Will my grandchildren be next? Will they become a statistic?
Provider Watch – February 15, 2010 – Maltreatment in Care Gets Attention
No child should be treated badly while in out-of-home care. This statement is universally held to be true and supported without question by all. Just talking about maltreatment while in foster care is very difficult. No one wants to think that it is even a possibility. Children who find themselves in foster care are there because of difficult situations in their homes. Abuse and neglect are bad. What is worse, is abuse and neglect in foster care. The reality is that maltreatment in foster care does happen. It is rare, as it should be. Even one incident of maltreatment in foster care is unacceptable. It is this rare event that needs to be addressed.
Georgia’s rate of maltreatment in foster care is higher than the Federal standards. Georgia’s rate of maltreatment while in foster care is .98% or 98 out of 1000. The Federal standard is .32% or 32 out of 1000. Georgia’s rate is about three times the current federal standard. When a single incident of maltreatment is unacceptable, why is Georgia’s rate nearly three times that of the Federal Standard? The average for other states is around .50% or 50 out of 1,000. Are Georgia’s caregivers twice as abusive as other States? Is our supervision less effective? Is our monitoring of providers both public and private less rigorous at stopping maltreatment? Could Georgia be more aware of maltreatment in foster care? Maybe our definition of maltreatment is wrong.
No child should be maltreated while in foster care. The Department of Human Services that is tasked with the responsibility of caring for Georgia foster children wants no child to be maltreated. The private provider community and licensed providers which are supported by thousands of individuals, corporations and hundreds of communities want no child to be maltreated. The answers to preventing maltreatment in care are moral imperatives for these caring community.
We do know this. Georgia has made tremendous progress in the care of its foster children. We have a third less children in foster care than five years ago. Half as many are reentering foster care after leaving foster care. Presently more children are leaving foster care than coming into foster care. These are indicators that Georgia is doing a better job of caring for its foster children.
The maltreatment rate is disturbing. Georgia’s foster care stakeholder community wants to see this number reduced to zero or as close to zero as possible.
Most would agree that several things needs to be done.
Last week, Commissioner B.J. Walker called a “Special Meeting on Maltreatment in Foster Care” to highlight her concern about Georgia’s data outcomes on Foster Care Maltreatment. Invited to this meeting (which happened during the snow blizzard of last week) were her Regional Directors, State Office Leadership, and leadership from the private provider community. She spoke passionately about her concern about the maltreatment that is occurring in foster care. She emphasized that this endeavor was a joint venture with the pubic and private sectors.
She proposed several initiatives to address our concerns:
Training to promote safety in foster homes. Maltreatment can be prevented. Training will promote best practice in the areas of how to keep children safe.
The successful Round Table Process used in Fulton County will be used to meet the needs of children who require intensive services in foster care.
The Special Investigations Unit will be reconstituted to standardize investigations. Presently, each county has their own investigatory unit to explore maltreatment in foster care. All reported incidents of maltreatment will be investigated by this SIU.
A Foster Home will be automatically closed when the following happens:
death or serious harm to a foster child
adverse effects to the physical and emotional health of a foster child while in a foster home.
A Master Placement Specialist Class will be created to determine appropriate placements for children with special needs.
Benchmarks on maltreatment will be a key outcome for Performance Based Contracting
The data needs to reflect real events. A slap on the wrist should not be treated the same as serious maltreatment. A teenager getting into cleaning fluid and “huffing it” should not be classified as maltreatment. The data needs to reflect severe maltreatment that meets the standards measured by the Federal Child and Family Service Review.
SafeCare will be expanded to foster homes. Children under the age of five will have the protection that this evidence base training provides.
A Maltreatment Conference will be facilitated where strategies, best practices and data are shared.