All Commentary
Friday, January 1, 1993

The Government Baby-Brokering Business

Thanks to federal funds, the child-abuse industry is thriving.

Author and screenwriter K. L. Billingsley writes about California for the Spectator.

Slavery officially ended over 100 years ago, but traffic in human beings still exists. Thanks to federal funds, the business is thriving. The trade is part of what one author calls the “child-abuse industry.”

No one denies that child abuse is a serious problem. But there is much room for doubt as to its extent. Richard Wexler, author of Wounded Innocents, estimates that up to sixty percent of child-abuse reports are bogus. An extensive grand jury investigation in San Diego found similar problems and revealed a system that is driven by money and power.

Those accused of child abuse are held to be guilty until proven innocent. Informers need never face those they accuse. Worse, if those accused of child abuse deny doing anything wrong, social workers take that as further evidence of guilt. Whatever the facts, the parents are held to be “in denial” and children then may be seized. This creates, in effect, a hostage situation. The desperate parents will do almost anything to get their children back.

In these cases there are two certainties: (1) It will cost the family a great deal of money, whether or not they get their children back. (2) Other people stand to make a great deal of money from the family’s ordeal.

Juvenile Courts farm out the kids to private therapists, who have good reason to be selective. They prefer military children with the fathomless vaults of CHAMPUS (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services) funds behind them. San Diego’s Department of Social Services pays therapists $40 an hour. Under CHAMPUS, however, a psychiatrist gets $78.60 for 45 minutes and a psychologist brings in $70.

A similar situation exists for the parents. If they want their children back, they must attend numerous counseling sessions. Those who conduct these sessions prefer subjects with government-backed insurance programs. Those whose insurers have deep pockets find themselves put on expensive “maintenance” programs.

Meanwhile, social workers place children in foster homes. The San Diego grand jury acknowledged a widespread perception that social services were in the “baby-brokering business.” Foster care had become a “cottage industry with a strong political voice.” Again, money drives the system.

Federal funds for foster care are practically unlimited. A foster parent receives $354 per month for each child up to age four and $484 for those aged five to eighteen. These amounts are nearly double the rate a welfare mother gets. There is also a clothing allowance for foster parents, and special care rates up to $1,000 a month. All foster-care payments are tax-free. According to the grand jury, “this open-ended funding stream may have been partially responsible for excessive placement of children in foster care.”

Foster care, said the jury, had become a “business” and “many foster parents are motivated by money.” In some cases, the jury found, foster care funds were the families’ sole income. It thus seems clear why some foster parents readily sabotage reunification plans. It is in their financial interest to retain someone else’s children.

After several years of careful investigation, the San Diego grand jury blasted “bias and zealotry” in a system characterized by “confidential files, closed courts, gag orders, and statutory immunity.” The jury found evidence that social workers “disobey court orders” and “lie routinely, even when under oath.” This situation was “intolerable,” but the department was “incapable of policing its own.”

The local Juvenile Justice Commission even raised the possibility of “criminal conspiracy” on the part of child protectors. But in spite of numerous recommendations for change, few reforms are in evidence.

One infamous case involved the Wades, a Navy family. A therapist relentlessly badgered eight-year-old Alicia Wade for thirteen months until she accused her father of raping her. Physical evidence finally exonerated James Wade, but the girl narrowly escaped being adopted away forever. The family is currently in financial ruin, having spent some $150,000 defending themselves. The foster system returned the girl to the Wades without her glasses. She was also taking a medication to which she was allergic.

Such horror stories are far from unusual, both in California and nationwide. These stories prove a truth that government officials are slow to grasp: you get what you subsidize. Our government exists to preserve liberty and individual rights, not to subsidize official corruption, broken families, and a loss of freedom.