People often view social workers as guardian angels, but as a neglected child I had a very different view. When social workers interviewed me, they said they were going to take me somewhere “better,” but they never would. They said that if I told the truth I would be happier, I never was. They told me that I wasn’t alone and then cut off every connection to the outside world I’d ever had; they took me in the middle of the night, separated me from my siblings, sent me to a different school, put me in a house full of strangers that were no better than my own family, and called it help. The foster care system failed me, just like it fails most of the 640 thousand children that are in foster care every year.
Social workers themselves are trying to help, there just aren’t the resources to help the quantity of foster children there are. No matter how hard these individuals try to positively impact neglected children, it is often drowned out by the inadequacies within the system. The shortage of foster homes and case workers allow an astounding amount of abuse and neglect to be overlooked within the system. In Los Angeles County though there are over 9,000 children in need of out of home placement, there are only available beds for about 7,000 of them.1 The urgent need for foster homes rushes the approval process, which allows many new homes that shouldn’t be approved to enter the system, and the shortage of social workers leads to three to four times the amount of recommended cases per worker, making it impossible for social workers to adequately regulate the system and stop the abuse.
The effect of outright abusive or neglectful homes is obvious. When kids are stripped of all familiarity and identity just to be put in another abusive home the system is clearly disadvantageous. In the original home at least you’re with your siblings, and at a school where you have connections and possible positive relationships with teachers. Being completely cut off from negative relationships at home is outweighed by any positive interactions if all that you’re going to do is place that child into yet another abusive home. A study done by New Jersey found that in some counties one-fifth of foster homes that were previously considered perfectly fit were either neglectful or abusive.2 In abusive foster homes, foster care seems more like a punishment than help. The fact that anyone would willingly take a child from an abusive home and place that emotionally damaged child into yet another abusive home is irrational and disturbing.
Even in the homes that aren’t abusive, they’re still rushed into the system, therefore they’re usually underprepared. Though these foster parents have the best intentions, they often have no clue how to deal with an abused, emotionally damaged child. To become a foster parent all you have to do is apply, interview, and pass a background test. Foster parents are usually given little to no preparation before receiving foster children. Foster homes that could be wonderful foster families and impact so many children’s lives positively are denied the opportunity by not allowing them the time or the resources to become prepared and educated about how to properly care for these neglected children. After a while the foster family stops sympathizing with the child and passes them off to the next place—a negative experience for both the foster parents and the foster child. Sadly though some foster parents want to help, the system doesn’t prepare them to.
According to Casey Family Programs, usually just 6 months later, you go back to your family.3 The family that was so physically abusive, sexually abusive, and/or neglectful that it warranted removing you from this home, is declared fixed just 6 months later. After half a year these homes are still far from perfect. The system has traumatized these children, isolated them, and often allowed them to be abused, just to return them to the original volatile environment. According to Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children one-third of them re-enter the system.4
It’s no surprise then, that a study done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that foster care does more harm than good.5 Children placed in foster care had higher rates of addiction, incarceration, and homelessness when compared to children that had endured similar abuse but were left in their abusive homes. Foster care isn’t just an isolated problem affecting kids negatively for a couple years. Foster care and the emotional toll it takes follows these children into adulthood. They are often never given the proper affection, structure, and stability that is needed to become a successful adult. The majority of children that were in foster care end up either in prison, homeless, or dead. People need to see that foster care isn’t doing its job. Children aren’t benefiting from the system, even marginally.
It’s become apparent that the current foster care system is failing, but how do we fix it? Most of the problems that are prevalent in foster care stem from the shortage of social workers. Increasing the number of social workers and making sure that they have adequate training would improve the amount of attention each child’s case receives, and reduce the amount of abuse within the system, leading to better outcomes. Also, we need to focus on dealing with these cases appropriately. Removing a child from their home isn’t always the answer, it’s often beneficial to leave the child in their home and implement in-home services to help make the home an acceptable environment for children. We need to fix the inadequacies of the system so that it functions appropriately and doesn’t negatively impact the lives of the millions of children that spend time in it.
- http://www.lacdcfs.org/aboutus/fact_sheet/DRS/August2013/Fact_Sheet.htm [↩]
- http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/16/nyregion/trenton-finds-abuse-high-in-foster-care.html [↩]
- http://www.casey.org/permanency-reunification/ [↩]
- http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/4603-foster-care-re-entry–reunifications-and-children-who-re-entered-within-12-months-of-reunification?loc=40#detailed/2/any/false/1235,1064,965,844,789/778,779/10601,10602 [↩]
- http://www.mit.edu/~jjdoyle/doyle_jpe_aug08.pdf [↩]