To the Editor:
Naomi Schaefer Riley’s opinion piece “Philanthropy Helped Reduce Institutional Placements for Foster Kids. Now Many Have Nowhere to Go” [March 22] exposes her ignorance of how child-welfare systems and their placement practices actually work. It fails to acknowledge the myriad ways public and private agencies are shifting their practices in order to place more children in foster care with relatives they know and trust.
Riley would do well to sharpen her research skills and explore how government and philanthropy are investing in community-based services that allow children to live with well-supported families rather than being institutionalized unnecessarily.
Riley does not paint the full picture. According to our internal research, congregate care can be six to 10 times more expensive than family foster care, and two to three times more expensive than therapeutic foster care that provides additional supports and services. What’s more, research shows that these facilities can cause significantly more harm than good for children.
Is it really philanthropy’s job to provide additional private funding to such institutions?
We at Redlich Horwitz Foundation don’t think so. Instead, over the last seven years, we have supported 20 New York county departments of social service and multiple private nonprofit providers of residential care to help them improve their practices. Investments in experts to assist staff and new programming have allowed these public and private agencies to demonstrate that even the most underserved and traumatized children can be cared for in therapeutic foster families with community supports. In fact, the 16 New York county social-service departments we’ve helped fund since 2019 have safely reduced congregate care rates by 30 percent and increased placement with relatives by 36 percent.
Riley’s biased reporting is undergirded by a dangerous narrative that pathologizes children’s trauma-based behaviors as “behavioral health challenges” even though they are often caused by system failures that unnecessarily tear families apart and leave children grieving and alone. Such behaviors supposedly require deep medical intervention and institutionalization. Some might call this racist dog-whistling, given that close to 75 percent of children in institutions are Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
Instead of listening only to insiders and those with a financial interest in keeping children in these facilities, Riley would do well to listen to young people with lived experience in such institutions. They are exposing the abuse and tragedies befalling children in congregate care and calling for mass closures. We need to heed their call and follow their lead.
Sarah Kroon Chiles
Redlich Horwitz Foundation