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Foster Children Allegedly Caged Illustrate Widespread Problem of Abuse in Substitute Care, Child Advocacy Group Says


WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 -- Allegations that 11 foster and adopted children in Ohio were locked in tiny cages, if true, are an extreme example of a serious and widespread problem: abuse of children in foster care, according to a national non-profit child advocacy organization.

“Had the parents in this case been the children’s birth parents, news stories would be filled with claims that the case ’proved’ that government does too much to preserve families at the expense of child safety,” said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "But because the accused are foster parents, it is likely to be written off as an aberration. This pernicious double standard does enormous harm to children.

"Of course the majority of foster parents do the best they can for the children in their care. Many are heroes, working day and night to help children who truly were endangered and really needed to be taken from their parents.

“But the rate of abuse in foster care is far higher than generally realized and far higher than official statistics indicate,” Wexler said.

Wexler noted that several studies found abuse in at least one-quarter of foster homes. One recent survey of foster care “alumni” found that one-third said they’d been abused by a foster parent or another adult in a foster home “and that study didn’t even ask about one of the most common forms of abuse -- foster children abusing each other,” Wexler said.

The studies find vastly more abuse than official figures because official figures involve “child welfare agencies investigating themselves. There is a huge incentive to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and write no evil in the case file,” Wexler said.

“Orphanages and ’group homes’ are no answer,” Wexler said. “Their record for abuse is even worse. In fact, with 11 children allegedly caged in one small home, if the allegations are true, the Ohio home was a de facto orphanage.”

In contrast, Wexler said, real family preservation programs are, on average, safer than foster care. And when foster care must be used, placements with relatives are, on average, safer than placements with strangers.

One reason for the high rate of abuse in foster care is that so many children are needlessly taken from their parents in the first place, often when family poverty is confused with “neglect.” Wexler said that creates "an artificial ’shortage’ of foster parents. Agencies wind up begging for people to take in children, and beggars can’t be choosers.

“Get the children who don’t need to be in foster care back into their own homes and there will be plenty of room in good, safe foster homes for children in real danger,” Wexler said.


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