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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is Foster Care Better

A sad reality in parts of the Western world is that foster care may not be better than the home that the children left. Group care has major challenges as well. Children may find themselves exposed to just as unhealthy a situation in care as what they left.

A reflection of care in Los Angeles echoes this concern. A news report from KPCC in that city notes: The foster kids themselves point to problems with the families into which they are placed, which sometimes are worse than the abusive situations from where they were removed. Shimia Gray entered foster care at age 2, removed from the care of her drug addicted mother, and went on to live in 10 different foster homes and 2 group homes.

“Most of the foster homes I got put in, I was in bad situations,” explained Shimia, talking about the tense and dangerous conditions that she endured. “One of my fosters homes, I was about five or six but we used to get beat on like really, really bad. When she knew the social worker would come, she wouldn’t hit us. Before the social worker came, when she knew they was coming, she’ll threaten us like don’t say this or I’m going to do this and then you aren’t going to tell on the foster parent.”

Workers in LA County are carrying about 30 cases on average which is double what we can typically manage effectively.

The report on KPCC, public radio in California, is worth a stop by

Of course, the vast majority of foster care situations are good and provide nurturing, caring situations for children. One of the challenges in the system is that those apprehended from large families will see siblings separated because there are few situations where large groups of children can be kept together.

Children are also often not receiving the supports needed to help them recover from the early impacts of neglect and abuse in their lives. This makes it harder for the foster carer to sustain a child who is a behavioral challenge. Thus, the cycle of ever changing placements. This may lead to situations where children are placed in institutions that may not be good. In Nebraska, for example, a recent example can be seen. The World-Herald in Omaha reports, "Staffers at a Boys Town National Research Hospital program, for instance, sometimes placed children facedown on gurneys and locked them into place with belts. They used the practice, which has been discontinued, to prevent children from harming themselves and others."

The system is also desperately short of foster placements whether we are talking Canada, the UK, USA or elsewhere.

Consistently, we see the need for systemic changes. High caseloads are real and it does impact the capacity to provide good case management for children. It is the child who suffers none the less. Yet, we are not willing to pay, as a society, for good child welfare. We bury workers in paper, bureaucracy, procedures that leaves less and less opportunity for real case work. Giving good social work care is urgent because as a society we are paying bog prices - kids become young adults aging out into adult mental health, criminal justice and social welfare rather than successful, independent adults. There are exceptions of course but the research keeps telling us lack of success is more the norm than the exception.

Soon I will look at the benefits of kinship care.

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