A few hours ago we turned the final page, read the last paragraphs and finally closed the book called 2008.
We know how dreadful a year it was in regards to our economy, many losing their jobs and homes, more people without health care, falling apart infrastructure and the list goes on and on. We know of all this because the news media hammered it home day after day in their news coverage and headlines of the day.
Unfortunately one area of disaster is not well known amongst the public as the media did not consider it worthy of the attention. Yes, we saw the random headlines and occasionally it received coverage on the news; though most of the time it was limited to local coverage.
I am speaking of the continued plight of youth in our nation’s foster care system. We as a nation were in 2008 continuing to lose yet another generation of youth who face the tribulations of foster care. These youth continue to be voiceless, unseen and forgotten by most.
We saw an increase of over 6,000 youth whose parents had their rights terminated continue to languish in foster care as legal orphans: from 123,000 youth in 2007 to 129,000 youth in 2008. This count does not include youth 16-18 years of age who choose not to be adopted.
We saw the continuing trend of more youth aging out of the system; in many cases unprepared for the world that awaits them. Just a few years ago the number was holding steady at 20,000 youth a year aging out but the numbers have been increasing; 2007-24,000 youth and 2008-26,000 youth. I have reported in other blog entries the high failure rate of youth aging out of the system.
We saw judges continue to ignore ASFA1997 and allowing youth to linger in the system well past the 15-22 month rule. We saw them give the biological parents chance after chance to work their case plans while the youth were held in limbo in regards to permanency.
We saw foster parents after foster parents being denied the ability to adopt youth in their care while the youth languishes in the system supposedly temporary becomes a permanent pawn of the system until they age out.
We continued to see youth experience move after move of one foster home to another though it has been well documented that with each move a youth will suffer damage.
I could go on and on about the failure of our foster care system in 2008 but hopefully this gives you a picture. The unfortunate thing is 2008 is not a new failure. The failures of today are in many cases the same failures I faced while in the system 50 years ago.
Prospects for 2009:
You would think with so many years of failures being the history of our foster care system that I would think 2009 would be just another year of such failure.
However I am optimistic about 2009. What gives me reason for this optimism?
In the spring of 2007 I wrote a letter to each of the candidates for President of the United States whether they be Democrat or Republican. Though I have never been a one issue voter the plight of youth in foster care is a vital one to me. I wanted to know where each candidate stood on the issue and what they would do if nominated by their respective party and ultimately elected.
Sixteen letters were written. Here is the text of that letter:
There are thousands of American children who are in desperate need for our leaders to “defend their lives”. Over 500,000 currently reside in our nation’s foster care system…123,000 languish in the system while currently eligible for adoption.
There is also an alumnus from the foster care system of over 12 million men/women today.
American children are being abused and neglected in record numbers. It is outrageously despicable that in a great country such as ours these innocent lives are not being protected. There are American children who are suffering abuse repeatedly. It appears that “parental rights” gives someone the right to abuse, neglect, and molest our littlest victims.
Many of these children are placed in foster homes to have their broken bodies, minds and hearts mended by loving foster parents, only to be returned over and over again to their abusers. Some are eventually murdered.
It is time a fierce stand is taken to protect these innocent lives. Current laws are not effective in preventing violence against children. Current laws do not give children in foster care the stability and permanency they so deserve. Current laws do not do what our children need them to do, protect them and consider their best interest. There is a need for laws and regulations to provide safe, loving, nurturing environments for our children to live and thrive in.
Many, many foster care children are never adopted, many of them age out of the system. They age out of the foster care system into our prison systems, homeless etc. This is because after being repeatedly abused, neglected, and reunited with their perpetrators they are so severely traumatized that they become mentally ill.
The federal government has in the past used incentives such as bonuses to the states for the adoption of foster children over the age of nine. These children need adopted in their early years. They are hardened by the very system set-up to protect them. By the time these children are nine years old it is hard to find families willing to adopt a child who has numerous behaviors issues. Issues that they developed by the trauma they suffered while in the “system”.
Over the years there have been token changes to the laws, regulations, and other governmental acts that were suppose to protect abused and neglected children. None of these have made a meaningful or useful change for the children. Children are still languishing in foster care. Children are still being reunited with their abusers only to be returned to the broken foster care system, time and time again. When are we going to “defend their lives”?
I the undersigned had my life touched forever by the foster care system. I was thrust into on the day of my birth and remained until I aged out. I went through sixteen moves, sexual abuse and other humiliations during those years. The last move was being thrust onto the streets to fend for myself when I reached eighteen.
I am one of the lucky ones who survived the system and have made something of my life.
I am not a one issue voter. However, this is one of the main issues I am concerned about. I don’t want the usual political spinning, more studies or commissions. I want proposals with action to correct what I consider to be a national crisis.
I urge you to consider legislation, if nominated or elected, to our Representatives and our Senators to make unprecedented changes that are “in the child’s best interest”. The current system of “state run systems” has failed these youth. I believe that if the foster care system was a federally ran system there would be more consistency and uniformity in the protection of the United States foster children. We need action now, before more innocent lives are lost.
I have contact with several thousand former foster youth as well as foster/adoptive parents I wish to possibly garner their support for you from. There first question is “What does he/she plan on doing about the foster care system problem?” I want to be able to answer that question but I do not have an answer to date.
Will you please “stand on OUR side” as I and others “defend” these little lives we so desperately want to protect and stand by “your” side?
I received only one response. It was not your typical form letter reply thanking me for writing about an issue. It was obvious a letter than had been very carefully considered as it addressed not only the issue but responded to the things I had experienced as a youth in foster care. One could tell this candidate had read my letter personally and responded to it in the same manner.
This candidate was Senator Barack Obama. He showed he cared about me as an individual, as an American as well as the issue. He was not the typical politician just looking for votes.
I became an immediate supporter of Senator Barack Obama for President.
He made two promises in his letter to me:
- He would clearly state on his web site his position for child advocacy
- He would establish a specific office in the White House if elected for children & youth issues
He followed through with this statement of advocacy on his web site:
Barack Obama is a committed advocate for children. He will make sure that every child has health insurance, expand educational opportunities for low-income children, extend resources for low-income families, support and supplement our struggling foster care system, and protect children from violence and neglect.
On December 9, 2008, just a month after his election as President he carried through with his second promise.
President elect Obama and his transition team are requesting feedback from the general public on the issue and what we would like to see be done.
Never before in my memory has a President asked we the public to be part of establishing policy.
Whether you voted for President elect Obama or not it is time for each of us to not only complain about problems but to offer potential solutions to a person who has promised to listen to us.
It is time for each of us to let our voices be heard on the issue of our broken foster care system and the damage it causes.
Below is the link where you are able to do so. You will be required to sign up but then you can speak to this issue or other issues that may be of interest to you.
This is not the end but only the beginning. We must hold President Obama’s feet to the fire. We must let him know when we agree with him on this issue and when we disagree. We must let him know we will not continue to allow our current system of foster care to destroy another generation of youth.
He has kept his first two promises to me and now I want to see change!
Knowing what the President will have on his plate day one of his presidency I do not expect immediate solutions to the problem but I do expect the beginning of the process within 2009.
To those reading this please do your part’ go to the link above and be heard!
Reform needs to begin and it needs to begin NOW!!