Featured Post

Suffer the Children

Suffer the Children

A shocking report released this week revealed that nearly 1500 unaccompanied child immigrants are missing after being placed into homes by the federal government. These children, who entered the United States without a parent or guardian, were sent to live with “sponsors” who were to care for and support them while they awaited immigration hearings. From the article:

From October to December 2017, HHS called 7,635 children the agency had placed with sponsors, and found 6,075 of the children were still living with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been deported and 52 were living with someone else. The rest were missing, said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS.

Further reports show that the number reflects children whose sponsors did not respond to follow up calls and thus could not confirm the children’s whereabouts. But some fear these children have fallen prey to human trafficking or slavery, a truly horrifying thought, considering most came here to escape violence. The US Department of Health and Human Services claims they lack the resources and manpower needed to track these children, but vows to do better.

Ironically, this story comes on the heels of one of local interest to me, in which the US Department of Justice is reportedly on the brink of suing West Virginia for deficiencies in its foster programs. The feds are unhappy that the state has more children in its custody than it has foster homes. This has led to many children being placed out-of-state or in group facilities, practices frowned upon by the DOJ.

It is well-known that the foster care system is imperfect. Some complain that child protection agencies are not proactive enough, leaving children in harm’s way. Others accuse the agencies of engaging in “child stealing”. No matter which is true, one can hardly imagine an issue for which improvement is more crucial.  Having worked as an attorney in the child protection system, I can attest to its flaws, though I suspect my opinions on the answers would not track with those of the DOJ and might surprise those with an outside perspective.

Remove First, Ask Questions Later

It is the job of child protective services to protect children who are abused or neglected in their homes. In doing so, the law requires that they utilize the least drastic measures necessary. Removing the child from the home is supposed to be the last resort; however, it is usually the first. It is understandable. Nobody wants to be the worker who made the wrong call and left a child in a bad home if the worst case scenario happens. But the most obvious way to reduce the chronic lack of appropriate foster homes available is to reduce the number of children needing them.

There is a place for discretion here, even when the conditions in the home are less than ideal. Let me be clear: where physical or sexual abuse is present, there is no less restrictive alternative than removal from the home. I am not talking about those situations. But I have seen children taken from their parents and placed in foster care because of chronic lice, truancy, and dirty homes. Because a spanking left a red mark. Because mom and dad smoke pot sometimes or dad drinks a six-pack every night.

These situations are not good for children. The instinct to take them out of these homes and put them somewhere “better” is hard to criticize. But one overlooked fact that must be considered is this: removal is traumatic. No matter how bad the home situation, no matter how absolutely necessary it is to take that child away from his or her parents, that removal will add to the damage. They have a natural love for their parents, no matter how awful they are treated. They must leave them behind, along with their home and most of their belongings. What belongings they do get to keep are tossed into trash bags used as makeshift luggage (a dehumanizing practice so prevalent that there are now several charity programs to provide duffel bags and suit cases for foster children). The weight of this harm needs to be factored into the decision to remove or not.

There are myriad agencies contracted with CPS in West Virginia to provide counseling, parenting classes, and oversight to parents who are failing. While inpatient drug treatment is a scarce resource, counseling and outpatient treatment for less serious substance abuse issues is available widely. Child protective agencies need to favor placement of services and monitoring into the home wherever that is possible to avoid the need for foster care in the first place.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Indeed, sometimes there is no way to keep a child safe without removing them from their parents’ custody. In West Virginia, the ravages of the opioid crisis has contributed to unprecedented numbers of children in foster care. In January 2017, there were almost 5300 children in the system; as of April of 2018, that number was nearly 6600. The reality is that the vast majority of the kids placed into the system are never returned to the permanent custody of their parents. This means that the foster homes are not “turning over” to be available for new children, and the finite supply is chronically short.

