CHILDREN IN STATE CARE: ENSURING THEIR
SELECT COMMITTEE ON
CHILDREN, YOUTH AND
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
HEARING HELD IN WASHINGTON, DC, SEPTEMBER 25, 1986
STATEMENT OF MARK SOLER, DIRECTOR, YOUTH LAW CENTER, SAN
Mr. SOLER. Mr. Chairman, my name is Mark Soler. I am the ex-
ecutive director of the Youth Law Center, a public interest law
office located in San Francisco.
During the past 8 years, the
center's six staff attorneys and I
have worked with public officials,
parents, community groups, at-
torneys, and other children's advocates
in more than 40 States, pri-
marily in the areas of juvenile justice,
foster care, education, and
mental health. We have also litigated
successfully in 14 States to
stop abuses, assaults, and other violations
of children's civil and
I would like to
speak about the problems my colleagues and I
have seen of children in
Our home community of San Francisco is a microcosm of
problems we have seen throughout the country. The San Francisco
Juvenile Detention Center, the Youth Guidance Center, is a large
dilapidated, prison-like structure.
Built in 1950, it has been
the subject of numerous studies and re-
ports, all of which have
documented the oppressiveness and inad-
equacy of its physical plant and
the poor administration of its pro-
On February 14 of this
year, a 17-year-old boy named Robert
committed suicide by hanging
himself with a noose fashioned from
a sweatshirt. He had been in the
facility 30 days.
More than 2 weeks before the boy's death, social
workers at that
facility became aware that Robert was having bizarre
and referred the matter to the staff psychiatrist. The
never saw Robert.
On February 13, Robert was put in
his cell for disrupting the
breakfast meal. He was confined there all
day, over night, and
during the morning of February 14.
lunch, he banged on his door for several minutes, calling
for the senior
counselor to ask how long he would have to stay in
his room. The senior
counselor was busy and never talked with
Between 10 and
20 minutes later, another counselor found
Robert hanging from the wall.
The tragedy did not end there. Five days later Robert's
not yet been cleaned up of bodily wastes, so a staff member
ed two boys in the facility, ages 12 and 14, to clean up the
The odor was so intense that the staff member covered his face
with a bandana and the two boys plugged their nostrils with
I have attached to my statement newspaper accounts of these
Foster care in San Francisco is, if anything, in worse
Francisco has roughly 1,800 children in foster care, 1,300 of
are placed outside the city.
Nathan Moncrieff, born to a
heroin-addicted mother, was kept in
a temporary home for 13 months by
the San Francisco Department
of Social Services before being placed by
an adoption agency with
an Oakland couple.
In June of this year,
Nathan was beaten-to-death in the home.
The social workers for the
adoption agency and for the San Fran-
cisco agency did not learn, or
learned but did not report, that one
of the individuals had a felony
record, which disqualified him
under California law.
have been charged with murder.
Nathan Moncrieff's death prompted
investigations by the San
Francisco Mayor's Office and the State
Department of Social Serv-
ices, both of which found that practices and
procedures within the
Department of Social Services played roles in the
deaths of six of
the eight children who died in foster care during the
past 2 years.
The State agency also investigated a number of other
dled by the San Francisco Department of Social Services. It
cluded that San Francisco DSS violated State or Federal regula-
tions in a substantial number of the cases.
These tragedies are
not isolated events.
In juvenile correctional facilities, isolation,
official neglect, abuse
and suicide of children are all too common. My
colleagues and I
have represented a 15-year-old girl, ordered into an
Ohio jail for 5
days for running away from home, who was raped by a
jailer; children held in an Idaho jail, where a 17-year-old was
cerated for not paying $78 in traffic fines, then was
over a 14-hour period by other inmates; and parents in
and California whose children committed suicide in jails.
We have seen children in an Arizona juvenile detention center
tied hand and foot to their beds, and a Washington State facility in
which two children were held for 5 days at a time in a cell with
only 25 square feet of floor space.
We have seen children
hogtied in State juvenile training schools
in Florida -- wrists
handcuffed, ankles handcuffed, then placed
stomach down on the floor,
and wrists and ankles joined together
behind their backs. In the
training school in Oregon children were
put in filthy, roach-infested
isolation cells for weeks at a time.
In the Idaho training school,
children were punished by being
put in strait jackets, and being hung,
upside down, by their ankles.
Abuse in the foster care system is
also not confined to San Fran-
cisco. In Contra Costa County, across the
Bay Bridge from San
Francisco, foster parents were found to have held a
iron to the lips of a child as punishment for playing with
and to have forced the child to eat red pepper sauce for
In Kentucky, we represent a handicapped child
who was regular-
ly deprived of food and care, so that at 8 years of age
only 17 pounds.
The day-to-day tragedy of the foster
care system, children lan-
guishing in care for years without ever
having a permanent home
or a chance for stability, goes on everywhere.
Abuses also occur in mental health and educational systems. In
the State mental hospital in South Carolina, children who attempt-
ed to commit suicide were stripped to their underwear, bound by
their ankles and wrists to the corners of their beds, and injected
with psychotropic drugs.
In the Phoenix Indian High School in
Arizona, Indian children
found intoxicated on school grounds were
handcuffed to the fence
surrounding the institution, and left there
In a private treatment and special education facility in
children were locked in closets for punishment, grabbed by the
and thrown against walls, and given lie-detector tests as part of
We know about these practices because we have had
to litigate to
stop them, often with local attorneys and with other
the Legal Services Corporation-supported National Center
I have also attached articles on some of these
practices to my
What are we to make of this? How can
we put these horrors in
perspective? What are the underlying causes?
