Foster Care & the American Family

Emmanuela DeSanges-Sobia

Stability and Mentoring is the key to reaching a child

Triumphant stories of children who experience living in foster care are rare yet survival practices of these youth captivate the essence of human resistance. Very few succeed against all odds. Studies have been done to confirm that instability in foster care placements foster negative results. In order to overcome these challenges youth are in need of stability and positive role models, to serve as their mentors.

Foster care was intended to be short-term a temporary placement until children could return safely to their families or be adopted, but for more children, foster care has become a long term arrangement. According to the Federal Adoption and Foster Care Reporting System (AFCARS), in FY 2001 more than one-fourth of children in foster care had been in care for between two and five years; another 17% had been in foster care for more than five years. (Services, 2003)

The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being Survey (NSCAW) have found that “placement stability over the first eighteen months of placement in care for adolescents is significantly related to permanency outcome”… (Wilson, March 17,2007)

In NSCAW, “Regardless of a child’s baseline risk for instability in this study, those children who failed to achieve placement stability were estimated to have 36% to 63% increased risk of behavioral problems compared with children who achieved any stability in foster care.” Wilson continues “the odds of a child being reunified with birth parents decline dramatically as length of stay (LOS) increases-children with behavioral problems have much lower reunification rates than Children without behavior problems.-Long (LOS) are associated with multiple placements. Almost half of children in care experience instability.” (Wilson, March 17,2007).

Why is stability important? It is important because it gives a sense of foundation. Stability fosters balance. Without emotional, mental and physical stability a child becomes dysfunctional. The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care lends their expertise to express Foster Care Voices from the Inside. The forward of the report reads:

 “In the United States today, there are more than half a million children in foster care. The majority will remain in care for more than three years and live in at least three different foster homes. Some will stay much longer and be placed in seven more homes when tragedy strikes a child in foster care, the media and policy makers shine a spotlight on the Child Welfare Agency, Case Workers, parents, and foster parents. Sadly, that spotlight rarely illuminates some of the structural factors that limit the ability of a Child Welfare Agency to respond appropriately to the needs of children in their care. These include a financing structure that encourages over-reliance on foster care at the expense of services that might keep children safely out of foster care or move them more quickly to a safe, permanent home. Nor does the spotlight generally find the unsung heroes – the case-workers, foster parents who nurture and protect vulnerable children; the parents who overcome great odds and reunite safely with their children, and the children who show remarkable resilience in the face of profound and often prolonged difficulty.” (Gloria Hochman, Anndee Hochman, Jennifer Miller, 2005)

The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care was formed in May of 2003, supported by a grant from the pew charitable trust of the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. The Commission will develop practical, evidence-based recommendations to improve outcomes for children in foster care. (Gloria Hochman, Anndee Hochman, Jennifer Miller, 2005)

            According to Hoch man and Miller, the Commission expert analysis is done “by two prominent former members of Congress, Bill Frenzel (R-MN) and Bill Gray (D-PA), the Commission includes fourteen additional members who represent the range of stakeholders in Child Welfare including agency administrators, providers, state legislators, judges, foster youth, adoptive parents, and former foster youth”. They bring a wealth of experience to the table. The commission’s work is designed to improve the Child Welfare System. It’s distinguished for its work because its observation is of primary sources. The Foster Care Voices from the Inside report, examines the experiences of parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and the children who experience living in foster care.

The Commission crafts recommendations in critical areas:

  • Improving federal funding mechanisms to help facilitate faster movement of children out of foster care and into safe, permanent home, and to help reduce the need for foster care;
  • Improving court oversight of child welfare cases to promote better and timelier decisions related to children’s safety, permanence, and well-being.

The report Commissions vow to concentrate on the cost of foster care. Hoch man and Miller reports, “We usually think of the cost of foster care in terms of dollars and fiscal implications. But those most involved with and affected by foster care-former foster care youth, parents and foster and adoptive parents- made it clear that the system exacts a daily price on their lives. In a six point thrust initiative the Commission vows to concentrate heavily on themes such as: the cost of insecurity, poor communication, inflexibility, the cost of not securing timely help, cost of professional burnout, and cost of stigma.

According to Chairman Frenzel, “improvements in federal financing and court oversight will enable states and communities to take steps necessary to improve outcomes for children in foster care”.

As the report reads, it is best that a foundation is created for the youth in care. Youth may search here and there everywhere, but if youth don’t get the support circle they fail to gain learn to trust. Youth and parents cannot champion these challenges of being separated. Parents who redeem their places in the lives of their children can attest to the importance of communication amongst all authorities involved. It’s alright to need help. It is alright to be need guidance. It is alright to fall yet it is up to each individual to get back up. It is up to the parent to spearhead the process of rehabilitation. If a parent fails to do so because of mental or emotional instability the child is primarily affected. However, when those who promise to provide a secure and caring environment for the youth in need fail to take their work seriously the youth suffer tremendously. The youth are on the track to face the biggest challenge of all trying to stay alive.

            In the Pew Commissions executive summary about Fostering the Future: Safety, Permanence and Well being for Children in Foster Care the Commission reports that there are; “Two issues are at the root of many of the problems that frustrate child welfare administrators, case workers, and judges as they seek to move children quickly from foster care to permanent homes or to avoid the need to place them in foster care in the first place. These issues are reforming federal welfare financing and strengthening court oversight of children in foster care.” (Gloria Hochman, Anndee Hochman, Jennifer Miller, 2005)

            A former foster care youth who worked with the Commission in finding resolve to issues facing foster care youth stated, “So, this is how it is in foster care, you always have to move from foster home to foster home and you don’t have any say in this and you are always having to adapt to new people and new kids and new schools. Sometimes you just feel like you are going crazy inside, and another thing, in foster care you are growing up not knowing that you can really be somebody. When I was in foster care, it didn’t seem like I had any choices for any future. All kids deserve families. They need a family, to have some-one, this is mother-they need a family so they can believe in themselves and grow up to be some-body. This is a big deal that people don’t realize. I wish every-one could understand.”

