Our Failing System: Foster Care
Is foster care the best system to be using for the children involved? Since 1995 the amount of abuse and neglect related to foster care homes has tripled (Curtis 8). The fact that the abuse rate is so high means that this system should be improved so the children can feel more comfortable. Foster children have described their experiences as traumatizing and “the worst way to raise a child,” with description like that it is a wonder that we as a nation would allow them to continue experiencing these awful circumstances without intervening (Krebs 13).
The reason we let this pass under the radar so quietly is because we cannot come up with a better way of handling the amount of children and variety of ages passing through the system. Even though this system is better than having foster children stay in state housing until they age out, the foster care system should be made better for the children. Since the children have no say in the matter of changing homes or families, they could get close to parents that may not keep them. Being foster parents is known as being “stand-in” parents, the children are thought to not have all the love that most children have in life (Unrau 1260).
Foster care settings include, but are not limited to, “nonrelative foster family homes, relative foster homes, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, and pre-adoptive homes” (Curtis 3). Foster placements are monitored until the birth family can provide appropriate care or the rights of the birth parents are terminated and the child is adopted (Unrau 1260). Most children in foster care have no say in their placements and therefore can be placed and moved to different placements as many times as the state chooses.
Simone de Beauvior believes that “the child’s situation is characterized by his finding himself cast into a universe which he has not helped to establish, which has been fashioned without him, and which appears to him as an absolute to which he can only submit” (69). This explains why so many foster parents are able to abuse and neglect their own foster children because, when children are young they are not aware enough to this new world they are in to know that this is not the way it should be. When a child arrives at the age of adolescence he begins to vacillate because he notices the contradictions among adults as well as their hesitations and weakness” (Beauvoir 70). By the time this happens the teenagers are not able to change their situations and therefore, have to continue to deal with the common maltreatment of most foster homes. The reason the families would wish to keep these children even though they are clearly unhappy is the money they are receiving for keeping them. In New York, “a foster family receives anywhere from $324 to $450 per month for each child.
Foster care money helps ‘a lot of homeowners pay their mortgages,’ said a lawyer familiar with the foster care system” (Zegart 81). The fact that they are paying their mortgages with the child welfare they receive instead of using it to support their child is one of the primary issues with the system. If this money was used to support the child instead, the child may not have to deal with some of the neglect they currently suffer. Voluntary foster care may be utilized in circumstances where a parent is unable or unwilling to care for a child (Unrau 1263).
In cases of voluntary foster care, the children and families must go through family court. A girl in foster care named Teresa said, “We too first entered the foster care system through family court, and we entered the family court system because of the foster care system. Neither is a place we want to be but for some people it’s the only option” (Krebs 1). Changing the foster care system to a system that would better serve the children would reduce the high rates of abuse and risks of maltreatment associated with foster care.
In the United States, foster home licensing requirements vary from state to state but are generally overseen by each state’s Department of Social Services or Human Services (Curtis 38). In some states, counties have the responsibility of overseeing and performing annual check-ups on the foster care homes in their area (Curtis 39). If we adjusted the system so that all the states had the same regulations and statutes they had to meet it would make for a more blanket policy on what is accepted and unaccepted in the system.
If the legislation was changed so that every state had to report on their counties, routine checks on all of the foster homes in their jurisdiction, it would be a huge improvement in the awareness of the treatment in these homes. When these checks are done the case workers already on the case would have to go into the home and make sure that the children they are meeting with are getting the treatment that we as a nation would except one person to give to another person. If the social worker reported any suspicious behavior in the home not only would he children be removed, but if the misbehavior was found to be accurate that home would never be allowed to accept foster children again. If this system was put into place it is hoped that we would change our tripling numbers of abuse into quickly reducing numbers. Also, if we are placing the children in provably more stable home they have a better chance of adoption to an admirable family. Comparably, foster care is said to be somewhat like adoption, without the permanence.
If we changed this to give children decisions or some kind of control in where they end up and how long they stay there it would help make the children more comfortable, while being better able to adjust to their new families. By helping the children feel more comfortable with their surroundings they should be able to find something closer to a normal upbringing. Beauvoir says, “The child does not contain the man he will become. Yet, it is always on the basis of what he has been that a man decides upon what he wants to be” (71).
Helping the children in their childhood become upright individuals and not letting them fall through the cracks of the system, will change the person they grow up to be. If we gave the foster children some kind of control in their own lives and listened to what they wanted more often, it would help them better know the values and morals they should model in their own adult lives. If a youth in the system is older than fifteen, the judge in family court usually approves the goal of independent living (Krebs 2). This means that a foster youth would receive the means to be able to live independently (Krebs 2).
The state provides a room or some sort of semi-independent housing, as well as a job or money for food until he or she “ages out,” somewhere between eighteen and twenty-one years old” (Krebs 29). It seems that this for many teens in foster care, once the judge approves independent living it becomes a long-term living arrangement (Krebs 29). Instead of judges placing these teens into independent living, it would be more beneficial for these youth to find a loving adoptive family that would be able to better guide them into their adult years rather than having to figure it out on their own.
