Example of Failed Child Welfare System

Recently a program called “Kids Count” released their report of each of the state’s child welfare system, in particular foster care.

 Below is an example of a failure…the state of Michigan. I selected this one to share since it is the state in which I grew up in foster care. Though not surprisingly, yet I astounded,  problems sighted were the same problems I dealt with  as a youth in its system…and I aged out just short of 40 years ago.

I don’t take credit for the article below…it appeared in Wednesday’s August 8, 2007,  issue of the Ann Arbor News entitled; “State System Creates too many Orphans”

  

Michigan is making orphans out of too many children. It’s an unintended consequence of laws passed in the 1990s making it easier for judges to terminate parental rights.

The ambitious goal was to quickly get abused and neglected children into stable, permanent homes. The reality has been thousands of children becoming wards of the state, then languishing in foster care for years before aging out of the system. Lawmakers need to revisit, and revamp, laws that have doubled the number of orphans in the state since 1994.

Michigan had 2,972 legal orphans 13 years ago. Last year there were 6,292, not including the 536 who aged out of the system because they turned 18. The latest Kids Count in Michigan report released in July found almost 28,000 state children received foster care services in 2004. It rightly calls on lawmakers to re-examine the foster care laws.

Foster care was never meant to be a permanent situation for children taken from their parents. But each year, hundreds of youngsters who’ve been in the system for years, age out of foster care without ever having a permanent home.

A report by the state’s Foster Care Review Board in June said the growth of state wards and increasing case loads for foster care workers might partially explain why some children have been abused or died in foster care. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is seeking funds to hire more than 250 workers to find permanent homes for children in the foster care system.

While the state must be zealous in protecting children by removing them from abusive or neglectful homes, it can not be overzealous in permanently cutting parental ties, especially with older children. The sad fact is that once children reach age 11, there is little chance of them being adopted out of foster care. Three quarters of the children adopted from foster care are taken by age 10. That means options other than adoption are needed to find permanent homes for older children.

Recommendations from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which does the Kids Count study, include programs such as permanent guardianships, which allow children to maintain legal ties to their parents while being raised by someone else. Michigan ought to try such programs. They have been used with good effect in other states. Guardianship programs can provide financial assistance commensurate with adoption assistance, allowing children who can’t go home to live permanently with relatives, foster parents and other adults, without being adopted by them. Another suggestion is to let judges create temporary legal guardians for foster children. That leaves open the possibility of a reunion if parents rehabilitate themselves.

Those ideas could be good options for older children, who often don’t want to permanently cut ties with their parents.

Michigan already is trying the “Family to Family” approach to foster care, which aims to keep abused and neglected children with their families when it can be done safely, with relatives or at least in their home communities. Research funded by the Casey Foundation says children are less traumatized by removal from their families if they are not also removed from their schools, neighborhoods and other supports that are familiar to them.

At any given time up to 19,000 children are in foster care in Michigan. Too many of them are spending years in the system without being returned to their families or adopted. For our children’s sake, the state must find better options.

So how many more years do the youth lanquishing in foster care in MI as well as the other states have to wait for change?

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

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Child Welfare System Reform-Part Four

Adoption from Foster Care Reform

A child has justifiably been removed from their home, parental rights have been terminated, the child is within the foster care system…it is now time to consider needed reforms to the adoption system.

As with CPS and foster care, adoption MUST be done with the best interest of the child as the one and only priority.

If a child has been matched with the best possible foster family with potential adoption in mind and the family wishes to adopt the child, the adoption process should be expedited to allow the child to establish a permanent family, obtain stability in life and be removed from the quagmire of the foster care system.

If the child has been placed, though best matched, with a family not interested in adopting, immediate matching with a potential adoptive family should begin. The child should remain with the current family until such a family is found.

Once that family has been identified and a thorough check has been done as required of foster families are required to undergo, a slow transition to move the child to this family should begin. One can begin with visits; overnight stays, etc. until all parties are comfortable and then the child should be moved to this family.

A reasonable period of transition and bonding should follow prior to commencement of adoption proceedings beginning.

