86 Deaths in Public-Private Foster Care – and Why Education Activists Should Be Paying Attention

Two years ago, BuzzFeed broke a disturbing story that gained little public attention at the time.

According to a 2015 report, widespread cases of physical and sexual abuse –  including multiple deaths of healthy children – took place in homes that were part of the for-profit foster care organization known as the Mentor Network.

The report featured former Mentor caseworkers who accused the company of failing children because of its focus on extracting a profit from them – by cutting corners on expensive services, for example, or forcing social workers to carry extremely high caseloads.

“I went there because I care about services for kids,” said one caseworker. “I eventually became a machine that cared about profits. I didn’t care about kids.”

Buzzfeed’s report was thorough enough to prompt a Senate investigation.

But a key power-player, who has since left Mentor to form organizations influencing everything from juvenile recidivism to public education, has thus far been left off the hook.

Tripp Jones, now Principal at a company called 21c that specializes in developing the type of public-private partnerships that allowed the Mentor Network to flourish financially, served as member of Mentor’s executive team for eight years.

According to his company bio, Jones played a pivotal role in “building the systems” that enabled the company to grow from $250 million in revenue to $1.1 billion.

Then, Jones went on to serve as co-managing director at a company called New Profit, where he helped build a “social finance advisory firm” called Third Sector Capital Partners.

Jones and other perpetrators of this giant for-profit foster care firm are sheltered by powerful corporate cartels, making new demands for public-private profit opportunities. Jones sits on the boards of MassINC., New Profit, Time and Learning, Third Sector Capital Partners, MA Juvenile Justice PFS Initiative, and the Building on What Works Coalition.

And this is where education activists need to pay attention.

New Profit and Third Sector Capital, both major proponents of the controversial and highly unethical “Pay for Success” model of public financing, are now closely linked with powerful education organizations and lobbyists.

In 2014, New Profit – along with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative – sponsored a series of meetings with a group called Convergence, in which major education policy-players – including the presidents of both major teacher’s unions – developed what they dubbed a “Transformational Vision of Education” – a “vision” that is little more than a call to transform public education to a data-mining industry that will allow for-profit companies, much like Mentor, to profit off the backs of children.

Thus far, the coverage of the Senate’s investigation of Mentor has been watered-down at best.

Damage-control may be more accurate.

The Senate report and its recommendations call for further data-mining, which will inevitably serve to bolster these partnerships and the profits they generate.

Rather than demanding an investigation of the public-private structures and their architects (like Jones) that allow organizations like Mentor to profit off the backs of our most vulnerable populations, media outlets like the Intercept limit their coverage to this one firm.

Sadly, this should surprise no one.

The Intercept receives most of its funding from the Omidyar Network, which is deeply linked to the development of the very same pay-for-success schemes that Tripp Jones is building.

In fact, Omidyar even gave a million dollars to Jones’s New Profit – the group that is now busy turning our public education system into one that can be profit-mined as thoroughly as the foster care system.

And so it is up to us, parents and other concerned citizens, to spread the word about what is happening to children, and – hopefully – to make it stop.

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(This is Alexandria Hill, who was killed in a Mentor foster home in 2013.)

Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

4 thoughts on “86 Deaths in Public-Private Foster Care – and Why Education Activists Should Be Paying Attention”

  1. NOT DIG BOSTON, NOT THE BOSTON GLOBE, NOT ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY
    Nobody spoke up while children died in Massachusetts.
    page 9 and 10 (pages 17-18 on the scroll jump)
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4111642-An-Examination-of-Foster-Care-in-the-United.html#document/p10/a382165

    ” The request for additional information was sent to the directors of the State child welfare agencies in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas. These States were selected because they were served by MENTOR and highlighted in news accounts that documented serious allegations of mismanagement of services and mistreatment of children served by private foster care agencies.”

    ” As of today, MENTOR still provides foster care services in Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts; it no longer provides those services in Illinois or Texas. ”

    “Four out of five States complied with the Committee’s request for this detailed information. Despite repeated contact with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its public child welfare agency never complied with official requests from the Committee to provide the requested in-depth information.”

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  2. My letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

    Dear Attorney General Healey,
    I am writing out of concerns raised by the newly-released Senate investigation of excess child deaths and reporting irregularities within the Mentor Network, a gigantic multi-state for-profit foster care enterprise whose national headquarters are here in Boston. The report is titled
    AN EXAMINATION OF FOSTER CARE IN THE UNITED STATES AND THE USE OF PRIVATIZATION.
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4111642-An-Examination-of-Foster-Care-in-the-United.html#document/p10/a382165

    The Massachusetts DCF’s failure to comply with congressional requests for information is described on page 9 of the report:

    QUOTE
    B. THE 5-STATE IN-DEPTH LETTER AND REQUEST
    In March 2016, the Committee sent in-depth inquiries to five States regarding their child welfare operations in order to obtain more information about MENTOR and its affiliates as well as other for-profit and non-profit providers in each State.40

    The request for additional information was sent to the directors of the State child welfare agencies in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Texas. These States were selected because they were served by MENTOR and highlighted in news accounts that documented serious allegations of mismanagement of services and mistreatment of children served by private foster care agencies. As of today, MENTOR still provides foster care services in Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts; it no longer provides those services in Illinois or Texas.

    The primary goal of the request for additional information was to compare performance indicators of the public agencies and private agencies providing foster care services. The Committee sought information related to standard performance measures for foster care using the Child and Family Services Reviews’ (CFSRs) performance metrics as a basis (see subsection C below). Among the many questions directed to the State agencies, SFC staff focused on the following information from these select States: • Physical and behavioral subgroups (special needs, physically disabled, infants, etc.); • Maltreatment during a foster care episode; • Rate of maltreatment in foster care; • Permanency outcomes (reunification, adoption, guardianship); • Physical and mental health screenings of children in foster care; • Children receiving monthly caseworker visits; • Average caseload for each caseworker employed by the contractor; and • Total cost to the State under the contract.

    Four out of five States complied with the Committee’s request for this detailed information. Despite repeated contact with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its public child welfare agency never complied with official requests from the Committee to provide the requested in-depth information.41
    END OF QUOTE

    The Massachusetts DCF answer to the 50-state inquiry suggests that state personnel submitted false and contradictory answers (pg 11):
    QUOTE
    “For example, Massachusetts reported that the public agency handles 96% of placements for the almost 11,000 children in the State who are in out-of-home care. Cases that involve a conflict of interest with the child welfare agency (for example, employees who are the subject of maltreatment allegations), adoptions, or unaccompanied refugees who are minors are handled by private contract agencies. Nevertheless, in that same response, Massachusetts also reported statistics showing that roughly 35% of its foster care caseload is managed by a contracted agency.47”
    END OF QUOTE

    In almost every category, Massachusetts has the worst or near-worst outcomes for foster children in the nation. The report details other instances of outright cover-up and evasion (page 19). I’m afraid if I write too much, nobody will read this.

    Please investigate the DCF relationship to the Mentor Network, and other for-profit “family service” ventures. My greatest fear is that it is already untouchable because of its $1.3 billion revenue stream, and its connections to powerful protectors like New Profit and MassInc.

    [On a personal note, Maura. I heard you speak for your Friend of Education Award at the MTA Representative Assembly in 2015, and have great respect for you. I’m asking you now to risk your political career, and do your job as Attorney General to protect the most vulnerable and voiceless of our people.]
    Sincerely,
    Mary Porter

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