On Child Protective Services, Part 4: Follow the Money

A few years ago, The New York Times tipped us off to the fact that Chinese officials had been, and still are, kidnapping the children of rural Chinese citizens to “sell” them into adoption. In their defense, these Chinese officials cite that the families are breaking the “two-child policy,” and that the parents can’t properly care for the children, but in many cases, this is simply not true. The children are being kidnapped because the Chinese government is able to make bank on adopted babies. This seems obvious to us looking at it from the outside.

The sad truth is that basically the same thing is happening here, and few people notice it. Child Protective Services has a financial incentive to take children into custody and adopt them out rather than return them. Why? They get money from the Federal government for every child in custody, and they get money if the child is adopted. So what do you think they do? For one, they are more likely to take children into custody in the first place. And second, they are more interested in taking children they can easily adopt out.

While we were in LA fighting to get our children back, a little black boy was beaten to death by his step-father. Neighbors had called CPS six times over the course of a few months. No one ever showed up.

Do you know how many calls it took for someone to show up and take our beautiful white baby twin girls? One call. And CPS took them on the basis of one person’s testimony. And we were assumed guilty from the start. Three months later, the case was dismissed and not a single claim was upheld, yet LA County got three months worth of Federal money out of our kids, and so far, they got it with impunity. In fact, if it hadn’t been for God’s grace and good lawyers, we might have been fighting for much longer to no avail.

While we were “in the system,” we met falsely accused parents that had been fighting to get their kids back for years. They couldn’t afford to hire their own lawyers, and the court-appointed “public pretenders” made sure their case slogged on for as long as the Federal government would pay CPS to keep their stolen kids. You think I’m exaggerating? No, I saw it firsthand.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the testimony of John Van Doorn, who ran for San Diego Supervisor in 2010. The biggest plank of his platform was reforming Child Protective Services. I quote at length from an interview:

The single greatest threat to the people of San Diego County is our county’s (as well as the state’s) abuse of Title IV-D programs (Child Protective Services, Child Support Services, foster care and adoptions, VAWA, etc.).

Mandated by federal government, these programs are intended to provide a social safety net for our children and the elderly and a deterrent to domestic violence but instead, they have become a means by which our local governments extract great profits. In exchange for providing these services, the federal government reimburses local governments for the cost of providing these services—at times, greatly in excess of the cost of that service. As such, our local governments find themselves sorely tempted to provide a service where one is not necessarily warranted (since reimbursements grow as the amount of services rendered grows), and unfortunately all too often where the provision of unneeded  services ends up being destructive in the lives of those “served.”

For instance, in the case of foster care, the present reimbursement to state and local government for each child taken into foster care is approximately $6000/month. Yet the foster care provider (the foster parent) receives only somewhere around $600/month. Allowing about the same for administrative costs, each child in foster care is worth about $5000/month; that’s pure profit on the bottom line! With a little investigation, it is easy to find many situations in which a child was properly taken from the custody of a parent, yet there were extended-family members fighting to take custody of that child all to no avail (I testified on behalf of one young African-American child and her father and grandmother before the Board of Supervisors, with no subsequent response from the county; that child remains in foster care because, as the county argued in court, the grandmother’s 900 sq. ft. house was too small for the two of them). And children are improperly taken from families (without credible evidence or cause) as well.

This is testimony from a man who has seen it from the inside. A little before Van Doorn was running for office, the Federal government started experimenting with a new funding schedule for CPS, known as the Title IV-E waiver. Before this experiment, the Federal foster care money was “uncapped” and more carefully allocated by the Federal government, and LA County was retaining about 73% of the children it took into custody. The official reason for this extreme policy was that these abused children were all much better off in foster care. CPS had studies and papers to prove it. Some of the hardliner case workers still push this philosophy, but their voices grow dim. When California opted in to the experimental Title IV-E waiver, CPS ideology started to shift. Pretty much immediately. The Title IV-E waiver sets the Federal money to a lump “not-to-exceed” amount for each child in custody. This seems like it would be bad as far as CPS is concerned. In fact, the Chicago Tribune published an article criticizing LA County’s adoption of the waiver. According to the author, kids were being returned to abusive parents (which is actually true) because their wasn’t enough money to keep them in custody:

The number of foster children has dropped [in LA County] from 52,000 in 1997 to 18,800 this year. During this period, the department has focused on keeping children with their parents by giving the adults drug treatment, parental training and other services.

