The continuing foster care fiasco

Relates to:
Date: 2009-03-16

By Barbara Hollingsworth

Despite evidence that removing children from their homes traumatizes them, millions are still being forced to live with strangers or adopted out like shelter pets. One activist recently told Congress that many children are sent to “clearly inadequate families” just so social service agencies “can ‘succeed’ by boosting their numbers.”

Children like 13-year-old Alexis "Lexie" Agyepong-Glover, who was dumped, still alive, into an icy creek in Prince William County and left to die. Lexie was never removed from adopted mother Alfreedia Gregg-Glover’s home despite numerous reports of abuse. She ran away three times in the weeks prior to her death, but the authorities kept bringing her back.

The reason is as chilling as the crime: The child welfare system had already “cashed in” on Lexie, and had no further interest in her.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the Alexandria-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, says Virginia collected a “bounty” of at least $4,000 for placing Lexie with the woman accused of killing her. Author of “Wounded Innocents,” Wexler says children are routinely abused by the very people claiming to protect them, and most foster children do not emerge from their ordeal unscathed.

“One recent study of [15,000] foster care ‘alumni’ found they had twice the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of Gulf War veterans and only 20 percent could be said to be ‘doing well’,” Wexler says. “How can throwing children into a system which churns out walking wounded four times out of five be ‘erring on the side of the child’?”

Eighty percent of children in foster care are worse off than comparatively mistreated children who remain at home; only children placed in orphanages fare worse, and doing nothing actually does less long-term damage. An 80 percent failure rate should be enough to close down any government program, but social service agencies are rewarded with millions of dollars instead.

Social workers are so busy destroying families, Wexler says, that they invariably miss the most horrendous cases of abuse, which is why nobody intervened before Gregg-Glovers, Banita Jacks, and Renee Bowman allegedly murdered their children. A surge of needless removals usually accompanies such high-publicity cases, so Prince William parents, beware: There’s a greater danger your children will be taken away after this government screw-up.

Many foster parents are wonderful people who make heroic efforts to ease the suffering of abused and neglected children. But some are like the southwestern Virginia woman described by one of several foster children placed in her care:

“The Kitchen and even on the game controllers and floor of the house had the remains of spilled food and drink and dead insects on the counter tops and floor... We ate meals consisting of ground Turkey and Rice and Peas almost every day. I lost alot of weight.....

“We weren't the only ones starving either the dogs they had were emaciated and infested with fleas and ticks so bad that the one dog that was pregnant was so skinny her bones were showing through and we told her to take it to a vet but she said we would make a game of it and had us pick off the ticks...and stomp on them while she laughed....

“[She] made me clean up the dog poo on the back porch and wash all the dishes every day. There were 9 kids and two adults to clean up after. We...weren't allowed to do anything until the work was done..... [She] broke [my brother’s] stereo that my mom and dad gave him in a visit....

"Any money we were supposed to be getting for clothes and activities was spent by the family. They would go on shopping trips at the mall and buy the other kids shoes and food with our money. When we got mad about it we were told to mind our own business.... “

The boy’s parents were eventually exonerated, but after spending $80,000 to get their five children back, had to sell their house and move out of state. They plan to sue Virginia’s “child protection” system so it doesn’t hurt any more children.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner’s local opinion editor. She can be reached by email at: bhollingworth@dcexaminer.com.

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