Saturday, November 10, 2007

Miracle Makers led to adversity

New York Times photographer Ozier Muhammed captured this moment after the young lady on the right was forced to wait nine years to be adopted by her foster mom (on right), due to ineptitude by the Miracle Makers foster care agency.

New York City paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to Miracle Makers foster care agency as per their contract to provide classes in independent living.

Yet when a 16-year-old client who was preparing to age out of foster care tried to enroll in one of those classes, she found out the truth: The independent living workshops did not exist. They had not been offered for over a year.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what was uncovered in the New York Times' investigation...

New York City officials had no reason to believe that Willie Wren, founder of Miracle Makers, was qualified to lead a foster care agency in the first place. He was a church deacon with no experience working in foster care.

Yet, in 1986, city officials approached Mr. Wren, telling him that they were flooded with abandoned children, due to drugs, AIDS homelessness and teenage pregnancy, and calling on him to help.

The staff and board members of Miracle Makers were equally unqualified. The board consisted of a pastor, a homemaker and a bank employee, none of whom had social work training or experience. Board members did not evaluate Mr. Wren’s performance, approve budgets or receive copies of financial statements.

The agency was staffed by family members of its founder; his wife, his niece, his sister and his sister-in-law. Additional staff members, recruited from the general public, reported lack of training.

How did Miracle Makers end up turning into a multi-million dollar agency?

For the most part, this was because its services were not subject to regulation. In 1991, the city’s foster care oversight committee was disbanded and replaced with cursory evaluations. While this might have saved the city money in the short-term, in the long-term this decision did nothing to safeguard the safety of children.

And so Miracle Makers continued to exist – and even expand.

The warning signs were evident:

1.) A letter from the State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities in 2001, citing serious flaws in its housing program for the mentally handicapped

2.) The results of EQUIP(Evaluation and Quality Improvement Protocol system) revealed that Miracle Makers was in last place regarding foster care; the waiting time to reunify children or free them for adoption was longest and their program to prepare teenagers for the adult world rated a zero.

Miracle Makers continued to finish at or near the bottom for the next three years.

3.) An investigation of Miracle Makers uncovered: huge caseloads, lax hiring practices, poorly supervised staff, poorly trained supervisors, unqualified administrators and an ineffectual board.

4.) Miracle Makers bounced at least 280 checks, costing their agency thousands of dollars in overdraft fees (one month, the overdraft fees totaled $2,340). Apparently no one on staff was trained in basic bookkeeping principles and funds for various programs were intermingled.

5.) Miracle Makers claimed to have spent $2,399 on Palm Pilots for pre-kindergarten children. Yet, when questioned by the city’s Education Department about why these devices were considered appropriate for such young children, the agency claimed to have ‘lost’ the Palm Pilots.

My greatest concerns are for the children and teenagers being ‘served’ by this ineffectual agency, such as:

- Two children who weren’t given counseling after being sexually abused, because of staff turnover and a foster mother who kept missing appointments

- One girl who was forced to languish in the agency’s care for nine years before being adopted by her foster mother. Miracle Makers did not file the petition to terminate her abusive father’s rights. Nor did they respond when the court threatened the agency with arrest for not showing up at hearings.

- Miracle Makers lost the documents necessary to terminate parental rights for another child, and as a result, she is still in foster care. In another case, staff neglected to read the birth certificate, and wasted time and resources proceeding against a man who was not the biological father.

To read more, please visit my source:
Weiser, Benjamin. City slow to act as hope for foster children fails. New York Times, Nov. 6, 2007.

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