The drive has been motivated by the belief that a child’s welfare is best served by his or her own family, even when that family is somewhat troubled. But the reduction of foster children is also a budgetary imperative.

Under an experimental federal and state program known as the Title IV-E waiver, Los Angeles County agreed to accept a fixed sum for foster care.

If costs exceed that amount, the county must pay the difference.

So why would CPS defend the waiver? Here’s why: the waiver money is almost entirely string-free, counties have much more flexibility in how they choose to spend it, and they are actually getting more money to do less work! Not unexpectedly, CPS started adopting a new philosophy of child protection conveniently around the time California and a few other states agreed to opt in to the Title IV-E waiver. This seemingly random transformation of CPS official policy would be comical if it weren’t so destructive to families and children, and yet no one really seems to be willing to call CPS’s bluff. No one wants to say the obvious truth: CPS has no moral or ideological convictions other than doing whatever it takes to keep making money and exercising power. So they adopt ideologies that justify the actions that most support their financial interests, but that doesn’t mean they even believe them.

When they made more money taking children, their official policy was: abused children are better off in custody. But since now they make more money returning the children, their official policy is: children are better off being reunited with their parents. This amounts to a pretty much total turnabout of CPS’s purported ideology. This turnabout would be puzzling if you didn’t know all along what their real ideology was: make more money. So now, under the Title IV-E waiver, Child Protective Services will take children for a smaller amount of time, get the maximum allotted amount, and return the children before they have to pay anything out of the county coffers. Easier money. And more of it.

Additionally, under the Title IV-E waiver, it is easier to take Federal blood money and siphon it off toward the general state budget. Note these sobering words from a very good article by Dr. Mercola:

According to NCCPR [National Coalition for Child Protection Reform], in FY 2010 the federal government is expected to spend at least $7 more on foster care and $4 more on adoption for every dollar spent to prevent foster care or speed reunification. This is based on President Obama’s $4.681 billion foster care budget for FY2010—an increase of $21 million over FY2009. The number represents a decrease of 4,300 children a month in foster care.

But this decrease is based on “placement of children in more permanent settings.” In other words, states are getting more money to take care of fewer children by placing more of them in adoptive homes.

The law also increases incentives for adoption by paying out $1,000 to $8,000 extra for certain types of children who are placed for adoption.

The twist is that states are not required to put this money back in to keeping families intact or even for preventing child abuse. Instead, by law, they can use it for non-child-related things, such as delivering meals to senior citizens or for transportation services, or a range of other home-based services!

. . . A look at any state’s budget—from Minnesota to Florida to Connecticut and back to California—can tell you that local governments and states are cutting back or flat-lining children’s services and using these extra federal dollars to balance their budgets.

So states and counties have a vested financial interest in making sure their child protective services divisions continue to get big money, but they could care less whether or not the agencies are actually effective in protecting children and serving families. And most taxpayers are easily hoodwinked into footing the bill, because, after all, who could be so heartless as to cut spending on the protection of children? And so, we are bound by the most shameless emotional manipulation to support this mercenary band of legalized criminals: “It’s for the children! For the children… [sob] …”

But in fact, it isn’t for the children. As I wrote in my last article, the children are worse off with CPS than without it. CPS is literally stealing our children and holding them ransom for our money. It’s happening all around the country every day. Next time, I’ll talk about what you can do to fight it.