There are billboards, radio ads, and print ads imploring people to consider becoming foster parents. But the process is fraught with bureaucratic obstacles and red tape that often scare potential fosters away. There must be standards, of course, to ensure homes are safe and adequate. But in my time in the system, I saw good families rejected for having just slightly less square footage than required, or because the spare bedroom did not have a window, and once because the perspective foster parent’s hypertension was deemed to render her physically unfit to care for an eight year old. In yet another case, a grandparent was ruled out as a possible placement for her own grandchild because she had a misdemeanor conviction for a worthless check, and her husband had a ten-year-old DUI. Relative placement is preferred, but in this case a stranger was deemed preferable to a set of grandparents with misdemeanor convictions. That foster home could have remained available for a child without loving family willing to take them in.

In these cases, common sense should have prevailed over adherence to often arbitrary standards. One would imagine a loving and willing home would be the goal, not a perfect one. The system is overtaxed, but it would be worthwhile to consider a less rigid process in which homes or people who fall outside of the standards could be reviewed on a case by case basis to determine fitness.

In for Keeps

Under West Virginia law, “permanency” -reunification, adoption, or permanent guardianship- must be achieved within 18 months of removal from the home. This deadline is rarely met. These cases, part of an already-clogged court docket, take several months before a court even rules on whether or not the parent deserves an opportunity for an “improvement period” to correct the issues in the home. Hearings are continued, rescheduled, continued again. Improvement periods, when granted, are no less than six months, and can be extended under certain circumstances. In the meantime, the child remains in foster care.

Foster parents in West Virginia must agree that they are willing to adopt children placed into their care, to avoid further disruption if reunification fails or is not possible. Many, if not most, of the families who sign up to foster do so to avoid the difficult process of private adoption. They are in it because they want a child (usually, they hope for a baby, which makes foster homes for older children even harder to come by.) This makes for an even more difficult hill for the natural parents to climb in order to get their children back. By and large, these foster families have more money, more education, and a higher standard of living than the parents do and thus more to offer a child in their care.

When a child is placed in foster care as a result of abuse and neglect, their case plans must run concurrently down two tracks: one track leads to reunification with parents; the other to adoption or permanent guardianship by foster parents. In either case, the goal is “permanency”. While the courts and the agencies must do all they can to help the parent correct the issues that led to the removal of the child, they must simultaneously plan for the contingency that those efforts will fail and parental rights will be terminated.

There was often a palpable disappointment by CPS workers and other advocates for the child when the rare successful reunification occurred and a parent got his or her child back. Their sympathy lies with the foster parent who must give up the child they hoped to adopt. More than once I have seen their reluctance in court, when they must begrudgingly concede that a parent has done all that was asked of him or her to reunify with the child.

But most of the time, it doesn’t get that far and reunification doesn’t happen. More often, the foster family becomes the adoptive family and removes itself from the list of available foster homes.  Because of the long-term nature of foster care and its tendency to lead to adoption, it is not that there are too few foster homes; it is just that they all remain full.

More Than Just Red Tape

The polar star upon which all decisions are to be guided in these matters is “the best interest of the child”. Given the difficulty a tiny state like West Virginia has with this task, it is unsurprising that the behemoth of federal government is not doing any better. But these are children’s lives and well-being at stake, not long lines at the DMV. We need to start treating the separation of children from their parents as something other than a bureaucratic process. We must do better.

 


Senior Editor
Twitter  

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

47 thoughts on “Suffer the Children

  1. Jebus,
    I knew the CPS system was a general cluster fuck, but didn’t realize the incentives were all screwed up.

    We can’t let kids be in rooms below a minimum size, god forbid. Talk about focusing on the less relevant stuff vs the big stuff. Your tax money at work.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. So you see an issue. Let’s call the issue “X”.

    X is a real problem. So you come up with a solution for X. Let’s call the solution “Y”.

    Y is worse than X. Like, the measurable numbers are worse. More children die in Y than they did in X and the number of children dying in X was part of the reason you said “we need a solution!” in the first place.

    And, besides, Y now employs people. It gives other people political power (or more political power).

    So now you’ve got two problems. X *AND* Y. And the problem that you created in order to help solve X is probably the only one that you can reasonably get rid of… but even trying to get rid of Y will get accusations of not “caring” about X as if the problem was that Y was smack dab in the middle of solving X and getting rid of Y now would ruin all of the progress that had been made.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • And you have an entrenched bureaucracy that has no incentive to change/improve the situation, if fact, the incentive is to exacerbate the problem. That’s one of the problems of trying to get “gov’t” to fix things.