Prior to adoption, a document should be prepared by the responsible agency, detailing once again, all information that was earlier made part of the record concerning birth family and child. Again this document is prepared under the threat of perjury.

The document should be signed by both parties and made part of the permanent record after copies are made available to both parties.

The adoption process can be very stressful for potential adoptive parents, whether from the public or private sectors. Support groups should be established to allow potential adoptive parents to come together in support of one another . They can discuss the process, the stresses, and what to expect in the first few years, etc. This, I believe, would be quite helpful in making the adoption a success.

Adoptive families, who for reasons of their fault, fail in their adoption (IE: child removed at their request, have alleged charges of abuse or neglect) not only MUST face the same process or criminal as biological parents, but they also must be placed on the National Registry so they may not move to another jurisdiction and attempt to adopt more children.

Other than a foster placement and adoption at an age where the child does not understand what is happening, or if proved not to be in the best interest of the child at the time, adoptions should be open as much as possible. The degree of openness should be left to the comfort level of the adoptive parents and can change over the course of years that follow.

Federal adoption subsidies must be enforced in all states. There should be not a question of whether or not you receive it, but simply “Here, your children qualify, sign this form.”

Children need to know their roots. A major change I would make in adoption law is for OPEN RECORDS. Any adopted youth upon reaching the age a majority MSUT have access to their original th family if they so desire.

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

Why search? Why not leave the past alone? What do you hope to gain from your search? These were just a few of the questions asked of me during the course of my search. Most questions came from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives. They had no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information and then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

This is why I searched. I had the desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you, you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I spent thousands of hours and dollars during my search, and I was only a foster child never adopted. Thus, I was able to obtain my original birth certificate. These expenditures of time and money should not have been necessary.

Agreements made while a child is a child should not be allowed to hold once the child reaches the age of maturity. Adoption records should be opened.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my Polish heritage! This is why anyone would search.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage, is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same, it’s considered “abnormal”? Seems hypocritical to me!

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world. It is THEIR information locked behind vault doors and THEY have a right to it!

As i stated at the beginning of this series; I do not claim to know all the problems of our child welfare system nor do I claim to have all the answers. I DO know our current system is broken and youth are paying the price today and we as a society are and will continue to pay for this failure.

I have attempted to lay out many of the problems I see about the system. I have gone a step further and also attempted to provide some potential solutions as it does no good to just say what is wrong and not provide some answers.

We desperately need to begin a dialogue within society and demand reform of those responsibe for this failed system. 

I hope this may be the start!

Child Welfare System Reform-Part Three

Foster Care System Reform

CPS has been addressed. If all the proposed reforms of this program have been implemented and enforced there should be a large reduction in the number of children needing to be placed in the foster care system.

Only after a neglect case has been fully investigated, parents refuse or do not complete the Family Service Program made available to them and all efforts for potential kinship care have failed should removal from the home and placement in foster care for the child be considered.

When abuse (physical or sexual) has been alleged, found by the police to have merit, the alleged offender has been charged and all efforts were made to allow child to remain in home or kinship care should removal from the home and placement in foster care be considered.

In any case all the efforts made must be full documented under threat of perjury and said report goes before a judge for initial determination of child removal to foster care.

Once a removal determination has been made by a judge, reviewed by the review committee and found to be in compliance with all policies, procedures and laws should the child be removed.

Removal from one’s family is a traumatic experience for any child, no matter the conditions they were removed from. Immediate counseling MUST be provided to ALL children who is of an age of understanding to realize what is happening to them. This service should be provided until it is deemed no longer necessary.

Neglect and abuse situations should be handled differently in some areas while the same policies should be implemented in others.

NEGLECT CASES:

ALL workers involved in disposition of a case should have full training not only on procedures, policy and law but also impact of their decisions as to how they may affect the children. The training MUST be

completed prior to their being able to make decisions in a case on their own. There also must be ongoing training while they are employed by their agency (public or private).

NO foster care worker should have a case load more than twenty families at any one time. More cases do not allow the worker to devote the necessary amount of time and work in assisting the family and child along with their other responsibilities.

