Saturday, May 05, 2007

U.S. Census Bureau plan to eliminate foster children from 2010 census statistics

Editorial: Inconvenient youth
San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 2007, pg. E-4.


YOUNG PEOPLE in the nation's troubled foster-care systems are all too accustomed to inattention and indignities from bureaucracies that are supposed to be caring for them.

Even so, it's hard to imagine a more callous move than the one just pulled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

These stuck-inside-the-box bureaucrats have decided to stop counting foster children in the 2010 Census.

Why?

They wanted to hold the questionnaire to one page. In 2000, the U.S. Census offered 15 options to categorize an individual's relationship to the head of household -- including nine categories of relatives by blood and marriage and categories of living arrangements such as "unmarried partner" or "housemate, roommate."

One category was dropped to meet what the nation's head counters had decided was their all-important single-page goal. So they eliminated "foster child."

Their explanation was almost breathtaking in its defiance of the notion that young people in foster care -- placed there by the courts because their biological parents were either unable or unwilling to give them a home -- are our collective responsibility. The census bureaucrats' rationalization was that the "foster child" category was expendable because it was the one with "the fewest responses reported in Census 2000." There were "just" 334,974 children in that category, many of them taken from homes where they were abused and neglected.

"It's such a sad statement about foster youth and how much they matter," said Miriam Krinsky of the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, a leading advocacy group for foster youth.

Beyond the symbolic significance are many very practical reasons why foster children should be counted in the census. The data allow policymakers to know who is in foster care and the conditions they live in. For example, the census allows us to know whether certain racial groups are disproportionately represented -- more than one-third of all foster youths in the 2000 Census were African American -- how many are living in poverty and how many are coping with physical or learning disabilities.

These insights are lost when the head of household is forced to lump a foster child into the category of "roomer, boarder," the most likely option for foster parents under the new census proposal.

John Burton, the former state Senate leader from San Francisco, said "We've been working with (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi and others in Congress" in an effort to build congressional pressure on the Census Bureau to reinstate the foster-care category.

"It's just another outrage perpetrated on these kids ... it's kind of like Don Imus picking on the Rutgers basketball team," said Burton, who now runs a nonprofit foundation in his name that helps children without homes through grants and advocacy. "Maybe they could have gotten away with this 10 years ago, but the issue of foster care and foster children has risen to a level the past four or five years that there's going to be hell to pay.

"I just hope the Census Bureau backs off."

On Tuesday, the House Information Policy, Census and National Archives subcommittee, which has oversight of the 2010 Census, is scheduled to hear testimony about the elimination of the foster-care category. While there are no Californians on the subcommittee, elected officials from the state with the largest number of foster youth should urge the chairman, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., to use his clout to persuade the census bureaucrats to restore the foster-care category.

It is often been said that the once-a-decade census represents a "snapshot of America." No family portrait is complete without all of its children in it. Foster youth are our children, our collective responsibility. Their predicament is our challenge. They need to be counted.

Urge your representative in Congress to pressure the Census Bureau to count foster children. An online form to identify and contact your congressional representative can be found at www.house.gov/writerep

6 Comments:

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