        Quote  Link

      Report

        • Isn’t there some option of improving Y, or adding some component Z to make it successful?
          I don’t understand the binary thinking that “getting rid of Y” is the only alternative to the status quo.

          Or maybe I just don’t understand what “getting rid of Y” means.

            Quote  Link

          Report

                • If we accept that there really is this level of abuse, and if we accept that doing nothing is not an option, and if we accept that each caseworker can only handle a smaller load than they currently do, then it seems reasonable to conclude that a much larger effort is needed.

                  I think what is happening now is that most states and jurisdictions want desperately to imagine that some cost-free solution is hanging out there like low hanging fruit that has been mysteriously overlooked.

                  FWIW, my inner conservative has to wonder why we seem to have so much family dysfunction, or if the seemingly high rate of abuse would be smaller if our families were healthier and had larger more robust support networks.But as with any large scale societal shift, this isn’t something that would change overnight and has a lot of stakeholders needing input.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • FWIW, my inner conservative has to wonder why we seem to have so much family dysfunction, or if the seemingly high rate of abuse would be smaller if our families were healthier and had larger more robust support networks.

                    Yes, but it’s not clear that the gov’s incentives for these “support networks” are set correctly and it’s not even clear that they can be.

                    I’ve had four sets of relatives not get married in order to min/max gov benefits for their kids. Three later got married to their partner anyway because of social pressure. The most recent was also a serious math guy so there was a lot of number crunching that went into his choice and he talked to me about the math behind it.

                    Absent social pressure to get married, does that happen in the face of the gov’s incentives? We’re multi-cultural, do all of our subcultures apply the same social pressure?

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • I don’t think govt incentives matter for the purposes of child abuse and family dysfunction.

                      Even people who avoid the legal marriage still live together in happy harmony.

                      Its something else, that I struggle with.

                      When we liberate ourselves from the stifling hand of tradition, we also cut off our old support networks that provided financial and emotional resilience.

                      As a divorced and remarried guy I know I am exhibit A for the modern phenomenon, and had I stayed in my first marriage it would have turned out badly for all involved, but still…

                      When I hear about young families turning into horrific pits of dysfunction, I wonder how much of it is the lack of that extended family to provide relief from the stress of children, financial support and emotional counseling and a welcoming community to share their struggle.

                      I don’t have an easy answer here.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                      • I had / have a huge extended family that extends (heh) all kinds of support, material and financial, to each other and has done my whole life.

                        It is also, no exaggeration, a cesspool of violence and dysfunction, and outright child abuse by multiple of my aunts and uncles (though as far as I can *tell*, my entire generation was like “no, that shit stops here” and none of my baby cousins, nieces, nephews have anything other than great lives though many of them don’t know their grandparents – and some, not all, of my aunts and uncles were NOT abusive and gave what help they could to the abused kids while not actually breaking up any families or countering the worst of it, because they didn’t know or didn’t choose to know the scope… that’s “some examples of both”, not that I’m ambivalent about which were ignorant and which were willfully ignorant).

                        If anything, families being isolated makes the abuse easier to stop, because there are fewer people invested in denying even to themselves that it exists, so fewer people to hide shit from the gov’t. (I literally have a relative who was in a position of senior governmental power wrt abusive families while her own children were being abused. Unsurprisingly it was *really really hard* for them to get free of being abused.)

                        That said, I think there are 2 situations where strong extended families help:
                        1) addiction (kids can go to relatives who aren’t addicts and love them just as much as their parents would if not addicts)
                        2) the fall into poverty

                        There are times when our situation would have been even worse than it already was if there wasn’t someone’s house for us to sleep in – but that would’ve been the case even if my father wasn’t horribly abusive, and being in a relative’s house never actually stopped us from being abused by him.

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

                      • I don’t think govt incentives matter for the purposes of child abuse and family dysfunction.

                        Lack of resources make everything worse. The ultimate family “resource” is a second adult in the household. Remove me from the family picture and lot’s of things wouldn’t/couldn’t happen. No volleyball, no first robotics, less tracking of homework, less math tutoring, no walking away from the school system when it was useful.

