HEARING BEFORE THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN, YOUTH AND
FAMILIES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
CONGRESS FIRST EDITION
HEARING HELD IN WASHINGTON, DC, APRIL 22, 1987
CONTINUING CRISIS IN FOSTER CARE: ISSUES AND PROBLEMS
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22, 1987
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, SELECT COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN, YOUTH
AND FAMILIES Washington, DC
The Select Committee met
pursuant to call at 9:30 a.m., in room 2261, Rayburn House Office
Building, Hon. George Miller [chair- man of the Select Committee]
Members present: Representatives Miller, Boggs, Wheat,
Evans, Skaggs, Coats, Durbin, Weiss, Hastert, Grandy, Johnson, and Pack-
Staff present: Ann Rosewater, staff director; Karabelle
Pizzigati, professional staff; Ellen O'Connell, secretary; Spencer Hagen
Kelly, minority research staff; and Joan Godley, committee clerk.
Chairman MILLER.The Select Committee on Children, Youth, and
Families will come to order. We are meeting today to continue the Select
Committee on Children, Youth and Families' examina- tion of children
placed out of their homes in the custody of the State.
hearing will focus specifically on the foster care system which is
intended to provide temporary homes for children, most frequently
victims of abuse or neglect, when their own families are incapable of
providing suitable parental supervision. Foster care is a subject of
deep personal importance to me.
A dozen years ago, I initiated an
intensive investigation of our nation's foster care program. That query
began when an official of the Department of Health, Education and
Welfare admitted to me that the government had no idea where many of the
500,000 foster children were living, what services they were receiving,
or whether any serious attempt was being made to reunite them with their
The role of the government was limited; we paid the
bill, often for warehousing children in institutions and inappropriate
settings, without services, without accountability, without any
significant ef- forts to address whatever catastrophe had driven them
into this Dickens-ian disaster of a system.
We heard stories of
children taken from their homes, shipped hundreds of miles away to other
states where they were kept for months, or even years, in unlicensed and
unsuitable places. And we responded.
In 1980, Congress enacted
P.L. 96-272, which established strict accountability mandates and legal
safeguards for foster children and their parents. And this reform law,
for the first time in our nation's history, used Federal funds to
promote permanency and adoptions rather than to prolong indeterminate
We knew when we wrote P.L. 96-272 that the reforms it
mandat- ed would only work under two circumstances. First, that adequate
services and review procedures were available to reduce the need for
and the duration of placement. Second, that there be vigorous
enforcement of the legal safeguards and oversight of the program by
the Department of Health and Human Services.
Today, nearly seven
years after enactment of the reform law, we are revisiting the
continuing crisis in foster care of which I warned a decade ago.
Despite evidence of progress in the early eighties, according to
hearings by this committee, the number of children in foster care
has once again begun to grow. The committee's recent report, "Abused
Children in America: Victims of Official Neglect," shows that reports of
child abuse and neglect jumped nearly 55 percent between 1981 and 1985,
creating additional pressures on the foster care system.
addition, homeless families are often forced to place their chil- dren
in foster care because shelters are rarely set up to accommo- date them.
And children born to drug dependent parents, too ill or unprepared to
properly care for them, have begun to enter the foster care system.
From New York to California, severe strains are subjecting chil-
dren in the foster care system to abuses. Contrary to the intent of
P.L. 96-272, to promote preventive services or adoption where serv-
ices fail, too many abused and neglected children continue to be
placed in foster homes indefinitely.
A recent "New York Times"
series detailed the abysmal condi- tion of the foster care program in
New York City, a condition exac- erbated by the failure of government at
all levels to respond to the severe crises confronting children: drugs,
physical and sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, and poverty.
"Times" notes, the foster care system, far from serving its intended
purpose as a refuge from parental neglect, has become in far tao many
instances a breeding ground for crime and homeless- ness.
California, we are finding overloading of the system with chil- dren
never intended for foster care, for the single purpose of reduc- ing
state costs by.qualifying otherwise ineligible children for Feder- al
It is clear that no law can work well without
vigorous enforce- ment by responsible administrators. The shortcomings
in the New York and California systems may well be traced back to the
ab- sence of that vigorous oversight.
We are going to make this
system work. Today we are continuing the process of uncovering the
shortcomings and putting the system back together so that it will serve
the families and the clildren who depend upon it.
It will take
vigorous oversight and accountability; it will take more adequate
resources for services, for reviews, for decent pay- ments to foster
families, and for well-trained staff. If anyone be- lieves that it is
cheaper to deny those services, I suggest they review the current state
of an underfunded foster-care program and contemplate the long-term
costs to the children, the families, and to this society of permitting
the current crisis to continue for another generation.