The reason judges are so apt to place foster youth in independent living situations is because of the great number of foster care cases that the states are dealing with (Curtis 51). This is a large problem with the system, even though government officials can see the flaws in this system they are at a loss of what to do because of the magnitude cases the states have to handle. Over 500,000 children in the United States currently reside in some form of foster care (Curtis 57).
Placements in foster care have dramatically increased over the past ten years, to the dismay of the states because of the small number of lawyers willing to handle the load of cases they have for such small salaries (Curtis 52). A recently graduated lawyer stated, “On the second day of work as a lawyer, my supervisor handed me a stack of folders. ‘Here are some cases that you can take over’ she said. ‘I don’t think any are coming into court right away, but you can start checking up on your clients. I now had forty cases sitting on my nearly untouched desk” (Krebs 3). Some of this problem comes from our current policy that is geared to act first and ask questions later (Zegart 78). 150,000 kids are taken from their parents each year “under the watchwords of ‘the best interests if the child’ (Zegart 78). Many of these reports of children being taken from their parents are accompanied by unfounded results of maltreatment (Zegart 82). However, whenever a state gets an anonymous tip of the maltreatment of children they must act (Zegart 82).
Within a two-week period in 1987, five families lost their children at various periods of time, in a ten block radius (Zegart 78). The act first policy is a solid attempt at a solution to this problem however; the problem comes in when they start taking children away from families that are not maltreating their children at all but are being reported falsely. The way to combat the problem of taking children who are not being mistreated is by allowing the family a chance to explain and having social services find evidence of maltreatment in any way in the home or on the children.
In “an atmosphere of well-justified concern for maltreated children we have bred a monster that can traumatize both parents and kids, trampling their rights to a parent- child relationship” (Zegart 78). Even though most reports are simply out of care for the child, they can cause life-changing results which is why we need to change to a system of asking questions before acting with disturbing results. These children that are taken out of their homes and put in foster homes could be headed for much worse situations then they were in.
Their foster homes may be worse neglect and abuse. Therefore, as was said earlier, the children should be taken out of that foster home and put into better care. However, some people would argue that taking children out of foster homes where mistreatment is found would be impossible because we would run out of homes to place the children into. This is probably true, the amount of foster homes in 2006 was only enough to fill half of the need of foster children in the United States (Krebs 113).
Clearly, this is a problem especially with the number of maltreatment and abuse reported out of these same houses but, removing the children from these violent situations is better than having them raised in that environment. In a study performed by Yvonne Unrau and others it was proven that major problems with leaving foster children in abusive placement, are that the children experience profound loss of a feeling of normalcy and loss of connection to friends and family (1259). They also tend to shut down emotionally, and form a sense of guarded optimism (1261).
With this consistent feeling of loss the children are less likely to form close relationships with anyone in their lives in the fear of the people being thrown out. This fear of people being ripped out of their lives is what causes the children to shut down emotionally and therefore acquire guarded optimism. Since they have no idea who will stay in their lives they work on not forming bonds with anyone, this way the children will not be disappointed when these people do disappear from their lives.
The guarded optimism comes from multiple placements, the kids have taught themselves not to be too excited about any placement because the more excited they are the more disappointed they will be when they are re-placed. All of these problems prove that not removing the children from mistreatment situations would do more harm because it causes these emotional insecurities for the rest of their lives.
A solution to the lack of foster homes may be placing foster children in perspective adoptive family homes as a test for the adoptive family and as good housing for the foster child. Using this solution may lessen the problem of the foster children because the families and the child are both getting a family out of it, at least temporarily. If we do remove the children from these situations some judges would solve this problem by putting teen foster children in independent living situations because it seems like the best solution to getting them out of negligent homes.
However, putting the youth in the position of living independently before they have learned from any good role model how to live on their own or the difference between right and wrong will have negative effects. “Over the past ten years, the number of Cook County foster children who spent time in juvenile detention centers and jails has more than tripled, from 67 in 1997 to 208 in 2002, according to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services”… “Of these children, one-third of them were in independent living situations” (Unrau 1259).
This is a prime example of why independent living is not a good solution to foster care for teens, because they end up more susceptible to illegal things since no one has taken the time to teach them better. In 1990 thirty percent of the members in a gang in Chicago had at one point been in foster care (Curtis 86). These statistics are because the state has given up on them so they have decided to give up on themselves. The children that are granted independent living, for the most part, do not have anyone in their lives to relay on.
They have not had time to find someone they can count on through everything that can guide them in the right direction. With this absence in their lives they look for anyone that will give them a direction and a path to take even if it is the wrong one (Krebs 176). Even though it is easy for the judge to grant independent living to teen foster children, it is not as easy for the teen foster children to live independently. Despite the arguments made in favor of foster care, there are many facts that prove the system is failing.
Even though, I am a firm believer in the fact that there needs to be a system in place for the unfortunate children in this situation, I think the system should be changed. The research proves that too many children are falling through the cracks and therefore are not being served equally. For every child to succeed as equally as children who are not in this situation the system has to make large strides in reform. If we can reform our failing system to make it beneficial for the foster families and children then we can truly make a positive difference in thousands of lives.