                        For all the happy talk of unmarried people living together, I’m not sure we stay together if separation is trivially easy. If “living together” relationships are unstable because it’s easier to walk away then that’s a cause of single adult households.

                        This incentive matters a lot if the crazy dysfunctional person in the family is the mother. It’s amazingly useful if the father has legal status equal to hers. That’s possible outside of marriage but it’s much harder, probably impossible if the gov is insisting that she officially be living alone if you want to min/max benefits.

                        I don’t have an easy answer here.

                        Me either. Wave a magic wand to fix various things… like taking a kid away from her seriously crazy+dysfunctional mother… and we’re handing a dangerous power to the gov which will be misused. Hand out resources to the needy and we’re encouraging dependency.

                        It all becomes a game of probabilities at some point. Do “X” and you’re helping “Y” people but also creating “Z” problems as a side effect. Ideally you want to measure Y and Z and see which is bigger.

                        However our political system has everyone who wants “X” point to “Y” and ignore “Z”, and everyone who wants “-X” point to “Z” and pretends “Y” benefits don’t exist.

                        The really nasty part is different levels of “X” can have different levels of both benefits and side effects in different parts of the country with different cultures.

                        Enough good things stem from marriage that the gov disincentivizing it seems a potential problem. That the marriage rate goes up so strongly when these gov programs aren’t involved also seems suggestive. My various relatives actions also seem suggestive.

                        I think we’re pretty deep into serious side effects.

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

  3. What belongings they do get to keep are tossed into trash bags used as makeshift luggage (a dehumanizing practice so prevalent that there are now several charity programs to provide duffel bags and suit cases for foster children).

    A large, cheap duffle is like $13. You’d think CPS could do a bulk order of seabags, get a discount, and just have a supply on hand whenever a worker was going out to check on a kid.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. Back to the first paragraph… The whole “sponsorship” thing for refugees is messed up. Many of the sponsors lack the financial resources to actually deliver what they are promising, at least in the worst cases (eg, serious illness). There are a variety of perverse incentives for shuffling sponsored refugees (and/or sponsors) around: some states are more willing to grant public assistance of various sorts than other states.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I read a very interesting Twitter feed earlier today about the refugee/ sponsors/ lost kids that gave me similar pause. If these are kids who are separated at the border and released to sponsors while they await consideration for immigration, isn’t it possible that some portion are going to actively avoid contact with federal bodies? It’s a scary thing that there are kids out there who could be trafficked into some horrible cases but some of the “did not return call” cases could also just be families conditioned by current events to avoid any contact they can.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  5. Things have, perhaps, changed mightily since I spent time working in residential facilities throughout Monongalia County. When I did, I worked frequently with children whose parents had not been sanctioned in the slightest no matter the extent of their violence. Although my memory might be getting away from me, I don’t ever remember working with a child whose parents had been prosecuted, much less jailed, for the horrific violence they inflicted upon their children. Part of that was the legal system itself; a judge once told me that he welcomed parents to do whatever they wanted to their children, just so long as they didn’t make the child “bleed.” Anything less than that received a pass.

    If you’re saying things have changed – that abusive parents are facing real consequences for their profound mistreatment of their children – then that is a change in the right direction, in that what I witnessed was that mistreatment’s total sanction, coupled only occasionally with the “punishment” of being disconnected from children they plainly hated anyway.

    Obviously, it is almost impossible to imagine any system that gets it right all of the time, and it is ideal to strive for a system that it gets it more right tomorrow than it did today, but if children are actually being prioritized these days – if it finally matters when parents kick the shit out of their children, for example – that strikes me as example of that slow but steady progress, rather than evidence of calamitous failure.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I agree with you. I was specifically not talking about cases of violence. And that’s another side of this that I didn’t write about… there is a lot of gagging on gnats and swallowing elephants. I have no doubt that many bad cases go unreported or ignored. That’s why I stated that I was not talking about physical or sexual abuse.

