What Foster Youth Need

What Foster Youth Need 

 As one who lived within the foster care system for eighteen years, I hope I might be considered an expert on what we needed as foster children.

I make these statements not from a textbook, but from my own life experience within the foster care system. I am addressing those of us that were considered “society’s throw away kids” at birth due to being children of unwed mothers or those who through no fault of there own ended up in the system.

Also, please bear in mind, I am speaking of the “system” and NOT foster parents. Foster parents, in the vast majority of situations are good, kind and caring people willing to open their homes to the unwanted.

 

I became a child of the foster care system immediately upon my birth. Though I was placed for adoption at birth, I was not the healthy, blonde haired, blue eyed baby everyone wanted back in 1950.

 

I spent the first year of life in the hospital nursery where I was born and at the home for unwed mothers my birth mother spent much of her pregnancy.

I then began the merry-go-round of eleven foster homes in ten years. Three of those moves were back and forth to the same foster parents for a total of six and one-half years.

2/7/50-8/10/50 Providence Hospital Nursery

8/10/50-1/19/51 Sarah Fisher Home Nursery

1/19/51-7/11/51 Foster Home #1

 

7/11/51-9/10/51 Foster Home #2

 

9/10/51-2/20/52 Foster Home #3

 

2/20/52-8/1/52 Foster Home #4*

 

8/1/52-12/11/52 Foster Home #5

 

12/11/52-11/26/54 Foster Home #6*

 

11/26/54/-1/26/55 Foster Home #7

 

1/26/55-8/12/55 Foster Home #8

 

8/12/55-5/4/56 Foster Home #9

 

5/4/56-5/17/60 Foster Home #10*

 

5/16/60-7/22/60 Juvenile Detention Center awaiting new foster home

 

7/22/60-4/16/61 Foster Home #11

 

4/16/61-6/4/68 Boys Town, Nebraska

 

6/4/68 Adult: released as a ward of the court Wayne County, Michigan

*same family three times

 

All I wanted as a child was a place to call home; a family to love me enough to want me as their son!

 

What was wrong with me? Why didn’t anyone want me? Will I never have a family? These were just a few of the questions that would haunt me throughout my childhood and beyond. I did not realize that the problem was not me but the “system” itself.

 

I did not need any type of therapy or behavior modification program. I just needed love and stability in my life. The “system” failed me in providing me an opportunity for that.

 

Today, many of the kids in the “system” have a wide variety of special needs. Those needs have to be addressed. However, those will not bring success until the children have been given the basics. By basics I don’t mean simply shelter and food. To me the basics are a stable home life and not the merry-go-round of moves, knowledge that someone actually gives a damn about them, self-worth and most importantly, the ability to trust those responsible for them!

 

For those in charge of the “system,” please, please…you MUST change your course of action. There are too many kid’s lives at stake. Their success or failure may depend on what happens to them in their early years.

 

We don’t ask much…just one family…not eleven!

 

I am one who made it, despite the “system.” When they realized they had failed me they sent me to Boys Town Nebraska, where I spent seven and one-half years, until I graduated high school. It was the longest period of stability in my young life. It allowed me to get an education, to grow and mature. Since then I have received a college degree and have had a successful business career.

 

I don’t think of myself though, I think of those who may not make it. I realize, had it not been for Boys Town, I could have easily ended up in prison or dead.

I hope this helps some understand foster children and perhaps maybe those kids who might be having problems today may be the result of the lack of stability, nurturing or love in their early lives.

 

Please, don’t give up on them whatever you do…PLEASE…their future depends on you!

About the Author

I was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1950 and grew up in the quagmire of the Michigan Foster Care System from birth. By the time I was eleven years old I had been in three institutions and eleven different foster homes. Finally I was sent to and graduated from, the famed “Father Flanagan’s Boys Home…better known as “Boys Town, Nebraska. I furthered my education at Midland Lutheran College. I have had a professional career in government, nonprofit, academia and private industry.

In 2003, I authored the poignant book of life through the eyes of a throw away child entitled: “Lost Son? A Bastard Child’s Journey of Hope, search, Discovery and Healing.” It was released in June, 2004.

I have also written/published over thirty articles of the need for child welfare reform and share my message of hope with groups across the USA.

I have addressed three World Conferences sharing my story and the need for reform.

I currently serve as Regional Manager North America for Orphan Awareness Foundation in conjunction with World Initiative for Orphans. Their 1st world conference was held in The Hague, Netherlands May 21-24, 2007 and well as their first World Orphans Month to be held during May 2007.

I recently stepped down as Executive Director of the Midland County Foster/Adoption Network…a local non profit…because of a move

I say, “Though I never received a university degree in social work, I don’t need one. I actualy earned a Doctorate having lived in and surviving the system for eighteen years. In living within the system I learned more than one will ever learn from a textbook or lectures.”

I currently resides in Fargo, North Dakota.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

Recipient of Presidential Volunteer Award from President Reagan in 1982.

Recipient of New York’s Eleanor Roosevelt Volunteer Award 1983.

Nominee for a White House Fellowship 1984.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Founder & former Director of Helping Hands; a program providing respite to parents of children with disabilities.

Former Director CityMeals-on-Wheels Program; a NYC based foundation providing meals to the elderly on weekends and holidays where federal funds did not provide.

Volunteer for a variety of AIDS programs in different cities from 1980-1998.

If you wish to read some of my articles you may do so by going to:

http://www.larrya.us/credits.html

Working to help children around the world have a safe, nurturing, loving and stable home is the passion of my life…no child deserves less!!

How Many More Must Suffer?

