Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Foster Children’ Category

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.

Posted in Foster Children | 4 Comments »

The Invisible Children: Hope at UCLA

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 30, 2013

Posted in Foster Children | 2 Comments »

Achievement Gap: Mentoring Is The Solution….

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 14, 2013



“Thousands of California students in foster care are suffering from an “invisible achievement gap,” with worse academic performance, a higher dropout rate and placement in more failing schools than their statewide peers, according to a study set for release Monday.”


“Although he failed all of his classes in his first semester at Santa Monica High School, Perez said the group setting helped him learn such skills as time management. But the biggest aid was a mentor, Johnny Ramirez, from the Pico Youth and Family Center in Santa Monica. Ramirez encouraged him — but also warned him about the disproportionate number of young Latinos and African Americans whose struggles with school lead to prison. Perez improved his grades to A’s and B’s and graduated from Dorsey High School.”,0,3257218.story


Are we surprised that foster children have an achievement gap? They have been taken away from their biological parents, they have not been adopted, and they are thrown into a foster care system, which, on average, bounces these kids around from placement to placement depriving them of the stability to thrive in an academic setting. Consequently, they finish school without skills to pursue a job beyond minimum wage. Are we surprised that the few foster kids who did develop marketable skills, do so, because they have attached to a caring adult who guides them through the system in order to better their lives? This article now gives us data to support that first, foster kids are jettisoned into a world at an educational disadvantage, and two, the presence of a mentor will help some of them. Relationships lead to personal and professional growth and foster kids suffer from a painful void of caring relationships, and hence their future, on average, is very grim. Providing a supplemental guide is the one intervention which offers hope to these kids. This is the low-tech, high-time, approach which is consistent with what we know about how to promote growth and development. In essence, these kids need a stable person to care. Go figure.

Posted in Foster Children | 2 Comments »

Caring About Our Kids

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 27, 2013

L.A. County struggles with severe shortage of foster homes,0,6981379.story



“A number of factors has exacerbated the foster bed shortage. For one, the county lacks an accurate, real-time database of foster home vacancies. The system, updated just once a month, lists the licensed capacity of a home but not the number of beds a foster parent now is willing to fill.”


This LA Times article, detailing the lack of foster homes available in LA County, hurts me deeply, as I ponder the implications. In particular, technology today has made tracking systems ubiquitous. We can track birds, flowers, stocks, and weather, but knowing the number of available foster beds, seems beyond our capacity. This, to me, seems like evidence of LA County’s priorities, of which our children, are not included. The system is large, but keeps failing. Yes, we do not hear about the successes, so perhaps I am being too harsh. Yet, taken together with my previous post,, the data mounts to suggest that LA County prioritizes other County services, at the expense of the welfare of our children. Perhaps political dollars do not float towards foster care, since these children, even when they grow up, do not present a major voting force. Advocacy is needed, as so many of these children will have mental health needs which will overwhelm the healthcare system. The more we can do to mitigate the trauma these children have already experienced, the more we can help to have a stronger society. Instead, we layer trauma over trauma for these children, leading to over-medication, and a life path which is dark and destructive. Children who require foster care deserve better. They are victims of being brought into  a world which betrays them. Then, our County warehouses them, furthering their feeling of abandonment, making an understandable feeling of deep hopelessness. How can such an affluent city let these children down? I am ashamed.

Posted in child abuse, Child Psychiatry, Foster Children | 6 Comments »

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