      Physical abuse was by far the least common type of child abuse case I saw (on the child removal side, not criminal side), in my years as a prosecutor and then as the attorney for children and parents. Whether that was a lack of reporting or a failure on the part of CPS to intervene, I don’t know. But when I had a removal case, it was much more likely to be improper supervision, dirty houses, or drug abuse.

      You are not wrong- in this state, NOT spanking is “bad parenting”; a pop in the mouth is still considered an acceptable form of discipline. I’ve seen spankings in which every last detail of the braided belt used was still visible on the child’s backside for days.

      I’m talking about cases where a child made it to the road while dad was distracted cleaning out his truck, and the child went to foster care for over a year. Another where the mother’s refusal to wear deodorant (she was the “natural” type) kept her from having regular visitation with her child (who was removed in the first place because the mother had visible bruises that CPS suspected came from the dad). There were the cases I mentioned where the allegations leading to removal involved pot, lice, truancy… My point is that there are times when removal is not necessary- monitoring and services are.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I thought this was an excellent post and I’m glad you wrote it.

        That said, I did wince myself at “Because a spanking left a red mark. ” in your list of gnats… I thought about saying something when I proofed it but then I was all “oh, no, that’s just me being oversensitive about the lies my father told, plus as a victim of actual abuse I do distinguish between real abuse and restrained spanking, and between a one time mistake and irreparable abuse…” so I didn’t say anything. (Apologies for leaving that para open to misinterpretation.)

        So, I can see why Sam responded the way he did, also?

        “Gagging on gnats and swallowing camels” is probably the best description of how child abuse gets treated in North America I’ve ever seen, though – as applicable where I grew up as it is in WV.

          Quote  Link

        Report

        • I’m sorry- I didn’t mean to downplay the spanking. I personally don’t agree with spanking and it’s not how I’ve raised my kids.
          But I think that parents who spank- by which I narrowly mean hit the child on the rear end with their hands- are not always bad parents who deserve to lose their children. That’s how they were raised, it’s the culture they are in, and they just don’t know another way. That’s something that can be changed with parenting education and counseling. If the parent is not receptive to change, that is an issue to be dealt with. But I think removal is extreme in those cases and definitely not worth the trauma it causes the child to be taken from his or her home and parents.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • I concur wholly, which is another part of why I didn’t bring it up. I have close friends who spank (very very occasionally) and their spanking looks nothing like physical abuse to me. Honestly, they are the *best* parents I know, and I know a lot of good parents. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that.

            I just meant – as an editor – that one phrase stuck out at me as more ambiguous and complicated than the others, and I let my own conflicting emotions get in the way of noticing it could use some clarification to avoid misinterpretation.

              Quote  Link

            Report

        • I have no doubt that there are bad examples of children removed for dubious reasons, although I do question the extent of such things. Again, it has been awhile since I was working with removed children; I have been reliably informed that the kids I used to work with – ones who had been badly abused but who had also abused others – are now much calmer than they were when we did, and also that they routinely overdose after leaving care. But I still hedge on the idea that parents/adults deserve incredible and ongoing deference, which was always what I saw the legal system (then) doing and which continues to be the model of decision-making that ends up aiding and abetting those least interested in a child’s well-being.

          There is, of course, no denying the inherent toughness of the situation. It is an impossible fix.

            Quote  Link

          Report

          • Deference to the parents is absolutely not the standard I have seen in the counties in which I have worked. I rarely, rarely had a client who was able to regain custody. Literally, maybe ten of them in ten years. (I had one client whose improvement period was deemed failed by the case worker because she “gossiped too much”, and kept bringing cookies to visitation. No joke. Even the judge had to admit that was ridiculous).

            Now, would I say that most kids who were removed should not have been? No. Opiates have destroyed a generation of young parents and rendered them unable and unwilling to take care of their children, and it is not safe to try in-home fixes in most situations.

            My bigger point was, if we are going to decry the lack of foster homes, then maybe use some discretion when it is possible. And maybe don’t rule out potential foster homes based on a set of strict standards that leave no room for common sense decisions.

            As an aside… I will add that older children are removed less often than babies and toddlers or preschoolers. It’s harder to find them foster placement, and harder to find adoptive homes for them, because a) the foster parents want to adopt babies and b) they’ve often been damaged to the point were their behaviors are too much for fosters to handle. And sometimes I think the system rationalizes that they are old enough to protect and fend for themselves so they leave them in their bad homes- another system failure.

