We CANNOT Afford not to Care

There are over a 500,000 children in the foster care system in the United States today, with about 123,000 available for adoption. The majority of them are over the age of four years old. Children are more likely to be adopted if they are under the age of four. The more time children spend in the foster care system, the more likely they are to display abhorrent behavior and the less likely they are to be placed in a permanent home/adopted.

Many of these children need not have been placed in foster care in the first place. Numerous cases for removal are unjustified. Problems that may have existed within their homes could have been remedied through preventative measures as simple as training or providing the necessary tools to improve parenting skills.

Once a child is removed and placed within the foster care system there is a definite lack of concern for these children within the system. It is the responsibility of the judges in each county to see that the law is followed and adhered to. The softhearted approach has left hundreds of thousands of children in limbo. That has a serious detrimental effect on their self worth, psychological, and social abilities.

The court system is not watching out for these children and acting in their best interest. This is a difficult situation to remedy. There is already federal legislation in place. I could certainly explain to you that federal government could put pressure on the state governors as they appoint family court judges. Regardless of what you hear on television and read in the newspapers, our federal government is not too terribly concerned with the children of this country. That is evident in their continuous reduction of funding for public schools and their lack of concern with this very rectifiable foster care issue, among many others.

I receive letters from foster parents around the country and the overall feeling I get from them is that they are frustrated with the current lack of policy enforcement and they are genuinely concerned for the welfare of the children in the foster care system. Foster parents are not evil people who could not have children of their own to torment. They are overwhelmingly caring families who open their home to strangers, children, who they do not find so strange.

Foster parents enjoy the privilege of caring for the children that are placed in their homes and do not wish to have that privilege taken away from them. Making a home for children who have been poorly cared for is their reward, and a very satisfying one for them. What do they say? Who do they talk to? Most foster care families fear speaking up because they fear their homes will be closed. The squeaky wheel may sometimes get the grease, but it can also be replaced. As foster families testimony and concern will be heard louder than non-foster care families it is important that they speak.

We can no longer afford not to care.

Thousands of youths age out of foster care each year across the country, many to live on their own, without the support, education or social skills to do it successfully.

“Age-Out,” is a term used that refers to children who become of legal age and are no longer required to stay in foster care, have a higher than average incarceration rate and a higher than average drop-out rate. They are adults, if you will.

What these children/adults are not, is properly prepared for their self care. “After aging out of foster care, 27% of males and 10% of females were incarcerated within 12-18 months. 50% were unemployed, 37% had not finished high school, 33% received public assistance, and 19% of females had given birth to children. Before leaving care, 47% were receiving some kind of counseling or medication for mental health problems; that number dropped to 21% after leaving care (Courtney and Piliavin, 1998).”

This is not only unfair to these children it is unfair to society. This is also directly related to the child feeling rejected, or “unwanted,” not an inability by the foster parents to raise the child. If all proceedings were initiated based on the law and in the best interest of the child, a large percentage of these children could have been placed in loving, permanent homes long before they aged out of the system.

Some kids who have lived healthy lives can’t manage on their own at 18 or even 21, but we expect these broken, emotionally battered kids to do it on their own after having left the only family they’ve known for years — the state.

“It’s important to remember that kids don’t go into foster care voluntarily. It’s not camp!” They’re there because someone didn’t do their job properly or in some cases they’re abused, neglected or abandoned. They have a whole host of issues, trust issues with adults, trust issues of others, their own sense of self, their own place and families. When they leave foster care, many of those issues haven’t been resolved.”

How do we change our foster care system, which has less than a 50 percent high school graduation rate and where substance abuse, teen pregnancy and homelessness are common, to a system that creates a majority of high school and even college graduates and where poverty and crime are no longer a trade mark of our foster care alumni? Unless our government can rely on the numerous adults in the lives of those children, there is no hope.

This is hard to imagine, since some children leave a home environment that the state has deemed unsafe, only to find them in an even worse situation. There are a minority of foster parents who abuse children, many therapists who do not listen to their young patients and professionals on every level of the system who ignore their legal duties and who choose to extinguish the cry for help instead of seeking justice. These are terrible travesties. We, as a society, should work to bring these horrors to light.

