#HackFosterCare: Taking Advantage of Technology in Foster Care

In May of 2016, the White House held a special “hackathon” for foster care as a part of the “#HackFosterCare” initiative. Hackathons are events in which problems are presented that the participants attempt to solve with programming solutions, and former foster youth and founder of Think Of Us Sixto Cancel embraced this idea as a way for communities to approach technology in foster care.

Coder working hard at developing new technology in foster care.

The child welfare system is large and, when including the sea of nonprofits and associated organizations, has many working parts. As the nation moves forward and attempts to ensure that the system serves its children as best as it can, the integration of technological solutions becomes a necessity. From social media to smartphones, foster parents, foster children, social workers and volunteers are constantly changing the technology they engage with and through. Because of the changing tides of tech, foster care organizations have a unique opportunity to re-investigate and resolve problems that crop up because of their own consistent evolution.

It’s this opportunity that Cancel hopes to seize by hosting foster care hackathons across the country.

Continue reading

Aged Out Foster Youth Need Skills to Survive and Thrive

Everyone loves a success story. Whether it’s the teenage mom who quits school, goes on to get her GED and eventually becomes a successful executive, or the foster youth who, after enduring a childhood of abuse and neglect, goes on to graduate college and become a child psychologist, we not only root for them; we hold them up as examples. We want to encourage our young people to overcome adversity, to get a good education and to believe that, with hard work, every dream is possible. But in doing so, are we setting them up for disappointment?

Aged Out Foster Youth Need Skills to Survive and Thrive
Statistics show that youth in foster care are 44 percent less likely to complete high school than their non-foster care peers. People have various opinions on why this is the case. Ronald Richter, of the JCAA (formerly known as Jewish Child Care Association) told Naomi Schaefer Riley of the Independent Women’s Forum, “More and more, we understand that the 0-5 [years old] stage is critical for young people to develop self-regulation. You learn when you get up, when you go to sleep. The brain is trained to understand routine,” but, he continues, in most cases foster children have “a very poor 0-5 experience.”

So, children who are victims of neglect, who have grown up with no rules and no positive reinforcement for good behavior, are unlikely to be able to adhere to a schedule and meet demands from authority figures. This, of course, impacts their ability to finish school and/or hold down a job. Unless they receive the proper support services to make up for the guidance they lacked at home, it is likely they will become a statistic rather than an exception.

So where can foster youth who are aging out of care go for help? Riley writes that a group called America Works, a national organization that was recently contracted to work with foster youth in New York State, believes that “the first step to getting people to be independent, productive citizens is getting them a job.” But instead of focusing on getting a college education as a means to secure employment, American Works places youth in low paying jobs with benefits, so they can gain valuable work experience and personal discipline. Supervisors not only teach job skills but also life skills, helping youth learn how to interact with customers and colleagues, how to build a household budget and how to manage their time.

Mastering these skills is essential for foster youth; it allows them to keep the jobs they have, and it prepares them for something better in the future. When they’re ready, America Works helps foster youth with obtaining a GED or with registering for college courses.

In New Jersey, eligible aged out youth can receive funds towards tuition and fees through the New Jersey Foster Care Scholars program. Youth who have aged out of care can apply to the program up until age 23 and can receive funds for up to five years from enrollment if they are attending a public NJ postsecondary institution and meet NJFC eligibility criteria.

. To learn more about assistance for aged out youth in your state, contact your local child welfare agency.

A strong foundation of experience, education and enthusiasm ups the odds of foster youth thriving once they age out of the system, giving them a better chance of becoming the example everyone loves to root for.

To read the full editorial, click here.

Drug Addiction Creates Foster Care Crisis Throughout Country

Drug addiction, especially to opioids, is behind a substantial increase in children entering the foster care system across the U.S. This dramatic surge is causing a crisis that’s forcing many states to change laws, as well as partner with local agencies, in order to care for children in need.

drug addiction and foster care

Drug Addiction and Foster Care: A Problem Across the Country

The opiate addiction epidemic currently spreading across this country is one of the worst drug crises in history, killing nearly 27,000 people a year, according to Frontline. It affects people of all races, ages and income brackets, and it’s leaving many states across the nation scrambling to help the unthought-of victims: children.

