In 2013, the state of Texas was startled to see the number of children’s deaths in foster care rise. The state passed legislation this month demanding regulations and oversight of foster homes. It includes stipulations that frequent home visitors be assessed, community relationships be monitored , that work, finances and mental health issues be looked at before children are placed in temporary homes. Some of these basic ideas are truly monumental. My hope is that other states jump on the bandwagon.
Several states have lost control of public and private sector social service systems that literally leave kids out in the cold. Florida felt the heat after two foster children who were unknowingly missing for several years, turned up dead. They suffered years of abuse from parents who continued to take stipends for their care after their deaths. New York, Texas, California, Florida, Alabama have all had very public tragedies unfold. In some states, “lower” level sex offenders have been found taking in foster children.
Very few states have made it officially unlawful to even place children in the care of parents whose spouse/boyfriend/son/daughter are sex offenders. What does this reabuse already do to weakened foster children?
The truth is the system is overwhelmed. With nearly 400,000 children officially in foster care in America, solid families are few and far between . The New York Times reported on a homeless foster child this winter living in and out of shelters in NYC. Her story is nothing new, but it was a startling piece on a loss of childhood. Displaced foster children are the face of homelessness in America. It is a distressing trend. They live on cots next to offenders, violent criminals, the mentally ill in some cases. And they are CHILDREN.
Children are put in foster care due to physical/sexual abuse, neglect, or because of a parent’s drug addiction. The intent is for the child to be temporarily placed until they can be reunited with a biological relative or rehabilitated parent. Oftentimes, that reunion doesn’t happen and children are shuffled from home to home.
I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. I was found with other siblings who were also abused and left like dogs to rot in the dark. While my experiences were painful, they helped me grow into a better person. And more able to appreciate the chance to be a mother and have a relative/family of my own. They make me love stronger: I know the value of my life because I was nearly robbed of it.
I saw the shuffling of kids in and out of the system. Some are probably still on the street. Some are dead, some are in jail, but others are very successful. Some found their rock in foster care, had a school mentor, were successfully adopted or somehow left their ghosts behind.
Abused children are sometimes at risk for reabuse. Without the protection of a solid foundation they are often left flailing in the wind. While foster care is intended to be a refuge from instability; neglect, violence, sexual abuse, starvation, torture and even murder happen in foster care here in the United States. Sadly abuse happens even more so in biological homes.
According to the 2012 Child Treatment study conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 686, 000 children were victims of child abuse this past year.
“The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment,” according to the report. In 2012, 51 states reported that more than one-quarter of victims were younger than 3 years, twenty percent of victims were 3–5 years, and the victimization rate was highest for children younger than 1 year.
It is only in recent years that the law is trying vehemently to catch up to this disgrace in biological and in foster homes.
There are plenty of benevolent foster homes, sadly there are plenty that include abusers. Foster children are often put back at risk for further abuses and maltreatment. Sometimes they live in overcrowded homes with abusive foster siblings. Minor children have little say in who else lives under their roof. Their fate is more often decided for them by a cruel world than “protective care.”
However, advocacy is changing. The tide is starting to come in for these children. People are stepping up to the plate.
I am so impressed with a “new” movement to provide mentorship and stability to foster children who age out of the system. Nothing is more important than helping former foster children find personal success. And often times, after 17 in some places, these children are left with no legal home.
Mentorship in higher education and beyond can get children over this hurdle. And there is no movement that can stop the cycle of pain quicker than helping these deserving kids get an education.
I found my rock in a high school friend’s parents who held me accountable to my education and who treated me like a daughter after my adoptive parents died. It was a godsend to me. I also had foster sisters whose belief in me made me work hard to find myself and nurture my talents. I had a lifeline from some unsafe situations with malevolent foster siblings. I did have some normal teenage experiences; first love, awkward hairstyles and a group of mismatched albeit loyal and protective friends. The system cannot and should not forget children once they are placed !
Protecting children who have already been abused is paramount to changing their course as adults. Oversight helps. Limiting the rights of abusers helps.
Background checking a parent does not do much if other children in the home are abusers. Visiting a home every few months announced does nothing if drug users or alcoholics are entering the home. Increased monitoring and of community ties and familial relationships is essential.
While these oversights can cost more, social workers need respect and professional pay. Court advocates need additional training. Welfare agencies need the funding to properly oversee this increasing number of kids in care. There is no excuse for states misplacing children for years and no excuse for abused children to be re-abused in the system that is supposed to protect them.
Children are always one adult away from success, and that should not be so difficult to give them.
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