What is foster care? Foster care is a system where a child under the age of eighteen is placed into a ward, group home, or private home of a state-certified caregiver, commonly known as a “foster parent. When the minor is placed into one of these places, it is decided through the government or a social service agency. (Foster care) Foster care is typically arranged through the courts in conjunction with the Department of Social Services, which is more commonly known as DSS. According to Foster Care Statistics, more than 400,000 children are in foster care in the United States, with approximately 10,500 of these children in the state of North Carolina alone (Child Welfare Information Gateway). The way we live our lives is constantly taken for granted because the way in which we look at family as a given with no regards of the thousands of children who are not blessed with the same privileges as we are. The foster care system is full of flaws and contains injustices towards the children in which the system was designed to protect. The foster care system needs improvement for many reasons to including the separation of siblings and blood relatives of the foster child, the overwhelming appointments that pull children out of school on a regular basis causing chronic absences, the all to commonality of abusive foster care parents and group homes, and last but certainly not least, is the lack of a voice for the child whom is most affected by the drastic life change which manifests into the adult this child will one day become.
It is important to know what foster care is and exactly what brings a child into the foster care system. Children can enter the foster care system as a result of many reasons. Some common reasons include physical abuse, neglect and/or sexual abuse. Physical abuse of a child is one of the most common reasons why children are removed from their families. It occurs when a person physically assaults or hurts another causing physical harm. Typically, this is seen through busies, scratches, and/or abrasions on or about the child’s body. These visible marks are not accidental. Numerous attempts to help the abuser or family learn alternative means of discipline have usually failed. (12 Common Reasons Children Enter Foster Care). Neglect of a child occurs when basic daily needs are not being such as the commonly known things such as food, education, clothing and adequate shelter. Like physical abuse and neglect, sexual abuse is also a reason why children come into foster care. According to FindLaw, Sexual assault is commonly defined as any offense in which the defendant subjects one or more victims to unwanted and offensive sexual acts, which includes everything from groping to rape. (North Carolina Sexual Assault Laws.) Molestation is part of this category as it encompasses unwanted touching. There are other circumstances when a child can be placed in foster care. Those reasons could include but are not limited to incarceration of the child’s primary care taker, abandonment, truancy, juvenile offender, and runaways. Incarceration is when the caregiver is in jail, abandonment happens when parents disappear or do not return for a long period, truancy is when the child misses a significant amount of school that is undocumented or warranted and runaways include children who engage in dangerous running away behavior that parents find difficult to manage alone. (12 Common Reasons Children Enter Foster Care).
As one can imagine, there are many negatives from the child’s perspective. Negative impacts on a child can include, leaving their blood family. These children have been taken away from the only family they have known. Often, these children do not even know they are victims of an abusive or neglectful environment. Many times, children in foster care have to be separated from his or her blood siblings, leading to only occasional sibling visits with brothers and sisters if any. When a child is taken from a birth parent or parents, the parent is not allowed to see his or her child until given permission from a social worker and/or a judge, which could take days, months or even years. These parents may not even be allowed to say goodbye if it is felt necessary by the assigned social worker. In some cases, a child may notice that his or her parent is powerless to protect them, which could lead to permanent changed behavior between the child and even the parents. Often times when a child is displaced from a parent for an adjudicated reason, that parent will typically face criminal charges for that abuse. Not only are they baring the financial burden of courts and attorneys because of their children being removed, but they also find themselves having to pay courts and attorneys for criminal charges as well. The child’s world is turned upside down especially when involving other relatives that the child may have also been very close to.
Most foster children miss a large amount of school due to numerous appointments. From the parent visits, sibling visits, medical appointments, appointments with social workers and specialists, court hearings and the like, hours upon days of school are typically missed. Most of these children are behind educationally and these constant absences only add up for these children to be behind academically. Grades and attendance certainly suffer. According to RN, Suzanne Robin, Foster children are also more likely to function at a lower level in school, repeat grades more often and earn poorer grades because of the circumstances the child is dealing with.
Foster parenting requires patience, understanding, the willingness to be flexible, and the ability to provide a stable family life during a time of crisis for a child in need. Not everyone has these skills and abilities. Too often, we see a child that has received a bad foster home placement and, in some cases, a child may experience even further abuse. In 2016, there is a disturbing incident where police, found an 11-year-old boy, tied to the front porch of his foster home, with dead chickens wrapped around his neck, reported Lindsey Bever, Writer with the Washington Post. This happened right here in Union County, North Carolina. More recently in 2017, Anchor Jonah Kaplan from ABC11 News, reported on an investigation which is currently underway to determine the cause of death of Luke Glenn, who was a 3-year-old little boy, that died while in foster care in Orange County, North Carolina. Unfortunately, there are many stories like these and these stories like these have almost become a daily reporting to anchors and reporters all over the US.
When tragedies strike and children are placed in foster care, the media and policy makers shine a spotlight on child welfare agency case workers, parents, and foster parents. Each has representatives on their side to include several attorneys, resources, and the tools needed for voices to be heard. But, what about the child’s voice? When you look at the court systems, attorneys, and resources as a whole it appears that the child would have a voice through some of these avenues. While there are positives in each, the voice of the child is often lost and left unheard. The Guardian ad Litem program was designed to be the voice of the child and an adequate in court but more often than not, there is a pattern that shows that the Guardian ad Litem fails to do so. Often these children adequate mimic the opinion of the state and DSS attorneys. A child may even feel that he or she is unwanted which can lead to overpowering emotional problems. RN, Suzanne Robin further believes that foster children often have attachment, depression and mental issues related to poor parenting. She further correlates attachment issues with physical problems, such as failure to thrive. She feels that the more times a child is bounced around from foster home to foster home, the less likely he or she is to form bonds.
According to an article written by Steffel, Elizabeth from Foster Focus Magazine, in the United States, society caring for children from neglectful or abusive families, is a chronic concern. The most recent legislation that has been passed is the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. According to research from Foster Focus Magazine, this act was created because of children being in foster care for longer periods of time and who have aged out of the system and having a higher chance of being involved in criminal activity. The research has pointed out that this act will reduce criminality in foster children in the long run. (Steffel, Elizabeth).
It is not to go unnoticed that there are surmountable positives in the foster care system. Giving a child a safe place to stay is a very important thing for him or her. During these tough times, a child can develop bonding abilities and even a sense of family. Children going through tough times are given the ability to have a place where they can call home. Children, who are involved in foster care, often develop strong caring and empathy skills. In addition to a stable home life, children in foster care also have the ability to be a part of many helpful programs to help along the way. Medical care is provided to foster care in the form of Medicaid so the children who were often neglected, even medically, can get full medical attention. Things like glasses and braces are most often included.
While positives exist, the negative effects of foster care on children who are impacted as well as for caregivers, families of that child or children and society as a whole are plentiful and need drastic improvement. Everyone and everything involved in each individual case plays an integral part of the fostering journey. Each foster placement invokes life-changing experiences and ultimately trickle down to the society as a whole. Good, bad or indifferent, the lives of children are at stake and society and each person that has a direct role in each and every case must now do a better job.
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