Whether it’s something trivial like tying a shoe or something major like choosing a college, most children have their parents to turn to whenever they need help. However, for kids in foster care, that parental support is often not there. In the case of Sophia Orama, a New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) Scholar, she had to be the one providing support.
With an alcoholic mother and an absentee father, Orama was forced to become the caretaker of the household. “I stayed with her [my mother] for many years because I was the one that was taking care of her,” Orama said. “It wasn’t until the time that I was 16 and I was a junior in high school and I was like, ‘I got to start thinking about myself,’ because college was coming up.”
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.
In 2017, those adopting a child could claim a tax credit valued up to $13,570 per child. The most recent federal statistics show that the adoption tax credit helped roughly 64,000 families throughout the country in 2015 offset the various costs associated with adopting a child. However, this help comes at a price for the national budget, which is why some members of Congress discussed doing away with it in their newly proposed tax plan.
In 2015, the adoption tax credit cost the federal government $251 million and projections show its continued use could total up to $3.8 billion over the next 10 years. While these numbers may seem like an astronomical expense, they are dwarfed by the savings adoption creates when compared to the expense of keeping a child in foster care. In a 2011 report, The National Council for Adoption found that when:
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.
States continue to put more of an emphasis on kinship care with each new study that backs the benefits of placing children in the care of relatives rather than traditional foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center found that nationally the number of children in both formal and informal kinship care grew by nearly 100,000 between 2012 and 2015. However, while the national number continues to grow, Kentucky has witnessed a decline from nearly 55,000 children being raised by relatives in 2014 down to 53,000 just a year later.
Paula Sherlock, the chief judge in Kentucky’s Jefferson Family Court, told the Courier Journal, “Some relatives simply can’t afford to take custody of children without financial support.” As covered in our previous article, “Grandma Underground: Kentucky Parents Fight for Kinship Care Subsidy,” the impact the 2013 state budget cuts had on kinship parents which resulted in them losing their monthly subsidy. Sherlock went on to say that, “I think the loss of Kinship Care has been a definite deterrent to relative placement… For people on fixed incomes, taking in a grandchild is a serious financial issue.”
Across the country, families will be hitting the roads for holiday visits with relatives and warm weather vacations. In fact, nearly 51 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more last week for Thanksgiving, according to AAA. For most, traveling in cars, planes and trains are a mild inconvenience of traffic jams and bad airport food. But for parents traveling with children in care, these vacations can turn into nightmare full of screaming kids without proper planning.
Traveling with children can be difficult because travel takes them away from everything they know and feel comfortable with and exposes them to an entirely new world. For foster children, whose routine has already been completely uprooted due to being removed from their homes, traveling can be extremely stressful and emotionally draining.
The temptation for many foster parents is to stay close to home to avoid adverse and unpredictable reactions, as well as the possibility of meltdowns in public places. But sometimes traveling is unavoidable, and the truth is, a child with anxiety, autism or any other hurdle is still a kid who wants to be part of the family vacation.