report, CFSA is also unable to provide any data documenting its attempts to place abused and neglected children with relatives.

“Given this record, it’s hard to believe that Mayor Adrian Fenty and Attorney General Peter Nickles wouldn’t be too ashamed to even show their faces in court, much less ask to have CFSA freed from court oversight,” Wexler says.

Here’s the kicker: After five years of abject failure and embarrassing court receivership, CFSA Director Roque Gerald is starting a new program to recruit even more foster parents to destroy thousands more vulnerable D.C. children.

If this isn’t madness, I don’t know what is.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Washington Examiner’s local opinion editor.

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