We spend millions documenting every aspect of the cars that come off the assembly line or out of the concept shop, sometimes before they’re ready. States are eager to fund new stadiums for keeping professional teams. However, the state doesn’t even keep up with the aged-out kids who fall off the state line before they’re ready, mostly without health care or adequate education or social skills. Instead, we tell them to go forth and prosper. When states get into trouble financially the first programs cuts are those affecting children.

We can no longer afford to ignore these now young adults. This must be the year when we improve the lives of children whose parents have been the State and its residents. Yes, that’s us.

Listen to them talk about making it anyway, or at least trying anyway. I dare you not to care. And when you’ve really gotten to know them, I dare you not to do something about it.

As I began work on this article, I knew that if anything were remembered of my words today, it would likely be the pain and suffering that the system perpetuates. That saddens me, for I have been that child. I have been the child seemingly lost within the system as I was moved from one home to another. I also experienced loved within the system; not from the system itself but from at least one set of foster parents.

How is it that I experienced both, a life of pain and abuse and a life of love and happiness, all within the same system? Foster care is composed of unsung heroes and unpunished villains. I still deal with the emotional pain of the negative parts of my past, but I finished high school and then college, I have a home. I can say all of those things that so many of our nation’s former foster care youth cannot because I had something many of them did not. I had a few people along the way who cared and who were able to help me to overcome obstacles placed before me by the system itself.

One of the most obvious blemishes of the foster care system is the tendency to tolerate abuse and leave excellence unrewarded. Unfortunately, when abuse is allowed to continue, it often ends up in headlines because an innocent child is found dead or nearly dead. When greatness is left untreated, however, it eventually goes away.

The system needs to reward professionals who choose to be more observant of the children on their caseloads. It is only common sense to pay attention to the individual needs of each child and meet those needs by following individualized case plans and not allowing “cure-all” answers to push aside the needs of real people. Since my eighteen years as a foster child (1950s & 1960s), there has been three huge initiatives in our country that were supposed to fix every case. For many years it was thought that a successful case should end in reunification with biological family. Only a few short years later, our federal government decided that adoptions were the real success story. Sadly, I would not have been a good fit for either of these plans. Recently a sudden burst of independent living mania swept the nation. Suddenly, there was something wrong with any young person who did not want to move out on their own at age 16. Though any professional who evaluates cases based on best interests would say otherwise, our federal government would have called my case a failure because I aged out when I turned 18.

The state took on the role as parent for children within their care. How can one parent take care of over 500,000 children individually? They can’t and shouldn’t try. There are plenty of people who want to help in the raising of our nation’s foster children. We just need to find the best illustrations of social workers, foster parents, judges and therapists that our system has to offer and when we do, we need to make examples of them for others. We need to raise the bar for anyone who might not be giving their all because they see no point in doing so.

We no longer can afford the system to fail our children. We can pay now or we will definitely pay later due to incarceration, homelessness, drug addiction and even children having children; starting the failed cycle all over again.

The system is a failure. In order to begin to change it; US, the public must get involved and demand it. These children are our future. The future to be determined by them will be what we determine to do now!

The system needs more good workers, heroic foster or adoptive parents and judges/professionals willing to make the hard decisions and base them strictly by the law. The system needs the proper funding to meet the needs of the children; not only while they are in the system but for the initial years for those who, after all has been done truly in their best interest, age out.

If we truly believe the children are our future, that all life should be protected and no child should be left behind, we must put action behind our words. To do any less makes us hypocrites and liars and our words are meaningless!


One Response

  1. I lived sixteen years in foster care. The system was broke 25 years ago. I have meet other people that have been through system and have not seen one success (this includes myself) I believe that there needs to be a fundamental shift in the nature that we view foster care/eachother in this country. Look at what France does with health care let alone foster care. It should be obvious to everyone (by this time) that well meaning interests are corrupted by financial gain. This is the case with every facet of this u.s. society.

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