A History of Exploiting America’s Foster Youth: Part Three

Note: This is part three of a three-part look by columnists and former foster youth Waln Brown and John Seita about the darker side of foster care in America. Click here to read Part One, and click here to read Part Two.

The foster care system fell apart in the 1980s. There were more foster children than foster families, and too few orphanages remained to care for the overflow. Dependent kids sometimes ended up in improper facilities, such as detention centers, reformatories and state hospitals.

Social workers quit in droves. Supervision and monitoring were minimal. Foster kids moved about in placement, sometimes dozens of times. Others slipped through the cracks or suffered abuse, neglect, rape and even death in the care of a dysfunctional government system that failed in its duty to protect them.

More recently, investigators in California, Texas, Florida and Minnesota discovered that thousands of foster kids had been put on behavior-altering drugs at the slightest sign of stress or misbehavior.

The state of Texas, for example, found that more than 10,000 foster youth received psychotropic drugs in 2004, and recent figures reported by the Texas Tribune suggest that while the rate of foster youth on psychotropics has declined, the total number of youth prescribed the drugs has increased.

Foster parents and foster care services turned their vulnerable young clients into drug-dependent zombies to control them … and, of course, there was the money.

Group homes in California got an extra $2,000 to $6,000 per youth, depending on how many medications they took, which is why so many of California’s foster children were mislabeled and ended up living in improper placements.

After analyzing the Medicaid records of minors in one mid-Atlantic state, pediatric researchers in 2011 discovered that foster kids were given anti-psychotic medications for schizophrenia and severe bi-polar disorder as often as severely mentally disabled youth, even though schizophrenia and severe bi-polar disorder are extremely rare in young children.

Doctors are abusing Medicaid to prescribe these major tranquilizers to minor children, which at minimum can cause physical health issues, such as rapid weight gain and increased metabolic problems. Who knows what the psychological consequences may be? Is it possible that this practice of sedating foster youth is what hooks so many alumni on drugs even before they leave foster care?

Some agencies even pay consultants to advise them how to maximize federal revenue earmarked for foster care services. Accountants train the agency staff regarding what federal programs to exploit to maximize cash-flow, thereby adopting programs, policies and practices that are in the state agency and federal government’s best interests – not the best interests of the children they are supposed to serve.

This also means that the decision to remove young people from their parents may hinge on whether the agency can get more federal money for their care, such as kids eligible for Medicaid and special needs children receiving Social Security. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services made an extra $90 million this way in 2010.

How much money that should have gone to provide services to foster kids ended up in the pockets of consultants and accountants instead? And how many dependent youth did not receive services because the funds allocated for their care were misspent elsewhere?

Even judges exploit the vulnerable youth they’re mandated to protect. A jury found two Pennsylvania judges guilty in 2011 of wrongly convicting young people. In what prosecutors called a “cash for kids” scheme, the judges placed up to 4,000 youths – some as young as ten – in a juvenile facility in return for over $2 million in bribes and kickbacks.

Caring for dependent children is no longer a charitable act; it’s BIG business! Kids have been reduced to profit centers. All the while, foster youth continue to suffer stressful, unhealthy and dangerous lives for want of appropriate programs, policies and practices because of individuals, agencies and businesses that exploit them for their own self-serving purposes.

Dr. Waln Brown is CEO of the William Gladden Foundation, and Dr. John Seita is Assistant Professor of Social Work at Michigan State University. Their latest e-book, A Foster Care Manifesto, is a call to action for the 12 million foster care alumni in America.

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