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.”
With the conclusion of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, many have been moved by stories of inspiration and triumph. One particular story that resonates in the foster and adoptive community is that of Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles. She, along with her siblings, was adopted by her grandparents in 2001 after her mother’s parental rights were terminated. Simone’s story, however, is not the average tale of a black child in foster care.
This is the reality in America: black children are less likely to be adopted when removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect.
The disproportionate percentage of black kids in foster care sheds light on a deep-rooted problem in society.
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.
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.
Although unintended, deportation often results in the children of undocumented immigrants being placed into the foster care system.
The Cost of Deportation
This table shows a snapshot of some ways children may enter the country. (New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect Conference, 2013)
In the United States in 2011, 5,100 children in the foster care system were U.S. citizens born to deported undocumented immigrant parents. From 2010 to 2012, 204,810 deportees were parents of U.S.-born children. According to a report by the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence, “For every two immigrants taken into custody, one child is left behind.” Quoting the Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe, Lianne Pietro states:
…those who elect to enter our territory by stealth and in violation of our law should be prepared to bear the consequences, including, but not limited to, deportation. But the children of those illegal entrants are not comparably situated. Their “parents have the ability to conform their conduct to societal norms,” and presumably the ability to remove themselves from the State’s jurisdiction; but the children who are plaintiffs in these cases “can affect neither their parents’ conduct nor their own status.”
Especially in border states, the topic of illegal immigration spurs on hours of rhetoric and in-fighting, whether on the floor of the legislature or at home. While our politicians battle it out, however, something is forgotten:
Businesses across the world have been bringing in motivational speakers for years in an effort to inspire and encourage their staff. Speakers, especially those with expertise, can often provide a much needed spark during stagnant times. It’s with this in mind that the foster care community has reached out to its experts – former foster parents and former foster children — to become foster care speakers and talk to those involved or interested in being involved in the foster care system.
The foster care community can seem pretty insular. For an outsider interested in becoming a foster parent, the world of fostering can seem both daunting and impenetrable.
That’s why foster care agencies, both national and statewide, have recruited former and current foster parents, as well as caseworkers, to work as foster care speakers that share their experiences and raise public awareness of the need for foster and adoptive families.
Human trafficking is a growing concern not just in the United States but in the entire world. Often times, public perception is that slave labor is primarily a major issue in developing countries. However, the reality is there is a gradual trend in our own American backyard: an increasingly large number of foster kids being sex trafficked. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is the most common form of human trafficking in America and runaway and homeless youth, namely foster kids, are its primary victims.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as inducing any child under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that one in six endangered runaways were likely to be sex trafficking victims in 2014. In 2013, it was one in seven.
However, no matter how harrowing these statistics may be, it is believed the actual numbers are likely worse.