In the first place, why on earth is the city government involved with foster care?

December 5, 2007

In keeping with our promise to track the responses the New York Times had to its recent series on foster care in New York—A History of Neglect—we selected a core question from the fourth and final week of responses.

Next week, we will publish our interview with Betsy Krebs of The Youth Advocacy Forum. She discusses issues related to "aging out" of foster care across the country, raised by the Times coverage.

From the New York Times Answers About Foster Care:

Q. "In the first place, why on earth is the city government involved with foster care? Governments are almost always less efficient and competent than the private sector. As to foster care in particular, government involvement erodes civil society's motivation and ability to take care of its members. Don't you think the tragedies associated with the minority foster agency approach would have been avoided if private sector competency, not identity politics, led the way?" S. Thaler

A. Phil Coltoff of New York University's Silver School of Social Work: Government must be involved in foster care for three reasons:

  • The costs are too great considering the numbers of children in care - private agencies just do not have the dollars to adequately support essential services.
  • Legally, the children are wards of the state and therefore in New York they are the responsibility of the Commissioner of Children's Services.
  • Government has the ultimate responsibility to the protection of its citizens—including children.

However, there is a clear line between support and accountability and good practice and sound management. You are right, in most instances, private agencies can do the work quicker, more efficiently and with better skilled workers than can the large government bureaucracy. What government failed to do in the instances cited, was to exercise clear oversight and to make timely and necessary decisions with respect to continuation of the contract.

Read more on the New York Times Answers About Foster Care page.