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Insights Insights
| 1 minute read

More Problems with “Hoteling” Troubled Youth

There’s a harrowing story from Seattle about often-overlooked victims of the hoteling crisis, namely the social workers themselves. Most kids who lack placements have deep-seated behavior problems, and the child welfare system simply doesn’t have enough resources for them. 

The article illustrates one problem with foster care, which is that other parts of the child welfare system seem to be actively trying to keep kids out. Juvenile justice systems, for example, are very concerned with criticisms such as systemic bias, and they are actively trying to reduce their statistics. The result arguably is that they are dumping problematic cases on other agencies, and the child welfare system is the system of last resort. “All the systems involved say, ‘This sounds like somebody else’s issue. It doesn’t sound like it’s for us,’ said one Seattle-based DCYF social worker, who has advocated for increased protections for workers and spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'The responsibility gets passed around while we are babysitting these high-needs kids who we are not equipped to deal with.'” 

The solution is not to recruit more foster families who lack the training or ability to help kids with complex problems. We have to find the funds for mental health treatment, and perhaps even the fortitude to force kids to stay in treatment. Until then, we are simply cycling through temporary measures until these kids join the ranks of adults, usually homeless or incarcerated, with mental health or behavioral issues.

Despite his complex needs, institutions equipped to provide crucial treatment and support for the teenager outside of the child welfare system repeatedly turned him away, according to a review of Pierce County court records, including a September 2022 Joel’s Law petition that DCYF submitted to the court. In some instances, law enforcement agencies declined to arrest the teen when the child welfare agency reported him for crimes. Hospitals declined to admit him following suicidal threats. Courts and mental health professionals declined DCYF’s requests to get him help through involuntary treatment. And judges dismissed the majority of his 12 criminal cases, as they repeatedly found the boy incompetent to stand trial.


ausburn_deborah, youth services law, foster care, mental health, insights