The Foster care system is a system in which a minor child has been placed into a ward, group home, or private home of a state-certified caregiver, referred to as a “foster parent. The placement of the child is normally arranged through the government or a social service agency. Foster care can be informal or 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. We look at family as a given with no regards of the thousands of children of all ages 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 include 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 typically means that a person has engaged in an intentional act of causing injury or trauma. Removal of a child for physical abuse is usually where the abuse is to the extreme and where a non-accidental injury including bruising, bodily injury, pain or impairment is left on a child. Numerous attempts to help the abuser or family learn alternative means of discipline have usually failed. Neglect is viewed as a failure to meet a child’s basic needs. These basic needs are things such as food, nutrition, housing, a clean surrounding environment as well as physical, emotional, social, educational and even safety needs. Like physical abuse and neglect, sexual abuse is also a common reason why children come into foster care. Sexual abuse includes molestation and is defined as undesired sexual behavior by one person onto another. Sexual abuse of a child involves a perpetrator using force, making threats or taking advantage of that child who is not able to give consent. There are other circumstances when a child must be placed in foster care. Those reasons could include incarceration of a parent or guardian, abandonment, truancy, juvenile offender, and runaways. Incarceration is when there are no family or friends available to care for the child while a parent is in prison or jail. Abandonment is when parents have dropped their kids off for long periods of time and never returned. Truancy is when parents or guardians have not ensured that their child makes it to school regularly. A juvenile offender is a child that has been deemed is wrapped up in the court system after a series of scrapes with police. And runaways include children who engage in dangerous running away behavior that parents find difficult to manage alone.
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 pulled away from the only family they have known. Often, these children do not even know they are victims of an abusive or neglectful environment. A lot of 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 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 parents. Often times when a child is removed from a parent for abuse or neglect, that parent will typically face criminal charges for that abuse. Not only are they baring the financial burden of courts and attorneys as a result of their children being taken, 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 compound these children being behind academically. Grades and attendance certainly suffer. Foster children are also more likely to function at a lower level in school, repeat grades more often and earn poorer grades.
Foster parenting requires patience, flexibility, and the ability to provide a stable family life during a time of crisis for a child in need. Not everyone has these skills. 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 haunting incident where an 11-year-old boy was found by police, tied to the front porch of his foster home, with dead chickens wrapped around his neck (Bever). This happened right here in Union County, North Carolina. More recently in 2017, an investigation is currently underway to determine the cause of death of little Luke Glenn who was a 3-year-old little boy that died while in foster care in Orange County, North Carolina (Jonah). Unfortunately, there are many stories like these.
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 have 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 child 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. Foster children often have attachment issues related to poor parenting during the first few years. Attachment issues can cause physical problems, such as failure to thrive, as well as depression, failure to grow attachment to their caregivers, or mental-health. The more times a child is moved, the less likely he is to form secure attachments. Children in foster care have more mental disturbances than kids not in foster care (Ferrara, Pietro). Foster children can form poor social skills and negative behaviors like anger and aggression. In the United States, society caring for children from neglectful or abusive families, is a chronic concern. The latest legislation passed was the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. This was created during times that some believed children in foster care for a long period of time were at higher risk for becoming involved in criminal activity. Research indicated that the effect of this policy would be the reduction of the detrimental societal impacts caused by these children during their adult lives.
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 the 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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