On March 26th, 2018, Jen Hart drove her SUV, with her family inside, off a cliff in Mendocino County, California. Jen and her wife Sarah were the adoptive mothers of two groups of siblings – Markis, Abigail and Hannah and Jermiah, Ciera and Devonte (Jermiah and Ciera were renamed “Jeremiah” and “Sierra” by the Harts). Although originally from Minnesota and living in Washington at the time of the incident, Jen and Sarah adopted all six children from Texas – even as Jermiah, Ciera and Devonte’s aunt was trying to work with that state to have them placed with her. The Minnesotan adoption agency responsible for them had a history of violations. As the Hart’s moved from Minnesota to Oregon to Washington, the tenuous nature of interstate adoptions between child welfare systems would become even clearer.
Their tragic story is easily one of the most horrific stories to come from our nation’s foster care system, but it has brought national attention to one major player in national child welfare system: the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Initially conceived of almost 60 years ago, the ICPC finds itself under scrutiny today as more accounts emerge of how this agreement sometimes works against the best interests of the children interstate adoption is supposed to serve. Continue reading
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Questioning (LGBTQ) teens in the United States are three times more likely to live in foster care than their heterosexual counterparts, according to a newly released study.
The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, found that these teens are also three times as likely to have considered suicide.
According to a report from Reuters: “Roughly a third of teens living in foster care are LGBT(QI), the research found. Overall, 11 percent of the U.S. population is LGBT(QI), according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.”
The report, based on a study of 600,000 students ages 10 to 18 in California, also found these youth suffer from higher substance abuse issues, perform worse in school and experience poorer mental health.
According to the study, teens revealing their sexuality to their families can result in harassment as well as homelessness.
“We need to start examining whether LGBTQ youth are more likely to be removed from their families of origin, or whether they are more likely to get ‘stuck’ in the system by not getting permanent placements, or both,” Stephen Wilson, a public policy faculty member at UCLA School of Law and author of the report, told The Daily Texan.
Many LGBTQI adults who understand the specific trauma and issues of these youth often foster and adopt. However, there has been a fight across the country to prevent these parents from adopting.
Most recently President Donald Trump’s administration granted a request from the governor of South Carolina to allow federally funded child welfare agencies to deny parents services based on religious beliefs.
To learn more about the South Carolina adoption fight, click here.
Foster care may come with a stigma, especially for older youth. In the minds of many, foster children can be thought to be “too much to handle” or unruly. Whether this is because of special medical needs or certain behavioral issues, the lives of these children are consistently misunderstood. As child welfare professionals have come to learn, many of the stereotypical behaviors people believe are innate components of foster children are the result of the way these children have been treated. As they grow from toddlers to teenagers, the childhood trauma they’ve experienced can and often does affect their behaviors and needs.
Foster Children Experience Childhood Trauma
Foster children experience trauma far more often than others, and this trauma can shape not only their behavior but also their worldview. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs in foster children at very high rates – a grim testament to their experiences. To give context to – and promote understanding for – their situation, it is important to know how trauma functions for children in care and what states can do to prevent these traumas before they can happen.
Instant Family, a film about the ups and downs of becoming foster parents starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, hit theaters in November and brought with it a wave of interest in foster care throughout the U.S.
The comedy, which features Wahlberg and Byrne as a couple who decide to foster a teenage girl and her two younger siblings with the intention of adopting, presented an interesting recruitment opportunity for foster care agencies – and at a time when many states are dealing with a shortage of foster parents and an increase of children in care.
With moviegoers getting a glimpse into the lives of foster parents and the children who need them, recruiters in Ohio, North Carolina and New Jersey have set up shop at movie theaters to talk with prospective parents and answer any questions they may have.
According to the Tribune Chronicle in Ohio:
“Trumbull County Children Services officials hosted a special caregivers night Wednesday at Regal Cinema in Niles, which is showing the movie “Instant Family” — a comedy-drama about foster care.
Megan Martin, senior supervisor for foster care and adoption, said the meet-and-greet event was held for prospective foster parents to present them with information on programs as well provide an early screening of the movie.
She said about 50 Trumbull County residents interested in fostering and adopting attended. This is the first time the agency has held such an event at a movie theater, but noted the film relates to what services they provide to families.”
Interest in fostering is important in Ohio where there are almost 16,000 kids in care. The same can also be said about North Carolina, which has more than 10,500 children in care.
After hosting a recruiting event at Regal Cinemas in Gastonia, the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services said more adults have expressed interest in becoming foster parents after seeing Instant Family, according to the Gaston Gazette.
“According to Julie Murphy, a licensing supervisor with Health and Human Services, the majority of individuals who attended the screening took applications.
“We had a great response and have continued to get phone calls daily as a result of the event,” she said.”
The movie is based loosely on writer-director Sean Anders’ life after he fostered (and adopted) three kids.
“I think the message of the movie is: no matter what, love first,” his wife, Beth Anders, told The Columbian. “They need parents, and we’re here.”
To learn more about the film, Instant Family, click here.
A groundbreaking piece of legislation has passed through Congress and is seeing the beginning stages of implementation across the country. The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), originally designed as its own bill, has been passed into law attached to a government spending bill. The FFPSA has implications for all child welfare providers in the United States but finally brings the federal government in line with what child welfare studies have been saying for years: kinship care is the most effective form of foster care. The provisions of the FFPSA pave the way to move foster care away from a system that relies on people who are, effectively, strangers to the children being placed with them and bolsters states’ ability to support and grow kinship care communities. To do this, the bill will divest from congregate (group home) care and shift funds into what could be called the “Foster Care New Deal.” This legislation has two primary approaches – it will create prevention services and family supports to address the causes that lead to foster care placement while developing the infrastructure relative caregivers need to allow them to care for the children for whom prevention services were insufficient.
What Does the FFPSA Do?
The first approach, prevention services, has the goal of reducing the need for child welfare systems entirely. Through the establishment of mental health services, substance abuse treatment and prevention programs and in-home parenting skill programs, the FFPSA will help states work with biological parents to ensure that not only do their children get to experience bright futures but also that those children get to do so in their own home, with their biological family.