I ask the aforementioned question as a survivor of the foster care system of the 1950s and 1960s.
How many more children need be lost, abused, killed or languishes within the foster care system? How long before America wakes up and realizes the system is broken and demand changes?
One would think with all the progress we as a society have made in so many areas we would have improved a system that has been failing youth for decades.
I was placed within the foster care system at birth due to being a child of an unwed mother during a time when such things were kept under wraps. The purpose was to place me for adoption.
By the time I was two years old rather than being adopted I was placed within two institutions and four foster homes. When I reached my eleventh birthday this had increased to a total of four institutions and eleven foster homes. No, I was not a special needs child nor was I a youth in trouble.
Fortunately, the system made one wise choice for me by sending me to Boys Town, Nebraska at age eleven. This was to be my home for the next seven years. It was here I gained my education and the other tools that would be necessary to make it in this world.
I aged out of the system at age eighteen. That is, I was now considered an adult and out of the system and on my own, ready or not.
The supposed goal of foster care is to be a temporary guardian of a child with the intent to return one to their natural family, or if not possible, place with an adopted family.
The system failed me in both goals. One foster family attempted to adopt me, not once or twice, but three times only to have the system say no. This, despite the fact that they placed me in this home three different times totaling six and a half years. They were good enough to be my foster family but not good enough to provide me a permanent home as they wished.
We move forward over forty years and see the system is no better today than in the past. Some would say, I included, that it has even worsened.
Please note, this is the system not the foster parents. The overwhelming number of foster parents are kind, caring people willing to take into their homes children not their own. They many times do this at additional emotional and financial expense to themselves. Most don’t do fostering for the money; they do it for the love of the child. They should not go bankrupt in the process. They often feel as abandoned by the system as do many kids within the system.
The system today continues to move children from one home to another with no apparent reason. This does not take into account the emotional costs to the child of being raised in a non-stable environment. They separate siblings, often allowing no contact between those siblings.
You can quote the Adoption and Family Safety Act of 1997 and get a totally blank look from the people who are supposed to be in charge of enforcing the act. They need to get “all their ducks in a row” and follow the intent of the act which is “the best interest of the child is uppermost”. As it stands now, it’s the rights of the parents. Their “civil rights” have to be protected no matter how much further damage is done to the children already scarred by the placement in the system.
How many times do we have to pick up the newspaper, hear on the radio or see on television of another foster child being abused, neglected, lost or languishing within the system until they are aged out or worse yet…killed.
We have all heard of the cases in Florida, Michigan, Illinois and so many others. Just recently I even read in the New York Times of the New Jersey system allowing foster kids to languish in the state hospital mental wards because they say they have no other place to place them.
How do we expect most kids within the system, for whatever reason, to make it in life with such instability throughout their most formative years?
We say, “Children are our most valuable asset” but our actions do not show it. The current phrase today is, “leave no child behind.” Yet thousands are left behind within the foster care system each and every year.
In too many ways it seems to me that our “real” national attitude towards children was summed up long ago, when W. C. Fields uttered that classic line, “Go away, kid–you bother me!” Kids in need can be such a bother, can’t they? So much easier to stuff them away in mental wards and the like where the public doesn’t have to see, hear or deal with them! If they start to act out–if they start to become troublesome delinquents as they grow older–why, let’s label them as the criminals they obviously are and throw them into the prison system where they belong.
I am grateful the system gave up on me at age eleven and allowed me to go to Nebraska as it gave me an opportunity to make it. Thousands have not been as lucky as I.
I wonder how many men and women within our prison systems or cemeteries today started life within the foster care system. Yes, as adults we are each responsible for the decisions in life that we make. However, children look to adults to provide the tools necessary for making the right decisions. In many cases the system fails these young people in supplying those tools and we have seen the results of that failure.
We as a nation can no longer afford to allow the foster care system to continue on its present course. We cannot allow thousands of lives to be discarded into the dumpster of failure. We have a moral obligation to make “leave no child behind” a reality.
The foster system needs to be overhauled. Red tape must be removed for willing families to adopt. Families can and should include single parents. Yes, it would be nice if every child had a two parent home…but it is more important that each child have a home full of love, nurturing and caring. This type of family should also include willing gay/lesbian couples.
Better monitoring of case workers needs to be established. Too many case worker reports we are finding out are untrue or not written at all. Too many case workers are more concerned about protecting their jobs rather than protecting the children placed within their care. I recognize there are also many good case workers in the field. They, unfortunately, in many cases are overwhelmed by the number of cases they are responsible for. The brightest and the best usually leave the system themselves after a few years either burned out or recognizing the ever exceeding failures of the system.
Children and their best interest must be made a priority within the system. If we as a society continue to allow the foster care system to fail the children within their care then we can bear the cost in both physical as well as monetary terms. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.
I consider the treatment of youth within today’s foster care system to be intolerable.
When will those responsible for the actions of the foster care system be held accountable for their actions or inaction’s?
Would it be different for children caught up in the foster care system merry go round if they had the right to vote? Would politicians be less likely to ignore the needs of those stuck in the laughably named “child welfare system” if children were a militant political constituency? Who knows! As it is, it’s entirely too easy for needs of kids to be ignored.
We all need to become involved and demand our legislators, community leaders and the foster care system itself provide the best opportunity possible for each and every child to make it rather than lead them to failure. If we don’t…then we have no cause to complain with the results. We can pay nor or pay even more later!
If action is not taken it may be time for those failed by the system to sue those very systems for the damage done to them. Maybe if they were forced to pay for their failures they might concentrate more on providing the best possible care in the very best interest of the child placed within their care…it’s a thought!