The vastly overhyped “Family First Act” comes complete with a “presents for pimps” loophole. That will encourage more tragedies like the one at Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls.
The shutdown of the residential treatment portion of Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls won’t happen because the agency that runs it, the Jewish Board Family and Children’s Services, had a crisis of conscience. It will happen because the pressure from upset neighbors and state regulators became too much. What was upsetting them? Oh, just the usual: violence and sex trafficking
The mere fact that an overwhelming body of research finds residential treatment to be a failure never seems to be enough in itself to shut these places down. Neither is the fact that almost none of the young people institutionalized in such places really need to be there. There is nothing an RTC can do that can’t be done better with Wraparound programs, in which all the help a child needs is brought into the child’s own home or a foster home.
When it was announced Cedar Knolls would close, there were 54 youths staying there out of a capacity of 78. The youths were expected to go back to their families or be placed with foster families. The final six children are to be transferred a facility in New York City, a spokeswoman told The Journal News on Thursday. [Emphasis added.]
Which raises an obvious question: Why were they institutionalized in the first place?
Yes, most people who work in and run such places mean well. Their intent is to help vulnerable children and they've convinced themselves they're doing just that. But the evidence says otherwise.
The first time I read about Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls was when it and a sister institution, Linden Hill, were exposed as hellholes by New York Newsday. It was 1990, and reporter Michael Powell found that the institutions were
plagued by violence, unchecked sex, and poor supervision. ... Said one counselor: "They have lost sight that the program is no longer safe to kids. It's outrageous."
When confronted, the institutions did what they so often do: They blamed the children.
In a just world, the 1990 expose should have been enough to shut these places down.
The New York Times reported that though the institution supposedly was treating victims of sex trafficking, the fear was that the runaways were falling victim to sex traffickers.
Once again, the institution blamed the victims. The Times’ explained the supposed “dilemma” for such places: They can’t “treat” people who keep running away, but if you make it harder for young people to run, then the places become more like jails – and people who have been victims of sex trafficking shouldn’t be treated like criminals.
The headline on the Times story was: “How Do You Care for Sex-Trafficking Victims if You Can’t Hold On to Them?” But the story omitted the answer: You place them with people they want to hold on to – in other words, a family. That, apparently is exactly what happened to most of the children at Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls, but only when the institution was pressured into closing.
As for all that violence reported back in 1990? Well, let the Journal News tell you. This story about Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls and another RTC in the area was published last Friday:
Things got so bad at local residential treatment centers for troubled youth that town police were responding to incidents on the two campuses multiple times on the same day.
In recent years, more than one squad car had to be dispatched on each call because of the potential for violence, with about one-third of all Mount Pleasant police calls tied to the two facilities and its young residents.
And that’s what makes the callousness and cynicism of America’s group home industry so breathtaking. They used the desperation of Members of Congress to pass the vastly overhyped so-called “Family First Act” to make tragedies such as this even more likely.
The law puts some very minor, easy-to-evade limits on when the federal government will help foot the enormous bill for institutionalizing children in group homes and residential treatment centers.
But the group home industry chafed at even these minor restrictions. So they added what should be called the “presents for pimps” loophole. The spigot of federal dollars stays open for:
A setting providing high-quality residential care and supportive services to children and youth who have been found to be, or are at risk of becoming, sex trafficking victims
(Sounds all nice on paper, but doesn't sound like they are helping these kids)
Cops say sex traffickers sell foster kids on the weekends
Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen found cases of kids in foster care pimped out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then returned to their taxpayer-funded group homes on Monday.
Missing and Forgotten: Thousands of foster kids kicked out of the system
Child welfare workers across the country have kicked thousands of missing foster care children out of the system – including one child as young as 9-years-old, a review by 25 Investigates uncovered.
Since 2000, federal records show child welfare agencies across the country closed the cases of more than 53,000 foster kids listed as “runaway” and at least another 61,000 children listed as “missing.”
How can social services lose 18,000 children - and not look for them?
This year, an estimated 18,000 American children will disappear, but their families will not be looking for them. Neighbors will not canvas the streets. Our Facebook feeds will not show their pictures. And after six months, the records of their existence may close entirely.
This is the fate awaiting children who vanish while in the care and custody of America’s child-protection system. Some run to escape abuse. Some follow false promises of love and security. Still others are kidnapped outright.
No matter the reason for falling off the grid, many of these boys and girls will resurface on the black market as child sex slaves. According to the FBI, more than half of trafficked children in America were in the care of social services when they disappeared. That is a damning statistic for a system whose sole purpose is to keep children safe.
But reporting a child missing is only a first step in what should be a 24/7 search. Every missing child counts, regardless of race, gender, age or social status.
The state is the legal guardian of these children, but Arizona law allows a case to be closed after the child has been missing from care for only six months. That responsibility should end only when the child is in a permanent and safe home — not because the child has disappeared.
Giving up on finding a child after six months is contrary to the very purpose of being a guardian. Closing the books also gives predators a green light: If you can keep a kid hidden for six months, you’re home free. Predators should know that we will never give up on finding these children — ever.