CHILDREN IN STATE CARE: ENSURING THEIR PROTECTION AND
HEARING BEFORE THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN, YOUTH AND
FAMILIES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
CONGRESS SECOND EDITION
HEARING HELD IN WASHINGTON, DC, SEPTEMBER 25, 1986
STATEMENT OF DIANE WEINROTH, MEMBER,
STEERING COMMIT- TEE, CHILD ADVOCACY AND PROTECTION COMMITTEE, THE BAR
ASSOCIATION OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, WASHING- TON, DC
Ms. WEINROTH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Johnson.
Diane Weinroth, an attorney in the District of Columbia and I specialize
in child abuse and neglect. I am a member of the steering committee of the
Child Advocacy and Protection Commit- tee of the Bar Association of the
District of Columbia.
I would like to pick up a little on a theme that
Diane Shust started to address. The committee has heard from Mark Soler,
and will probably hear all day, the kinds of tragedies that unquestion-
ably happen on a daily basis to children who are in State care. It is
atrocious, there just is no other word for it.
There is another
kind of tragedy that is taking place on a daily basis that is a little
less dramatic, but it really isn't less dramatic when you have to deal
with it on a daily basis. When you have to deal with the kids who come
ring your doorbell at 8 a.m., after having walked halfway across the city,
or who are calling you from a phone booth at 2 a.m., or who are coming to
your door on a Sunday morning because there is not enough food to eat in
the group home and the counselors won't get any, or who are calling
you for all kinds of other similar reasons.
It is no less
compelling, the kind of tragedy that I am talking about, because of the
tremendous emotional cost to children and families and the tremendous loss
of human potential that is the kind of tragedy that results simply from
the total lack of services and resources to address the needs of these
children, the needs of normal children, the needs of special needs
children, and the tre- mendous dehumanization and brutalization that
Children may--they may--get three square meals and roof over
their head, but they get very little else. I would just like to run
down briefly, sort of a panorama of the lack of things that are
available to kids, that ought to be available to kids. Then give you a
couple of quick examples from my own case load of the kinds of things that
I am talking about, the kinds of things that we have to deal with on a
daily basis when we are trying to help these kids.
In the District of
Columbia there is a tremendous shortage of foster homes; there is no
recruitment for foster homes; there isn't ample training of foster homes.
Younger and younger children are going into group home situations--we will
get to the condition of group homes in a second--brothers and sisters are
separated, it is just an appalling situation.
I spend so much time
simply trying to get a child placed, some- where, anywhere. They will be
sitting in the child protective serv- ices office and there won't be a
placement for them.
There are no group homes--I am not sure I want to
encourage more group homes because group homes are really a problem.
There are rarely standards, adequate standards for group homes.
The staff in group homes are uncredentialed and
untrained. The physical condition of group homes is often deplorable.
One of my favorite group homes right now is located--for ne- glected
boys--is located one block from Hanover Place, which is a notorious drug
center in the District of Columbia. There is no mon- itoring of group
As far as the social services agencies are concerned, the case-
loads are tremendous; the social workers aren't trained; they don't
monitor the placements; children are warehoused in St, Elizabeths
Hospital, who have no business being there, because there simply
aren't any other placements for them. They are warehoused in other
kinds of residential placements as well.
There are no services. As the
committee has heard and will hear again, it takes me years, literally
years, sometimes to get therapy for children and families.
is no drug treatment. I had a client who was abusing drugs at the age of
14 and 15, probably earlier; she finally came around to the point where
she was willing to enter some kind of drug treatment program. I was on the
phone for 2 days straight trying to find something, anything for this
child, and I couldn't do it.
I don't know what has become of her
at this point. The social services agency requested that her neglect case
be closed because they couldn't do anything else for her, had no programs
for her; and her case was closed. I wasn't able to prevent that.
There are no adequate educational services. The children are
treated as discards.
Children in foster care--these are neglected
children that the District is supposed to be helping--get $30 a month for
clothes, period. It doesn't matter if they came into foster care as
infants and stay until age 21, that is all they get.
They get $20
to $25 a month for personal care and allowance. That is it. That is
absolutely it; nothing else.
You have to keep running into court; you
have to try to get court orders for things -- 1 have had many, many kids
that I have to go to court for just to try to get clothing on their backs.
There are no effective job training and placement programs. No
vocational education. No assistance for kids who are coming out of
foster care -- and they are getting kicked out of foster care at earli-
er and earlier ages, because the agencies don't want to service them.
