Foster Care Law – The Book!

Mention the phrase “foster care” to nearly anyone and you may evoke one of several images: maltreated children; kindly strangers; abusive strangers; bureaucratic bungling. One image not likely evoked will be the sheer enormity of the foster care system. Foster care is big business. In 1989, the federal government spent 1.2 billion dollars to reimburse state spending on foster care. This year it will be over 6 billion dollars, an increase of more than 400%!

Foster care is a way of offering children a stable home while their own parents are unable to care for them. Some children may have been neglected or mistreated. Social workers and lawyers work with biological and foster families to help parents and children sort out their problems in order to make the biological home a safe place to which the child can return. Usually, foster care is a temporary arrangement. Some children return to their own families in a matter of days, weeks, or months. Those who cannot (two-thirds will stay more than a year) may stay in long-term foster care or may be adopted. Ideally, each child is placed in a foster home that is thoughtfully chosen to meet their unique needs. The principal goal is to significantly reduce the length of time a child spends in the frustrating wait to return to their own home, to find a permanent home, or to be adopted.

This book galvanizes and centralizes a great deal of legal and social work information about foster care into one easy-to–understand primer. The child welfare services system in general and the foster care system in particular are both amalgamations of federal and state law, hazily defined standards, policies, and practices. Public policy is defined by broad strokes; law is defined in its details.

Forster Care Law – A Primer catalogues and organizes numerous disparate bits of policy and legal information into a single volume that new or seasoned social workers and lawyers will find invaluable, even as public and private agencies are hampered by high staff turnover and inexperienced workers.

While anyone can apply to be a foster parent, to be an effective foster parent is a challenging task that calls for specific knowledge, skills and abilities. Even armed with these, foster parents too often find themselves unappreciated and criticized. Every new report of child abuse by a foster parent further weakens the desire of would-be foster parents and undermines the ability of agencies to retain their veteran foster parents. To combat this pessimism, one of the virtue’s of this book is the authors’ ability to provide a comprehensive review of risk and liability issues. This is accomplished by citing numerous legal cases without dragging the reader into a quagmire of legal jargon.

There is unanimous agreement that the American family is in a state of crisis. Births to unwed parents are still at record high levels, marriage rates are down, and divorce rates are up. Legislators, lawyers, social workers, and public policy makers are constantly pondering ways to evaluate such family changes in an attempt to determine possible responses to them. Schweitzer and Larsen have unraveled one strand of the family crisis mess. This book does what few child advocacy books do. It deftly communicates real-life practice, policy, and law to front-line workers without sounding like a training manual. It is a book that should truly help many of us lawyers and social workers do our jobs better.

Guest book review by
Daniel Pollack, MSW, JD
Professor at Yeshiva University’s School of Social Work in NYC
Senior Fellow, Center for Adoption Research,
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Dan can be contacted at (212) 960-0836

1 Reply to "Foster Care Law - The Book!"

  • Professor William Wesley Patton
    March 31, 2005 (10:23 am)

    Spearheaded by Minnesota Chief Justice Blatz, a national movement to open juvenile dependency courts to the press and public gained momentum in the late 1990’s. However, based on new empirical data, that movement has begun to fade. For instance, in bills in California in 2000 and 2004 and a bill in Connecticut in 2004 were all defeated. The open court movement had been relying on a study by the National Center for State Courts analyzing the effects of publicity on abused children in Minnesota, which indicated that abused children were not harmed by opening the courts. However, on March 7, 2005, a judge in San Mateo County, California found that the National Center for State Court’s study, as well as a similar study by a University in Arizona, were methodologically flawed because they did not even interview the persons with the greatest knowledge of the psychological impact of opening the courts: children, parents, and psychotherapists. I filed an amicus curiae brief in the San Mateo case and also testified as an expert witness on the harmful effects of open courts on abused children. If you are interested in the latest research in this area, please see my two law review articles, William Wesley Patton, Pandora’s Box: Opening Child Protection Cases To The Press and Public, 27 W.S.U.L.R. 181 (1999-2000); An Empirical Rebuttal to the Open Juvenile Dependency Court Reform Movement (to be published in April, 2005 in the Suffolk University Law Review). If your state is considering an open dependency court bill and you would like to discuss the most recent literature regarding psychological abuse and the publication by the press of detailed identifying and embarrassing information regarding abused children, please contact me at