The offenses begin innocently enough.

Kids watching a movie smear cake frosting on each other. A Monopoly game is overturned. A distraught child hurls whatever is within reach — a tissue box, a shoe, a blanket, dominoes, a cell phone.

In California’s shelters for abused and neglected children, these youthful outbursts can become crimes. The instigators of the cake fight are arrested and accused of inciting a mob. A girl who grabbed her stuffed bear and blanket before flinging books is taken into custody for assault. Another girl is booked at juvenile hall for battery after hitting someone with a pack of hot dog buns during a tussle.

The county shelters in the nation’s largest foster care system are supposed to serve as a refuge for vulnerable children removed from unsafe homes. Instead, they have funneled hundreds of children, some as young as 8 years old, into the criminal justice system for relatively minor incidents, a Chronicle investigation has found.

Read more here: http://projects.sfchronicle.com/2017/fostering-failure/