Child Welfare Solutions: Paging Captain Obvious

Two recent child welfare columns in this publication make me wonder if Captain Obvious has taken early retirement.


Jim Kenny has posted a series of columns on the appalling problem of false allegations of child abuse and lack of due process – for foster parents.

He makes some good points. So good that I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting most of three paragraphs from one of his columns, exactly as they appeared originally – except for the deletion of a single word:

In an understandable attempt to protect a child from abuse and neglect, our child welfare systems have placed foster parents in a difficult position. To encourage reporting of child endangerment, anonymity is granted to the accuser. Minimal standards of proof are accepted. Hearsay is allowed. Often, what the case manager believes to be credible is enough to initiate some action. The child may be removed …

 As the most vulnerable party, the child’s well-being is the number one priority. Yet the child’s needs are not necessarily contrary to those of the foster parent. In fact, an unexamined precipitous separation of the child from his foster family may be harmful. In many ways, the child’s best interests and those of the foster family are tied together. …

 Foster parents deserve better treatment than the substantiation of unproven charges based upon hearsay. We can still protect the child while providing foster parents with all the rights that our legal system guarantees.

When foster parents tell me about their ill-treatment I always say the same thing: The system really needs you. If that’s how they treat you, how do you think they treat the birth parents?

Think about that long enough, and you might start to do what former foster parent Mary Callahan did – start questioning what child welfare agencies told her about the children they were placing with her.

And then you might want to reconsider whether all those children really need to be taken away at all. You might even consider reforms like providing all parents with “all the rights that our legal system guarantees.” Because it turns out, that’s the best way to protect children.


Marie Cohen has a different complaint. She thinks this is the wrong way to spend $31 million:

The $31 million budget proposal would address the issue [of foster parents finding child care for their foster children] by setting aside money for six-month emergency child care vouchers for foster parents caring for children ages 0 to 3 … Navigators would help foster parents negotiate the state’s byzantine subsidized child care system and help them avoid childcare gaps.

 Ridiculous! says Cohen. Instead, spend the money paying foster parents to stay home with the children.

You don’t suppose, if we all think really hard, we can come up with a third option for spending that $31 million in child care funds – such as helping birth parents find child care? You know, for those cases where the charge that led to removal of the children was “lack of supervision.”  Or the cases in which parents stayed home with the kids, lost their jobs, got evicted and lost their children for lack of housing? Or the cases in which all the stress of finding child care and housing and food and medical care and on and on and on led parents to lash out at their children?

And if you’re wondering if such an obvious alternative could be sufficiently “evidence-based,” consider this study of the amazing transformative power of something even simpler: cash.

Please, Captain Obvious, come back soon.

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Richard Wexler
About Richard Wexler 51 Articles
Richard Wexler is Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, His interest in child welfare grew out of 19 years of work as a reporter for newspapers, public radio and public television. During that time, he won more than two dozen awards, many of them for stories about child abuse and foster care. He is the author of Wounded Innocents: The Real Victims of the War Against Child Abuse (Prometheus Books: 1990, 1995).


  1. As one who has worked in social services/ CPS for many years, I agree that some issues could be resolved with family intervention while the children remain in the home. However, when children are removed from the home, it is usually far more than lack of childcare, eviction, etc. These parents know all avenues of the welfare system and how to take advantage of it. They pretty much live off the government, so if they are being evicted, etc., it is usually b/c they are choosing to spend their government provided funds on something other than their children. Most children who are removed from their homes are removed due to safety reasons.

  2. Well, I though I made this point on the original post. Yes ,real parents are being railroaded .

  3. I know of a child who was SEVERELY damaged by the foster system. Why? Because of separation from the family who ADORED HER! It was sick what happened. I am telling you, change has to be made with the legal system, starting with the third branch. They have set up a not so just justice system in which incompetence goes unpunished and they were smart enough to build lack of accountability in and then it was built in to the child welfare system. Try complaining about a judge some time and see what happens! Nothing, MOST of the time. And then, we have a system in Ohio where if you aren’t part of the kinship program, you can’t even file a formal grievance against a county employee, and if you aren’t part of the case plan, you can’t file a formal grievance against the county agency with the state of Ohio! Legislation can change it all. Time for all these smart educated people in our nation (who used to be in the minority back when the legal brains figured out how to get away with unethical criminal behavior) get together and demand change. Our legal system is archaic, and stinks like the monarchical mentality it came from! And what our legal system is has directly impacted with our child system is. Corrupt, unaccountable, and resistance to ANY real and logical and realistic criticism. Facts, science? What do they have to do with it when egos reign?

  4. Of course we should provide child care to birth parents as one component of family preservation services. Birth parents who work are usually eligible for child care vouchers. But I think that children who have been abused and neglected need something more than custodial child care. That’s why I wrote my column, Therapeutic Child Care: An Underutilized Tool in Family Preservation and Foster Care, which you can see at This type of program accomplishes multiple goals. It educates parents in parenting skills. It provides children an enriched environment which can compensate to some degree for neglect and stress at home. And it gives parents a break and an opportunity to work or engage in services like therapy and drug treatment.

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