Identifying Unsuitable Parents : New children's services director proposes psychological testing

Foster parents care for about 32,000 children in any given month in Los Angeles. Most do a respectable job. But two recent cases highlight a need for reform: One foster mother is charged with murdering a child and another is charged with attempted murder of a toddler.

After evaluating the two cases, Peter Digre, the new director of the county Department of Children's Services, has recommended psychological testing of all potential foster parents in an effort to screen out those who might be violent. These tests may not ferret out every foster parent who would act on an urge to strangle a 2-year-old, but the evaluations could help.

He also has suggested mandatory child-care training similar to the parenting training required for potential adoptive parents. The required 30 hours of training would give foster parents a realistic expectation of how a child develops.

Digre would allow no more than two foster children under the age of 2 in any one home. That restriction reflects common sense.

The director's proposals could save lives and salvage futures of abandoned, abused and neglected children who have already been through a lot before being placed in the homes of strangers. But there would be costs.

The training would run about $3,000 per parent. This new expense would come at a time when neither the state nor county budget can cover existing expenses. Perhaps some money could be obtained from business donations or philanthropic foundations.

The small investment per parent could save public dollars--the taxpayers' dollars that are spent on trying to undo the damage done to a child by a violent or negligent foster parent.

These reforms are especially needed in Los Angeles because of the checkered history of the county's foster-care system. Prompted by serious allegations of poor care, the state took over the licensing of foster homes more than a year ago.

It is against that backdrop that the new director, Digre, is trying to improve life for some vulnerable children. His reform proposals would help.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World