According to the Los Angeles Times article, Ex-foster youth may sue county, a Los Angeles county social worker pocketed a foster youth’s savings prior to his death. Samuel Sago, 21, was a foster youth who worked part-time at Starbucks in order to save money to live independently after he aged out of the foster care system. He and other foster youth handed over their pay to a social worker who literally stole their money. When Sago asked for his money to find an apartment, he was given $713- – not the $4,664.10 he had given the social worker. The department had no explanation. Only after the social worker died did Sago learn that the social worker had stolen his and other foster youth’s money, to the tune of $17,000 and 19 kids.
Supervisor Gloria Molina apologized to Sago and acknowledged that there was fraud in the department. She stated that they were trying to correct the problem and attempted to make Sago whole by paying him the entire amount he had trusted to his social worker.
As an attorney practicing dependency law throughout Southern California, this story is as surprising as it is outrageous. Few people can imagine the depths of corruption to which one social worker might plunge. When trusted with completely unchecked power, with no oversight or consequences for potential wrongdoing, people do incredibly immoral and criminal things. The people working in this system are no different. This is a terrible example of an abuse of a child by the very person trusted to take care of him.
We charge social workers with the incredibly important responsibility- to keep kids safe – and the system relies upon the assumption that children are better off out of their parents’ homes than in them. This young man faced abuse and/or neglect that presumably required his removal from his parents. Then he faced financial exploitation at the hands of the one person trusted to help provide him a brighter future.
I can think of no more blatant a breach of trust. When we as a society choose to allow government actors to raise children, in lieu of their biological parents, we assume different risks for these children. First, those charged with caring about kids are not their parents. They may or may not have their interests truly at heart any more than the presumably flawed biological parents did. Second, we have no system in place to check the abuses that happen in the system.
Where are the checks on institutional abusers? Despite claim after claim, foster youth inexplicably fight measures to open the system to provide transparency, like failed AB 73, that I discussed in an early blog. I suspect these sorts of story merely scratch the surface of what has gone on and is going on in this broken system.
Lauren K Johnson is a juvenile attorney representing parents in dependency court and on appeal.