“Darlene” self-identified as a white, female in her early 60s, whose experience with foster care was in the Midwest. Her two grandchildren were placed in kinship care and foster families. Her family was living on a working class income. Her partner or spouse was employed and she identified as a political activist.

Darlene has been trying to gain custody of her grandchildren and has been twice denied custody so far. She continues to fight.

She believes that having the kids placed in foster care has exacerbated the behavior of one of her grandchildren. “One of the children has ADHD and learning disabilities with behavioral issues, when the county took him he reverted to baby-type issues like being put back into diapers. In their new foster home he is being abused by another child and is pulling his hair out.” She characterized the county’s decision to place him in care when he had a family option as malicious because they risked escalating these behaviors.

Like many other family members have accused, Darlene said that the caseworkers and other professionals were not on their side. “They lied on documents and in court and to us. They violated our constitutional rights. My daughter and I were cleared of all charges of child abuse in a legal and constitutional court of law, but family court does not acknowledge this. My daughter is still accused on neglect and this is true. We are now pursuing legal remedies and suing in federal court for civil rights violations. They could care less about the children. It is all about the money and power.

The second time that the children were removed from the home was due to a ‘messy’ house, the supreme court has said that this is not to be tolerated as everyone has a messy house at some point. Additionally, this second they removed the children without a court order claiming imminent danger—from a messy house? Thirdly, they were refused entry into out home and entered anyway. This is a direct violation of the fourth amendment, in short the children were kidnapped. This is an overreach of government power and an abuse of government power. They get away with this because they are unmonitored and unregulated.” She went on to explain that the family was investigated the first time because of allegations made by other children. “It came out in court that the police and social services also asked leading questions of the boys and their stories did not match. Nor did the boys stories match with what neighbors, family and other community members had witnessed and experienced.”

She does not believe her children are receiving love or affection in their current placements. But she doesn’t necessarily think they are being treated badly. She said she felt indifferently about foster families. She also said that what works well in foster care is that many of the homes do provide needed structure for the children. “Foster parents tend not to be abusive but they are indifferent to these foster children and many are in it for the money. However, foster parents are demanding changes in the system as well, not only for their protection but for the protection of the children as well, and [they increasingly] call out CPS for their dirty little secrets and tricks. Therefore, this leads me to believe that there are many foster parents who generally care for their charges and want the best for them.”

These beliefs contrast somewhat with other things Darlene discusses. “The first foster home was pretty benign except due to their laziness. They had a ten year old in diapers. The second foster home, one of the boys is pulling his hair our, is being abused by one of the family’s children. They are in a home with six children that are biological of the foster mom ranging in age from 15 years to 2 months. The home is very chaotic. The boys show up each week to visits dirty and with bruises and getting quieter and quieter. This move is causing irreparable harm.

“Unless [child protective services workers] have children of their own they should not be working for the child welfare system. They are also just there for a paycheck and to fulfill power fantasies. I do not believe for one second that they genuinely care for the children at least not the ones that we have had contact with in any case.

“[Foster care] should not exist except for extreme cases and CPS can’t seem to get that rights. CPS takes innocent children away from innocent parents, destroying families and lives, and leave children with predators where the children end up dead or seriously harmed. Statistics have shown more abuse and death happens once the children have been removed from the home than those left in the home.

[The purpose of foster care is] primarily to punish the family for the sins that CPS perceives that they have committed. That is 90% of the purpose of foster homes. 10% is to transition children who are being put up for adoption due to problems of the parents such as addiction.”

 

Insights:

Darlene discusses how certain behaviors with one of the grandchildren worsened significantly after his placement. She didn’t happen to mention the child’s age. Regressive behaviors (e.g. bedwetting, thumb-sucking, baby-talk) are common when children. Regressive behavior is generally a clue that something is creating stress for the child. It could something a new sibling or a household move. It could also be suddenly living with stranger and missing one’s family. It could also be a sign of abuse or neglect. In cases with children who are entering foster care, it seems that the family often asserts these are new behaviors; while the therapists and/or case workers these are old symptoms of the stressors or abuse and that they support the child’s removal. The problem is that it is impossible to know, unless the child is of an age and inclination to clearly communicate, when the behavior began. The behaviors are not usually very worrisome and children usually cease the behavior as soon as they feel safe and comfortable again. The concern is what the behavior indicates. In these cases, both “sides” should recall that temporary regressions are a normal childhood response to stress and could begin at any point. Unless a party has evidence of when the behavior began, it should not be considered proof of maltreatment on either side. What it does show is that the child is under significant stress or even trauma.

She has interesting ideas about how caseworkers should be parents. In theory, this could obviously provide caseworkers insights about parenting and how things don’t work out in reality they way they do in theory, when it comes to raising kids. But many, maybe even most, caseworkers who are doing the in-takes (investigating and entering the kids in the system) are young and fresh out of school. The job is so demanding that a parent is not an ideal candidate for the job because of the long and unpredictable hours. Darlene is more than skeptical about the good intent of the caseworkers she interacted with. And power is an interesting theme. Caseworkers are themselves subject to many rules and bureaucracy, but simultaneously have a great deal of personal discretion and are trained to air on the side of caution. There is very little power to be had and it is difficult to imagine an evil army of social workers working for lousy pay and awful hours who are out to make the disenfranchised people they work with miserable. However, they are subject to being burned out and even become jaded by seeing case after case of atrocities. How can we understand what families see as consistent abuses of power (surely caseworkers do have a great deal of power over families) and how social workers imagine themselves as cogs in a machine, with little power to make a change or difference?

I don’t know what statistics she is citing for increased abuse and death after child removal. Widely accepted statistics do show that the longer a child is in foster care, they less likely they are to have stable shelter (not be homeless), have an education, not have an addiction, and be employable. Statistics for children that are abused or die after care into entry have been cited elsewhere in these stories, but no not compete with abuses that take place in the home.