Saturday, February 23, 2008

Only So Much

Ya’ know, Madonna and Angelina didn’t have to travel all the way to Africa to adopt. In 2005, there were 513,000 children “in care” in the formal foster care system. This does not include all of the informal family foster situations that existed. That number is probably close to the same. So, that’s a lot of kids, right?

So, what happens to those kids who ended up “in care?” Their chances, statistically, are pretty grim. They are more likely to have suffered severe abuse, are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty, go without adequate healthcare, become drug/alcohol addicted, suffer from mental illness, and become pregnant themselves. Once parental rights are terminated, after sometimes years of reunification attempts, these children are often placed up for adoption.

Here’s the really hard part. All over the country, human services and private adoption agencies who assist the states and counties placing these children in adoptive homes, have to find a way to “market” these children to prospective parents. Among other methods, there are adoption picnics (which potential parents and kids both attend), professional photography sessions (where the kids’ natural beauty is revealed in B&W), and by information via website descriptions that are often accompanied by a very cute picture of a single child.

What they often haven’t told you is that even those children classified as having “minor” problems are going to be tough on the average parent. And, that single child is often part of a sibling group they hope to place together. To make the children attractive, substantive facts are often left out and parents end up walking into something ill-equipped or uninformed. The State has kids—they need to place them—what are they going to do?

I was a foster parent–and I wanted to adopt more eventually. My adoption experiences and the problems those children experienced made me feel quite competent to take the next step. After going through the training and orientation, consulting foster mentors, and after having poured over mountains of information to prepare myself, I was still unprepared for what happened. I ended up with two siblings—one following the other a couple of months later—and had to coordinate visits with yet another sibling located in another foster home. My parental exuberance knew no bounds at this point.

Details of their tenure in my home aren’t really important. I did my job—getting them through a myriad of issues, struggling to find resources within an overworked, understaffed agency, and helping them finally receive the termination of parental rights they needed to start life anew. But, it was a job—and a hard one. I never had a social worker come to my home, never received additional training or information once some significant issues were identified, and pretty much ended up in a heap of blubbering goo the day they were moved to therapeutic care, which took me months of advocacy to get for them. They system is broken.

The other day, an acquaintance asked my advice about fostering/adopting older kids. Even now, after all the years have passed since my experience, I still remember the pain etched in their faces and the pain that wracked my entire body when they left. I sat down with this acquaintance, I laid out the potential scenarios, and I showed her how to identify the buzzwords in the website descriptions so she’d know what questions to ask. I spoke to her about the courts, the social workers, the adjustment problems and inability many of the children have to attach. I gave her a list of books to read and recommended foster support folks with whom to speak. Mostly, I let her know that far from being “easier than having another baby,” it was going to be an experience that would test the strength of her marriage and her family in untold and unpredictable ways.

I don’t regret my tour of duty. In fact, once mine are grown and gone, I’d be open to fostering queer teens who might need some help transitioning to adulthood.

My fervent desire would be that instead of pouring kajillions into the war machine in Iraq, perhaps we could just take a teeny, tiny portion of that tax money and expand the ability for our weary old social services system to ensure its charges and the foster/adoptive parents receive and continue to receive the services and support needed to create the best chance for ultimate success for these kids. Increase pay for social workers to identify and investigate abuse and monitor placements, hire more of them, create more therapeutic facilities and staff them appropriately with the medical and psychiatric professionals it needs, provide mandatory ongoing training and respite services for foster parents, and provide a solid way to help teen foster kids who are going to “age out” of the system set themselves up for success. Maybe, we can stop this endless cycle dead in its tracks, once and for all. Now, wouldn’t that be a good way spend our tax dollars? Building our future.


Mo and The Purries said...

Yes, Lori, that would be an excellent alternative to the war in Iraq.

I think Foster Parents are certainly under-valued in our society!

ndpthepoetress Jean Michelle Culp said...

Lori, what an emotionally touching informative post with several important matters of concern that reaches into the depth of the human heart. As a Parent, I now understand that there are no manuals of a completely right or wrong way to raise a baby that only love, trials, and best efforts will provide. As a tax payer, I agree and expect more from our failing system to educate all involved and open every resource possible to help raise a nation and global wide epidemic of any and all children (regardless of age) whom deserve a safe and nurturing home. Perhaps one day Lori, your ‘fervent desire’ will help pave the way for this and the funds necessary.

sgreerpitt said...

You've provided enormous insight into something that most of us know nothing about (but obviously should!).

Anonymous said...

In recent years, there have been numerous stories in newspapers around the world about the failures of the departments of Family Services and Social Services to do their respective jobs of monitoring and assisting children in dangerous situations. Do we ever read about a child murdered by a family that the Department of Children & Families or the Sheriff's Office has not already investigated, usually more than once? What will it take to protect these innocent children?
These stories are a step in the right direction, but one wonders if perhaps they came too late. All the outrage in the world can't resurrect a dead child.
Too many children have died as a result of wrong decisions by CPS. With power comes responsibility and accountability, which most officials ignore. A child welfare system so overwhelmed with children who don't need to be in foster care,the less time they have to find children in real danger.

Let's NOT allow these precious children's death to be in vain - in the news one day, forgotten the next. Please be a voice for good, a voice for the voiceless, a voice for change.

Children Who Didn’t Have to Die - Website

Mystical Cosmic Sea Turtle said...

Yeah, not only does foster care desperately need reform, but in the long run it would save money. It costs less to help a family with rent than to put kids in foster care. It costs less to give a child help than to pay for prison when the child doesn't get help and ends up committing a crime. It costs less to treat a child with respect and dignity than to pay for the funerals, lawsuits and negative publicity when a child grows up in group homes being mad at the world and then goes on a shooting spree.

The people in power need to start listening to the people who actually deal with the child protection system every day. Instead, what keeps happening is symbolic actions that are supposed to solve all problems, but since it 's a one-size-fits-all solution, it makes things worse for as many people as it helps. It's frustrating, and not so much a lack of money as a lack of common sense.

Anonymous said...

You're such a hero.

Me. Here. Right now. said...

Hi - Usually, it's not a matter of rent that puts a child in foster care, but neglect, horrible physical abuse, or some other sort of inadequacy as a parent that most of us cannot imagine. These kids come deeply scarred, even at a very young age.

I think most case workers are incredibly dedicated but extremeley overworked with caseloads that would make your head spin. They truly can make it out to attend to only the most blatant and overtly dangerous situations. They burn out--quickly, usually.

Early intervention, adequate budgets to staff and investigate, and decisions on reunification that actually make sense on a case-by-case basis would save us all $$ in the long run in future welfare, prison and other costs.

Thanks for caring.