Every year, child welfare agencies across the country are increasing their emphasis on kinship care, a form of foster care that gives placement preference to relative caregivers instead of traditional foster parents who are strangers to the children placed with them. Widely recognized as the better way to care for foster children, kinship care legislation has been making its way to law for the better part of the last decade. However, kinship placements are very different from traditional ones – the complex intrafamily dynamics and unique family relationships combined with support systems that fail to account for these aspects of kinship care often mean that legislation can fall short of helping relative caregivers. In 2017, California introduced its Resource Family Approval process (RFA), a reform that, in part, aims to register and financially compensate relative caregivers in the same ways that the state handles traditional foster parents.
A typical complaint of relative caregivers is a lack of state support so this reform seemed to be, from the legislators’ perspectives, a slam dunk – getting these kinship families registered with the state would make it easier to pay them the appropriate stipends while also linking them up to necessary supports beyond the traditional financial assistance.
Very quickly, however, flaws with the system began to emerge. “I’m actively expecting my landlord to show up at any point in time and hand me a three-day notice and start the eviction process,” Mahoganie LaFranks, a Los Angeles kinship provider, said. “I love this kid, but I am completely petrified.” LaFranks had begun the RFA process in September of 2017, but had been caring for a teen since January. By the time December rolled around, the process was still not complete – meaning LaFranks was not receiving the $923 monthly stipend that resource families typically receive in California. With many new responsibilities regarding the teen but without the extra money, LaFranks found herself behind on rent and struggling to find a job that fits into her parenting schedule. Continue reading →
Between 2005 and 2014, 86 children across the country died while in foster care under the supervision of The Mentor Network (Mentor) according to a story published by Buzzfeed that alleged massive foster care negligence. Although some children face medical issues that can make these unfortunate circumstances more likely, at least six healthy children, including two-year-old Alexandra Hill, murdered by her foster caregiver in 2013, are confirmed to have died while in a placement through Mentor. Though each state handles contracted agencies differently, Mentor, a for-profit company, operates at a national level and is responsible for an average of 3,800 children in foster homes across 15 states.
Mentor’s Involvement in Foster Care Negligence
In Hill’s case, after a failed first placement through Mentor where she seemed to suffer neglect, the little girl ended up in the custody of Sherill Small. Small, who’d already had five failed placements, had reported to Mentor that she was “feeling stressed out and will express that she is unable to care for the children in the home.” The same report contains a warning from the Early Childhood Intervention program, which “expressed concern about Mrs. Small being very frazzled and not certain what is going on with the children” and that “children should not be in the home at that time.” 2-year-old Hill would arrive in Small’s home one month after this report was filed.
The inability to drive can prevent foster teens from participating in everyday activities that youth from the general public get to enjoy regularly. Each year, more foster youth around the country reach driving age without a clear way to actually begin driving. “Simply by virtue of their state involvement, thousands of foster youth are deprived the right to a normal life,” writes Lexie Gruber for the Chronicle of Social Change.
Entering foster care as a teen, Gruber describes the difficulties she faced in trying to have a normal life: “My high school years did not include the quintessential milestones that so many of my peers got to experience. Extracurriculars allowed me to spend more time outside of the group homes and shelters, but finding a ride was difficult….” If she wanted to spend the night at a friend’s, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families required that everyone in the household pass a federal background check. “I feared that my friends and my parents would think I was a delinquent if I told them they needed a background check for dinner. Making friends was pointless without being able to sustain the bond outside of the classroom,” she writes. This experience is not unique to Lexie Gruber.
For teens across the country, their eighteenth birthday is a major milestone – as these children reach the age of majority, they find that suddenly they can call themselves adults. As discussed in the previous article, “Help Needed For Youth Aging Out Of Foster Care In America,” for 23,000 US teens aging out of foster care each year, crossing the threshold into adulthood often comes with challenges and responsibilities. These adults-by-law are still vulnerable youth who have a lot of learning to do, but without the support structures that other youth outside of the child welfare system have, it can become easy for them to lose their way.
Increasingly, states are moving to raise the age limit for children in foster care in order to help them maintain the systems of support they need to succeed after they turn eighteen. As child welfare systems across the country continually update their ideas and infrastructure to provide positive outcomes, there is a debate over how money should be invested. How much, exactly, does it affect foster care costs when a child is not adopted? Continue reading →
According to the LA Times, Los Angeles community colleges, roughly 44,000 students are struggling with homelessness. Housing costs for students are a problem across the nation, but for foster youth the crisis can be made worse if they are not adopted or their foster families are not supportive.
Reporting on the issue, the LA Times spoke with former foster youth Myriah Smiley, 19, who had her food stamp supply cut off when she received a welfare check. Forced to resort to couch surfing as she studies and dreams of opening her own bakery, Smiley said she’s often forced to go hungry: “I cry at night and hope for better days.” Smiley’s story is not an unusual one; according to a University of Wisconsin Hope lab study, 29% of former foster youth attending community college nationally are homeless. Continue reading →
Foster care immunization has gained the spotlight in Texas recently as the state attempts to reform its foster care system. The Texas child welfare system has been under fire since 2015, when a Corpus Christi judge delivered a 250-page ruling that declared that long-term foster care in the state was, as she put it, “broken.” The ruling came in the wake of 144 deaths of children in care between 2010 and 2014. According to the judge, this violates the 14th Amendment – the right to be free from, as the judge said, “rape, abuse, psychotropic medication and instability.” After receiving this criticism, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) of Texas began reform efforts, and House Bill 39 was introduced with a number of stipulations intended to keep children in foster care safe. Amidst the debate one hot-button issue has gained attention on the national stage: foster care immunization.
Immunization has been a controversial topic in the United States for years, with many groups across the country voicing opinions over the implementation of vaccines for children. Arguments tend to fall into two categories: “Are vaccines safe?” and “Should vaccines be mandatory?“ Proponents of immunization argue that vaccines are effective in preventing disease. They also have faith in major medical organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others that verify the safety of vaccines. They believe that vaccines are the primary way to protect future generations from possible disease outbreaks. For those that believe vaccines are safe, the question of whether the government requires them is moot – if vaccines are good for society and protect future generations, a mandatory vaccine schedule is entirely reasonable and acceptable. For those who doubt the safety of vaccines, however, government-based immunization schedules (including a foster care immunization plan) represent a threat to their children’s well-being. Continue reading →