Hey folks, it’s been a while since I’ve posted! Eep! I haven’t forgotten about this blog, I’ve just been busy with school and life and emotions.
I’m still deciding if I should create a posting schedule or not, but in the mean time, please know that this blog will never be abandoned, even if there haven’t been recent posts for a while. If you want to stay in the loop with my erratic posting schedule, please follow my blog! (If you already are, thank you so so much! I never expected to have a single reader, so I appreciate all of you and your lovely comments!)
Anywhoo, tonight I’ll be sharing an essay that I wrote for my Health Science class last Spring. I put a lot of work into it, so I decided to recycle it for an audience slightly larger than my professor! I’m sure many if not most of the folks reading this blog will know this information already… but if anyone stumbles upon my blog who doesn’t know much about foster care, this is for you. 🙂
I have chosen to research the foster care system for my Health Inquiry Project because I have experience as a foster youth. My experience in group homes was just as traumatizing as the situation that had me placed in it. I entered the system fearful and abused, a victim of neglect, and I left with fears of abandonment, severe depression, a diminished self-worth, and extreme anxiety. I was denied many important social and personal growth experiences in adolescence, due to the structure of treatment facilities, which stunted my ability to function as an adult. I’ve worked long and hard on recovering from these conditions, but they still haunt me. I know quite a few emancipated foster youth, and we all share similar challenges as a result of being raised in care. We have struggled with reclaiming our senses of self after being dehumanized into a case number.
There are over 600,000 children in foster care throughout the United States, with over 200,000 entering the system each year. Minorities are disproportionately represented in the foster care systems of at least 25 states, often due to poverty issues such as difficulties securing safe housing, mental health, and other supportive services. States and counties have a history of diverting funding for programs designed to support impoverished families to their foster care systems, often receiving a financial incentive for placing children with foster parents, adoptive families, or in congregate settings. Women who have been in the foster care system are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant before the age of 20. These mothers are more likely to be homeless and research suggests their children are more likely to enter the foster care system themselves.
The process of being removed from family is traumatic, causing lasting neurobiological and psychological effects. Even in an abusive environment, a child attaches to their parents. In addition to losing their parent(s), they leave behind friends, schools, and familiar environments. It is not uncommon for children to be separated from their siblings who are also in care.
Over 80% of foster youth are placed in family settings, with a relative or strangers. Children are at the highest risk for placement instability during the first six to seven months in care, setting the stage for feelings of mistrust and confusion. Behavioral and mental health is a strong predictor of placement success, and a common reason foster parents request a child be removed from their home. Behavior problems increase as the child moves through multiple placements. Foster parents who hold reasonable expectations and understand the causes of a child’s behavior are more likely to provide a stable environment for a child. Children who form a strong, positive relationship with their foster family express fewer behavioral problems. Securing placements for young children is often prioritized, leaving fewer options for older children.
When foster homes are not an option, usually because there are not enough beds, children are placed in “treatment facilities” – programs that Kenneth Wooden, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Children’s Justice described as feeding “on unwanted children just as the nursing home business depends for its existence on large numbers of the unwanted elderly.” The conditions in these institutions can be horrendous.
While one would think that a child suffering from the pains of neglect and abuse would require tender loving care, what they receive in “treatment” is a far cry. These centers run on different behavior modification models (implying that the child’s situation is a result of their own negative behavior) which could involve slaps across the face, isolation, or humiliation. The case managers and social workers in charge of these children are often overworked and at a loss for alternative placements, so the children remain in inadequate, abuse environments. Reunification with families is the ideal goal for children placed in care, but home visits are usually used as a reward for good behavior, rather than a tool for reunification.
Ninety-six percent of children in institutions suffer from psychiatric disorders, compared with fifty-seven percent in foster homes. The prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among former foster youth is nearly five times higher than the general population, and two times higher than American war veterans. The occurrence of panic disorder is three times higher.
A childhood spent being moved from placement to placement, with little in the way of stability or social support, will not create an healthy adult. Attorney Marcia Robinson Lowry states, “Foster care systems.. are failing, producing only more damaged graduates who will go on to produce new generations of damaged children, who will continue to lead unspeakably tragic lives and who will increasingly tax our public resources.” According to the Youth Law Center, “Lack of stability and a permanent home are evident in the extraordinarily high incidence of substance abuse, homelessness and psychological problems among former foster children.” The Children’s Advocacy Institute reported in 2007 that 65% of foster youth do not have a place to live when they age out of the system. It has been estimated that 45% of former foster youth will become homeless within a year of exiting the system. In California, 80% of adults in correctional facilities were in the child welfare, juvenile justice, special education or mental health systems as children.
Jean Adnopoz, a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center, further explains “If you have a child with no psychological parents, essentially adrift in the world, you are headed toward all sorts of bad outcomes, And we as a society are going to pay and pay and pay for it.”
In order to truly live in a healthy society, we must take care of our most vulnerable populations. What a person experiences in childhood sets the foundation for the rest of their life. The maladjusted former foster youth who is homeless, institutionalized or incarcerated is a living manifestation of our failures as a society. These are the children who have been raised, not by parents in private homes, but by bureaucracy. The foster care issue is absent from much of our national dialogue, however as more research is conducted, more problems are brought to light, which opens them to solutions. As a society we need to find a way to care for our displaced young people in a way that is comprehensive and compassionate.