The foster kids are not all right. But there are things we could be doing right now to make their lives better.

That should be the conclusion of anyone following the case now being prosecuted against Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu, who is accused of sexually abusing eight foster children placed in his Long Island home. Given that over two decades Gonzales-Mugaburu hosted 106 troubled boys, the number who were abused is likely much higher.

There were at least 18 child-abuse investigations of Gonzales-Mugaburu, and many anonymous complaints from neighbors. And almost all of the children placed there were from New York City, meaning it was the responsibility of child-welfare workers here to be looking after them.

It’s not just New York. Last week, a licensed foster couple in Utah were found to have been keeping their three foster sons as prisoners in their home, denying them food and water and regular bathroom access.

New Jersey last year paid $1.25 million to an abuse victim of multiple foster parents before the age of 3, all while the Department of Youth and Family Services failed to perform any meaningful checks on the child.

One problem is personnel, says Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute: “We are not attracting quality people and we are driving good people away.”

Though he doesn’t think money is the whole problem, he does say social workers in this area aren’t well compensated. And “it’s much easier to just give out Social Security or Medicaid than being involved in protecting children.”

Richard Gelles, former dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, agrees that it’s far from uncommon to see incompetence or flagrant violation of protocol among employees in the foster-care system.

Gelles testified recently in a case where a child was tortured by a foster parent. The woman (who was also the child’s aunt) had been previously convicted of manslaughter and never should have been entrusted with a child in the first place.

In the case of Gonzales-Mugaburu, Gelles says he would bet “dimes to donuts” that caseworkers did not meet the minimum number of monthly visits to the home and didn’t visit unannounced, which would be required in most foster placements and certainly anywhere there had been allegations of abuse.

Gelles also suggests that welfare workers don’t have the proper tools to determine who should and shouldn’t be foster parents. As Gelles argues in his book, “Out of Harm’s Way: Creating an Effective Child Welfare System,” workers need a system that embraces data and the power of predictive analytics.


The most obvious bad decision in the case of Gonzales-Mugaburu is that kids were taken out of their home towns and lost contact with other adults in their lives. This kind of isolation can create conditions for children to fall through the cracks.

Indeed, maintaining children’s connections with other adults may be the first step not only to preventing abuse but to improving the foster system in general. In recent years, church-based programs like Faithbridge in Georgia search for foster parents in the immediate vicinity of kids in need. Co-founder Bill Hancock recalls going to a church and announcing that there were 11 kids in his own ZIP code in need of foster families.

Four dozen people showed up to volunteer. Some ended up taking the children home. Others volunteered to support them, helping with carpooling, doctor’s appointments, even baby-sitting to give foster parents a break every once in a while. In the Safe Families program, families volunteer to take in kids from families in crisis even before they are put “in the system.”

Unfortunately, bureaucrats are often skeptical of any program in which foster parents aren’t paid. Yet Gonzales-Mugaburu received more than $1.5 million for his service.

It would be wrong to conclude that this monster is somehow representative of foster parents, most of whom are doing extremely hard work in tragic circumstances. But we also can’t assume that these abuse cases are just the inevitable result of an impersonal bureaucracy acting as a safety net for children. If the measure of a society is how it cares for its most vulnerable, we can do much better.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.