              Quote  Link

            Report

            • My bigger point was, if we are going to decry the lack of foster homes, then maybe use some discretion when it is possible. And maybe don’t rule out potential foster homes based on a set of strict standards that leave no room for common sense decisions.

              Anything I’ve ever read about a terrible outcome in the foster system always highlights the enormous caseloads the social workers have. This is naturally going to encourage a cookie cutter approach. Since this group is not a voting constituency, it’s a really hard sell to get budgets for these agencies increased so the workers can actually exercise the discretion you wish they could.

                Quote  Link

              Report

                • “the finding of homes is left to contractors”
                  Outside my expertise but isn’t that at least in theory part of the problem with not having enough budget? Like, stuff gets off-loaded to non-professionals who don’t use professional discretion but instead profit-driven checklists?

                  (I have some skepticism about this position, so please don’t think I”m vociferously arguing in favor of it.)

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • It feels a lot like that approach is broadly approached as financial solution to tight budgets but with fairly consistent results. In a similar vein, a “solution” to the problems in education has been the “Free Hand of The Market” through charters where the results can be as good (sometimes better) than public schools through to dismally horrifying (such as schools shuttering their doors in the middle of a school year leaving parents and students to figure out which way is up).

                    It does seem that part of the solution is simply to better fund agencies that have what we consider critical missions and accept that as part of the cost of having a society that actually cares about the most vulnerable.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

            • It really sounds like the “must be willing to adopt” is part of the problem. It seems like it would be a pretty big limit on what homes are available (especially for older children) and also means that the foster families are likely opposing reunification.

              My cousin and her wife (California based) have two daughters that they adopted through our foster-to-adopt program when they were 6 and 7. Recently, they’ve moved into a larger house and started accepting more temporary foster placements, requesting older children and adolescents rather than infants and toddlers. They recently had two foster children in their house for a short period, and though they didn’t share details, it seems like they were pretty upset the kids had been taken away from their parents in the first place and were hoping for a reunification outcome.

                Quote  Link

              Report

              • You’re right, it is a problem. Because it’s so harmful for kids to be moved multiple times, and because reunification happens so infrequently, they want foster-to-adopt homes.
                The fosters are still told from the beginning that they shouldn’t get attached in case the child goes home, but like I said, it’s often the preferred outcome for many in the game.
                It would be wholly inappropriate for a foster family to object to reunification, but it happens.
                I had a case in which foster parents wrote long letters to the judge begging him to terminate mom’s rights because their home had so much more to offer the child than “a supposedly recovered junky”. They should have been decertified but they weren’t. That’s a rare instance though. Most foster parents understand and see reunification as a bittersweet, good thing. Some stay in touch with the parents after the return, which is great.

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • It would be wholly inappropriate for a foster family to object to reunification, but it happens.

                  Part of that probably stems from West Virginia’s astonishingly stupid requirement that they promise to adopt the kid in the first place.

                  My mother has seen half a dozen foster kids go through her house, some reunified with their parents and others adopted into other families, and she was happy about all of them. There has been at least one family she opposed getting their kid back, but that was because they were horrible people and had made no attempt to get their act together, not because she wanted to keep the kid. And she was happy when that kid got adopted by someone else.

                  This was probably because she hadn’t mentally started any sort of adoption process in her head, which West Virginia’s ‘Oh, if we can’t find anyone, you have to agree to adopt them’ rule seems stupidly designed to trigger.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

              • That rule seems absurdly stupid, and basically excluded retired people, or at least excludes any _moral_ retired people.

                As I’ve mentioned here before, my mother is a foster parent. She tends toward younger kids. My mother started caring for foster kids when she retired as a school teacher. Ie., she is retirement age. (Slightly past, now.)

                People who are 65 should not be adopting unknown children. I’m not going to presume to judge men who _naturally_ have a child at that age, and I have no problem with the concept of keeping a child within a family by having an adoption by grandparents.

