The Uneasy Issue of Alleged Abuse by Foster Parents

She felt wrongly targeted and then wrongly punished. And she saw no way to clear her name after being “blackballed” by officials.

Foster care officials had removed two nieces from her home after receiving allegations that she was abusing them. They promised, however, that the children would be returned if the charges proved to be unfounded.

But that’s not what happened.

The Investigation

“So, after sixty days, I received a letter saying that it (the investigation) was unfound, that they were gonna’ do nothing but send me another child. And then they shut my house down! How would you fight that?” she told a recent gathering of foster care parents.

“That’s what the foster parents are going through when they get an OSI (Office of Special Investigations) intervention, um, investigation against them,” she explained. “So even though they prove the case and they came back unfounded, once they got that in the system they do not recommend you and you cannot become a foster parent again.”

Other foster parents in the group sympathized with her and recounted similar stories of being “blackballed” after facing unfounded allegations. Why, they wondered, do unfounded allegations remain on foster parents’ records and ultimately force them out of the system?

Their complaints reflect a far-reaching problem for the foster care system as it copes with increased concerns about improper care, increased inspections and a number of allegations that do not pan out. Caught in this vise, foster parents are dropping out of the system, frustrated by the emotional and financial drain of dealing with unfounded allegations, say experts. This leads to high turnover and a decreased pool of available and trained foster parents.

An Increase in Allegations against Foster Parents

The number of investigations against foster parents is increasing in New York City. Between January 2012 and January 2013, there were 2,208 OSI investigations of allegations of abuse or neglect by foster parents. This represents a 39 percent increase over the number of allegations brought at the start of the year.

Between 2006 and 2011, the substantiated (or evidence confirmed) percentage of children allegedly abused or neglected by foster parents rose from 181 (or 11.7 percent) in 2006 to 243 (17.3 percent) in 2011.

In response, foster care agencies and officials have begun looking at ways to deal with the concerns of families facing investigations. They recognize the need to protect foster parents against unfounded charges and to maintain a pool of caring foster parents while also weeding out placements where children suffer from abuse or neglect.

Spurred by efforts of foster care agencies and the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), there are efforts under way to work jointly toward more constructive ways of handling investigations of abuse/neglect reports in foster care.

Indeed, almost all involved in the system agree that there’s a need to look at the challenges faced by foster parents under investigation as well as a need to provide better training and support for foster parents.

The problems faced by foster parents and foster care agencies were the focus of a recent report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), “Foster Parents in Need: Strategies to Improve Foster Parent Training, Support and Retention.”

Noah Franklin is the senior policy analyst for child welfare at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA). Previously, he served as the senior policy analyst for The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, director of policy for Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr., and chief of staff for Council Member G. Oliver Koppell.

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