Thursday, October 18, 2007

Society Diminishes Value of Children, Especially Foster Care Kids

Over 510,000 children are in foster care nationwide and of those children, about 81,000 are in California. In Los Angeles County, we have more than 37,000 children living in out-of-home placements. For years, Americans have said children are our most valuable resource, our future. Based on recent events that demonstrate the value in which we hold our children, the impact of America’s future is bleak.

A lawsuit was filed in the State of California, on behalf of foster children, because of the poor reimbursement given to foster parents to care for them. Children continue to be the largest segment of our population that lives in poverty. In addition, President George W. Bush vetoed a bill that would make health care available to all children living in America.

Foster parents have been under-funded. In particular, California’s reimbursement rates to foster parents are embarrassing and fall far short in providing the financial resources necessary to give foster parents the ability to provide adequately for our children’s needs. According to a recent report released by Children’s Rights, the National Foster Parent Association, and the University of Maryland School of Social Work, California’s current foster care rates must be increased by up to 61 percent in order to cover the real costs of providing care for children.

As the executive director of Hillsides, a Pasadena-based foster care children’s charity that provides care to children at risk and their families, I have seen families struggle to meet the financial obligations to care for their own children. What agencies are beginning to see now is a decrease in the number of foster parents willing to open their doors to children who have been abused, abandoned, and neglected.

Inadequate foster care rates negatively affect foster parent recruitment and retention, potentially increasing the likelihood that children will be placed in institutions or shuttled from one foster placement to another—and decreasing their chance of finding permanent homes. At Hillsides and in other similar residential treatment centers, we see the devastating affects that multiple foster care placements have on children.

As a society, we are challenged to solve children’s issues and make sound policy. Too often we talk about the problems, but never quite find positive solutions. Or the pen never makes it on the paper to sign sound legislation into law. Or policies are never put into practice. When will we begin to hold elected officials, government administrators, and government agencies responsible for bettering the future of America’s children?

Keeping silent perpetuates this cycle of political ping pong and furthers the abuse these children must endure. In one way or another, society’s silence fosters this atmosphere which greatly devalues our children. I see a society that has misplaced its priorities of caring for our children and is no longer a focus.

Most schools, particularly in the large urban areas, are under-funded and failing to provide educators with adequate tools to teach students. Teachers, caretakers, and childcare workers are poorly paid and not given the tools they need to be successful with their charges. We have not wanted to pay higher taxes to improve children’s situations. We have argued for years about the cost of universal healthcare without considering what the denial of such a program does to the children and families in need of it. We protect the gun lobbyists, while our children are shooting each other on the streets. We ignore the devastating affect of drugs and alcohol on children and families without making rehabilitative programs available to all that need it.

The fact remains that child protective services started in New York at the turn of the 20th century using Humane Society regulations designed to prevent cruelty to animals. Even today, kennels receive more money to board pets than foster families who care for children, according to reports citing the lawsuit filed in California. As a society, we have not come very far in the last one hundred years.

When will we say, “It’s time to consider what is in the best interest of all children living in America and let’s do what it takes to accomplish that?” As a society, we can put a stop to political ping pong. We can vote for Presidential and Congressional candidates who talk the talk and walk the walk when making policy that is in the best interest of American children. We can communicate to our elected officials and hold them responsible for placing children first. If we do this, we will begin to see hope in the future of our children.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Los Angeles Children’s Court Should Support Foster Care Policies

As the executive director of Hillsides, I have seen far too many children in the “system” who should never have been there. Fortunately, the Department of Children and Family Services has halved their out-of-home placements in the last seven years. The Department’s two major goals are to transition children back to their homes more efficiently and to reduce its reliance on out-of-home care.

Several strategies have been effective in reaching these two goals. Structured Decision Making helps an investigative worker assess a child’s risk of further abuse in the home. If the child is not in immediate danger but his family is in crisis, the worker can refer them to a community provider that can help them and so keep the family together while eliminating the risk of further abuse.

Point of Engagement has also contributed to reducing removals, providing much-needed help to these families, and reducing the risk of abuse. This strategy recognizes that families want what is best for their children and are willing to make changes. It brings the social service agencies and family together at the “point of engagement” with the Department so that the service agency immediately begins working with the family.

Team Decision Making (TDM) incorporates all available people involved with the child or family to discuss a plan to move the child into permanency. This particularly important strategy helps a child return to his family or relatives because the assembled group not only determines the steps but also what individuals and agencies will be involved in the plan’s success.

