Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Tragic Lives Beget Tragic Endings: How Can We Stop This?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 18, 2013

Viola Vanclief died while under the foster care of Kiana Barker.

“One day in 2010, after hours of heavy drinking, Barker burst into Viola’s room and beat her, according to a witness’ court testimony. When Barker was pulled away, the little girl was on the floor, struggling to breathe, the witness said.

Viola died a day later at the age of 2, her body covered in red and purple bruises.”

State officials slapped Woods’ agency with what they said was the maximum penalty — a $150 fine. Barker was convicted of second-degree murder and is awaiting sentencing.,0,5583241.htmlstory#axzz2nqVKHGS0

In my ongoing dismay of foster care in Los Angeles, today’s LA Times, has a heartbreaking exposure of the privatization of our foster care system. These vulnerable children, taken away from their allegedly abusive and/or neglectful parents are thrown into a system which can be  greedy, neglectful, and abusive, at times, creating an arc of a tragic beginning followed by a tragic ending. My question is why we do not put more resources towards these children? Can child psychiatrists be more helpful? In Los Angeles, foster care, at least part of it, became private, subject to a profit motive, where children were like widgets, where more children, like more widgets, created more money, and quality, or altruistic motivation, was taken out of the equation, in exchange for dollars and cents. As a result, or so it seems, children were taken care of by people with known criminal records, leading to big bucks for those who organized the system and brought children into high-risk homes. How do we, as a county, accept this? Further, those monitoring the system, the social workers, were paid poorly and told to limit their caseloads, such that many of them, had multiple “full-time” jobs, thereby questioning their ability to do any of those jobs with quality. Again, how do we not bleed for these innocent children? How do we not see that their tragedy is our tragedy? How do we not see that those who want to foster parents need to be vetted rigorously and thoroughly? How do we not understand that these children need to be groomed either for reunification or adoption? To be abused and/or neglected in foster care is a body blow to children who have been taken away from their biological parents. How can these children grow up to be optimistic adults when from such an early age, disappointment has led to more disappointment? These children will have a difficult, if not impossible, journey to trust, and as such, they are vulnerable to depression and antisocial behavior. Without trust, there is no civilized society. Treating these children poorly impacts all of us. It is that simple. We need to be more civilized.

4 Responses to “Tragic Lives Beget Tragic Endings: How Can We Stop This?”

  1. Ashana M said

    As the public paying (or rather, not paying much) for this service, we must also accept that we caused this. The failures of our public institutions are our failures

  2. Shelly said

    So how can child psychiatrists help, here? Can they be used to screen out potential foster parents who are abusers? Because surely you can’t be saying that small children, such as Viola, would be able to identify her foster father as an abuser in talk or play therapy prior to his violent attack. Why not screen the foster family out from the beginning?

    • Yes, that question is what I struggle with. I think child psychiatrists should take more of an advocacy role for children of all ages, as a way of saying that we care deeply about child mental health, not just psychopathology. More people need to care, and my profession, it seems to me, is part of the problem. Thanks.

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