As Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students continue to push for gun control reform and the national debate rages on, one population of parents is facing an extra hurdle in gun laws – foster parents. Foster parents regularly help children deal with the same issues that plagued the young, traumatized Nikolas Cruz, and as the threat of increased gun control regulations grows, they are fighting for their right to own, carry and operate firearms while caring for foster children.
First, it’s important to understand how we got here. On February 14th, 2018, Nikolas Cruz committed what is one of the most discussed mass shootings in American history. His story, however, began much earlier than that – his biological mother, a drug addict who was incarcerated at the time of his birth, gave him up for adoption to Lynda Cruz when he was three days old . After turning 10, he was diagnosed with autism and later, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression.
A new federal law that was included in President Donald Trump’s massive spending bill will drastically change the way states can spend its annual $8 billion in federal funds for child abuse prevention.
According to a Huffington Post story: “The law… prioritizes keeping families together and puts more money toward at-home parenting classes, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment — and puts limits on placing children in institutional settings such as group homes. It’s the most extensive overhaul of foster care in nearly four decades.”
For many, childhood is marked with memories of sleepovers and vacations or passing the driver’s exam and taking that first drive to an after-school job. For foster children, however, it can be difficult to share in these experiences that so many consider normal. As wards of the state, foster children are at the mercy of the legal system – their foster parents are required to go jump through several legal hoops such as restrictions on car insurance, required background checks for potential chaperones or pre-scheduled court dates and visitation periods. Some of these even require the foster parents to personally fund the endeavors. Child welfare providers across the country are increasingly recognizing that these regulations, once thought to protect children, actually impede the foster care system from providing the best care possible.
What Is Normalcy for Foster Youth and Why Is It Important?
“Before, we were trying to keep kids from getting hurt…. We put them in a room and made sure nothing happened to them,” Mike Watson, an executive for a Florida foster care agency, said of previous foster care standards. “We don’t want supervisors. We want people to parent. We had created this artificial relationship where you had state-sanctioned individuals in a home acting like a jailer.” Now, there is a push for “normalcy.” Normalcy is a standard of care that enables foster youth to share in the everyday activities that allow them to develop the skills that will build a true sense of independence. But what, exactly, is normalcy for foster youth? Continue reading
Georgia’s Senate recently passed the Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act (Senate Bill (SB)375), which would permit the state’s foster care and adoption agencies to refuse LGBTQ parents and others who do not share the agencies’ religious beliefs. As reported in Newsweek, the state Senate passed the bill on Friday, February 23.
The implications of this Act would reach deeper than many might think, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ rights organization. Not only would it allow agencies to refuse adoption to LGBTQ parents but also to interfaith couples, single parents and those who have been divorced. It would also impact services offered to LGBTQ youth in care.
In a statement, Marty Rouse, National Field Director of the Human Rights Campaign said, “It’s unfortunate that leaders are focusing on this bill instead of concrete ways to improve the child welfare system in Georgia. We ask the Georgia House of Representatives to reject this bill.”
While detractors, including GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, call the Act an imposition of religious values for the purpose of discrimination, others feel the Act will not impact the LGBTQ community in the ways it fears. Georgia Senator William Logan has stated that prospective LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents will be able to go through other non-faith based agencies, adding that such arrangements would allow agencies tied to religion the ability “…to exercise their fundamental right to practice their faith.”
Georgia is a stark contrast to New Jersey, where LGBTQ families are welcomed by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. To learn more about National LGBT Adoption Laws, click here.
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.
A new national survey commissioned by two Virginia nonprofits found that youth aging out of foster care need more services as gaps in current assistance leave many vulnerable youth to fend for themselves.
According to an article by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “the 22,400 children who turn 18 and age out of state foster care systems across the country annually without a permanent family face grim prospects: Within two years, about one in four wind up incarcerated, one in five become homeless, four in 10 drop out of high school and 71 percent become parents by age 21.”
The survey, conducted by the national nonprofit Child Trends and the Better Housing Coalition, discovered that the increased number of youth transition out of youth are receiving “spotty services” that leave them vulnerable.