Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2012 9:47:33 PM
The Foster Care System
I remember the day they took me away from my mom. The day itself isn’t as clear as I would like it to be for the chronicle events are vague. My mind brings to memory the knock on the door, hard at first before dying out to a soft “tap, tap”. When I first saw the police officer, I was terrified. My whole experience of being near him had me shaking in fear: the way he pulled my mom aside to talk and the way he put me and my mom in the back of his car, her wrists bound in handcuffs. The worst part of it all was sitting in that chair in a cold office at the police station, watching my mom through a glass window being taken into a different part of the building and taking notice of her reassuring smile. Had I known that that night would have been the last time I ever saw her again, I would have smiled back.
Home is something that should never have to be temporary, though in some unfortunate cases it is. The foster care system is the reason as to why over 500,000 children and teens all across the country live in some form of a home that’s only temporary (Doyle 2). While the foster care system’s intentions are good, it can lead to some problems. A child can end up in there for various reasons and find themselves in a failing system. The psychological and physical outcome of a child post-care is horrific, and at times, what’s being done about it doesn’t change the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of children suffering. Children will benefit more by staying with their parents instead of being taken from their homes.
There are thousands of kids out there with stories similar to mine, all with dissimilar endings, all going through the feeling of being ripped away from their homes. I was one of the lucky ones, for I only lived with two different families (both friends of my mom) before my dad came to rescue me. Children all across America are taken from their parents and homes for several various reasons: drugs, abuse, unstable home environment, neglect, crime, etc. Brenda Jones Harden says, “The biggest reason that children are placed in foster care is for neglect, the second being physical abuse and the third is for sexual abuse” (34). It is the responsibility of the caseworker that has taken on the child’s case to place the child in a home that is appropriate for their situation – an infant or toddler might benefit more in a group home with kin and an older child or teen might get more out of living in a home with two stable parents with other teens (Troutman, Ryan, Cardi). For a child who has been through an abusive relationship with their parent might not know how to develop a bond with adults or a mentor (Harden 33) and it is a difficult decision to figure out how to place a child. Each child’s situation is different, but all of their needs are the same: love and care after the feeling of abuse, neglect and abandonment.
Each year, over 2 million children are investigated by Child Protective Services for parental abuse; half of them are actually proven to have been abused in some way (physical, verbal or sexual) and about 10% of those children are placed into foster care (Doyle, 2). Foster care was designed by the Child Welfare System to protect children from a family lifestyle that in the long run will affect how they develop and how they think. According to child psychologist Brenda Jones Harden, “… family stability is not offered as a standard by which to evaluate families in the child welfare system, but rather as an essential goal of child welfare intervention with biological, foster and adoptive families” (33). This statement is so true because the cycle of abuse doesn’t stop with the biological parents because a large percentage of the children who were abused or neglected at home are also abused by their foster parents and even adoptive parents. These cases, however, aren’t investigated as thoroughly as they should for the carelessness of social workers who don’t understand that foster parents can provide the same type of unstable home environment as biological parents can.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter knows the meaning of an unstable home environment. She had been placed into foster care when she was only three years old and remained in the system for over nine years. She was abused severely by a foster parent who would force her to eat hot sauce, squat in a corner, make her run laps in blistering heat, hit her with a wooden spoon until she bruised, or starve her until it came to the point that consuming toothpaste or spoiled milk was like eating a delicacy (Rhodes-Courter 69). This is something that unfortunately happens too often for not all case workers do full background checks on foster parents, and don’t check in on children as frequently as they should. It’s not safe for children to be put into a situation where they feel like there is no one out there to help them, for feeling like that can cause problems for the child later on in life.
To me, home is many things. It smells like clean sheets, and reminds me of fireplaces, squeaky back porch steps, heavy afghan blankets and dusty windows. To foster care children, home is a flicker, a montage of homes shaped like shacks, mansions, apartments, back wood farmhouses and row homes. For a child who has spent the greater part of their life shuttling from home to home, they don’t know what a home is. All they’ve known is their suitcase and vague memories of their past lives with their parents at their real home. Never being able to identify with what a real home and family is supposed to be is just one of the psychological effects of a child who has lived in foster care for a significant amount of time. In his report “Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of foster Care”, Joseph J. Doyle Jr. explains the conflict of taking a child from their home:
Although an abusive family environment is undoubtedly harmful to child development, removing a child from home may be traumatic as well. For example, placement instability in foster care has been highlighted as a potentially serious problem for child development. The average foster care child is moved from one home to another at least once, with a quarter experiencing three or more moves…. While the large size of the estimated effects and their (caseworkers) lack of precision suggest caution in the interpretation, the results suggest that large benefits from foster care placement in terms of these outcomes appear unlikely for children at the margin of foster care.
In this report, Doyle sums up the outcomes of child development, with some effects including committing crime, dropping out of school, experience substance abuse, joining welfare, or becoming homeless. Twenty-eight percent of homeless people and twenty percent of imprisoned men have been in foster care at some point in their lives, and that group is four times more likely to have been treated for an STD and three times more likely to have some form of mental health needs in comparison to the national average (Doyle 2). The numbers are increasing every day and still it is a problem that not many people are made aware of. There are, however, a few select groups that work to help the children and those who have already aged out. The John Chafee Foster Care Independence Program gives up to $5000 a year in tuition for those who have aged out and offer independent housing (Walthall). Jim Casey Youth foundation helps children deal with their transition into real life. National Foster Care Month was started in 1988 by the National Foster Parent Association and it gives people the opportunity to volunteer or become mentors with the children (Casey Family Services). Any kind of system needs support, and although it isn’t fit for children (both mentally and physical) there are ways to help improve the weaknesses. Casey Family Services writes on their website “The partners (of National Foster Care Month) continue to seek permanent, loving families for children in foster care – by reuniting them safely with their parents, locating relatives who can support their growth, or connecting them with adoptive families.” And although that is the goal of foster care, it is one not always met.
Life is never certain, and the choices that we make and the promises that we break help to shape who we are. For children in foster care, the people they’re surrounded by don’t make the correct choices to help protect them in every way possible. I was surrounded by people who made it their goal to ensure my happiness and safety and I wish that I could say the same for every other child. Foster care isn’t the best option for children and they will be better off developing and growing up with their own families at a place that they can truly call home.
Doyle, Joseph J., Jr. "Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care." MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology. N.p., Mar. 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.
Harden, Brenda Jones. "Safety and Stability for Foster Children: A Development Perspective." Children, Families and Foster Care: 31-44. Future of Children. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
"National Foster Care Month." Casey Family Services. N.p., 2004. Web. 2 Nov. 2012.
Rhodes-Courter, Ashley. Three Little Words: A Memoir. New York: Atheneum, 2008. Print.
Troutman, Beth, Dr., Susan Ryan, and Michelle Cardi. "The Effects of Foster Care Placement on Young Children's Mental Health." University of Iowa. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.
Walthall, Abbey W, et al. "Aging Out of Foster Care." To The Contrary. Hosted by Bonnie Erbe. PBS. Television.