Child Waste And Abuse In The DC Child Welfare System

I generally discount claims that government agencies are riddled with fraud, waste and abuse. But a great piece of investigative journalism by Washington City Paper reporter Jason Cherkis exposes an exception that proves the rule.

It’s waste and abuse in the District’s child welfare system that makes squandering money look trivial.

As Cherkis painstakingly (and painfully) shows, four major District agencies routinely “outsource” their responsibilities for helping youth in trouble.

Those they choose to institutionalize include not only young people who’ve run afoul of the legal system, but those our public schools have found difficult to handle, even those whose only offense is to have been victims of parental abuse and/or neglect.

The agencies could focus on community-based services and stable, secure foster care placements, when needed. Instead, they routinely ship kids off to residential treatment centers, where, as Cherkis says, they generally “come out worse than when they went in.”

The waste here is partly financial. RTC placements are extremely costly. Last fiscal year’s bill exceeded $41 million, not counting spending by the Child and Family Services Agency or federal Medicaid funds.

The bigger waste is in human lives — children who suffer grave and lasting psychological damage, loss of educational opportunities and, in many cases, physical harm.

The abuse is perpetrated by a number of the RTCs and, more importantly, by the District agencies that know (or ought to know) what they’re doing. Seems that out of sight, out of mind takes precedence over child welfare here.

If you think I’m hyperventilating, read Cherkis’s account of the District’s “addiction” to RTC placements — “the most costly and most scary way of treating vulnerable kids.” Then tell me if you’re not outraged too.


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