What ever happened to the word “orphanage?” It seems like a word that lives exclusively in the past, floating in-between songs in the musical Annie or sweeping chimneys in 18th Century England. With the media-sensationalized images of poor, dirty children crowded together in a dusty bunk room while wiping floors and singing songs, it can be easy to forget that orphanages are the ancestors of modern day foster care.
Today, through increased government oversight and involvement in the needs of displaced youth, the foster care system primarily focuses on placing children into families and away from generalized group housing. However, these communal living arrangements have not disappeared entirely and are now called “congregate care”. Group Homes, Residential Treatment Centers and other forms of community-based living have been embraced in place of the archaic orphanage in the hope that children will be better served. Despite the fact that these congregate care facilities are a vast improvement over the unregulated, impersonal and sometimes cruel orphanages of the past, they are not entirely problem-free. Why is it that group homes and treatment centers across the country are closing their doors? What services did these facilities provide and how will states care for the children who were making use of them? To examine these issues, it is critical to have a clear definition of congregate care in mind.
Throughout the United States foster, adoptive and kinship parents take in children who aren’t there own in order to shelter and protect them from abuse and neglect. These parents are there for the nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system. But what happens when they’re not? Some states are experiencing foster parent shortages right now.
After several years of decline, the number of children in foster care nationwide has started to rise again.
Beginning in 2013, the number of children in foster care rose to 402,378, or nearly 1 percent, from 397,000 the year prior. That figure increased by 3.5 percent in 2014 to more than 415,000, according to the New York Times.
For a foster child who cannot safely be reunited with his birth parents, and who will not be adopted by his foster parents, it is often a very long wait for permanency. Even if there is a relative, family friend or foster to adopt family willing and able to take him in, if they live in another state, bureaucracy can slow the process to a near halt, leaving the child unnecessarily waiting for his forever family.
In an attempt to lessen that wait, United States Senators. Kirsten Gillibrand, Al Franken and Gary Peters recently introduced the Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster Care Act. This legislation would make it easier for child welfare agencies to place children in out-of-state homes by requiring all States to have a centralized database of children in foster care. Continue reading
Being in foster care is challenging enough. Imagine, in addition to having been removed from your home because of abuse and neglect, not feeling secure in what is supposed to be a safe haven. This feeling of vulnerability is a harsh reality for thousands of trans youth in care across the country. In California, efforts are being made to provide the necessary protection for transgender foster youth.
There are many misconceptions about gender identity. A common belief is that people who are transgender choose how they feel. This lack of understanding can correlate with how society, including foster families, treat children who identify as transgender in America. It can even be argued that the debate between adults regarding gender identity has removed the focus from providing quality care for foster children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or intersex (LGBTQI).
Nationally, the Foster Care Bill of Rights gives all children in care access to services regardless of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. However, there has been no specific law requiring child welfare agencies to provide supportive homes for children in care who identify as transgender. That is, until now. Continue reading
A large group of children in need of medical attention in the United States aren’t getting it, according to a newly released study. The report, issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), indicated that foster children who experience emotional and physical trauma are not being treated for it.
According to the report, anywhere between 30 to 80 percent of children come into foster care with at least one physical health issue, while up to 80 percent enter with a significant mental health need. The report also said that 46 percent to 60 percent of children younger than six years of age have a developmental disability that qualifies them for services.
These physical health issues range from the common, such as asthma, to the severe, such as cerebral palsy. Continue reading
Social media is just about everywhere. It’s in most ads, the products you buy, your TV screen, your computer – it’s even in your pocket. For those looking to link up with friends, relatives and peers, this is fantastic news. Connections are made easier than ever and long distance bonds aren’t as fragile as they were in the past. But for foster parents, who are first and foremost in charge of protecting their children from harm and providing for their basic needs, social media can present a difficult challenge.
On the one hand we can see that anonymity protects foster children from harm and that social media compromises anonymity. On the other, we understand that socializing is a basic need and that social media has become an integral part of how children and teens socialize. So how’s a foster parent to walk this fine line? With delicate, well-informed steps and with the child’s safety always in mind.
Foster Teens and Social Media: What Are the Upsides?
Socializing is indeed a basic need, and social media is a powerful tool that addresses this need. It can help a foster youth maintain connections to the friends and role models she makes as she moves through placements or returns to her biological parents’ care. It can lessen the pain of separation from siblings who may have been placed elsewhere.