Although these strategies are in place, staff do not always support the Department’s policy, and in the case of one child at Hillsides, neither did a judge. The Department must ensure that these critical strategies, all of which are in the best interest of the clients they serve, are incorporated by the line staff and supported by the courts.

View the full story…

Friday, June 1, 2007

The people who take care of foster children and the agencies who work to get them adopted so they can have some permanency in their lives have not received a cost of living increase in the past five years. Without these cost of living increases, many who do this valuable work can no longer afford to do it and they are dropping out of helping these vulnerable children find permanency in their lives.

Help me keep the promise to California’s foster youth by writing a letter to the Senators and Assembly members fax the letter to them today. These members of the Senate and Assembly are meeting this week and next to produce a budget for the Governor to sign. They need to be urged to enact this important legislation. The letter to these Senators and Assembly members can be used as an example for your own letter. Please share with me what you did in this regard.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Foster Care Legislation Introduced

US Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the Foster Care Continuing Opportunities Act that would provide federal funding to States to continue providing essential foster care services such as food, housing, and legal services to youth over the age of 18.

Boxer is quoted as saying “This legislation would help improve the services for foster care youth so they can better transition from childhood to adulthood. The future for foster youth, once emancipated, is often bleak. In my state of California, about 65 percent of emancipated youth are homeless, less than three percent go to college, and 51 percent are unemployed. We must do more for these youth adults who deserve much better, and there is no better time to do it than during Foster Care Month.”

As someone who has worked in the foster care system for over 45 years, this is a bill that is long overdue. However, it is only the beginning, our system for helping foster youth is sorely lacking. Hillsides recently implemented Youth Moving On, an emancipation program to assist foster youth in the transition from foster homes to independent living. We were shocked on how ill-prepared these foster youth were to make this move. Many of the foster youth entering our program had never worked, had their own bank account, knew how to shop and prepare meals. They were ill-prepared to be living alone.

Even though independent living classes for foster you in California is part of the program that all foster youth 14 years and older take, it does not seem to be doing the job. We need to look again at what we are doing in preparing these youth to leave the foster homes they reside in. We need to make sure that any legislation that extends the states’ rights to access federal funds for foster youth up to age 21 includes services that will give the youth support during this critical time in their lives.

Reflecting on Foster Care Awareness Month

As I reflect during Foster Care Awareness Month, I realize in my 45 years of working with children in foster care I have never been as optimistic as I am now about the public policy being enacted to address the issues of abused children and their families. I have learned over the years that most parents want the best for their children and will do almost anything to see that they are successful. Situations of abuse usually arise out of the problems of adults; drug and alcohol abuse leads the way with dysfunctional relationships taking up a close second. Being out of work, stress, homelessness and poor parenting skills all lead to situations where children are being hurt.

For many years protective services solved the problem of abuse by removing the child from the home which, in far too many instances, only prolonged the abuse. Families were ordered to change their ways with no real guidance or help to do so. Children drifted through the system hoping that something would change so they could go home.

Over the past five years public policy, particularly in Los Angeles, has changed. There is recognition that families need immediate help and if given that help, their children can remain with them safely. In instances where children were formerly removed, it is possible to get them involved with a variety of services that help them stay out of the system, resolve the issues and allow the children to remain at home.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

We received this information via email and wanted to share it with you.

The Census Bureau has opted to eliminate the “foster child” category from the 2010 Census and thereby strip us of the ability to assess where foster children reside, the demographics of the families caring for these youth, and how best to allocate scarce resources. Instead of requiring that Census respondents identify foster children in their home, these youth will be grouped with an all-inclusive group of “other” children, whether related or not, residing in the household. The less than satisfactory reason offered by the Census Bureau for eliminating this invaluable information on the size, composition and economic status of families caring for foster youth is that the extra line for respondents to report on foster children would have extended into the page fold and tripped up scanners that read the answers.

Please join us in expressing the view that foster children count -- and deserve to be counted! It would be truly unfortunate to allow our most vulnerable youth to become invisible.

A fact sheet and sample letter in regard to this issue is attached. The issue will be considered by the House Sub-Committee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. If you’d like to express your opposition to the change, please send a letter to Representative William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Chairman of the Sub-Committee. Letters can be faxed to the attention of Tony Haywood at (202) 225-2392. Thanks, in advance, for any support you can offer on this important issue.