Friday, April 8, 2005

What Are We Fostering?

An article in the April 7th edition of the Oregonian details a recently released study on the effects of foster care that was conducted by Casey Family Programs and the Harvard Medical School. According to the article, "former foster children in Oregon and Washington are twice as likely to be depressed or suffer from anxiety as the general population".

While I certainly understand the need and motivation for this kind of study, the results should come as a surprise to no one. Regardless of the fact that foster care is the best current mechanism at our disposal to provide safety for children from dysfunctional homes, it still represents a defining moment in the life of a child.

I don't say this as an armchair quarterback. During the 1980s I worked both as a caseworker and child abuse investigator for state agencies in Arkansas and Missouri. Over the course of my career, I would estimate I removed over 100 children from abusive and/or neglectful homes.

Anytime I felt that removal was warranted, I invoked this action with a mixture of feelings. On one hand, I believe that the necessity of removal would provide the child[ren] with a measure of safety and sanity. NO child should be forced to grow up in a home environment in which they are subject to physical, sexual or psychological abuse and/or neglect. Studies (and common sense) have clearly shown that children who grow up in dysfunctional families are more apt to suffer moderate to severe psychological problems as adults.

On the other hand, removing a child from his/her home represents a horrific blow to the child's psyche. The family -- functional or dysfunctional -- represents a child's moorings. Cutting the line to this mooring leaves the child feeling adrift. No matter how many times a child is told, "It's not your fault", this belief is still somehow etched into the child's subconscious.

The foster care system itself only reinforces this subconscious feeling. Though the goal is almost always to find a permanent placement in the least restrictive environment, far too many foster children are moved from placement to placement. As the Oregonian reports,
Nearly 14 percent of children in Oregon's foster care system experience three or more changes in foster placements as they grow up, according to the Department of Human Services. Some counties have placement instability rates of 20 percent and higher, despite a national standard of 13 percent or less.
Each new move confirms to the child that the key problem is THEM, not their parents, social services or the system. It is no wonder then that these same children exhibit a great difficulty in establishing close or intimate relationships as adults or develop a poor sense of self.

So how do we improve the foster care system? As with most such issues, the best solution is prevention. Unfortunately, during this era in which people with problems are blamed for HAVING the problems, I fear we lack the political will to implement the necessary changes.

What we genuinely need to focus on includes
  • Fighting poverty;
  • Providing greater emphasis and funding for our educational and health care systems;
  • Implementing Living Wages;
  • Increasing unemployment benefits and job retraining programs;
  • Developing better parenting and anger management classes that will provided free to anyone who needs them; and
  • Creating a society in which each person feels respected and valued.
When you think about it, the solution is really straightforward and simple. We need to value people over things and accomplishments over accumulation.

Why must our society always take the simple and make it uncompromisingly difficult?


  1. In Marion County there is a clear shortage of foster homes. There are about 1200 children in foster care and they get up to 120 new children needing some level of foster care each month. The primary reason is said to be the recent emphasis on stopping the use of Meth ( the No Meth in My Neighborhood). Those promoting the idea of seeking out and procecuting users of drugs has been that they have no place to put the 'criminals', no rehabilitation programs and no place to put the children while they parents are off getting their 'punishmnet.' The result is that the child loses twice in that they get taken from their parents (as bad as they may be) and put into a system that is inadequate at best and inappropriate at its worse. I know of some children who were removed because their parent was taking drugs and neglecting her 4 sons. But the only foster home that could take the 4 children to keep them together only spoke Spanish. Since the boys were Black this was a clear mismatch on a number of levels. After a couple of weeks the children were returned to the mother even though they had not completed any of their programs. Of course they had to be removed yet again and again returned after a few weeks. Yanked in and out of the home again and again soon the feeling of the boys was that it was their fault. If they had kept better care of their mother they would have been ok. The end result has been tearing the kids apart on a very basic level. I do not know if the damage will ever be mended. I understand the eldest is beginning to get into trouble in school and in the neighborhood.

    What society too often does is focus on one aspect of a problem without considering all of the other causes and outcomes of their actions.

    The lack of a wholistic approach is almost like throwing our dollars away.

    To address the issue locally in April there will be an effort by local leaders to do a door to door campaign to find more foster homes.


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  3. Susann,
    You've provided a great example of the "system" not seeing the forest for the trees. That said, I feel for the social workers who must deal with these kinds of issues. I certainly know from experience that child abuse investigators often face a "damned if you, damned if you don't" situation.

    Per the situation you described, can you imagine the public outcry if the children had NOT been removed and had been injured or worse in their parent's care? Nobody would have cared whether or not there was a suitable placement available. All we would read in the newspaper is that the workers had shirked their legal mandate to protect children.

  4. Oops! That should read above, "damned if you DO, damned if you don't".

  5. In the 1960's there were alot of anti-poverty programs. Most noticably, toward blacks. When the "Great Society" programs were iniated, the illegitmate rate in the black community was 23-25% percent. Afterwards, it was 70%.
    It was these programs that literally devasted the black community, and didn't help any other community either.
    There already are plenty of job retraining programs. As for unemployment benefits, the more there are the longer it takes for someone laid off to find work. That is a fact. Why? incentive.

    Your dumb. I would say you haven't looked at the facts, but I don't think it would matter.
    You are the epitome of a schmuck "liberal". When all is said and done, the only thing you give a shit about are your feelings and fuck everyone else.
    Terry Josiah

  6. Terry,
    You may think I'm a schmuck and that's okay. However, please don't call me a liberal. I find that highly insulting!
    (I'm going to write on this very topic this weekend.)


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