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Jill Atwood ReportingThe death of a foster child in a foster home last month is causing caseworkers to take another look at the system. And they are seeing a system that, despite the tragedy, is working like it should.
The director of the Division of Child and Family Services is concerned this incident will deter people who want to take these children in from doing so. The thinking is there's just too much stigma, too much liability. But what isn't made public are the success stories, a neglected child now thriving in a loving environment.
It is the call caseworkers never want to receive, and up until a couple weeks ago, had never received. The night of October 22nd a foster child dead, a foster mom accused of killing her, and an agency left wondering what, if anything, it could have done differently.
Richard Anderson, Division of Child and Family Services: "We visit the homes regularly just a couple of days before this incident we had a foster care worker in the home. The child was healthy and crawling around the floor. No reason to suspect there was anything problem at all."
Jeanette Gomez had two children of her own, two foster children, and was watching two other foster children for friends at the time. Prosecutors contend the stress got to the 33-year old and she took it out on an 18-month old baby who wouldn't stop crying.
Immediately DCFS, and everyone else involved in the placement process took it personally, especially the family's caseworker.
Ken, Division of Licensing: "I've had to counsel with her on not beating herself up because this is something that obviously she was not able to predict."
Liz Rivera handles training for the Foster Care Foundation in Salt Lake City. It's her job to educate prospective foster parents on what to expect so this type of thing doesn't happen. In addition to an extensive home study and background checks, foster parents must go through 32 hours of classroom training. Rivera doesn't sugar coat it; she let's them know up front it will be tougher than they realize.
Liz Rivera, Utah Foster Care Foundation: "It's their history that they bring with them that they don’t leave at the front door. And so the flexibility comes into play because every child is going to bring something different with them and sometimes it's going to be very difficult to deal with and overcome that."
Statistics show some of these parents will drop out while others will become model foster parents. Still, Richard Anderson says despite their continued commitment to troubled kids, he fears the misperception will continue.
Richard Anderson, Division of Child and Family Services: "Foster parents don’t have the status or the respect that they deserve. For some reason there seems to be a dark cloud hanging over their head. But to me they are heroes and they sacrifice an awful lot. They are the greatest people I know."
People become foster parents for various reasons, but the most common seems to be wanting to adopt. Keep in mind about 70 percent of the children placed in foster care are eventually returned to their real families.