Sunday, 9 November 2008

Foster kids and a rotten ideology

I will start this post by stating that I have not been fostered as a kid, nor have I been a foster parent; and I don't think I know any foster parents.

However, I do know a destructive ideology when I see it.

Andrew Bolt really has it in for people that mistreat kids. He blogged about it again today.

My understanding is that in the "old" days (ie, back before when I was born about 40 years ago), we were comfortable with the idea that if you couldn't find a good, safe foster home for a kid, then it was alright to stick them in an institution (like a boarding school), and keep them there until they were an adult if need be - and that could be done without anyone feeling guilty or depressed about the whole arrangement.

But then we had the whole 1960's and 1970's thing, and man, it suddenly became such a bummer to have, like, institutions man. Because institutions were bad. Institutions crushed people. It broke their souls.

They had to go.

I think what the 1960's crowd hated is that they were orderly. They were spartan. They were disciplined. They were managed according to strict policies and procedures, and the consequences for disregarding those policies were not happy ones.

They occasionally employed complete whackos, who enjoyed beating or mollesting their young charges instead of educating them and nurturing them.

So it had to go. Only the family unit could provide the sort of nurturing that young kiddies need.

So we now have an army of foster parents, and like anything that grows from a cottage enterprise to an industry, quality gets sacrificed along the way. In the old days, I'm sure a strong argument was made for foster parents based on some very good outcomes being achieved by some exceptional parents. But not everyone can be exceptional, and basing an argument on the results of a group that may represent only the top 10% of a chosen field is bound to lead to disaster.

In any group, there are always going to be a small number of oustanding people, a largish mass of competent performers and a tail of useless, boneheaded drongos bringing up the rear. And here's the thing - attention will always be drawn to the outstanding performers. If you hear about someone talking about the excellent work that a group of people are doing, you can be sure that they have only really looked at the very best work on offer, and have not bothered to inspect the mass of dreck that the rest have produced. Our eye is always drawn to the best on offer.

Just look at the NSW government today. When Carr was first elected, he had a handful of bright ministers, a mass of windowlickers and some truly awful people bringing up the tail. Carr's government was carried by the 3 or 4 really good ministers, and once they left, the place turned to poo. I'm sure that there were some within the mass of windowlickers who thought that once they got their baton, they would turn out to be Napoleon in a good suit.

No, sorry about that. They turned out to be a windowlicker in a taxpayer funded, chauffer driven limousine. Once the cream left, there was no more cream left to rise to the top. Iemma had a tough time forming a cabinet out of the 1 or 2 good people that were left, but when he left, so did they. As Rees has discovered, there is no talent in his talent pool.

So it is with fostering. Let's say that in 1960, there were 50 foster parents in NSW, and that there are 1,000 today (I am making up the numbers here). Back in 1960, 5 of those foster parents might have been excellent, 30 so-so and the remaining 15....well, let's say I wouldn't leave my kids with them. The policy makers would have looked at the results being achieved by the institutions (and only the worst results, if they were biased against them), and then compared them to the results being achieved by the top 5% of foster parents. And guess which ideology would have won?

The assumption any public servant would make though is that if we grow the number of foster parents from 50 to 1000, then the number of excellent foster parents will grow equally from 5 to 100.

Ah, I beg to differ. I would contend that the good people have already put their hands up. You might grow the number to 10, but you'll never grow it to 100.

What you do get though is that the number of so-so parents might grow from 30 to 500 - not quite a 20-fold increase, because there just aren't that many good people out there. Look at what happens when you take a footy competition and grow it from 12 teams to 20. There just isn't that much talent out there at the top grades to fill up 20 teams.

The one thing you are absolutely certain to get is that the number of awful, awful foster parents has grown from 15 to 490. They have gone from being 30% of your pool to nearly 50%, and instead of 15 kids growing up in shit homes, you have 490 growing up in shit homes.

What a way to breed the next generation of over-achievers.

Societies have used institutions of various types for centuries to deliver services, because they are efficient and effective (to a degree). Where do you think an abusive foster worker is more likely to be uncovered - in an institution where they work with 30 other co-workers and are working under direct management oversight, or in a foster home which gets inspected once every few years?

I find it odd that the same people that love one type of institution to death (the state school) are so averse to other types, such as mental institutions, boarding schools for feral kids and fostering institutions for kids with terrible parents. I do agree that mamoth institutions (like our state school system and our state hospital system) tend to generate terrible results, and they should be broken up and removed from the state sector as far as possible.

If an institution for foster kids is so terrible and inhuman, why do we force kids to attend a school of one sort or another?

I am not against fostering. What I am for is limiting the scope of fostering so that only quality parents are chosen, and sticking the remaining kids in an institution on the assumption that they will be there for a long time, so the institution had better be up to scratch. I think the field has tilted so much now that the departments charged with overseeing kiddie-care want 100% of their kids in foster homes, so they shovel the kids out to anyone that will take them, and they put no effort into providing quality institutions.

That has to change. There should be no stigma attached to running a quality institution.

I am a graduate of several institutions - an outstanding boarding school and the Australian Army. I lived in another form of institution whilst at uni - a university college. I doubt many Marines would feel down about being members of that great institution known as the Marine Corps.

But then again, the sort of people who are down about institutions for kids are the same sort of people that don't like the Marine Corps very much either. Which says a lot really.

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