Reporting Child Abuse - Cps System Under Siege
children welfare substance foster
The Child Welfare Workforce
Child welfare caseworkers perform multiple tasks in the course of their job. Among other things, they investigate reports of child maltreatment, coordinate various services (mental health, substance abuse, etc.) to help keep families together, find foster care placements for children if needed, make regular visits to children and families, arrange placement of children in permanent homes when they cannot be safely returned to their parents or caretakers, and document all details pertaining to the case. Caseworker supervisors monitor and support their caseworkers, sometimes taking on some of the cases when there is a staff shortage or heavy caseload. In 2003 the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, examined the child welfare workforce and how challenges in recruiting and retaining caseworkers affect the children under their care (Child Welfare: Health and Human Services Could Play a Greater Role in Helping Child Welfare Agencies Recruit and Retain Staff, Washington, DC, March 2003). Among other things, GAO examined exit interview documents of caseworkers who had left their jobs from seventeen states, forty counties, and nineteen private child welfare agencies. GAO also interviewed child welfare officials and experts and conducted on-site visits to agencies in four states—California, Illinois, Kentucky, and Texas.
GAO found that CPS agencies continued to have difficulty attracting and retaining experienced caseworkers.
The low pay not only made it difficult to attract qualified workers but also contributed to CPS employees leaving for better-paying jobs. Since the federal government has not set any national hiring policies, employees have college degrees that may not necessarily be related to social work. Workers that the GAO interviewed in different states also mentioned risk to personal safety, increased paperwork, lack of supervisory support, and insufficient time to attend training as reasons that affected their job performance and decision to leave.
In the four states GAO visited, caseworkers spent from 50% to 80% of their time doing paperwork. Staff shortage due to workers quitting their jobs resulted in excessive caseloads. Figure 3.3 shows the GAO's findings for worker caseloads as compared to recommended standards. The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), a private child welfare organization, recommends a case-load of twelve to fifteen cases per caseworker, while the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services (COA), which evaluates organizations against best-practice standards, recommends no more than eighteen cases per worker. GAO found that, in reality, individual caseworkers handled anywhere from ten to 110 cases, with the average being twenty-four to thirty-one cases.
SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS. Some CPS workadoptive mother's decisioners at times fail to monitor the children they are supposed to protect. In Florida the Department of Children and Families could not account for the disappearance of a five-year-old foster child, Rilya Wilson, who had been missing for more than a year before the agency noticed her absence in April 2002. At around that time the agency had reportedly lost track of more than 530 children. Rilya's disappearance was only discovered after her caseworker was fired and the new caseworker could not locate the child. The former caseworker had falsely reported that Rilya was fine, although she had not visited the child at her foster home for months. As of November 2004 the Department of Children and Families still could not account for Rilya's disappearance. Authorities, however, discovered that her foster mother continued to receive welfare payments for the girl in her absence. Witnesses had also testified the foster mother and her roommate abused the child prior to her disappearance. The women faced charges of aggravated child abuse, and her foster mother was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in jail.
New Jersey's child welfare system had also come to national attention because of its failure to protect adopted and foster children. In October 2003 four brothers of the Jackson family in Collingswood, New Jersey, ages nine, ten, fourteen, and nineteen, were removed from their adoptive parents' home and the couple were arrested. Investigations later revealed the brothers were systematically starved over many years. They weighed no more than forty-five pounds and stood less than four feet tall. The children reportedly subsisted on peanut butter, pancake batter, and wallboard. Authorities admitted two of the boys had fetal alcohol syndrome and two had eating disorders, the reasons the adoptive parents gave to neighbors for the brothers' emaciated appearance. The brothers, however, had put on weight and height since living with other foster families.
