Placing children into the California foster care system is intended to be a short-term solution to protect at-risk children until they are either reunited with their families or adopted. However, all too often the system fails and the children are the ones that suffer. Some are shuffled from home to home for years before they find a forever family. Some age out of the system without support to face the world alone. Some are even abused by the people who are supposed to be caring for them at a time when they are extremely vulnerable. All of them deserve better.
How many children are in the California Foster Care System?
According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in 2010 there were around 60,000 children in the California foster care system on any given day. This accounts for 15% of the national total of 402,378 children. Of the 60,000 children in the California foster care system. 13,167 of those children are awaiting adoption.
39% of foster children in California are 5 years old or younger, 23% are six years old to ten years old, 22% are 11 to 15 years old, and 16% are 16 to 20. 46% of foster care children live in a foster home with a non-relative. 29% live in a relative’s home approved for foster care, 11% live in other types of housing, 6% live in group homes, and 8% live in institutional care.
The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) reports that children waiting to be adopted in California spent an average of 2.6 years in foster care – over 7 months longer than the national average. In 2012, 57% of children were reunited with their families and 8% went on to live with relatives or legal guardians.
Is the California foster care system understaffed?
A 2011 study by the California Social Work Education Center found that although the number of children in foster care has steadily increased over the years, the number of social workers in California has decreased at a greater rate. The study found that, compared to the same study in 2008, there were 7.2% fewer supervisors and 21.4% fewer case-carrying social workers. This means that social workers are likely overworked and don’t have the time necessary to properly monitor foster homes.
There is no doubt that many social workers in the dependency system perform their jobs with professionalism and commitment. However, there does appear to be a systemic problem in some Counties, where the priority seems to be to create the appearance of activity without actually taking any real action. Removing a child from his or her parents is obviously a serious matter that should not be taken lightly, but that is not an excuse for creating an atmosphere of inertia that leaves already vulnerable children without any meaningful protection.
How many cases of foster abuse are reported each year?
While the California foster care system adequately protects a majority of the children that enter the system, there are many cases of children who suffer foster care abuse while they are supposed to be protected from harm. The Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human services reported that there were 276 cases of foster abuse in the state of California in 2013. However, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times uncovered that the state underreported foster abuse cases to meet the national standard of 0.32%. In fact, they purposely filed reports for only ¾ of the year and have since made no effort to correct the issue.
While there are many horrific stories of abuse, none reach the level of abuse sustained by Gabriel Fernandez. In 2013, the eight-year-old child was found dead with horrifying injuries, including broken ribs, cracked teeth, bruises, and burns on his body. Despite more than 60 complaints filed by various adults, including the boy’s teacher, Gabriel was never removed from the abusive environment. After his death, detectives alleged the social workers had ignored evidence of abuse and falsified reports. The social workers, and their supervisors, are facing felony charges as a result of the investigation.
What are the long-term effects of foster abuse?
Children who spend a significant time in foster care are already more likely than their peers to suffer long-term effects; but those who have been abused in foster care are even more likely to do so. According to Dr. Susanne Babbel, long-term effects of abuse can take many forms including:
- Impaired brain development
- Physical health problems (allergies or asthma)
- Emotional consequences and mental health issues (anxiety, low self-esteem, PTSD, attachment disorder, or depression)
- Development of detrimental behaviors (smoking, drinking, or drug use)
- Social difficulties (antisocial traits or violent behavior
- Juvenile delinquency
What are the legal options for children abused in the foster care system?
Every child in the foster care system is appointed legal representation in the form of a dependency attorney who represents the child in court. In cases of abuse or neglect in the system, this attorney can appoint a guardian ad litem, which is another attorney who will investigate the abuse, act as the child’s representative, and work with a personal injury lawyer to file a lawsuit.
In 2015, Richard Koskoff, Amy Niven and Carly Sanchez of our firm obtained a $2.5 million settlement in a case against the County of Riverside. Our client, Mikala, was a young girl who was the victim of shaken baby syndrome while in the home of her aunt. Mikala’s mother had been arrested shortly before the events in question, and the County had given the aunt temporary custody of Mikala, who was then just two years old. The aunt requested repeatedly that the child needed to be removed from the aunt’s care. The County did not act on the request, despite being legally required to do so. A settlement of $2.5 million was reached by the plaintiff and defendant just two days before trial.
In another case, our firm secured a settlement of $4 million for two young boys who were sexually abused while in the care of the County of San Bernardino. The boys were placed in a foster home with another child who had a history of abusing younger children. The foster parents were not notified of this child’s history. The older child abused the two younger boys for six months before they reported it to the foster parents. A settlement of $4 million was reached by the plaintiff and defendant just two days before trial.
If you, or someone you love, have been abused while in the foster care system, please contact our office at 888.212.0440 or submit your information via the form below for a free case evaluation.
Sources and Further Reading:
2011 California Child Welfare Workforce Study
Private Foster Care System, Intended to Save Children, Endangers Some
The Foster Care System and Its Victims
Facts About Foster Care Children in California
California Adoption Facts
Children’s Rights Foster Care
Foster Care in California