An increasing number of single people, seniors and dual-career couples are opening their homes to the hundreds of abused or neglected Ventura County children who are removed from their homes each year. But social workers say the shortage of available foster care is still far from over.
"We're still in bad shape," said Diana Caskey, who works with the Department of Children's Services as Ventura County's foster home recruiter. "Each time a child comes to us, finding a foster home is a little like hunt and peck."
Each month, between 40 and 60 children require some kind of foster care, Caskey said. But only 55 licensed homes in the county have available beds, she said.
"Even then, that statistic is deceiving," Caskey added. "It's rare to get a foster parent who says, 'I'll take any age, any sex, any behavior problem.' There usually are some restrictions.
"Last week, I had a 7-year-old boy, and there was no place to put him," she said. "I finally had to call a woman who had requested only girls."
No statistics are available that compare the reasons for foster care placement over the years. Between 1987 and 1988, however, the last year for which data is available, Caskey said the majority of emergency foster care placements were because of parental neglect.
Young children have been found alone in homes where the power and water have been turned off, and where there has been no food for days, she said. Social workers have also removed children who have refused to go to school and have been left home alone for long periods of time.
"You'd be amazed how many parents have no idea how to set any limits," Caskey said. "They want to be their children's buddies or something, and then when the child gets older and he wants to do whatever he wants, the parent has no control. There's usually a lot of dysfunction in these families."
Next are cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, child abandonment and drug-addicted infants.
"We have lots of cocaine and heroin babies, and those have definitely increased," Caskey said. "Even though we don't keep figures on how it compares to five years ago, I personally think drugs and alcohol play a big role in foster care. They can be involved in every category."
Before a drug-addicted child is removed from its home, the mother is first given the opportunity to enter a drug rehabilitation program, Caskey said. In many cases, she said, the mother is unwilling to comply.