How many of my readers have had what I call “run ins” with the United States foster care systems?
These political run systems are a failure and have been for years. They have ruined the lives of untold children and families. The politicians who make the rules have systematically made policies that the state-run systems must follow without thought to the needs of the children in their care.
Years ago, when I decided to be a foster parent, I took 5 or 6 weeks of “specialized” training. I finished taking all the classes the State of Utah required. I learned all about the issues these kids supposedly have. I don’t recall if there were any concrete ideas to help the kids adjust to a new environment.
One of the major issues when a child was placed was the lack of information about the child other than age, sex and the barest minimum of issues. This is still happening in systems all over the USA today. New placements have to guess what’s happened previously in the child’s life and try to help them. Once the first child arrives, that training seems to have missed something. It did not address what the child’s needs were.
My Foster Care story began when a child welfare worker brought Sharon to my house one afternoon. She was a pretty blonde about 15 years old. The worker didn’t give me much information on her, only that she had been removed from her parents’ home.
It didn’t take long for me to find out what Sharon’s issues were. She wanted to be free of all adults. She was with me for about three weeks and in that time ran away twice. The last time when she took off, she helped herself to some of my clothes.
When I reported Sharon missing, the caseworker said she did that all the time. There was no need to worry, she’d turn up at her parents’ home in a few days and they’d get her back. I told the case worker that I did not want her back. She said that’s okay and she’d let other workers know my home was available again.
Next, in came Susan. She was 16 years old and quite a beautiful young woman. We hit it off immediately. Susan was in the foster care system because she was a run away from her biological home and from the home of a single foster parent whose restrictive requirements angered her.
Susan’s story is a sad one. Her parents took in foster care children all the while her biological father was sexually abusing Susan and her younger sister. It also came out that her dad was abusing the foster care girls while he was abusing his biological daughters.
When Susan was 14, she was hired at a nursing home as a housekeeper. She saved all the money she earned and with her mother’s consent bought herself a truck with a camper shell on it when she turned 16.
Susan saved up some more funds and when no one was paying attention, she loaded up the truck and headed for California. Of course, the police brought her back.
She told the case worker what was happening in her home and that she thought her father was abusing the foster girls in the home as well. Which, was later proven to be true. Susan was then placed with the strict single parent and she ran away again.
When she came to live with me, Susan was angry and hurt by the people in power. Her father should have been arrested and charged, but instead the State workers demanded that Susan attend family counseling with her parents in order for her to be reunited with them.
When I questioned the justification of this torture, I was told to butt out; my job was to provide their client, Susan, with a place to live, period; nothing else. I accompanied her to her first family counseling session and had to wait in my car and pass the time reading a book.
While I waited outside, her father jumped her and had her down on the floor banging her head continuously while two female case workers watched; finally, a male worker came in and pulled her father off of her.
I was called in to take her home, instead I took her to the hospital which confirmed my suspicions that she had a mild concussion. I called her case worker and said they’d better do something to this man; the worker agreed, but the only thing that happened was that Susan did not have to have anything more to do with her parents.
When Susan was ready for independent living, her social worker and I helped her move into an apartment. I supplied her with some dishes and cooking pots. She hugged me and thanked me for everything I helped her with.
As the worker and I were getting ready to leave, Susan said something that brought tears to my eyes. She said “When I first came, I was planning to run away until you told me that I should let you be the adult and I should be the child. You said you’d take care of me and you did.”
It still makes me feel good, even now 40 years later. She is a wonderful young woman.
That was not my only experience with the foster care system. Back in 1998, the State of Utah Department of Human Services was sued by a child advocacy group. The lawsuit focused on the state’s foster care system. The state lost and hired a group in Alabama to review their files and offer solutions to the problems.
I was hired as one of 3 supervisors to review the files. My job consisted of supervising teammates and coordinating our reports to the Alabama committee. I spent 5 months doing this job.
In that time, I usually read 10-15 files per day. There was so much missing information that was supposed to be recorded, that we’d have to report the case workers involved and get them to correct the files.
We also discovered that reports of abuse by the children were often ignored or just a cursory investigation that declared the child or children had to be lying. This happened many times against the same foster families with different children. The case workers always blamed the children.
Then there were the children who were experiencing mental or emotional issues. The foster parents reported these children and asked for help. Ether the parents’ parenting skills were questioned or the child was abruptly removed from the home or both. The child’s behaviors were never reported to the new family.
The work histories of foster care workers are rather telling. They begin to hate their jobs when they see children being shifted from one home to another. At the time I was reviewing the files, we would find a child moving homes at least 4-5 times and some of them in over 10 different placements. The case workers know this isn’t normal and definitely not healthy for the children.
Once all the reports were in and the advocacy group had given the state their recommendations, those of us who were wishful thinkers, thought we’d see some major improvements in the children’s care. The news of the findings made us all really hopeful. Six months later the report was old news and the state continued to run the foster care program like nothing had happened.
Reports of the foster care systems all over the country in the last 20 years has convinced me that the lawsuit was a useless exercise. Because these programs answer to politicians, change moves like an ant traveling 1000 miles, it might take 50 years or more.
I want to be hopeful, but children still have at least 3 moves when they enter foster care. They’re removed from their biological home, placed in an emergency foster care home for a week or 2 and then placed in a long-term foster care family.
With reunification – which I think judges only care for the adults, not the children, makes the children continually be reminded of what they experienced in their biological home. This is a major mental problem for children.
I would like to give a whole group of juvenile judges a wake-up call and explain to them how they are perpetuating Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) to a group of innocent children who didn’t deserve to be treated like chattel.
I’d like to hear your responses to this blog post. You can either email me (email@example.com) or pm me on my Facebook page. (Naomi Lamphere)
My book, My Adoption Life is still available for $.99 here’s a link to get it: