Having lived in the foster care system I was glad to see that almost five years after the well-publicized death of two-year-old Dominic James, at the hands of his foster parents, the Missouri House of Representatives passed House Bill 1453 designed to overhaul the manner in which the DFS handles children suspected of being abused or neglected.
Unfortunately, however, by the time the bill passed, it had little left that was viable thus changing little about the way DFS handles children in the system. Ron Dean, president of Families for Change in Greene County, Missouri, who has watched the system, from a foster parent’s vantage point, the last eleven years, believes that “DFS hasn’t been doing what is in the best interest of the children” and now fights to keep children from being unnecessarily removed from their homes.
One question that Dean asks is a simple one, “Why if the state has a family first agenda, has the number of children in foster care in Missouri alone increased more than 70 percent since 1991?” Dean asserts that the problem is “the system which is full of kids that don’t need to be there and what’s worse is that once a child is placed in the system, they are forgotten so DFS can rush on to the next case.”
Other critics of the system, according to Mark Dalton, staff writer for the Queen City Free Press, claim DFS moves too quickly because it follows the creed “better to be safe than sorry,” but the real reason is more likely that caseworkers who leave a child in a dangerous environment face firing, suspension, demotion, and an attack by the media. While this may be fact, how does DFS justify the removal of children from their biological parents without adequate investigation or their placement of these children in homes that prove to be dangerous to them?
In Missouri, one of the most blatant examples of the understaffed or careless handling of cases by DFS involved a 7 -year-old girl who was allegedly raped by a 17-year-old foster brother while under DFS placement. Once the authorities learned of the rape the boy was arrested but the girl and her 2 sisters were immediately returned to the same foster home until a week later when media pressure forced the department to relocate the girls. Sadly, the girls had been taken from their biological mother for what they termed medical neglect, which the mother’s denies stating she had only delayed giving the medication as the children were sleeping at the time. Additionally, the department claimed that the mother, due to her extreme thinness was a drug abuser, a claim that has never been proven through random drug testing.
Dean states “the average caseworker is undereducated, under trained, and often overwhelmed and that a four year college degree and some follow-up training just doesn’t cut it.”
Countering the accusations is Ana Compain-Romero, representative for the Missouri Department of Social Services, stating “the training DFS provides its caseworkers is more than accurate and that all are college graduates, many with advanced degrees.”
However, even if the caseworkers are trained, there is no due process in Missouri regarding the removal of children from their homes and even though the caseworker themselves cannot simply remove a child all they have to do is get someone in uniform to do it for them. Dean states, “In some instances, the caseworkers abuse their authority by badgering the parents and then promising that if they sign the necessary paperwork to remove the children from the home they can get them back later but unfortunately, to often they never do regain custody.” When it comes down to the facts, however, all DFS has to do is to prove probable cause to believe mal-treatment has occurred so these parents are basically guilty of a crime without being charge with one and without the rights afforded to a criminal.
One other fact that needs noted is that children in foster care, according to a U.S. Dept. Health and Human Services report, are three times more likely to die of child abuse in foster care than in the general population. When you look at that statistic, you have to ask yourself if there is enough danger in the home to justify putting the child at an even greater risk.
[tags]DFS, Department of Family Services, Missouri, foster care, U.S. Dept. Health and Human Services, Ron Dean, Families for Change, dangers of foster care system, Missouri House Bill 1453[/tags]