Four factors seem to be particularly important:
has been a failure of leadership at the Federal level,
the area of juvenile justice. The Office of Juvenile
Delinquency Prevention squanders its money on bi-
zarre projects like
the study of cartoons and pictures in back issues
of Playboy, Penthouse,
and Hustler, while putting enforcement of
the Juvenile Justice Act's
prohibition against jailing children on
the back burner.
past 5 years the Office of Juvenile Justice made no real
monitor State compliance with the Federal law. Local offi-
throughout the country have told me that despite open viola-
the act, they have no fear of Federal audits or funding cut-
In foster care, the Department of Health and Human Services
failed to promulgate meaningful regulations to implement the
Assistance and Child Welfare Act. It has applied even the
Federal regulations that were developed in an inconsist-
arbitrary manner, resulting in confusion among State offi-
only token implementation of the laws protecting chil-
There is no clear Federal voice as to what is required under
Public Law 96-272.
Second, the Federal statutes themselves
contain virtually no en-
forceable standards of care or safety for
children in State care. The
Adoption Assistance Act establishes
procedural safeguards for chil-
dren in foster care, but no substantive standards for
placed out of their homes.
In 1981 the Supreme Court
declared that the Bill of Rights provi-
sions of the Developmentally
Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights
Act are advisory not mandatory.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act's prohibi-
tion on holding children in adult facilities is flagrantly violated
every day throughout the country. It is being violated today, this
very minute, a few blocks from here, in the basement of the D.C.
Superior Court cell block, the same cell block in which an 11-year-
old boy was sexually assaulted by other inmates 2 years ago.
Third, with no consistent Federal standards or monitoring, many
State and local systems for children in care do not even come close
to fulfilling their basic responsibilities. Many juvenile justice sys-
tems are oriented toward punishment, not treatment.
at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency
and at the Center for
the Study of Youth Policy at the University
of Minnesota have
demonstrated trends over the last decade
toward increased use of formal
juvenile court procedures, longer
confinements in juvenile detention
centers and State training
schools, and increased incarceration of black
and Hispanic youth.
All this occurred during a period when the youth
the number of juvenile arrests---including those for the
ous offenses---have been declining.
perceive that voters want tough measures taken
against all wayward
children, whatever the offense, so they add
beds to existing
institutions, and build even larger new facilities,
community-based placements that are more humane,
more effective, and
In foster care, the most basic requirements of Public
are being violated every day. Social services workers, some
possibly high case loads, often make no efforts, reasonable or
wise, to prevent families from being broken up.
reviews often take 30 seconds or less, after which chil-
shuffled off, out of sight and out of mind, for another half
Researchers at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at
versity of Chicago found that in Illinois, many children are
spending 5 years in foster care despite the protective measures
tablished in Public Law 96-272. Indeed, much of their research in-
dicates that passage of the Federal Adoption Assistance Act has
no appreciable effect on the length of time many children
In the mental health area, the Children's Defense Fund
umented the minimal efforts by State agencies to provide basic
services, monitor the care of children in hospitals and other mental
health institutions, or even develop a policy focus on children and
adolescents. Children in private facilities--whether placed by juve-
nile courts, social service agencies, mental health departments--
are often not monitored at all by Government agencies.
in all of these systems, the underlying problem is often
fragmentation and lack of coordination of services for children.
fragmentation is everywhere.
Some children are labeled dependent or neglected and are
under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Services,
children are labeled delinquent and are under the Juvenile Court
or Probation Department, still others are given psychiatric label
and sent to the Department of Mental Health.
Indeed, the same
child may get different labels at different
times, depending upon the
point at which he enters the system. In
reality all of these children
may have serious emotional problems,
and all certainly come from
families or other living situations
marked by acute crises.
labeling approach creates barriers to the delivery of serv-
Department of Social Services resources, such as foster care
homes, are not readily available to delinquent children.
psychiatric services are not provided to neglected chil-
dren who need
Children sit in juvenile corrections or mental health
for weeks, even months, awaiting placement in
programs more appropriate to their needs.
worst cases, agencies ignore the needs of the most unwant-
or dump them in the laps of other agencies. For exam-
ple, it is common
for mental health agencies to refuse to accept de-
linquent children who
have histories of aggresive behavior, no
matter how compelling the
children's mental health needs, so that
children are warehoused in large
The situation is not hopeless, and there
are certainly bright
spots. Massachusetts closed its large juvenile
tions 15 years ago. Utah has followed suit. And
Colorado and some
other States are determined to shift to small,
In California, where as many as
100,000 children may be held in
jails and police station lockups each
year, the legislature has
passed a major reform bill that will end the
incarceration of chil-
dren for any period of time in county jails, and
put a 6-hour maxi-
mum on detentions in police lockups.
Youth Guidance Center in San Francisco, a new adminis-
genuinely committed to creating a caring and effec-
tive program for
children in trouble.
In the foster care area, successful family
like Homebuilders in Seattle, WA, are being
duplicated in other
States. In North Carolina and Delaware, case
have been established, so that children may receive a
variety of in-
dividual, family, mental health, and educational services
to their needs, independent of the name of the particular
that first began providing their care.
In all of these
areas -- juvenile justice, foster care, mental health,
education---children's advocates have monitored programs, investi-
gated abuses, and brought about much-needed reforms.
however, children in State care are often children in
danger of official
abuse. Dr. Jerome Miller, who pioneered the juve-
nile justice reforms
in Massachusetts 15 years ago, has often said
that the standard for
treatment of children in State care should be
the treatment we would
want our own children to receive in times
Last updated April 16, 1998