October 26, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Parents Organization
I was very pleased at the headline on this article – “Fixing the Foster Care System” – and powerfully disappointed after I read it (Institute for Family Studies, 10/14/20). I was disappointed because the author, Naomi Shaeffer Riley, who is highly knowledgeable about child welfare issues, never suggests a way to, well, fix the foster care system. Still, the piece is a good read, mostly because it informs us of a potentially dangerous and hitherto unseen trend. And, after all, the title can be read tongue-in-cheek.
The bulk of Riley’s piece is about the movie Foster Boy that makes that most dubious of cinematic claims – to be “based on true events.” That of course can mean anything and much of the movie, I suspect, is about as much based on true events as, say, Little Shop of Horrors.
So, what’s important about another mediocre movie? Maybe nothing, but what’s worrisome is the narrative the film promotes. In a nutshell, it wants viewers to believe that the abuse and neglect to which children are often subjected in foster care is all the result of private contractors that provide services to state CPS agencies. In short, it’s another attack on corporate America with the none-too-subtle corollary that the state is preferable to the private sector.
Perhaps worse is the fact that the movie has the abused black former foster child, Jamal, saved by a white lawyer who sees the light and sets aside his evil ways (representing corporations, being a conservative)
In short, the film uses the real issue of child welfare agencies and foster care as a sort of prop to promote a “woke” frame of mind in its viewers.
Riley has a few facts to offer in rebuttal.
This is bonkers. For-profit foster care companies represent a small fraction of the organizations—both public and private—that certify foster homes and place children in them. Forty-three states don’t use for-profit companies at all. In states that do, like Massachusetts, they account for 4.42% of placements. The idea that the problems of our child welfare system are driven in any way by greedy foster care magnates drinking expensive champagne and flying on private jets is laughable.
State child welfare agencies and foster care could indeed be a worthy subject for a well-done film. After all, in those systems there are villains galore and victims aplenty. What viewer wouldn’t root for a little kid caught between an uncaring and incompetent state agency, a well-meaning but stuck-behind-the-8-ball foster family and a biological family that may or may not be able to give him/her the needed care and love?
But what we don’t need is Hollywood once again peddling a narrative that gets both the problem and the solution wrong. The very idea that private providers are what plagues foster care and the children that system so often abuses is, as Riley points out, just flat wrong. For one thing, those private service providers are relative newcomers to the system. Meanwhile, state agencies have been demonstrating their incompetence all across the nation and beyond for decades now. If the solution to child abuse and neglect in foster care were simply to return all services to the state, why don’t states just do that? For that matter, why did they turn to private providers in the first place? If private contractors are the problem, what does that say about the states that hire them?
The countless problems that beset state child welfare agencies won’t be solved by Hollywood. Indeed, relying on “wokeness” to do so absolutely guarantees failure. To coin a phrase, it’s a physician that knows neither the disease nor the patient.