The tragedy did not end there. Five days later Robert's cell had
not yet been cleaned up of bodily wastes, so a staff member select-
ed two boys in the facility, ages 12 and 14, to clean up the room.

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 shape. San
Francisco has roughly 1,800 children in foster care, 1,300 of whom
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.

Both men 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 cases han-
dled by the San Francisco Department of Social Services. It con-
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 deputy
jailer; children held in an Idaho jail, where a 17-year-old was incar-
cerated for not paying $78 in traffic fines, then was beaten-to-death
over a 14-hour period by other inmates; and parents in Kentucky
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 hot curling
iron to the lips of a child as punishment for playing with matches,


and to have forced the child to eat red pepper sauce for wetting his

In Kentucky, we represent a handicapped child who was regular-
ly deprived of food and care, so that at 8 years of age he weighed
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 overnight.

In a private treatment and special education facility in Utah,
children were locked in closets for punishment, grabbed by the hair
and thrown against walls, and given lie-detector tests as part of
their therapy.

We know about these practices because we have had to litigate to
stop them, often with local attorneys and with other programs like
the Legal Services Corporation-supported National Center for
Youth Law.

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:

First, there has been a failure of leadership at the Federal level,
particularly in the area of juvenile justice. The Office of Juvenile
Justice and 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.

In the past 5 years the Office of Juvenile Justice made no real
effort to monitor State compliance with the Federal law. Local offi-
cials throughout the country have told me that despite open viola-
tions of the act, they have no fear of Federal audits or funding cut-

In foster care, the Department of Health and Human Services
has failed to promulgate meaningful regulations to implement the
Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. It has applied even the
minimal Federal regulations that were developed in an inconsist-
ent and arbitrary manner, resulting in confusion among State offi-
cials and 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 children
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.

Researchers 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 population and
the number of juvenile arrests---including those for the most seri-
ous offenses---have been declining.

Local officials 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,
ignoring community-based placements that are more humane,
more effective, and less costly.

In foster care, the most basic requirements of Public Law 96-272
are being violated every day. Social services workers, some with im-
possibly high case loads, often make no efforts, reasonable or other-
wise, to prevent families from being broken up.

Six-month reviews often take 30 seconds or less, after which chil-
dren are shuffled off, out of sight and out of mind, for another half
year of their lives.

Researchers at the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the Uni-
versity of Chicago found that in Illinois, many children are still
spending 5 years in foster care despite the protective measures es-
tablished in Public Law 96-272. Indeed, much of their research in-
dicates that passage of the Federal Adoption Assistance Act has
had no appreciable effect on the length of time many children
spend in foster care.

In the mental health area, the Children's Defense Fund has doc-
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.

Fourth, in all of these systems, the underlying problem is often
the fragmentation and lack of coordination of services for children.
This fragmentation is everywhere.


Some children are labeled dependent or neglected and are placed
under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Services, other
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.

This labeling approach creates barriers to the delivery of serv-
ices. Department of Social Services resources, such as foster care
and group homes, are not readily available to delinquent children.
Intensive psychiatric services are not provided to neglected chil-
dren who need them.

Children sit in juvenile corrections or mental health institutions
for weeks, even months, awaiting placement in community-based
programs more appropriate to their needs.

In the worst cases, agencies ignore the needs of the most unwant-
ed children, 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 correctional institutions.

The situation is not hopeless, and there are certainly bright
spots. Massachusetts closed its large juvenile correctional institu-
tions 15 years ago. Utah has followed suit. And Colorado and some
other States are determined to shift to small, community-based fa-

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.

At the Youth Guidance Center in San Francisco, a new adminis-
tration seems genuinely committed to creating a caring and effec-
tive program for children in trouble.

In the foster care area, successful family preservation programs
like Homebuilders in Seattle, WA, are being duplicated in other
States. In North Carolina and Delaware, case management systems
have been established, so that children may receive a variety of in-
dividual, family, mental health, and educational services according
to their needs, independent of the name of the particular agency
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.

In general, 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
of crisis.

Testimony index

Last updated April 16, 1998