It’s Like This

Updated: October 26, 2018

The Missing Piece

By Bob Palmer

A US Appeals Court last week affirmed a lower court ruling ordering Texas to add more Child Protective Service workers. The three-judge panel made official what most have known for some time: the foster care system is broken, and states are doing an inadequate job of fixing the problem.

Unfortunately, adding more CPS workers only addresses part of the puzzle.

In Texas, there are 28,000 foster children. More than 3,600 of these children need homes.

Arkansas has 9,000 children under state care. Seventy-seven percent of these children have a foster home. That leaves 23 percent (2,000) without a bed last night.

In Louisiana 2,200 foster homes attempt to serve more than 4,000 children, according to a 2016 New Orleans Times Picayune story.

The foster child crisis is not limited to one state or region. In Los Angeles, 5,000 foster families are available for 30,000 children.

The judicial ruling aims at having adequate case works to curtail abuse in both birth families and foster environments. In addition to hiring more CPS workers, the state was mandated to add child-care licensing inspectors.

“A huge victory for children,” the lead attorney for the plaintiffs gushed.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Gregg Abbott attempted to argue in this seven-year legal battle that Texas shows major improvements in child care.

The judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, scoffed. Texas “has not taken reasonable steps to cure the problems, Indeed, it is not clear that it has taken any steps at all,” they ruled.

More case workers and more inspectors will help, but not fully address the problem of finding enough homes to house the state’s foster children. This equation has more than two factors. You don’t just add A+B=C. Several parties have a seat at the table.

The state certainly has a role in identifying abusive situations and protecting the child from abuse. Attorneys can be appointed to represent the birth parents. Organizations such as CASA step in to help give the child a voice.

The ghost at the banquet is the foster parent. Too often they are treated like hired help, given $410-$500 each month and expected to do their job and not be heard from again. It just is not that simple.

Foster parents often encounter huge difficulties with the massive state bureaucracy. Privacy rules hamstring their ability to parent the child. If they want to take a child to the doctor, a court order is sometimes required.

Who speaks for the foster parent? Who helps the foster parent cope? Who offers to help?

The answer is no one.

One person I know is a foster parent and regularly visits with other foster parents. Some of her acquaintances are giving up. They have decided to no longer open their hearts and homes to children because the state makes it too difficult.

This is not a situation, however, where the state or federal government offers the best solution. Helping, counseling and listening to foster parents should be the job of the church. And the church, too, is failing.

We have foster children and parents in virtually every community. Do local churches have pastors or lay people trained in how to counsel a foster parent? Do we have people who can help a prospective parent complete the necessary state forms? Do we have someone who will go with the foster parent to meet with CPS if needed?

I remember how the Catholic church opened offices across Texas and the nation to assist parishioners prepare resident applications. An effort on that scale is needed again.

From the Middle Ages forward, the church has often been at the forefront of helping abandoned or foster children. Presbyterian Minister Charles Loring Brace created the “orphan train” of the mid-Nineteenth Century and was quickly followed by the Sisters of Charity.

As Americans moved into the 20th Century, a more secular solution was sought and the state, rather than the church, became the lead player in foster care.

We have reached a crisis where we need a full societal answer to the foster care problem. The state must do its job of inspecting and protecting. The courts must sort out where the child belongs. The church – the body of Christ – must provide the training, spiritual underpinning and listening ear for the foster parent to fulfill their mission.

That is not something, however, a federal court can order.