Betrayed by a Trusted Caregiver

Attention sociologists: How would you like the rare opportunity to study what happens when 400 vulnerable children in seven states are taken from what is universally acknowledged to be the most supportive foster-care program in the country and placed into the care of already-overburdened government agencies in their respective states?  Track their outcomes five, ten and 15 years down the road, compare those outcomes to those of children who stayed in the supportive system until they were ready to make their own way in the world.

This is not a hypothetical situation; it’s for real.  Some background: Jim Casey, founder of UPS, bequeathed a good deal of his fortune to caring for children without parents.  He named his foundation after his mother, Annie E. Casey, who held the family together after Mr. Casey’s father died.  In 1976, Casey Family Services was launched as a program of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to help the highest-risk children in long-term foster care.  Casey Family Services has been, in a word, tremendous.  (Disclosure: I was a Casey Family Services foster parent.)

State resources are spread so thin each caseworker may have as many as 60 or 70 children to look after and has neither the time nor resources to do more than fulfill legal oversight requirements (and in many cases, not even that).  By comparison, Casey Family Services caseworkers have five or six children to look after.  This means they spend many hours each month with the child and her or his foster parents, intimately learning the child’s needs and challenges and helping foster parents plan and implement strategies to meet those challenges.

If someone is needed to sit down with school officials for three hours to go over an independent educational plan, the Casey Family Services caseworker was there, thus freeing three hours for the foster parent to be with the child.  If your child has a crisis at midnight on a Saturday (as is often the case), Casey Family Services staff is there – and stays there until the crisis is resolved.  State agencies cannot hope to match that level of support.

Extra medical attention, therapy, intensive tutoring, braces, sports equipment?  Casey Family Services paid for them all.  Casey foster parents joke and groan about the minimum 24 hours of training we’re required to attend each year, but will also testify such training helps our families immensely.

Suddenly, on the 26th of June, that all ended, when the board of directors of the Annie E. Casey Foundation announced that as of the end of the year, Casey Family Services would cease to exist and the money that supported it would be devoted to other issues.  A few weeks later, parents were notified that all Casey Family Services cases would be transferred to other agencies by November 1.  A very short four-month transition.

The Annie E. Casey directors hold the purse strings, they spend the foundation’s money as they see fit, but many Casey Family Services foster parents feel we adults made a collective promise to our children to care for them until they can care for themselves.  Now the Annie E. Casey Foundation has abruptly reneged on that promise.

Many Casey Family Services foster parents petitioned the Annie E. Casey board to reconsider.  Please, we asked, end the program if you must, but keep the promise for the children already part of Casey Family Services.  These children, who have all been failed by adults – often over and over again – are being abandoned again, forcing them to relive trauma from earlier in their lives.

Do I exaggerate?  I don’t think so.  As I said, Casey Family Services has always bravely taken the hardest foster care cases, a benefit both to children who need extra support and society at large, which is not only spared the cost of caring for these children, but also benefits by the fact that these children now have a chance for a normal life.

What’s the alternative?  That’s where a sociologist could make his or her name.  How many of those 400 ex-Casey kids will end up dropping out of school, with unwanted pregnancies, convictions, substance abuse issues, mental health issues?  How will those 400 children compare with 400 children for whom Annie E. Casey kept its promise and saw them through to adulthood?

As one Casey Family Services foster mom said at a meeting at which we implored the board to change it’s mind: “This is not about 400 children.  This is about generations of abuse and neglect that produced these kids and about generations of families that follow.  We have the chance to break that cycle, make a difference and save 400 families for generations to come.  Why isn’t that worth a few more years of keeping the promise?”

To date, we yet to receive an answer.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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