Tuesday, December 05, 2006

At what point do temporary shelters become long-term?

The Ohio foster care system has recently been under a great deal of scrutiny, and has been receiving national attention. Experts from various states are eager to propose strategies for improvement.

With all the challenges currently faced by the California foster care system, it’s interesting that California-based advocacy groups are finding the time to advise Ohio.

San Diego County detective Victoria Reden conducted a week-long review of three-year-old Marcus’ death. Reden was paid $3,178 plus travel expenses for her study and recommendations.

One of Reden’s recommendations for Ohio was the establishment of a 20-bed receiving center to house abused children temporarily, until they can be matched with foster parents. She referred to the Polinsky Children’s Center, as a California example.

Commissioner Mike Fox and chairman of the Butler County task force Dan Hare say that they are willing to explore that possibility.

But Carole Shauffer, executive director of the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center, recently warned them that while receiving shelters might sound good on the surface, in practice, “They wind up being a warehouse for kids that are difficult to place for some reason.”

Too often, temporary shelters facilities designed to house a small number of children for 30 days or less wind up becoming overcrowded, long-term way-stations.

Child Haven in Clark County is one tragic example. This Nevada facility was designed to hold 84 children and 20 infants. Yet, in June of this year, Child Haven held 205 children; 105 of whom were age 4 and under. Due to overcrowding, many young people were forced to sleep on the gym floor.

Length of stay can also become an issue. The Department of Family Service's policy was that children shouldn't stay at Child Haven longer than two weeks. However, upon investigation, it was revealed that children were remaining in Child Haven much longer. The average stay there was 45 days. One child had been at Child Haven for over two years.

Similar problems have occurred in California. My Nov. 14th blog entry details how LA County’s MacLauren Children’s Center became a dumping ground for emotionally disturbed children and how, since the closing of that center, foster children from toddlers to teens are often been housed overnight in caseworkers waiting rooms.

Brooks, Candice. Plans to create temporary housing for abused children draws fire; Critics say ‘receiving shelters’ turn into orphanages that are mentally and socially detrimental to kids. Dayton Daily News, Nov. 22, 2006, p A10.
Kihara, David. Infant dies at Child Haven: Death latest in series of woes for system. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 16, 2006.
Kihara, David. Overcrowding: Child welfare groups warn of lawsuits Youth Law Center demands reforms. Las Vegas Review Journal, August 19, 2006.
McLaughlin, Sheila. Foster care reforms advised; Butler Co. gets list of how it can improve services. Cincinnati, Enquirer, Nov. 23, 2006, Metro pg. C1.

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