“In Ohio, where more than 9,900 children are in foster care and nearly half of those taken into custody last year had a parent using drugs, case workers are having a hard time placing children with relatives,” according to PBS. “By the time the children get to foster care…many of the adults in their extended family are addicted to opiates, too.”

Ohio isn’t the only state dealing with this issue. In Georgia, substance abuse is involved 40 percent of the time when children are removed from their homes. In California, specifically San Diego and Orange County, agencies have called for more people to become foster parents to help meet the growing need. Continue reading

Dramatic Increase in Number of Children Entering Foster Care Questioned

When we think of why children are placed in foster homes, the first thing that comes to mind is their parents’ inability or unwillingness to care for them. A consultant in Arkansas, however, argues that the reason for a dramatic increase in the number of children entering foster care has less to do with the behavior of the parents and more to do with the decision making processes of the judges.

Dramatic Increase in Number of Children Entering Foster Care

According to The Times Record, Arkansas’ Department of Human Services reported a 30% gain in the number of children entering foster care over the previous year. Co-founder of Hornby Zeller Associates, Dennis Zeller, spoke to the legislative Joint Performance Review Committee to give his thoughts on what prompted this dramatic increase.

“Families in Arkansas had not simply all of a sudden gotten worse,” said Zeller. “But the way that decisions were made, whether by the department or by the courts, were different.”

Zeller claims that, in many cases, the motivation for the judges’ decisions to remove children from their homes is rooted in a desire to punish parents rather than keep children safe from imminent danger.

What we’re supposed to be about is promoting the welfare of kids,” Zeller said. “That’s why they call it child welfare. Sometimes we forget that…”

For the full story, click here.

From Orphanage to Group Home to Family: Making Strides in Congregate Care, Part 2

Congregate Care: The Case for Closure

Some believe that group homes and congregate care in general provide only a band-aid for a bigger problem. Though they do provide a necessary service, they are increasingly seen by child welfare agencies as an inadequate solution to the issues facing the national child welfare system. Aside from the fact that regulation varies from state to state (resulting in large differences in the handling of such facilities), group homes and Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs) often put children at a great distance from their families.

Buildings on Waisenhausplatz in Bern – Switzerland

One such group home employed by the state of New Jersey, Devereux, is actually located in Florida. Judge David Bazelon with the Center for Mental Health Law, writes:

“…far too many children are placed at a great distance from their homes. For example, most District of Columbia children in RTCs are placed outside the District—many as far away as Utah and Minnesota. Many families, especially those with limited means, find it impossible to have any meaningful visitation with their children.”

Bazelon continues on to suggest that although it is accepted that children do best in close proximity to their families and with consistent parenting, many governments still rely on distant, out-of-state facilities. To further complicate the problem, residential treatment centers are “inherently artificial” environments, where the child is unlikely to encounter any of the behavior triggers one might encounter outside of an institution. In a bleak reminder of the consistent care that children require, Bazelon goes on to cite a study that shows nearly 50% of children in an RTC get readmitted, and “75% were either re-institutionalized or arrested.”
Continue reading

Dangerous Data: The Use of Psychotropic Medicine on Foster Children

The use of psychotropic medicine on foster children remains a hotly debated topic. When we polled our readers in our September 2014 issue, the majority believed that the drugs, when given in conjunction with therapy, were an acceptable treatment option. Some, however, believed the drugs can do more harm than good. In that same issue, we reported on a story from Mad in America’s website that asserted the longer children are in foster care the more likely they are to be taking psychotropic medication. Recent news informs us that this trend continues.

Use of Psychotropic Medicine on Foster Children
The San Diego Union Tribune reports that a 2016 audit of the use of psychotropic drugs in the California foster care system raises serious concerns. The audit “…found that nearly 12 percent of California’s more than 79,000 foster children were prescribed psychotropic medication during the year studied, compared to an estimated 4 percent to 10 percent of non-foster children.”

But the number of children on psychotropic medications isn’t the audit’s most troubling finding.

The audit revealed a startling lack of oversight on the part of California’s county caseworkers. Incomplete and/or inaccurate case notes resulted in workers not knowing which drugs were prescribed to each child, putting children at risk for overdoses and dangerous side effects from drug interactions.

Additionally, caseworkers frequently violate California state law by failing to obtain parental or court approval before securing psychotropic medicine for children in foster care.

“We are failing our foster children,” said California State Auditor Elaine Howell in an interview with KCRA.