The Facebook post linked to charges of “deaths, sex abuse, and blunders in screening, training, and overseeing foster parents at the nation’s largest for-profit foster care company.” My first reaction was disbelief: a for-profit foster care company? I remember my own days as a foster parent of teenagers, and the financial and emotional challenges of caring for them. How could a company make money on foster care? And why would anyone think it’s a good idea to place kids with a company whose purpose is to make money from them?
The BuzzFeed News investigation is as shocking as the headline. National Mentor Holdings is the nation’s largest foster care company, with operations across the country, including Minnesota. The report showed overloaded caseworkers, under-supervised foster families, and repeated instances of abuse of children.
Does that make Mentor a monster? Maybe not, the BuzzFeed article says, acknowledging that “many, probably most of the company’s foster parents offer stable and loving care.” BuzzFeed quoted Mentor spokesperson Dwight Robson, who
“said the company has done an excellent job of protecting and caring for ‘literally thousands of vulnerable children whose lives we enhanced.’ He pointed to Maryland, where, in their most recent evaluations, state regulators gave the company high marks.”
But the investigation found “troubling deficiencies” in three states’ evaluations of Mentor foster care, and a bigger problem:
” … a comprehensive view of Mentor is virtually impossible, because America’s foster care system is fragmented, administered by states and counties that typically do not share information publicly — or even with each other — often citing child confidentiality.”
The privatization of government responsibility to protect our nation’s most vulnerable children accelerated with the 1996 passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). The so-called welfare reform legislation included a provision allowing states to use federal foster care funding to pay for-profit foster care providers. Now ALEC is pushing legislation to privatize foster care and adoption services that would go beyond current payments to for-profit companies.
Protecting abused children is a tough job. Providing homes for children who have been taken from their own parents is a tough job. Creating a profit incentive is no help in either job. A 2013 paper on child welfare privatization published by In the Public Interest describes “the contradiction between private contracting and child welfare: the unidirectional value arising from contract relations is inherently at odds with the polyvalent and humanitarian nature of social work.” In more succinct terms, BuzzFeed reports, “Many former workers say they believe the pressure to squeeze profits out of foster care is part of the problem.”
Profits are big. According to a Moody’s Investors Service news item about the company’s IPO in 2014, “The company generated net revenue of approximately $1.2 billion for the twelve months ended March 31, 2014.” The CEO of National Mentor Holdings was paid more than a million dollars in 2013.
When I hear “foster care,” I think of children and of families struggling to help them rebuild lives — not billion dollar business, stock prices and profits. Guess I’m behind the times.