Friday, September 22, 2006

Each state has its challenges when it comes to foster care

Wherever you are in the world, if you have a foster care system, you are facing some serious challenges. We need to know what these challenges are, and face them with courage and resolution...

What we need vs. what we have
What we need in my state is a statewide network, designed to help people in and from foster care. What we have are 88 counties, each with their own unique interpretation of spending and oversight, and each with a lengthy roll of red tape.

We have one independent living coordinator in charge of overseeing IDP programs in all 88 counties. Makes me wonder about inconsistencies in each county when it comes to teens aging out of foster care. There seems to be a lot of job turnover in this position; three different people have held it within the past year.

Nonprofit organizations that serve foster youth are competing for a limited amount of funding -- and this seems to make them work against each other, rather than coordinating their efforts.

What we need is a collective voice, made up of people in and from foster care. What we have are organizations that like the idea of youth board made up of foster youth, as long as it is something that they can control.

Adult alumni who propose changes that might change the status quo are often perceived as threatening to established organizations.

Other challenges in my state:
1.) One county is in trouble for mismanagement and co-mingling of funds. State officials report that this county has so badly co-mingled its federal, state and levy income that large sums are virtually unauditable.

Two separate audits have recently indicted them. It has been determined that this county has received millions of federal and state dollars that it was not entitled to, between 2002 -2004.

They did this, by allegedly playing a "shell game" with funding, in order to avoid the legal requirement to match federal dollars.

One auditor found $37.8 million in undocumented spending. She also determined that an additional $169 million was improperly transferred from the children's services fund to the public-assistance fund between July 2001 - June 2004.

She has ordered that this money must be returned - but she doesn't have the power to actually make this happen.

2.) The state administrative agency is also on the hot-seat. When they were entrusted with distributing federal dollars, this came with the responsibility to scrutinize county spending.

Yet, the state failed to audit counties between 1993-2003, when the two special audits began.

3.) An autistic foster child in my state was recently murdered by his foster parents. This couple should never have been approved to foster any child, much less a child with special needs.

They were jobless, had moved 8 times within the past 10 years. Each spouse had a theft/shoplifting charge, the wife had filed domestic assault charges against her husband and there was a live-in girlfriend living in their household.

Residents have challenged the county commissioners to reconsider the qualifications of the independent board that is supposed to over see children's service agencies.

A task force is reviewing this, and by mid-December, they plan to suggest whether the oversight agency should:
a.) be folded into the county's department of job and family services
b.) be privatized,
or
c.) continue as an independent county board.

What could be accomplished within my state to make a positive difference?
1.) A lawyer I recently met with in California mentioned her concern that "Foster Bill of Rights" sound good on paper, but are utterly non-enforcable in a court of law. How can we put some "teeth" on rights for foster children?

2.) I wonder what, if anything, would motivate disconnected and often competitive agencies to work together to provide a safety net for children? Perhaps if federal funding requirements made it mandatory for them to do so?

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