CSSP Policy Analyst Nico’Lee Biddle contributed an article to Children’s Bureau Express, discussing the fundamental brokenness of the child welfare system and how “to truly be relentless” when it comes to reimagining child welfare.
“Over the years that I’ve been involved in child welfare system reform efforts, I have frequently heard the system described as “broken.” When this state of brokenness originated depended on who was speaking. Was it a result of the unintended consequences of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997? Was it when the pendulum supposedly swung toward giving birth parents “too many rights?” Was it a result of underfunding leading to a workforce that wasn’t capable of carrying out its responsibilities? Where does this idea of the system being broken come from, and why can’t it be fixed?
Let’s imagine the child welfare system as a broken-down car. Over the years it has had many owners, and for the past 5 years you’ve been forced to drive it and use it as your only mode of transportation. You’ve been pouring money into it nonstop. So far, you’ve tried to fix problems big and small, but no matter what you do, the car keeps breaking down. You’ve even taken it to various mechanics, and each one has tinkered around or added a new part; each was optimistic that they had “fixed” the problem, but sooner or later, another problem would appear and something else would be needed to get the car moving again.
The child welfare system is similar: failing, not serving the needs of its owners (the children and families it is intended to serve), and requiring more and more costly interventions to fix what ultimately can’t be fixed. There are a disproportionate number of Black and Brown youth in the system. Too often, children sleep overnight in offices because there aren’t enough foster homes. Youth have been abused while in congregate care, and young adults age out every single day without any sort of permanency. Those working in the field generally acknowledge these truths and work hard every single day to try to make the system better. The failures of child welfare are not due to neglectful or indifferent staff. So, what is the problem?”