Investigations also revealed that Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) workers visited the adoptive parents' home thirty-eight times in the past to check on three other foster children but never asked about the brothers. In 1995, when DYFS was notified by the oldest boy's school that he seemed malnourished, DYFS did not require a medical examination and even agreed to the adoptive mother's decision to homeschool the brothers. DYFS policies
|Estimated numbers and percentage of children aged 17 or younger living with one or more parents with past year substance abuse or dependence, 2001|
|Ages of children (years)||Estimated numbers (in thousands)||Percentage||Standard error|
|Notes: Children include biological, step, adoptive, or foster. Children aged 17 or younger who were not living with one or more parents for most of the quarter of the NHSDA interview are excluded from the present analysis. According to the 2000 Current Population Survey, this amounts to approximately 3 million or 4 percent of children aged 17 or younger.|
|SOURCE: "Table 2. Estimated Numbers (in Thousands) and Percentage of Children Aged 17 or Younger Living with One or More Parents with Past Year Substance Abuse or Dependence: 2001," in The NHSDA Report: Children Living with Substance-Abusing or Substance-Dependent Parents, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, June 2, 2003, http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k3/children/children.pdf (accessed October 27, 2004)|
|Younger than 3||1,078||9.8||0.81|
|3 to 5||1,115||9.8||1.10|
|6 to 11||1,816||7.5||1.28|
|12 to 17||2,100||9.2||0.81|
required an annual medical evaluation and interview of each household member, but these never took place. In May 2004 the adoptive parents were indicted on twenty-eight counts of aggravated assault and child endangerment.
In January 2003 Newark, New Jersey, police found two boys, ages four and seven, locked in a basement and the dead body of another seven-year-old, twin brother Faheem Williams, stuffed in a plastic container. The boys' mother had left the children with a cousin before leaving to serve a prison sentence. It was discovered that a DYFS caseworker and a supervisor assigned to the family had closed the file on the boys a year earlier without ever checking on them.
The Problem of Substance Abuse
CPS workers are faced with the growing problem of substance abuse among families involved with the child welfare system. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, with information from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 2001 nearly seventy million children younger than eighteen lived with at least one parent. About 6.1 million children seventeen or younger (comprising 8.7% percent of all children in the nation) lived with one or more parents with past-year substance abuse or dependence. About one-fifth (19.6%) were five years old or younger. (See Table 3.3.) Among these children, about 4.5 million lived with an alcoholic parent, an estimated 953,000 lived with a parent with an illicit drug problem, and approximately 657,000 lived with parents who abused both alcohol and illicit drugs. (See Figure 3.4.) Fathers (7.8%) were more likely than mothers (4%)
to report having had a past-year substance abuse or dependence (National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) Report: Children Living with Substance Abusing or Substance-Dependent Parents, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Science, Rockville, MD, June 2003). (See Figure 3.5.)
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about one-third to two-thirds of substantiated child maltreatment reports (those having sufficient evidence to support the allegation of maltreatment) involve substance abuse. Younger children, especially infants, are more likely to be victimized by substanceabusing parents, and the maltreatment is more likely to consist of neglect than abuse. Many children experience neglect when a parent is under the influence of alcohol or
is out of the home looking for drugs. Even when the parent is at home, he or she may be psychologically unavailable to the children.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE AMONG PREGNANT WOMEN. Illicit drug use among pregnant women continues to be a national problem. Each year the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, asked female respondents ages fifteen to forty-four about their pregnancy status and illicit drug use the month prior to the survey. In 2002, 3% of pregnant women, compared to 9% of non-pregnant women, reported using illicit drugs during the past month (The NSDUH Report: Pregnancy and Substance Use, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, Rockville, MD, 2004). Nearly 7% of pregnant women fifteen to twenty-five years old reported illicit drug use the previous month, compared to just 0.5% of pregnant women ages twenty-six to forty-four. Among pregnant women, more African-Americans (6.2%) than whites (3.6%) and Hispanics (1.7%) reported using illicit drugs the previous month. (See Figure 3.6.)
CHILDREN AT ILLICIT DRUG LABS. The rapid growth of methamphetamine use in the United States has resulted in the establishment of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories (meth labs) in many places. Traditionally, large-scale operations, particularly in California and Mexico, have produced large quantities of drugs, which are then distributed
throughout various areas in the country. With more demand for methamphetamines, many small-scale businesses have started operating. Since methamphetamines can be produced almost anywhere, using readily available ingredients, nearly anyone can set up a temporary laboratory, make a batch of drugs, then dismantle the apparatus. Authorities have found makeshift laboratories in places inhabited or visited by children, including houses, apartments, mobile homes, motel rooms, and storage lockers.
