Over the years, this blog has sought to get Arlington County to rethink its approach to protecting children. Instead of removing children from their families as a primary tool, this blog has argued that its primary tool should be to keep families together and, using other tools, solve the particular threat to the child.
In this TED talk, Molly McGrath Tierney, the Director for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, explains what is wrong with the current child welfare system and how she has worked over the past six years to change it in Baltimore. She has led a massive reform effort to dramatically improve the impact of services to vulnerable citizens of Baltimore. Molly’s work is considered a national model for modern social services.
In this TEDx talk she advocates what this blog has been advocating. Here are her key observations:
“Kids who grew up in foster care…. You know what they want? They want to go home
Now, there are over 50 child welfare agencies in the country, and the funds to underwrite them are in the billions. There is not one among them that’s reputed to be working well.
Awful things happen to children in foster care. Short term, their outcomes for important things like health and education are abysmal, and long term it just gets worse. Kids that grow up in foster care [are] overwhelmingly destined for the penitentiary, the morgue, or the child welfare system when their own kids come into foster care.
the agency she runs now was once considered among the worst in the country; during her tenure it reduced the number of children in foster care by 58%, reduced the number of kids living in orphanages by 89%, increased adoptions 59%, and increased the number of kids that left foster care for families by 47%.
She did it by articulating a mission and repeated it like a broken record, “Kids ought to be in families.”
The reason child welfare isn’t working is because there are children in foster care.
“Why would we do such a thing?”
“first, it feels good to save kids. We get a great injection of adrenaline when we rush in, and our brain responds to that stimuli. Just like we do anything else that feels good, we want more of it. And when we figure out how to keep returning to that good feeling, we start thinking that, in and of itself, is success. We’re mistaking something that feels good to us for something that is actually helping other people, because if it feels so good, we must be doing the right thing.”
Second, child welfare is an industry, and industries are self-protecting ecosystems. Think about it. The only time the federal government pays me is when I take somebody’s kid. And as soon as that kid’s in foster care, they instantly become a commodity, and the industry starts to wrap around – doctors, lawyers, judges, social workers, advocates, whole organizations. The industry is committed to this intervention, this taking other people’s children, ‘cause that’s what it needs to survive. And it’s on auto pilot, and it’s going to do whatever it has to do to stay alive. And this industry, to stay alive, needs other people’s children. And this industry, to stay alive, needs other people’s children.”
- Child welfare is mostly driven by DHS workers, guardian ad litems, and family court judges soothing their own egos and wanting to feel good about themselves, rather than doing what is best for the family and child.
Read the complete comments of Molly McGrath Tierney.
Related: Listen to the Kids