Home News Don’t bail out agencies that didn’t stop abuse

Don’t bail out agencies that didn’t stop abuse

It was 49 years today when a groundbreaking investigative series in the Daily News told a story that had been hidden for a century or more: Cloaked in a veneer of benevolence, New York’s private foster care agencies were deliberately prolonging the time children languished in foster care because their huge, mostly taxpayer-funded budgets were based on payments for each day they kept the children in their “care.” The series also exposed horrific abuse in the group homes, institutions and family foster homes run by these agencies.

The six-day series was called “Big Money, Little Victims.”

All these years later, the little victims are grown up. Some of them are suing. But instead of begging for forgiveness, the agencies are begging for a taxpayer bailout.

When New York passed the Child Victims Act to temporarily reopen the statute of limitations for suits by abuse victims, most people were thinking of predator priests. But hundreds of suits — 15% of the total — have been brought against foster care agencies. These agencies already get 90% of their budget from taxpayers. Some of that money goes to pay huge salaries to their leaders. Ron Richter, the former head of New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services who now runs the Jewish Child Care Association, received $700,000 in compensation in 2022. (In contrast, Gov. Hochul scrapes by on $250,000 a year.)

Now Richter and his counterparts want even more taxpayer money. They want a bailout of up to $200 million because, they say, they just can’t afford to compensate all the children harmed while in their care.

Though they’ve been failing kids for decades they say they are too big to fail. They claim horrible things will happen if they have to go out of business. Then where will you be? They ask.

Actually, New York’s children would be in a better place.

Even if it’s true that the payments would drive agencies out of business, and somehow every one of them would go under simultaneously, that doesn’t mean everything has to shut down. Governments could run institutions temporarily until new agencies, preferably community-based, unencumbered by a record of ignoring abuse, took over. The only people who would lose their jobs (one hopes) are executives like Richter.

Would governments do a better job of running these places? Probably not. But they couldn’t do worse. Because the abuses keep right on happening.

Consider the track record of one of the institutions Richter’s agency runs, Pleasantville Cottage School, subject of at least 10 Child Victims Act lawsuits.

  • One of those lawsuits is from a 13-year-old boy who says he was sexually abused by a teacher there in the early 1980s. The abuser “told me that he had the power of whether I go home to my mother or not,” the survivor said.
  • In the 1990s, when a 13-year-old at Pleasantville strangled another child to death.
  • In 2002, a counselor was horrendously beaten and tortured for an hour. Also: “four boys tried to sodomize a fellow resident with a cucumber, two boys stole a school car and caused two accidents during their joyride, and another boy was charged with sexual misconduct.”

And that was just in a single week.

So, how have things been going lately? So badly that Pleasantville town officials are demanding that the place be shut down.

Richter has plenty of excuses — it’s always someone else’s fault. But why are we paying all that money, including his $700,000 in compensation, if he can’t fix anything?

If Richter’s agency and the others get a bailout, where is the incentive to do better? Why should we not assume that year after year these agencies will keep turning out “little victims”?

These places will never be fixed because abuse is almost built into the model. Imagine if we were starting from scratch and someone said: I have a great idea! Let’s take young people we think have the most serious problems, all of them strangers to each other, at the age when they are most susceptible to peer pressure and throw them together 24/7. Won’t that work well?

No wonder study after study finds that, even when they’re not rife with abuse, “residential treatment” doesn’t work. There’s nothing done in such places that can’t be done better and at lower cost with community-based wraparound programs. And without these old-line agencies bleeding taxpayers dry, New York will have funds to put these better alternatives in place. New York also will have the funds to pay any survivors the agencies failed to compensate.

Provided, of course, we reject the fearmongering and refuse to give these agencies a bailout.

Wexler is executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.


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