                But children should not _purposefully_ end up with _random_ parents who are likely to die before they are adults. If we, as society, are going to select parents for someone, I assert we should select someone who is, statistically, going to see that kid’s 23nd birthday. (It’s possible to argue 18, or 21, but honestly, we expect parents to help cover college and make sure they can get out the door and whatnot…there’s a reason we expanded health insurance coverage to 26.)

                And more importantly, adults already know this. It’s already hard enough to find foster parents, but the ‘retired from something to do with children’ is probably one of the more common origins of them, at least from what I have seen and been told of the system. But a lot of people of retirement age are (rightly!) going to feel very dubious about promising to adopt a child. What if they start having medical problems in five years or something?

                  Quote  Link

                Report

                • Some clarification:
                  Nobody is forced to adopt. Sometimes it is a bad fit or they decide fostering isn’t for them and they can opt out any time.
                  And there are some situations in which short term fostering is needed for temporary situations- hospitalized parent with no family, or a single parent deployed, or respite, when foster families need a break, for instance.
                  But, when the issue is abuse and neglect, they want foster-to-adopt homes. They don’t want to have to move the child to yet another home if reunification fails.
                  That said, the only time I’ve seen older folks used as fosters here is when they are family, or when the child is a teen.

                    Quote  Link

                  Report

                  • Nobody is forced to adopt. Sometimes it is a bad fit or they decide fostering isn’t for them and they can opt out any time.

                    I was assuming they weren’t forced, but making foster parents promise to adopt certainly will make some of them think twice before fostering.

                    But, when the issue is abuse and neglect, they want foster-to-adopt homes. They don’t want to have to move the child to yet another home if reunification fails.

                    In a universe where there were more than enough possible foster parents, obviously the best selection would be foster parents willing to adopt.

                    That is not this universe.

                    That said, the only time I’ve seen older folks used as fosters here is when they are family, or when the child is a teen.

                    Well, yes. In a system where the expectation is that foster parents will end up adopting the kids, the foster parents will mostly consist of people willing to adopt children. That’s literally what the system is designed to have. Yes, some say they would adopt, but lie or change their minds, and there are some short-term situtations where adoption is not assumed, but mostly in a system that assumes foster parents will adopt…the only foster parents you will find are people willing to adopt.

                    In a system where that is not true, the system will have a bunch of _additional_ foster parents, the set of people who are unwilling to adopt children. Older people, for the most obvious example.

                    I also assume such a silly system would make it very hard to find foster parents for harder-to-adopt children. Or, really, hard to find foster parents at all. If 90% of the foster parents are in fostering to get the kid out of it, they’re going to be a _lot_ pickier about who they foster.

                    This entire idea boggles my mind in its stupidity. A major premise of the foster system is to step in where the adoption system falls short, to say ‘Even if this kid can’t be adopted, they will at least have somewhere’. Tying it _to_ the adoption system, making it where foster parents are really just pre-adoption parents, and thus have _exactly the same biases and rejections_ as adoptive parents (On top of the fact that the goal of the system is really to reunite all families that can be reunited.), is honestly so stupid I can’t quite comprehend it.

                      Quote  Link

                    Report

                    • Without defending the policy, it seems fairly obvious to me that one rationale for it is that the foster-to-adopt filter is widely believed to exclude more people who are going to be abusive / neglectful because only in it for the money / ready availability of kids to abuse. (I am not saying non-willing-to-adopt foster parents are that, my assumptions about them – for the vast majority of “them” at least – match yours. I’m saying that’s the worry.)

                      I have no idea what the stats *are* in those realms, and I’m skeptical of the premise as stated, but it doesn’t seem that difficult to comprehend.

                        Quote  Link

                      Report

                      • Without defending the policy, it seems fairly obvious to me that one rationale for it is that the foster-to-adopt filter is widely believed to exclude more people who are going to be abusive / neglectful because only in it for the money / ready availability of kids to abuse.

                        Oh, there are quite a few rationales I can think of. Lots of bad ideas have reasonable sounding rationales.

                        Although I’m not sure that ‘abusive’ really factors in here…if someone is fostering kid to abuse them, I don’t see how making them promise to adopt the kid is going to stop them (I assume that child abusers are willing to lie)…and I’m not really sure that they _wouldn’t_ adopt the kid anyway, which would make things worse. I’m not sure how any sort of filter there is supposed to work.

