Foster children suffer under for-profit foster care

By Margaret Johnson

Children are the most under-represented among all groups. As minors they are not given the same resources or legitimacy as other groups, and their concerns are often regarded as naïve or unfounded.

Combine that with the further disadvantage of not having parents to act on behalf of your well-being, and you have foster children. Foster children are a severely neglected and under-served group within our society. The injustices that occur within the foster care system are deeply concerning—especially in regard to for-profit foster care systems.

For-profit foster care agencies operate under the same model as any other business: They seek to maximize income and reduce expenses. When these agencies reduce “expenses” they are in fact reducing the quality of service and protection they provide to the under-privileged children they claim to care for.

For-profit foster care agencies earn income from the state when the state hires foster parents and places children in homes. These agencies therefore have a single financial incentive to place children in homes. The focus on doing so greatly reduces the time and consideration put into placing children with safe and responsible parents.

The nation’s largest for-profit foster care agency, National Mentor Holdings, was recently put under great scrutiny for the training that they provide to foster care homes and parents. Mentor trains potential foster parents for only 24 hours, including a viewing of the film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” due to its theme of family struggle. It goes without saying that watching a film does not develop the qualities needed by potential foster parents, nor should 24 hours of training justify the right to care for a child.

The investigation into Mentor’s training process, on the other hand, is justified. After extreme cases of death and sexual abuse have finally been revealed to the public, the for-profit foster care agency is under a lot of pressure to explain the traumatic events that have happened within its system.

According to a recent Buzzfeed investigation, the case of the Last Chance Farm is an example of the traumatic situations that Mentor carelessly puts its foster children in. One of the parents, Stephen Merritt, has recently pleaded guilty to sexually abusing some of the boys that were placed under his care by Mentor. He has also revealed that his uncle, another parent who lived on the farm, had sexually abused a foster child.

After 12 years of sexually abusing young boys, Merritt was finally arrested. The investigation has revealed sensitive and upsetting details about the case. Mentor carelessly ignored the marijuana arrest report that showed up on Merritt’s background check. After speaking with the young boys molested by Merritt, it was discovered that the boys were forced to drink beer and smoke marijuana before Merritt molested them.

In another recent case, Mentor’s carelessness allowed for a two-year-old girl to be placed with a woman who later murdered the young girl. Sherill Small was a known crack addict, but Mentor neglected to interview her family and friends. This time, Mentor’s misjudgment of foster parents was fatal.

What does Mentor have to say about all of this? Mentor’s chief public strategy and marketing manager, Dwight Robson, has gone on record saying, “obviously, we made a poor judgment,” and, “If we could turn back the clock we would.”

The words show little empathy for putting children at harm. For a company that supposedly specializes in placing children with nurturing families, Mentor is about as qualified to run a foster care agency as the foster parents whom it deems qualified to raise children.

Mentor isn’t the only for-profit agency that has been under criticism. In 2013, yet another foster care child was put in a dangerous situation by Lutheran Social Services. Orein Hamilton, an 11-month-old baby, was murdered by her foster mother’s significant other who, unbeknownst to Lutheran Social Services, was living in the house. Just like the Mentor case, the oversight in the Hamilton case was due to the lack of proper screening of the foster parent, which then resulted in the tragic death of a child.

What for-profit foster care agencies like Mentor ultimately amount to is the exchanging of children for money. This violation of human rights masquerades as a service for neglected children.

Where there is any incentive for money, there is an incentive to abuse moral principles in order to maximize profits. That is just what has happened with some for-profit foster care agencies. These agencies should not be allowed to exist, for their sole interest is money, not children. As long as Mentor is making a ten percent annual profit, why wouldn’t they turn a blind eye to the unsuitable foster parents that allowed for that profit?

Children aren’t allowed the same opportunity as adults to voice their opinions. Even on the rare occasion that they are, their status as minors renders their concerns illegitimate. The American child welfare system is failing because it is carelessly placing children in homes that put them at risk of danger. The first step in allowing these children the justice they deserve is to ban for-profit foster care agencies, as profit will always be of greater interest to them than providing children with a safe and stable environment.