In correspondence to the six point thrust the guiding principles for the work of the Pew Commission’s executive summary- (Gloria Hochman, Anndee Hochman, Jennifer Miller, 2005)The preamble states that “all children must have safe, permanent families in which their physical, emotional, and social needs are met. When children are abused or neglected, these fundamental needs are not met. The recommendations of the Pew Commission focused on improving, the circumstances for children who are served by the child welfare system, whether in foster care or in their own homes. The Commission’s work was guided by the following principles:

  1. Firstly, children must be physically and emotionally safe and must be protected where ever they live. When children are removed from their homes. Public authorities have an obligation to ensure that they are safer in and out-of-home care.
  2. Secondly, children must have their needs met in a timely manner at every stage of public decision making about their futures.
  3. Thirdly, children must have continuity and consistency in care giving relationships, including healthy ties to siblings and extended family.
  4. Fourthly, children must have equal protection and care, including attention to meeting children’s needs in the context of their community and culture.
  5. Last yet not least, children and their families must have an informed voice in decisions that are made about their lives.

The New York City Administration for Children’s Services reports that youth in Foster Care are faced with many challenges and odds. According to New York City Administration for Children’s Services Preparing Youth for Adulthood manual (PYA), “It is nationally estimated that approximately, 20,000 youth per year leaving the foster care system are unprepared or marginally prepared to transition to adulthood.”

Mentors are in need because youth in foster care face unimaginable struggles which enable many to become productive members of society. The foster youth of America are in serious need of guidance and emotional support. Because permanent placement is rare many youth don’t get the chance to bond with caregivers. There is need for one to one mentoring programs to be implemented for the youth who need it. This idea is personally believed may decrease the number of unsuccessful discharged youth who enter mainstream society.

 Although there are many programs implemented such as Independent living skills which are funded by the state and implemented to provide youth with life skills training. Few youths take the available opportunity for upward mobility the rest fall through the cracks many youth fail to uphold the requirements to earn the stipend given let alone retain the programs initiative to guide the youths concerning the importance of education, health and hygiene care, maintaining a household and money management.

The proof such mentoring programs are necessary come from the New York City Adults and Children’s Services Preparing Youth for Adulthood (PYA) “which expresses that the New York City foster care system is home to some of the most vulnerable, and poorest young people.” Every day, these youths are faced with adversities such as, drug abuse, hunger, homelessness, gangs poor school performance, poverty, suicide, teenage pregnancies, unemployment, and violence.

Mentors who are consistent and will work within state bylaws to ensure a safety net for youths correspond with social workers, foster parents and educational personnel. Empowering foster care youth with wisdom, testimonies, networking and survival practices which coincide with the Preparing Youth for Adulthood six point thrust is a start in the journey of molding and shaping these youths. Concentrating on each individual youth and how each point best fits the youth at hand permits a foundation.

Youth are in need of permanent connection with caring adults, they need to develop the skills that will enable them to compete academically, mentally, and socially with youth who are raised with ongoing support from their guardians and loved ones. As the foster care youth learn from mentors the skills that will enable them to make healthy decisions they will be afforded great opportunities. These opportunities will allow these underserved youth to brew their education and personal development. In addition, youth will be encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their actions, their work and their life decisions.

 Mentoring reinforces each youth’s personal individual needs. Each youth’s needs may be met; youth will establish an ongoing network of support after aging out of foster care. Mentoring programs are to be designed to meet specific needs of America’s diverse foster care population. These mentoring programs should be designed to be successful and work towards positive outcomes despite all odds. This is one way to raise the percentage of youth ready to transition into adulthood.

My personal message to youth in foster care, In times of trouble or growth, seek out the experience of others on your team who have experience.  One of the greatest gifts of going through your personal journey is people who can serve as role models for us to follow.  “We do not want to become lazy, but to imitate those through faith and patience inherit what is promised” (BIBLE) Study and learn from people who are doing what you want to do. Your system of values will guide you as you are on your journey. But personal values are not created in a vacuum; they are formed in the context of community. “Let us not give up meeting together… but let us encourage one another.    

During research and due to personal relation to this topic one can attest that these trials and tribulations are hard to endure. Ones fervor for supporting youth in foster care comes from personal experience. As a youth in care there were many youth who fell through the cracks. Youth in foster care across the nation are in need of developing critical thinking, decision making and use of sound judgmental skills. These youth need people who are not afraid to shoulder the burden of helping a child in need. It is not a simple task. These youth need people who will give them constructive, instructive, criticism and honest feedback.

References

Gloria Hochman, Anndee Hochman, Jennifer Miller. (2005). The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care. The Georgetown University Public Policy, Department Child Welfare. Washington D.C.: Commisioned by The Pew Report on Children in Foster Care.

Services, U. D. (2003, March). Youth and Famalies Childrens Bureau: Preliminary Estimates for FY 2001. Retrieved June 20, 2010, from Administration for Children and Families: http://www.act.hhs.gov/programs/cb.

Wilson, D. (March 17,2007). Foster Care Out comes: Does Foster Care help or harm Childrens emotional and social development. CA Medical Consultants , 12~.

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