Adding administrative staff to do necessary paperwork would free up social workers to actually do what they have been trained and hired to do.

States have been reducing workers in this field as they have been in education. They say it is necessary due to budget issues. States can either fully fund prevention programs, assistance programs now or we as a society will pay later with destroyed families, children in juvenile hall or prison.

Families are the backbone of our society. Children are our future. Destroy either one of them or our society will pay a very heavy price…spend the money now!

Though impractical, it would be nice if ALL involved in the child care field (judges on down the line) would have to be parents themselves or foster parents for a period of time before they are able to make decisions regarding children. It is hard enough to parent a child with no baggage but you get a child who has been neglected, abused or exposed to drugs and that is a totally different world. Then you get a worker that is fresh out of college and thinks that what they learned in a book is the way of the world and the kids pay. Textbook learning is not the “real” world!

A child should be moved as little as possible while in the foster care system. Constant moves only prove detrimental to the child.

ALL potential foster families who have completed their necessary training, home studies and background checks should be placed within a software program. Data should include, but not be limited to, age of children willing to foster, number of children, whether they will take siblings of one gender or both genders, gender of children, race of children, special needs of children, willingness to foster/adopt or not.

ALL children entering the foster care system MUST also have their data entered into the data base. It should include reasons for foster placement, age, gender, special needs, single or part of sibling group, race.

Every effort MUST be made to best match the children to foster families on the initial placement to reduce moves for the child. This should include the potential that the child may at some point be made eligible for adoption.

Some counties currently use a rotation system for placement. That is, they simply call the next agency of their list and given them a period of time to place or call the next agency. Agencies have been given financial incentives for placements.

This MUST be totally abandoned. Children are not a commodity. Agencies should not be given incentives for just finding a bed available rather than finding the “best” placement. Placements MUST be determined by matching the best potential foster parents to the children needing placement.

If any incentive is to be offered it should be to states for reducing the number of cases in their foster care system by either keeping the family together due to in home services offered, successfully reunifying families or by adoption when appropriate.

Emergency placement may be necessary at times and just a bed found. These should be done as rarely as possible and for as short of a period of time as possible.

Foster parents MUST be made an active part of the team making decisions in the best interest of the child as long as the child remains a part of foster care.

At the time of placement a fully detailed case plan for potential return of the child to its parents MUST be developed. It MUST state what MUST be accomplished by the parents, the assistance that will be provided to accomplish the plan; a clear date of completion of said plan MUST be established. I propose ONE YEAR. The parents must have it clearly stated to them in the document that they will have one opportunity to fulfill their established plan.

Failure to comply with the plan during the course of the one year or failure to complete the plan in the established time is automatic grounds for termination of their rights. The parents must know their child will NOT be allowed to remain in limbo or subject to instability due to their actions or inactions. This agreement MUST be side by both parties in the presence of a judge and becomes a part of the permanent record. Compliance with the case plan should be reviewed every ninety days, or sooner if warranted.

At the time of placement with a foster family a document of facts will be prepared by the placing agency. It will include, but not be limited to, reason child has been placed, history of the child including medical, any behavioral, physical or mental special needs of the child, case plan established and agreed to by the parents, services to be provided the child while in care.

This document is prepared under the threat of perjury charges. Both the agency and foster family sign the document and it is made a part of the record, after the foster family and agency are provided copies.

All services to be provided to the child while in case MUST be provided with the needs of the foster family as to place, time etc.

Every effort MUST be made to keep siblings together, if not possible, arrangements must be made to allow siblings to visit each other while in care.

The foster family cares for the child twenty-four/seven and payment for their providing this service MUST reflect this service. Foster families should NOT be expected to go into their personal funds to provide this service. Foster families also should NOT expect this payment to provide them their source of income to the household.

When a parent(s) have completed their case plan and a determination has been made to reunify the family it should not be rushed. A probationary transition period should be established to slowly allow the biological parent(s) to transition to having the children back in their home. We want the reunification to be successful and not have the child returned to foster care. The reunification should go slowly with continued full services available to the parent(s) to assist them during this period.