I ask the aforementioned question as a survivor of the foster care system of the 1950s and 1960s.

How many more children need be lost, abused, killed or languishes within the foster care system? How long before America wakes up and realizes the system is broken and demand changes?

One would think with all the progress we as a society have made in so many areas we would have improved a system that has been failing youth for decades.

I was placed within the foster care system at birth due to being a child of an unwed mother during a time when such things were kept under wraps. The purpose was to place me for adoption.

By the time I was two years old rather than being adopted I was placed within two institutions and four foster homes. When I reached my eleventh birthday this had increased to a total of four institutions and eleven foster homes. No, I was not a special needs child nor was I a youth in trouble.

Fortunately, the system made one wise choice for me by sending me to Boys Town, Nebraska at age eleven. This was to be my home for the next seven years. It was here I gained my education and the other tools that would be necessary to make it in this world.

I aged out of the system at age eighteen. That is, I was now considered an adult and out of the system and on my own, ready or not.

The supposed goal of foster care is to be a temporary guardian of a child with the intent to return one to their natural family, or if not possible, place with an adopted family.

The system failed me in both goals. One foster family attempted to adopt me, not once or twice, but three times only to have the system say no. This, despite the fact that they placed me in this home three different times totaling six and a half years. They were good enough to be my foster family but not good enough to provide me a permanent home as they wished.

We move forward over forty years and see the system is no better today than in the past. Some would say, I included, that it has even worsened.

Please note, this is the system not the foster parents. The overwhelming number of foster parents are kind, caring people willing to take into their homes children not their own. They many times do this at additional emotional and financial expense to themselves. Most don’t do fostering for the money; they do it for the love of the child. They should not go bankrupt in the process. They often feel as abandoned by the system as do many kids within the system.

The system today continues to move children from one home to another with no apparent reason. This does not take into account the emotional costs to the child of being raised in a non-stable environment. They separate siblings, often allowing no contact between those siblings.

You can quote the Adoption and Family Safety Act of 1997 and get a totally blank look from the people who are supposed to be in charge of enforcing the act. They need to get “all their ducks in a row” and follow the intent of the act which is “the best interest of the child is uppermost”. As it stands now, it’s the rights of the parents.  Their “civil rights” have to be protected no matter how much further damage is done to the children already scarred by the placement in the system.

How many times do we have to pick up the newspaper, hear on the radio or see on television of another foster child being abused, neglected, lost or languishing within the system until they are aged out or worse yet…killed.

We have all heard of the cases in Florida, Michigan, Illinois and so many others. Just recently I even read in the New York Times of the New Jersey system allowing foster kids to languish in the state hospital mental wards because they say they have no other place to place them.

How do we expect most kids within the system, for whatever reason, to make it in life with such instability throughout their most formative years?

We say, “Children are our most valuable asset” but our actions do not show it. The current phrase today is, “leave no child behind.” Yet thousands are left behind within the foster care system each and every year.

In too many ways it seems to me that our “real” national attitude towards children was summed up long ago, when W. C.  Fields uttered that classic line, “Go away, kid–you bother me!” Kids in need can be such a bother, can’t they? So much easier to stuff them away in mental wards and the like where the public doesn’t have to see, hear or deal with them! If they start to act out–if they start to become troublesome delinquents as they grow older–why, let’s label them as the criminals they obviously are and throw them into the prison system where they belong.

I am grateful the system gave up on me at age eleven and allowed me to go to Nebraska as it gave me an opportunity to make it. Thousands have not been as lucky as I.

I wonder how many men and women within our prison systems or cemeteries today started life within the foster care system. Yes, as adults we are each responsible for the decisions in life that we make. However, children look to adults to provide the tools necessary for making the right decisions. In many cases the system fails these young people in supplying those tools and we have seen the results of that failure.

We as a nation can no longer afford to allow the foster care system to continue on its present course. We cannot allow thousands of lives to be discarded into the dumpster of failure. We have a moral obligation to make “leave no child behind” a reality.

The foster system needs to be overhauled. Red tape must be removed for willing families to adopt. Families can and should include single parents. Yes, it would be nice if every child had a two parent home…but it is more important that each child have a home full of love, nurturing and caring. This type of family should also include willing gay/lesbian couples.

Better monitoring of case workers needs to be established. Too many case worker reports we are finding out are untrue or not written at all. Too many case workers are more concerned about protecting their jobs rather than protecting the children placed within their care. I recognize there are also many good case workers in the field. They, unfortunately, in many cases are overwhelmed by the number of cases they are responsible for. The brightest and the best usually leave the system themselves after a few years either burned out or recognizing the ever exceeding failures of the system.

Children and their best interest must be made a priority within the system. If we as a society continue to allow the foster care system to fail the children within their care then we can bear the cost in both physical as well as monetary terms. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I consider the treatment of youth within today’s foster care system to be intolerable.

When will those responsible for the actions of the foster care system be held accountable for their actions or inaction’s?

Would it be different for children caught up in the foster care system merry go round if they had the right to vote? Would politicians be less likely to ignore the needs of those stuck in the laughably named “child welfare system” if children were a militant political constituency? Who knows! As it is, it’s entirely too easy for needs of kids to be ignored.

We all need to become involved and demand our legislators, community leaders and the foster care system itself provide the best opportunity possible for each and every child to make it rather than lead them to failure. If we don’t…then we have no cause to complain with the results. We can pay nor or pay even more later!

If action is not taken it may be time for those failed by the system to sue those very systems for the damage done to them. Maybe if they were forced to pay for their failures they might concentrate more on providing the best possible care in the very best interest of the child placed within their care…it’s a thought!