There are no family oriented, preventive services to keep children from
coming into State care and no reunification services for children who come
into State care.
As my written testimony indicates, not only is this
appalling in terms of the emotional costs to the children and families, it
is ridic- ulous because the cost of keeping children in State care is
The cost of providing services to children in family
settings, or with their natural families, is a fraction of the cost,
generally speaking, that it takes to keep a child in the care of the
Let me just give you a few other snapshots from my own case
load of the kind of problems that we encounter like this on a daily
basis. There is an institutional facility for infants and small chil-
dren, again, these are neglected infants and small children in the
District of Columbia. Children sit there for months and
years -- no exaggeration -- because they are simply not placed anywhere
They either aren't any placements or the social services' people
are too lethargic to do the paperwork to get them placed. One ex-
ample that comes to mind, and it is by no means the worst case, is a
baby that was there for 8 months, and the effect on that child was so
severe, he became so withdrawn, that he was thought to be mentally
retarded, when he was not. Of course, that makes placing that child even
more difficult; it is a classic sort of vicious circle. And that is by no
means the worst case.
I represent another child who came into foster
care as a neglect- ed child at age 9. He was placed in a group home, an
outrageous thing to do at that age. As one of my clients has said, when
you are in a group home you are on your own.
He, at the age of 13,
when I became his attorney, he was func- tionally illiterate. He was being
bounced from placement to place- ment. He wasn't being given any therapy.
The strengths that he had, which were artistic and manual-- which
were obviously going to give him his ticket out of the system at some
point -- nothing along those lines was being provided for him; no classes,
no courses, no nothing. Now he is at a residential placement and very
shortly he will be released from there.
There is going to be no place
for that youngster in the District of Columbia. He won't get any
educational services. He will be dumped. I don't know where he will be
dumped--probably in a group home, unless I can prevent it.
youngster in a similar situation had a residential place- ment practically
close down around her ears. She was literally the last child left there,
and they still couldn't come up with another placement for her.
They wanted to dump her in a group home. It was only under threat
of contempt of court that anything else was finally achieved for her.
To make a very long story short, through the advocacy efforts of
her attorney, she is now residing with her grandmother and she is
attending the Duke Ellington High School for the Performing Arts; this
is a child that was going to be discarded, that essentially was discarded
and was going to be discarded through the rest of her teenage years.
A youngster that I represented who was about to be kicked out of
foster care at age 19 or 20, a graduate of high school, wanted to go
to college, but there was no help for him from the social services
system. His social worker told the judge that her discharge plan for
him was to tell him how to get on general public assistance and
Medicaid, the Medicaid being particularly important because he was a
The irony, of course, is that I don't think he would have
been eli- gible for either public assistance or Medicaid. But here is a
bright youngster, with a tremendous amount of potential and that is the
plan that social services has for him.
I sat him down, gave him
some phone numbers, did some xerox- ing for him, and the happy result is
that with that very minimal effort, and that very minimal support, he has
been working for 2
years at one of the most prominent
law firms in the District of Co- lumbia in a clerical capacity.
The last story I will mention just by way of example is--well, the
last two--is a client of mine who was arrested for solicitation or
prostitution, at age 12 or 18. No one knows where her mother is at
this point--no one knows where her father is--she was detained in the
local juvenile detention facility; she was pregnant at age 18. I could not
get her any counseling until I got a court order.
It took that court
order; and even with the court order, it still took a tremendous amount of
struggling to get her counseling. She made her decision with regard to
pregnancy; she had an abortion.
She was returned to the detention
facility. She was put in a week's room isolation immediately after that
because she had an argument with a counselor.
That is the kind of
treatment that these children are subjected to on a daily basis and there
is just no excuse for it.
I guess one of my other favorite success
stories, and it happens all the time, is one that illustrates what can
happen if you do put a little effort into things.
Two clients were
in foster care who were both teenage mother. The social services agency
did everything possible to take their children away from them. It gave
them no help whatsoever when they were coming out of foster care.
But to make a long story short, those children are now doing well
primarily because of the advocacy efforts of their attorneys; their
children are not in foster care.
Both those young mothers are
employed, again, through no thanks to the social services system, and
their children are doing fine.
So, children who are treated as
discards, should not be treated as discards; they need not be treated as
discards. They can lead pro- ductive and happy lives if the social
services system will simply provide what would inevitably be cost
effective services for these children to allow them to have a happy and
[The prepared statement of
Diane Weinroth follows:]