Abuse of foster children: community-wide problem

Thursday, February 13, 2003 at 1:00am

When you consider the recent discovery of a 3-year-old Chicago boy who was chained to his bed by his foster mother, Mary Bryant, it is easy to blame the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for failing to protect an abused child.

As someone who has had personal involvement with the agency, I can understand how such a horrendous act could happen. I adopted my then 3-year-old niece 14 years ago, and a year passed before the agency that was supposed to be monitoring her placement called to check on her.

By then, the adoption was final and the agency no longer had a right to visit my home, let alone investigate it. So, to assume that the 3-year-old boy's ordeal is an isolated incident is to give DCFS too much credit. Even so, the agency is between a rock and a hard place. These kids have to be placed somewhere, and any place usually looks better than where they were.

Although President Bill Clinton thought he was fixing the problem when he signed the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, he may have actually made the system worse.

Placing children into permanent homes has become a sweepstakes. In 1999, 42 states earned $20 million in federal adoptions bonuses for exceeding baseline adoption goals. Illinois, which used to rank near the bottom of all states finding permanent homes for children in foster care, now ranks near the top.

Over a three-year period ending in 2002, the new law helped decrease the number of Illinois children in foster care almost by half. But it also removed critical oversight of the homes to which the children went.

In some instances, the monetary incentive

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