More Harm than Help

We have to identify the barriers to successfully raising our kids, in order to overcome them. It’s okay to rant on occasion here, but I will take the moderator’s option of deleting things that don’t move us forward to finding solutions. You may be controversial as you challenge ideas or practices, but please do not attack people or make personal remarks. You will be firmly excluded from further participation in the forum if you turn ugly or mean in making your point. Primarily, we need to talk about specifics in terms of our growing concerns and trends we are identifying in our work, the bad ideas that need to be discarded but haven’t been, arcane welfare and family support systems and social service philosophies or methods that aren’t working.

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Foster Youth and Homelessness – Findings of a National Study

According to a report released in February 2008 by the National Association of Counties (NACo) foster youth who age out of care are more susceptible to elevated rates of homelessness, poor educational outcomes, low wages, unemployment, health issues, and incarceration.  The report primarily cites the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth Study (“Midwest Study”), conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago in 2007 as the basis for its reported findings.  NACo describes the Midwest study as “the most comprehensive examination of youth leaving foster care.”  The Midwest study examined the outcomes of 732 foster youth who aged out of care in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin and describes numerous difficulties experienced by the young adults after leaving their care settings.

The NACo issue paper lists the most significant obstacles facing youth who age out of care as lack of support for education, housing, health care and employment.  The report emphasizes the findings of the Midwest Study that foster youth approach the transition to adulthood with significant educational deficits, that young adults who age out of foster care are more than twice as likely not to have a high school diploma or a GED as their peers.  They are 40% less likely to begin college and 14 times less likely to complete college than the general population.

This lack of education contributes to another huge issue for young people reaching the age of 18 in out-of-home placement – housing.  Former foster youth have few supports to bridge the gap between the wages they earn and the cost of housing.  As a result, young people aging out of the foster care system are becoming homeless at disconcerting rates. In the Midwest Study, more than 18 percent of those who aged out of care had been homeless at least twice, and more than half had been homeless one time or more since leaving care.  A telling fact is that three in ten of the nation’s homeless adults have been in foster care at some point in their lifetime. 

The Problem – As I See It…

THE PROBLEM:

(1) There are over half a million children in foster care in the United States on any given day. While we are certain that parental care has the greatest potential for ensuring the welfare of these children, not enough people are willing to open their lives to the problems of raising other people’s children. We cannot begin to ensure that each child has a home.

(2) Whatever damage is done to their innocence in their original home is compounded by the lesson that they can’t trust us to care for them either. Their “placements” are temporary, their relationships transitory. They are moved physically from month to month and year to year and so learn quickly that there is no genuine opportunity to bond with a caring adult who will be there for them after the next move. They are isolated from their sisters and brothers, extended family members, friends, classmates and community. Consequently, the system itself causes damage to them, perhaps the worst damage of all.

(3) To top that off, about twenty-five thousand of them each year join the ranks of the homeless population as they turn 18 years old. The programs to help these young people make the transition from youth to adulthood are seriously underfunded and limited to those who know how to access them and have the qualifications to enroll in them and maturity to voluntarily remain in a system that has already caused them so much grief.

These are our children, WE THE PEOPLE have custody of them and we are responsible for their lives and their future. It’s time we took this responsibility to heart.

This forum is for foster families, foster children, biological parents, professionals and ordinary people who care about kids. I hope we will use it to teach each other how to raise our children in a way that gives them a fair shot at the American Dream.

There’s a lot you don’t know that can hurt us all – AND it’s killing our kids…

Almost a generation ago, I started to write a book about my experiences as an attorney for foster-to adopt parents, and as an attorney representing children and parents in “Child In Need of Care” cases.  I was going to call the book “Broken Babies, Shattered Dreams” – because that’s what I saw all around me. 

The book was intended as a call to action,  describing the danger we faced as a society because we were raising a generation of children with no conscience, no trust in the future and a compelling need to be violent and destructive.  

In the first three chapters, I told the the sad stories of two children adopted out of the foster care system who had been damaged by horrific abuse and neglect. The saddest part of the tale was what happened to them when somebody tried to love them. They couldn’t receive it, not because of the abusive acts of their parents, but because their spirits were ultimately crushed beyond repair by years of suffering at the hands of a stupid and uncaring system and the wrongheaded and inept service providers in its employ. 

I wrote the first three angry chapters and then put it on a shelf to gather dust, hoping someday to get back to it.  I’ve done a lot of things with my life and career in the intervening years, and now I’ve come full circle to work with the children of those children. 

I’m one of those people in charge of the system, directing the work of service providers. Every time we lose a young person to the drug culture or the internal devils that haunt these children, I remember my rage and sense of helplessness from a generation ago.

Still, the knowledge I garnered in my days of advocacy inform the philosophical ideals that I’ve adopted in working within the foster care system.  I wish I could say that I’ve discovered that I was young and misguided back then or that society has come to its collective senses and that we’re back on the right track. 

Instead, what I have to say is that the situation has followed it’s natural path of increase, and that the damage inflicted, the danger we face and the number of children has grown.  

We failed to heal many of the children who were severely injured, physically and emotionally abused and sexually exploited a generation ago.  A significant number of them have grown up to become monsters in turn.  Moreover, it appears that by the next generation they will have seriously infected the general population with their legacy of indifference to pain, obsession with violence, shallow materiality and need for immediate gratification and constant stimulation. 

Indicators like drug addiction, suicide and cognitive behavior disorders are on the rise.  Some say that we can attribute the alarming rise in other emotional and cognitive disabilities in part to chemicals present in our environment and in part to the emotional distance and disconnect between children and caring adults.  Nowhere is that disconnect more apparent than in the lives of chilren in th foster care system.

Well, that’s my rant.  But instead of writing another angry three chapters to gather dust, I’m going to use the wonders of our new techno-enviro world that may or may not be partially to blame for fostering more face-to-face disconnect.  I’m going to use this forum to share my stories, my concerns and ideas with others, and try to listen to what those others are thinking.  Maybe together we can arrive at a solution.  Because, although I am worried, I believe there is a thoughtful, practical and caring real world solution to help this next generation dream new dreams and become happy, healthy and prosperous.