It looks like the people of Contra Costa County, California will be paying twice for foster care. They already pay taxes to support the foster care system that provides stand-in parents for kids whose natural parents have been found to be unfit. But, as this article tells us, the good citizens of Contra Costa County may soon be coughing up an extra $4 million (San Francisco Examiner, 1/22/11). That’s the amount attorneys are recommending the county pay to an unnamed minor boy whose foster mother tortured him and his sister. He survived the abuse meted out by Shameeka Davis, but his 15 year old sister, Jazzmin did not.
Examinations reportedly showed both had been burned with hot irons and whipped with belts and electrical cords over time.
Although the article states that “the children were under the supervision of the San Francisco Department of Child Protective Services” it’s clear that that “supervision” wasn’t what it should have been. Apparently the Department of Child Protective Services was supposed to visit the home every month, but, since the children had been in Davis’s home since 1993, visits had been scaled back to twice a year. As readers know, I’m not one to quickly condemn CPS agencies every time there’s injury to a child done by a parent or foster parent. I’ve said before that CPS personnel are routinely overworked and underpaid and the decisions they make about taking a child from a parent are seldom clear cut. It may even be that in the case of Shameeka Davis, CPS thought it had a responsible, stable mother and that they kids were in no danger. They’d lived with her since 1993, after all. But what’s also true is that the breakdown of the family over the last 40 years or so has had consequences and not unforeseen ones. Out of wedlock childbearing is now at 40% and divorce is close to 50%. The family court system places barriers between noncustodial parents (mostly fathers) and their children, effectively making many mothers single parents. Now, way back in the 60s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan sounded the alarm. He told us that family breakdown resulting in children raised by single mothers was an accident waiting to happen and a bad one. He was right then, but we’ve gone down that dangerous road anyway. Countless people have inveighed against the many forces that promote and even exalt single parenthood, but to little avail. We do little to acquaint the young with the fact that single parenthood is bad for children and bad for the single parent. We do little to assure that fathers will continue to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives after divorce. And just to make sure the cycle keeps right on going, we know that fatherless girls are more likely than those with dads to have sex and get pregnant earlier. That of course tends to result in more children raised without fathers who then go on to have early pregnancies out of wedlock. It goes on and on, and those who try to stop it are mostly ignored. By any stretch of the imagination, it’s a dysfunctional system. And part of that system is the notion that we can replace parents with the government. That’s a lot of what’s at work in the Shameeka Davis case. The narrative there is that the government, a.k.a. child protective services, didn’t do its job. Well, I don’t know if it did or not. The fact that the county is poised to pay $4 million in a wrongful death suit strongly suggests that its attorneys think it didn’t. But the larger picture includes the conditions that put Jazzmin and her brother in foster care in the first place. It’s the picture I sketched above in which society ambles blissfully along believing that single parenthood and absent fathers are an acceptable way to bring up children. They’re not, and we have another dead child and another severely injured one to prove it. Maybe the fact that the citizens of Contra Costa County now have an extra $4 million to pay will cause them to consider the many healthier options available to us all. Maybe.