Wednesday, May 5, 2004

U.S. Finds Fault in All 50 States' Child Welfare Programs;tntemail1=&pagewanted=print&position=


WASHINGTON, April 25 --- Federal investigators have found widespread problems in child welfare programs intended to protect children from abuse and neglect, and no state has received passing grades from the Bush administration in reviews conducted over the last three years.

As a result, states face tens of millions of dollars in penalties.

State officials said the penalties could make it more difficult for them to pay for the needed improvements.

About 900,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2002, and 1,400 of them died, according to the most recent state data, compiled and reported this month by the Department of Health and Human Services.

No state fully complies with standards established by the federal government to assess performance in protecting children and finding safe, permanent homes for those who have suffered abuse or neglect.

Some states, including New Jersey and Florida, have received national attention because of scandals in their child welfare programs.

But the federal report suggests that most states have similar problems.

Seven of the 14 federal standards focus on the safety and well-being of children, including the incidence of abuse and neglect, the time they spend in foster care and the stability of their living arrangements.

Federal officials said 16 states did not meet any of the seven standards.

Wade F. Horn, the assistant secretary of health and human services supervising the reviews, said the findings were "a little surprising."

"We set the bar high on purpose," Dr. Horn said.

Kids in the child welfare system deserve better than a minimal standard of care."

Dr. Horn said that no state met one particularly important standard, which says children should have "permanency and stability in their living situations."

That means, for example, that children should not bounce in and out of foster care, or from foster home to foster home.

The federal report was based on a review of state data and case files, as well as interviews with children, their biological parents, foster and adoptive parents, social workers and juvenile and family court judges.

Federal officials repeatedly cited states for certain deficiencies: significant numbers of children suffering abuse or neglect more than once in a six-month period; caseworkers not visiting children often enough to assess their needs; and not providing promised medical and mental health services.

States did somewhat better on the other standards, used to assess their policies and procedures, the training of caseworkers and the use of computers to keep track of children.

Many state officials said they generally agreed with the findings.

"Some people say that the federal government is picking on states or that the standards are not attainable, but we believe it's essential to shoot for these goals," said Roger A. Munns, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Just this month the comptroller of Texas, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, issued a report on the state's foster care system that was more negative than the federal review.

"Some of these children are no better off in the care of the state than they were in the hands of abusive and negligent parents," said Ms.

"Some children have been moved among 30 or 40 temporary homes.

Some have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused while in the system.

In 30 percent of the cases reviewed in Oklahoma, federal investigators said, the child welfare agency did not respond quickly to reports of abuse and neglect.

The federal government provides $7 billion a year to states for foster care, adoption assistance and other child welfare programs.

If states do not correct the deficiencies, they stand to lose some of the money.

Penalties are estimated at $18.2 million for California, $3.6 million for Florida, $3.5 million for Texas, $3 million for Pennsylvania, $2.5 million each for Ohio and Michigan, and $2.3 million for New York.

Joseph E. Kernan, a Democrat, summoned experts at the Child Welfare League of America, a nonprofit group, to evaluate the state's program and recommend improvements.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


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