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.”
According to a University of Chicago report, nearly one-third of the nation’s foster children haven’t graduated high school or earned their General Education Development (GED) Certificate. In an effort to raise high school graduation rates President Obama signed the “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” in 2015.
ESSA replaced President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and put an emphasis on improving student performance while setting a national academic standard. It also addressed the unique educational needs of foster children with several mandates, such as keeping children in the school they were enrolled in prior to entering care or moving to a new foster home and providing transportation to and from school.
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
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.
The inability to drive can prevent foster teens from participating in everyday activities that youth from the general public get to enjoy regularly. Each year, more foster youth around the country reach driving age without a clear way to actually begin driving. “Simply by virtue of their state involvement, thousands of foster youth are deprived the right to a normal life,” writes Lexie Gruber for the Chronicle of Social Change.
Entering foster care as a teen, Gruber describes the difficulties she faced in trying to have a normal life: “My high school years did not include the quintessential milestones that so many of my peers got to experience. Extracurriculars allowed me to spend more time outside of the group homes and shelters, but finding a ride was difficult….” If she wanted to spend the night at a friend’s, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families required that everyone in the household pass a federal background check. “I feared that my friends and my parents would think I was a delinquent if I told them they needed a background check for dinner. Making friends was pointless without being able to sustain the bond outside of the classroom,” she writes. This experience is not unique to Lexie Gruber.