In America, we all know that each state has a foster system set up to protect children from homes where they are battered, molested or neglected. There are many single parents in our society and that is an added stressor for the parent. If the parent has medical or mental health issues, that can make the ability to take care of one of more children more difficult. I am sure that many of you are shaking your head in agreement.
With the crash of 2008, many people lost there jobs and their health insurance. They also struggled to keep a roof over the family’s heads and food on the table. Now being a single mom is not a picnic and children need to be protected. Being a single dad or mom is a full time job. They need support such as family members, care givers, teachers, pediatricians and many others.
I have a story about a hard working young mother who had a hypersensitive toddler. She had a babysitter who would stay with her little one while she was at work. One day the little girl got so out of control, the sitter called the police. She was placed in a special needs day care and it was supposed to help. She tore the place apart and they no longer wanted her. Her behavior was too alienating for the staff. She was finally diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder and a mood disorder.
The mother called government agencies asking for help. The state’s Community Services Board sent a therapist for counseling sessions and provided a mentor. Things began to look up. Cuts to the state’s budget began to affect services which cut some of the services that had been helping this family. The little girl grew and kept getting better. One day she had what I call a meltdown. They had run out of her favorite candy at day care, The mom had to chase her and became short of breath. She asked a friend to watch her little one and went to the hospital. The hospital diagnosed her with pneumonia.
That night, she was talking to the nurse on duty and confessed that she was overwhelmed by her daughter’s hyperactivity. She stated she didn’t know exactly what she was going to do. The nurse apparently in the mom’s opinion took it “overboard.” The staff called Child Protective Services on her.
Right now, there are 58,000 children living in faster care in America who are legal orphans. These are children who have had their parental rights terminated by the courts. Most of the approximate 400,000 children who end up in the system are there because of parental neglect. Many cases are connected to poverty and a lack of community and government support.
In our case, the mom asked for the little girl to be sent to her father in Texas until she got some help and back on her feet again. The father could not control the little girl and she ended up in the Texas foster system. The state of Texas sent the mom a letter asking her to come to Texas for a hearing. She didn’t have the money for the airplane ticket. She would have had to fly from Virginia to Texas. So she did not go. The next communication she received from Texas was a letter stating that her parental rights had been terminated.
Once children are in the foster care system, it is difficult for families to reunite.At least 15% of children in the system live in institutions or group homes. Most of the children in the foster care system suffer from emotional distress. Nearly one half of them have chronic health issues.
In general, federal law requires authorities to begin proceedings to terminate parental rights within fifteen months of a child entering the foster care system.
Once rights are terminated, the children become stuck in temporary homes and other temporary situations. Some of these children will eventually be adopted. As many as 40% of children age out of the system. In other words, they stay there until they are eighteen and then they are on their own. 60% of children who enter the system as teens, are never adopted. And again age out at eighteen.
Once in foster care, most families are placed in a binary system: Parents and children must reunite completely, or be separated permanently.Children with a troubled or an unsafe home life may indeed need a separation from parents. But they still can need the parent sometimes. These parents may be the only stability in a foster child’s life.
Now, at least sixteen states have provisions for reinstating parental rights, but it rarely happens The family courts are trying to get more leeway for children and their birth parents. Reinstatement of parental rights is not on the menu right now. The states are promoting a Temporary Termination of Rights so that a parent can get treatment, health care or find a new job and then have their children back.
Another problem is that about 23% of children in foster care are placed with relatives in what is called kinship foster care, often with grandparents. These grandparents are often retired and on a fixed budget. Only 4 states guarantee that guardians receive the same amount of funding provided to foster parents. 20% of states still provide no subsidized guardianship funding at all. So if Grandma is taking care of the children for awhile, she gets no money to dress or feed them. This is a huge societal gap which needs to be addressed.
Parenthood is the most important thing we do in this life and we never receive instruction. Parents wing it and hope for the best. Children need to receive better than this if they are going to grow up as mentally healthy members of society.
I thought that it was time that we looked at our Foster Care system here in America and began to think about ways to improve it, and make it actually helpful to children, instead of a place where more harm can occur. I’m interested in your constructive feedback, and starting a discussion. Please don’t hesitate to share your own experiences — the more we all know, the better the chance that a solution can be found.