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Text Box: Child Welfare: Change is Needed

Changing Views:

Should Child Welfare be Transformed into Adult Welfare?


A survey of the current child welfare system, what works and what does not,  with an alternative recommendation and consideration.


Project proposal, rationale and presentation.


Kurt LaRose

August 2003




   Many troubles confront the existing child welfare system, for both children who are in care and for those who have left care, and this project addresses the different attempts at finding solutions that have been promulgated to be in the best interests of children: foster care, adoption, family preservation, shared family care, and family drug courts. A new system for dealing with children and families who are involved in the abuse and neglect dynamic is proposed and a public presentation forum is proposed, completed and evaluated. The comprehensive adult focused program, called adult welfare, suggests that abusive parents can be treated, and held accountable should they fail to respond to treatment, just as abused children can avoid placement shifts by remaining in their homes of origin. Program comparison costs, program development, implementation, survey research analysis, and presentation factors are discussed.




   In a recent article from the Tallahassee Democrat, (one in a five part series) the newspaper investigated foster care children in the State of Florida. The report addresses many of the complexities of child placement issues and what happens to children who not only live in, but also those who leave from, the system. The story of one youth is particularly telling and interesting.

Tara Gravelin, at age 17, has "spent the past four years in foster care, bouncing around more than a dozen homes. She attempted suicide twice, ran away from nearly half her placements and was molested by a foster parent's adult son" (Bridges, 2003). And even while she is nearly a child herself, Tara is the mother of one baby girl.

   An important question that must be addressed regarding child welfare in America, is whether or not former children (and now adults) bode well once out of the system? For example, is Tara Gravelin a success story? An update on the Gravelin case, according to Bridges (2003), reveals that Tara has left her adoptive home, has moved in with her boyfriend, is pregnant her second child, and has dropped out of high school. Tara left her adoptive home, even before she turned 18.

   A look at one case cannot possibly answer the mammoth child welfare success or failure question. The professionals in the field of child welfare know very well that the system is imperfect; the media keeps the nation abreast of the most titillating tragedies. However a great deal more needs to be known about the system in order to glean from such information what works, and what does not work.




   My interest in abused children is almost as old as I am. As a survivor of childhood abuse I know first hand some of the struggles that face children, not only in their formative years, but also later into adulthood. The challenges are many. Adding to personal life experiences, my wife and I ran a group home for two and one-half years and also were foster parents. I know very well the challenges that face child welfare workers and foster parents, because I have served at those same capacities. Many of the youth who lived with us struggled to maintain their placement; not all of them fared so well.

   It was in the group home that I realized something about all of the children we worked with; all of them, no matter how horrific their abuse was, asked to - and wanted to go home. It never failed; life at home for some of these boys was similar to a nightmare, and as surreal as some of their stories were, home was the place they knew before coming into the system.

Probably one of the biggest misfortunes in the group home was my and my wife's realization that two older boys had raped one of the younger boys; the two older boys were carted off to jail while the younger one eventually blew out of the group home in a fit of rage. And two of the other boys from the group home eventually served time in jail. In another sad situation, one of our foster children, who was only nine when he first came to group home, was arrested in 2002 for, and admitted to, murder at the age of 21. His girlfriend is carrying their child, and if all goes well the baby will see the father as a free man after the child reaches the age of 25.  (Update:  He is currently serving a life, without parole sentence). 

   Are there success stories? Absolutely. Two of "our" boys left the group home when we did, and moved into our foster home. They both have grown up to be participatory members of society. One is an evangelical minister, who originally left our care and joined the underworld of street life. He eventually abandoned his life on the streets in order to serve God. Occasionally he calls to ask if he can pray for us and to simply say hello. His spirituality is admirable. The other boy was one that the system claimed would remain in institutional care for the rest of his life; his IQ was considered borderline retarded. But guess what; he now lives in the south, independent of institutions, with his fiancé and hopes to one day be the father of his own children.




   This project gives minimal address to the aftereffects of the child welfare system, partly because it is extremely difficult to write about a topic for which not much information can be found; that is not to say it does not exist, because it does. A few outcomes were addressed in the public presentation that was the final culmination of this research-based project. Other child welfare outcomes are also mentioned later in the literature review section of this paper; nevertheless, a great deal of the literature highlights the shortcomings of today's child welfare system.

   The purpose of putting together this project is to highlight the many facets of child welfare, the good and the bad, and then to suggest that a different concept for dealing with abused youth is in order. The reasons for a new system are many. First of all, it is with every failed placement from the group home that I can think of a great reason. Each boy could have been served better; not because the provision of care was not optimal, but because maybe the services that were provided only dealt with one part of the issue, the child. And that is likely the biggest point; the child is not the problem. Thus, a system that focuses so much time and money on treating children fails to pay attention to the adults who are certainly a part of the abusive and neglectful dynamic.


Statement of the Problem


   The way the system works now is that children who are abused and/or neglected are removed from their homes. Many, if not most times parents are not criminally charged for their abuse, but instead they are given a "performance agreement" (a contract to regain custody of their children). If the parents do not meet the terms of the performance agreement then parental rights are terminated and the child is then considered to be in state custody. From there, the placement tragedy begins; the child goes from one spot to another until, or if, someone decides to adopt the child (Blome, 1997).

   The problem with today's system is that the children are the ones who are being inadvertently punished by placing them outside of their home of origin. The parents, on the other hand, are in many ways rewarded for their abusive behavior because they no longer are obligated to care for their children. A few of the rewards for abusive parents who lose their children to the state are: the parents no longer have a financial responsibility to the children; the parents do not have to go to jail for their crimes; the children are perceived as getting better care elsewhere, better than what the abusive parents can provide; and parents can continue to engage in behaviors that may contribute to abuse, such as drug and alcohol use.

   The child is often told that removal from their home is not their fault and is then placed in a strange living situation and expected to behave appropriately. All kinds of treatment strategies are developed and implemented on behalf of the child who often acts out in various placements. Many children simply want to go back home. It makes sense for a child to wonder: 'if I'm not at fault why am I here, and Mom and Dad are still at home? Why do I have to change schools? Why do I have to make new friends? What did I do wrong?'

Report Continues