The family should continue to be monitored for a period of at least one year after full reunification and assistance should also be offered during this time.

The parents may have difficulties along the way, as long as the parent(s) show continued attempts to parent their children in a healthy, safe setting they MUST be supported.

However, if the parent suddenly goes back to the way things were before the children were removed and the children’s well being is once again put at risk…removal proceedings may be once again with the goal of parental rights being terminated.

Children cannot be allowed to be placed in a situation where they become a ping pong ball going back and forth between their home and foster care. This is extremely detrimental to the child in numerous ways and cannot be allowed.

A parent(s) who has been proved neglectful deserves a second opportunity to prove they are capable of being a parent. This does not mean third, fourth etc. chances.

Reunification is great when it can successfully happen. However, reunification at any costs should not be the objective. At some point one needs to realize that some are not capable of being a parent and have parental rights terminated for the sake of the children.

Children placed within the system due to allegations against a parent(s) of physical or sexual abuse need to be handled slightly differently.

At the time of their placement only criminal charges have been lodged and kinship care was found not to be a viable option.

The parent(s) must be assumed innocent until proved guilty.

If a parent(s) are found to be not guilty after a jury trial the safe return of the child must be carefully considered. Is it in the best interest of the child to be returned to a home where these charges were alleged but not proved beyond a reasonable doubt?

It is possible something did occur though not meeting our standard of guilt. It is also possible that the alleged offender pleads guilty to a lesser charge.

A “case plan,” if necessary, will need to be set up and followed prior to the return of the child or the child can be safely returned immediately after case disposition.

If a parent(s) are found guilty of the charges alleged against them, termination of their rights should begin immediately. No parent found guilty of such charges should be given a second opportunity to commit such indefensible actions against their children again. TPR should occur and the child made eligible for adoption period!

If the parent(s) are involved in the court system due to other alleged crimes not involving the children but resulting in the child being placed in foster care, due to kinship care not being a viable option, and said parent(s) are found guilty of those charges presents yet another dilemma. What were the charges and what is the length of sentence given?

Conviction for a crime of violence (IE: murder) should be grounds for immediate termination of rights and child made eligible for adoption.

If for other crimes that requires a period of incarceration the case needs to be carefully reviewed. How long is the sentence? Is the parent after incarceration willing to set up and comply with a case plan for reunification? Is the parent willing to do a voluntary termination of rights?

I think the key determination needs to focus on length of sentence. How long do we as a society expect a child to remain within the foster care system while awaiting a parent to begin their responsibilities of parenting. How long to we expect a child to remain in limbo in an unstable environment?

I am of the firm belief that any sentence beyond one year, with an additional one year time period to fulfill a case plan warrants termination of rights by the parent (s).

We must put the welfare and best interest of the child above and beyond the rights of the parent(s)!

There is another category of children that may come into foster care. These are those that have been abandoned, orphaned or placed for adoption at birth all without a viable kinship care option available to them.

These children have the least number of available options for permanency available to them. Immediately upon placement every effort MUST be made to find an adoptive family for them…this should be given every consideration when placing with any foster family.

Finally, a number of children placed within the foster care system, either with a family or other setting, will for a number of reasons, age out of the system despite the best efforts made.

A more complete comprehensive program of after care must be made available to youth aging out of the system.

Statistics bear out that far too many former foster children do not complete their education, have no resources to advance themselves, end up in dead end jobs, on drugs, mental and emotional problems or in prison.

Consideration should be given to raising the age for aging out of the system to 21. Extensive “life” prepartion programs would be provided for youth ages 16-21. Some counties and states do offer this but this type program is among the first cut when their is a budget crunch.

Children without the necessary resources are doomed to failure.

We cannot allow these, now young adults, to become the throw away of our society. They, probably far more than many others, deserve an opportunity in life and the resource for them to attempt to achieve it. We cannot guarantee their success…but we can provide them the tools necessary for them to do the work to make it possible. 

Part 4 of this 4 part series will address adoption from foster care.