foster care today & a look at Lisa Ling’s report on foster care for the Oprah Winfrey Network

foster care today
Foster Care. It dredges up memories for me, it heaves horrible statistics, it heals children, it hurts children, it gives them hope, it scars them for life, it’s temporary, or it’s supposed to be.

As part of Our America with Lisa Ling, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) focused on foster care the past couple weeks. I wish I could have seen the entirety of the episodes, but we don’t get the OWN. I first read about the series in this Huffington Post article.

I got teary eyed watching as the social worker walked out of the police station with an infant car seat. No child should have to wait hours in a police station for someone to come get them, and that someone isn’t even family.

Yet, there are far more hellish atrocities happening to children all over our country today.

I became emotional as the baby was carried out of the police station because I remembered how my sweet Payton sat in the Department of Human Services (DHS) building with a social worker as they waited for a foster family to pick her up. We weren’t that family, she lived in four homes before coming to us. It’s hard to recall her waiting there, waiting for a family, someone, just

someone to care for her.

I hopped over to the OWN and found another short clip that’s part of Lisa Ling’s report, Giving Back to the Foster System.

It interests me that in this video Ling says infants are the most difficult to place. It’s been my experience, in hearing from many other potential foster parents, that they want an infant placed with them. Most often they want a child who is under two-years-old. There are some exceptions, but it’s the most common, but I guess that isn’t so in Los Angeles where this documentary takes place. Maybe it’s a good thing in the end, it must mean that older children (older, as in three-years or over) are not being overlooked as much.

The family Ling interviewed is better than me, when Ling asks, “Do you ever think about not only the last twenty-four hours, but what ultimately led to [the baby’s] parents losing custody?” The foster father replies, “We don’t judge, we focus on providing the best care she can have. And, then from there, we help with their reunification. Our goal is always to help the families get their babies back.”

What’s the hard part for me in his equation? Well Ling’s question was specifically asking if he thinks about what led to this child’s removal. Umm, for me, YES, I think about what led to my children’s removal. It’s not a constant, far from it, and the farther I’m removed from the foster care scene, the more it slips back into the recesses of my mind. But, I write about adoption, I remember what my daughter’s been through because of her past, I write about what other children are going through because of trauma, so I do think about it.

I took the best care of Payton and Jeremiah as I could before we adopted them (and afterwards too), we worked with the Department and did exactly what we were asked by taking them to visits with their bio parents as they worked on reunification. It was painful. Because we didn’t see bonding, care, a shared love, it was impossible for me to say, “I want reunification to take place.”

Here are some statistics on foster care. The most recent numbers to be found were for the year 2012.

On any given day, there are approximately 397,000 children in out-of-home care in the United States. (childrensrights.org)

Here are shocking numbers from the Children’s Bureau AFCARS report:

  • 397,122 children were in foster care at a given time in 2012
  • 101,666: Number of children waiting to be adopted.
  • 7: The average age of children in foster care.
  • 23,822: Number of children who go to a group home each year.
  • 34,179: Number of children who go to an institution each year.
  • 93,094: Number of children adopted from foster care in 2012.
  • 23% or an average of 85,846 children spend 30 months or more in foster care.
    foster care statistics

That last statistic (23% of foster children will spend 30 months or more in the system) bothers me the most, all though they all poke holes at my heart. I thought there was supposed to be an Expedited Permanency Plan. I’ve asked this of friends across the nation, who have children in their care for several months, while the officials do nothing to move toward termination. This wasn’t our case, but then the system in our county was changing drastically as we stepped out after Jeremiah’s adoption was complete.

I know there is an Expedited Permanency Plan for Colorado, which was enacted in 2002. In short, the House Bill made a ruling that children have permanency by the age of six, whether it be with the biological family, relatives, or adoption by a non-relative. They did this to reduce the risk of a child being emotionally damaged by not having close connections with a caregiver.

The Expedited Permanency Plan House Bill says, “…almost all children are now achieving permanency within the 18 months time frame required nationally as determined by the Adoption and Safe Families Act.” I strongly disagree with this statement, as you can see the numbers; 23% of children placed in foster care spend 30 or more months there.

In the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, it says, “…States to initiate court proceedings to free a child for adoption once that child had been waiting in foster care for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months, unless there was an exception.” It also says, “Required States to initiate termination of parental rights proceedings after the child has been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months, except if not in the best interest of the child, or if the child is in the care of a relative.”

This means the 30+ months children are spending in foster care is far beyond the set standard of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Why seventeen years later are we still falling extremely short of the target for permanency? It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still angers me.

When we’re considering a nation of 318,400,000 (am I the only one bewildered by that number?), the foster care numbers aren’t extremely high, but they are rising, more rapidly, even when considering population growth.
change the foster care systemWhat can we do to help children in foster care? If we know of children who are languishing in foster care, we can talk to their case worker, and if she/he won’t listen, their supervisor. We can write letters to government officials. You can find the number for the commissioner over foster care in your county and talk with them.

Most importantly, you can become a foster parent. Quality foster parents are needed in every county, some more desperately than others. Sometimes counties don’t have foster homes to place children in so they’re placed hours away (and for older children this means not only loss of family and friends, but a different school).

You can help foster children by donating items to your local Child Protective Services. They will take new clothing, and sometimes gently used items such as books, bikes, and toys. As school approaches consider putting together backpacks full of school supplies for foster children.

Some of the ideas in my post, 8 Ways to Help Foster Youth Who are Aging Out of the System, are applicable to any foster children. Go check it out, and share with others.

Another post on foster care:
4 reasons why the foster system is STILL failing

What are some other ways you can help foster children?

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