As more children are found living in or visiting home-based meth labs, child protection personnel have to deal with those children who have been exposed not only to potentially abusive people associated with the production of methamphetamines, but also to such dangers as fire and explosions. Hazardous living conditions include unsafe electrical equipment, chemical ingredients, syringes, and the presence of firearms and pornography (Karen Swetlow, OVC Bulletin: Children at Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Helping Meth's Youngest Victims, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime, Washington, DC, June 2003). Police have found meth homes with defective plumbing, rodent and insect infestation, and without heating or cooling. The author added that children living in meth labs are likely to be victims of severe neglect and physical and sexual abuse. A report by the El Paso Intelligence Center, a collaborative effort of more than fifteen federal and state agencies that track drug movement and immigration, showed that thousands of children were living in or visiting meth labs that were seized by law enforcement nationwide from 2000 to 2002. In 2002 more than one thousand children, or about half of the children present during lab-related incidents, were taken into protective custody. (See Table 3.4.)
CPS and Domestic Violence
When CPS workers get involved with children who have witnessed domestic violence, their main concern is the interests of the children. Critics have charged that CPS further penalizes battered women by taking away their children when their partners have abused the children. Stephanie Walton, who tracks domestic violence for the National Conference of State Legislatures, observed that experts on domestic violence and child welfare like Jeffrey L. Edleson have noted that "fragmented treatment systems" stand in the way of solving the problems of domestic violence and co-occurring child maltreatment ("When Violence Hits Home," State Legislatures, vol. 29, issue 6, June 2003). Walton added that child welfare workers and domestic violence agencies work against each other, with the former blaming the mother for exposing the child to her partner's violence and the latter protecting the mother from prosecution for failure to protect her child.
According to Thomas D. Morton, president and chief executive officer of Child Welfare Institute, child welfare agencies need to hold the batterers accountable for their actions (Failure to Protect? Child Welfare Institute, Duluth, GA, February 2002). Morton noted that some CPS caseworkers may equate a mother's victimization to her inability to protect her child, consequently removing the child from the home. CPS and/or state legislatures should clarify certain CPS practices, including what course of action to take when a nonrelated caregiver in a household is the child abuser. The author asked whether or not CPS should pursue family preservation (keeping the family together) if the abuser is not legally related to the child. He also raised such questions as to whether CPS may require the biological parent to end a relationship with the nonbiological caretaker as a requirement for keeping the child in the family.
Holding States Accountable
In 2004 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the fourth in a series of annual reports on states' performances in meeting the needs of at-risk children who have entered the child welfare system. The Child Welfare Outcomes 2001: Annual Report (Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau, Washington, DC) was required by the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA; Public Law 105-89).
|Children found at methamphetamine labs in the United States, 2000–02|
|Number of children|
|Year||Number of meth lab-related incidents||Present||Residing in seized meth labs1||Affected2||Exposed to toxic chemicals3||Taken into protective custody||Injured or killed|
|1Children included in this group were not necessarily present at the time of seizure.|
|2Includes children who were residing at the labs but not necessarily present at the time of seizure and children who were visiting the site; data for 2000 and 2001 may not show all children affected.|
|3Includes children who were residing at the labs but not necessarily present at the time of seizure.|
|SOURCE: "Children Found at Methamphetamine Labs in the United States," in Children at Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Helping Meth's Youngest Victims," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crimes, June 2003 (accessed October 27, 2004)|
|2002||15,353||2,077||2,023||3,167||1,373||1,026||26 injured, 2 killed|
|2000||8,971||1,803||216||1,803||345||353||12 injured, 3 killed|
ASFA gives states flexibility in interpreting the "reasonable efforts" required to reunify children with their birth families. When victims cannot safely return home, states can start proceedings to terminate parental rights for children who have been in foster care for fifteen of the previous twenty-two months. Children can then be placed in permanent homes. The Child Welfare Outcomes 2001: Annual Report showed that in fiscal year 2001 (October 1, 2000, to September 30, 2001) an estimated 290,000 children entered foster care. About 263,000 exited foster care. Fifty-seven percent were reunited with their parents or primary caretakers, 10% went to live with relatives, 18% were adopted, and 7% were emancipated (recognized by the court as an adult). Three percent were transferred to another CPS agency, and another 3% were put under guardianship. Two percent of foster children had run away. Another 528 children had died. (See Table 3.5.) As of September 30, 2002, an estimated 532,000 children remained in foster care.
Although CPS agencies have had many problems and are often unable to perform as effectively as they should, many thousands of maltreated children have been identified, many lives have been saved, and many more have been taken out of dangerous environments. It is impossible to tally the number of child abuse cases that might have ended in death; these children have been saved by changes in the laws, by awareness and reporting, and by the efforts of the professionals who intervened on their behalf.