                        Such a paradigm might, however, filter out only-in-it-for-the-money foster parents.

                        But considering how overloaded the entire system is, anything that reduces the amount of possible foster parent is just really dumb. If we want to make sure foster kids are in good environments, the way to do that is with careful filtering of foster parents and monitoring, not filtering out perfectly good foster parents who just do not want to adopt.

                        Heck, honestly, considering the imbalance between available foster parents and foster kids, and the rate of increase of foster kids, we should seriously ask ourselves if we want to try to exclude only-in-it-for-the-money foster parents! Yes, foster kids living with someone who views themselves as basically a glorified babysitter, and pays no attention to their life or education or anything besides ‘Here is a bed, here is food, you know when the school bus comes in the morning’ is not good…but it’s well above the cutoff that we require _actual parents_ to stay above that cause them to lose kids. ‘Apathetic foster parents’ is better than ‘completely horrible druggie parents’.

                        I’d rather have a system where we didn’t have to use such people, but foster kids are skyrocketing. As this article pointed out.

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

                      • Jumping in here a bit late. The best, and likely reason, for the foster to adopt rule is to try to minimize traumatic home changes for the child.

                        If the bio parents do so poorly that adoption is the end goal the child will be in FC for at least a year if not more before the adoption process starts in most cases. That means the child will, assuming it’s good placement, become comfortable and stable with the foster parents. Adopting the child out to a new home will be painful and traumatic. It will likely feel like a painful rejection by the child since they will be leaving a happy home to go with people they don’t really know.

                        The FC will have already dealt with the trauma of losing their parents and whatever led them to foster care. If the child and FP’s believe they may have a long term future together that will encourage bonding and love. If the kids see their FP’s as temporary that inhibits forming bonds the children really need. Often foster kids have already been bounced around so there is a correct belief that minimizing moves is best as long as the placement is good. If you have a kid in a happy home you really, really do not want to change that since those can often be hard to find.

                          Quote  Link

                        Report

  6. Hey Em, my wife and I have been considering becoming foster parents. I wonder if you might have any advice, recommendations, books to read, etc?

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • I don’t have recommendations for reading, but if I were you, I would find your state’s guidelines for foster homes and read them thoroughly before you get too far into the process. And if you are working with an agency contracted with the state to certify foster homes or do homestudies, get their standards too and review them. You don’t want to spend a lot of time and money just to find out that your house is too small or you have to install a fence first.
      Beyond that, just be prepared for it to be hard. These kids have it rough and they will show it. They won’t be happy to be there, so don’t expect gratitude to shine through. Most people willing to foster already know that, but it bears repeating.
      And if you aren’t already, please consider willingness to foster older kids. They are the hardest to place- everyone wants a baby.
      Good luck- it is a wonderful and much needed thing you are considering doing.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • I have a reading recommendation, based not on any knowledge of the foster care system, but on personal experience. and more for “if/when you start fostering” than figuring out how to…

        I read this book when I was trying to repair internal damage done to me by my abusive parents, have since recommended it to a friend who is the aunt who has custody of her nephew and has to deal with his abuse-related lashing out, and she found it helpful as well. More in centering oneself and being a good parent ways than specifically about abuse, but the neuroscience of how kids’ brains work is quite sound… and the advice about how to stay out of fight/flight/freeze mode oneself when kids go into fight/flight/freeze mode is good in extreme situations, not just “normal” ones.

        http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/no_drama_discipline/

          Quote  Link

        Report

  7. My bigger point was, if we are going to decry the lack of foster homes, then maybe use some discretion when it is possible. And maybe don’t rule out potential foster homes based on a set of strict standards that leave no room for common sense decisions.

    One of the problems is that common sense and discretion is a pretty shitty defense when it goes terribly wrong. And since the risks can be pretty severe, you are better of making a decision that is questionable, but where you are following very strict standards, than making a decision that relies on your common sense, but leaves you personally and legally responsible when it goes wrong. Which will happen, sooner or later.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *