LA Fo$ter Care: Racial Politics plays a role. Shocked…shocked…
The Business of Child Abuse.
By Joshua Allen
In Los Angeles County more than 90% of foster children are of minority status. A small percentage of these children are of Asian, Middle Eastern, or Pacific Island decent, but the vast majority of this (90%) ratio of foster children is roughly split between children of Hispanic and African American origin.
Caucasian children represent just a small percentage of foster children in Los Angeles yet they are abused and neglected at rates that correlate to their population. Therefore, the question begs, is this because there is more child abuse in one community over another? And what happens to all the abused white children? Where the heck are they going? Or for that matter, why aren’t they going into foster care?
Could it be because of poverty, do poorer communities have a higher ratio of child abusers, or are wealthier communities able to keep social workers and allegations at bay (until angry revelations in divorce court)? Or culturally; do some cultures call the cops or DCFS hotline more than others?
Well actually, some do. Some communities do indeed call the hotline more than others. Sometimes it seems the DCFS hotline is more popular than the telephone numbers for personal injury attorneys you see on the side of buses. (But it’s close).
Yet child abuse seems to cut equally across the racial and socioeconomic spectrum. And if a small percentage of everyone is doing it, why aren’t all races (and classes) represented equally in foster care in proportion to their population here in Los Angeles? Is this because of racism or some other nefarious reason?
Without doubt, some would say exactly that. Racism however can’t begin to explain these huge percentages. Racism plays a role, but the most important factor is money. The Child Abuse Industrial Complex feeds off of it.
Think of it in socioeconomic terms. Regardless of race, it is fairly certain your child won’t spend much time in foster care if you can afford a competent lawyer. Now the county does provide lawyers to birth parents and they are hardworking folk. Yet most people prefer a private lawyer over a public defender. That’s just the way it is. And the lawyers used in children’s court are paid less than public defenders. So you tell me, if you have the money for a private attorney, would you want the lawyer that the court assigns to you?
There used to be an agency in Los Angeles that would advertise for social workers and use the phrase “culturally sensitive,” when spelling out the job description in the classified ads. Exactly what this meant was never clear. One supposes “culturally sensitive” means you aren’t a racist. Who wants to hire racist social workers?
Or perhaps the ad meant they wanted somebody with knowledge of a particular community but couldn’t really say it. Could you imagine an ad that said “must understand Jews?” Or, “Good knowledge of Mexican culture?” Neither could I, so perhaps “culturally sensitive,” was the best they could do. We don’t want any culturally insensitive social workers now do we?
Yet I was always a bit uncomfortable when reading the ad, wondering if the phrase was meant to exclude certain people (like me) or, was I culturally sensitive enough. Maybe I was too sensitive? I could imagine somebody being so culturally sensitive they would be paralyzed when it came to dealing with an angry-child-abusing-birth-parent that belonged to the culture they were so sensitive to.
Or what if you were so culturally sensitive you couldn’t tell the foster parent from the culture different from yours to knock off the stupid stuff they’ve been saying in front of the foster children. Hey, I’ve seen it.
Indeed prejudice or discrimination of any kind is anathema to a social worker, and highly frowned upon, (Unless you happen to dislike Republicans in which case you seem to get a pass). Remember, some shrinks and social workers must have unconditional positive regards for child abusers to do their job correctly. Now that’s tough.
A want ad is much less ambiguous when it asks for a social worker that is bilingual. It is clear what they are looking for. Bilingual social workers are at a premium in Los Angeles. Wonder of all wonders…it’s because so many foster children and foster parents speak Spanish. (The French you learned in Finishing School is not so valuable within LA foster care circles).
The County and Foster Care Agencies try to match up children as best they can with the children’s own culture and language but can’t always do this. For one thing, it is against an Agencies economic interest to turn down a placement for language or cultural issues when they have bed space and a kind and willing foster parent. For another thing, especially for a short term placement, it’s not always a negative. A loving home is a loving home right?
And sometimes cultural problems are more to do with the food served in the home than with the language used. Sometimes we all need Mama’s cooking and foster children are no different. But I’ve seen some preventable mistakes, like a baby growing up speaking Spanish and their birth mother not understanding a word of it when she visits her child. Oops!
Race and culture can play a huge role in other areas of foster care, especially in the schools. One Social Worker reported a case of a foster teen that was in English as a Second language class for years at her public school, (Where she did quite well). And you ask, what’s the problem with that? The problem is the teenager spoke English as a first language and spoke little Spanish. The student did have a Hispanic surname, but really there is no justifying this nonsense. And why hadn’t anyone spoken up about this before the social worker got on the case? I dunno, maybe we should ask her teachers?
Another sad example of the role of race in foster care is the high percentage of African American children who are tarnished with the “special needs,” label and put into special education classes. Does it occur to some of these educators that the stresses that caused these children to be placed into foster care may have impinged on their academics? That “special needs,” doesn’t apply to them and that special education is the last place they should be? The percentage is huge and indefensible, and it goes on year after year. If you are an African American male in foster care you are probably placed in special education at our public schools.
Social workers constantly fight with LAUSD over this garbage. Advocating in the schools for foster children is a large part of the job and it can be quite frustrating.
It remains a losing battle – a “special” battle.