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California Foster Care Abuse Statistics – Can They Be Trusted?

Given the bureaucracy of the foster care system and the multi-tiered nature of the system – which is largely overseen by a complex web of local, county, and state agencies and offices with limited oversight and record keeping done on the federal level – keeping track of statistics on the prevalence of abuse in the foster care system at a local, state, and national level can be difficult. It takes years for the overseers of the foster care system to tabulate data on abuse, and because of this it is imperative that people who care about those in the foster system be aware of the signs of abuse and take legal action when it is observed.

Because of the delays in reporting, the most recent statistics available on a national level for foster care abuse are from 2013, which were compiled by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and released this year. While those statistics indicate that most children in foster care do not suffer abuse, far too many still do. Furthermore, the data is based on reporting done by the states themselves, and the accuracy of California’s reporting on foster care abuse has been called into question by, among others, The Los Angeles Times. That said, data from the Children’s Bureau included the following:

  • 24 of the 50 states meet the national standards for reporting, that .32% or less of children in foster care are abused.
  • California reported in 2013 that .25% of children in its foster care system are abused. This compares to .23% of children in 2012, .30% in 2011, .32% in 2010, and .31% in 2009.
  • California reported 276 cases of foster parent abuse of foster children, the second-highest in the country behind New York with 346 reported cases.
  • Wyoming and New Hampshire had the fewest average cases of foster care abuse, while Oklahoma, Rhode Island, New York, Florida, and Connecticut had the highest.
  • Nationwide, there were 305 reported cases of abuse perpetrated by a foster parent who was a female relative, 76 reported cases where the perpetrator was a male relative, 1,003 reported cases where the perpetrator was a nonrelative, and 242 cases where the relationship of the perpetrator to the foster child was unknown.
  • Nationwide, five fatalities of foster care children were reported where foster parents perpetrated their deaths.

As upsetting as these figures are, there is reason to believe that the actual number of abuses occurring is significantly higher. Remember, these statistics are based on what the states themselves are reporting, and state agencies are under pressure to meet the national standards of achieving less than .32% in reported abuse. In a 2013 investigative study by The Los Angeles Times, the paper determined that California was systematically underreporting cases of abuse, finding, “To hit their end-of-the-year deadline (to report less than .32% of abuse among foster kids), state officials report investigative results for only three-quarters of the year. State and federal officials acknowledge the results are incomplete but have not acted to correct the problem.” The paper also indicated that state officials don’t actually require that participants answer questions regarding abuse or neglect, concluding, “Without that detail, state regulators have no way to identify agencies with patterns of abuse.” The paper also went on to describe “widely publicized cases of foster children who were killed or severely injured, but (state reports) show no reports of children being harmed anywhere in the state.”

Ultimately, these figures and their highly questionable sources indicate that we all must take action to prevent foster care abuse. If you see signs of it, you should contact an attorney who can take action to prevent its further occurrence; you cannot assume that state agencies will take action on their own initiative.

If you suspect someone is a victim of foster care abuse, that person has the right to pursue a civil lawsuit against the abuser, as well as the agency responsible for placing them in the dangerous environment. Contact the foster care abuse attorneys at the Law Offices of Andrew Ritholz today to learn more or pursue your foster care abuse claim.

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