Fixing the Broken Children Welfare System

When I recently blogged about foster care, hundreds of comments erupted – with insightful and compelling thoughts. I compiled the best, sorted for universal themes, lightly edited for clarity and now offer them for continued education.

The key to fixing the “broken” child welfare system in each state or locality isn’t rocket science. It can be found below in the 40 comments – written from the hearts of foster and adoptive parents in the trenches.

States should invest in them – because they’ve lived it!

Interestingly, class action lawsuits have been filed in a growing number of states with Indiana the most recent. The goal is fundamental, grass-roots change that improves outcomes for children. Less bureaucracy. More hands-on care.

Click here to read original blog about the ongoing challenges in foster care. 

Overview

This need for trauma-sensitive foster and adoptive parents is real and urgent. It’s a journey that you take together with your kids. It’s a journey that will change your life for the best.

Our foster children are in such great need of loving available homes to feel safe and heal from their trauma. At the end of the day, foster care must be more than room and board – because relationships matter in the lives of traumatized children.

When the System Works

We have a beautiful adopted son. Yes, he may have disabilities and issues – but I can tell you that I love him. He has taught me more about love patience and kindness than I ever knew that was possible.

foster care4

Fostering as a Full-Time Job

I have not given up, but the cost in labor and time for ongoing repairs is a huge concern. Huge holes in walls, broken windows and doors, trash and uneaten food in floor vents. We haven’t even talked about the years of therapy and medical appointments with no guaranteed improvement. Parenting these children is a full time endeavor.

I was a foster parent in Northern Europe. While the system was not perfect, it was a full-time job. At least one parent needed to stay at home. Both staying home was also an option in some cases. There was a real salary that came with each child, in addition to a stipend that covered the child’s expenses.e cases. There was a real salary that came with each child, in addition to a stipend that covered the child’s expenses.

Levels of Care to Meet Child’s Needs

Foster parents should be committed. A large percentage at any point in time should be experienced to care for the most challenging children. There should be appropriate financial support and ongoing training. And they should be treated as professionals.

Seventeen years into this work. I have one adopted son and fostered two young girls. One is the half-sister of my adopted son – terribly abused by her biological mother. Has extreme behaviors. Nothing is disclosed because child welfare need someone to step in. Long and short she tried to stab me with knife. She wiped feces all over the place. Some children need a placement that meets the level of their needs. Don’t lie and take advantage of good-hearted people who step up. Instead, do the right thing when a child needs much more intensive and expensive care. 

Our former foster son rotated through 22 homes from ages five to nine. He was psychotic and self-harming Violent and sexually acting out. Yet the system just kept sticking him in various homes hoping what? That he’d magically be ok in the next one? Then from nine to 12, the system sent him to a horrendous residential facility where kids bullied each other, learned to climb on the roof to get psych hospital “breaks,” and suffered mental abuse from some direct care staff. He had interns as therapists who were clueless. They tried placement with bio aunt when he was 11. Didn’t disclose any diagnosis (just as they didn’t for us). Didn’t give her training, stipend or services. He lasted two months and was returned to residential facility. This innocent child bounced all over the state due to the system’s dishonest and its unwilling to give him specialized, expensive treatment from fully trained professionals. Still had him advertised for adoption last year as “not aggressive” on the state website – even though he’d d hit staff, destroyed his therapist’s office and choked a small child for no reason.

family

Constantly Moving Children

The moving children from home to home keeps them from attaching to anyone.

Half a dozen moves during a year for a child under three ain’t all sunshine and roses. Still dealing with the fallout, many years later.

A child is removed from their birth parent and placed into foster care. That’s one disruption. Two or three times they are removed from the foster homes and placed back home. That’s the second disruption. Then they are placed back into foster care. That’s the third disruption. Too often the damage is done and difficult to undo.

I just had to disrupt my foster placement because no one would take the behaviors seriously and wouldn’t offer help. Then no follow through for promised services.

The Lies about Extreme Behaviors

Our two adoption and foster placement workers openly admitted that they knew our kids to have profound issues – and didn’t tell us. This doesn’t serve the kids.

I currently have a placement that I was completely lied to about the extent of behaviors. Had I been told I would not have accepted placement because I cannot keep everyone in the home safe. Nor can I give the extensive one-on-one he needs. The state lies to foster parents to get kids into a home – and then those same ill-equipped foster parents ask for children to be removed. Although child welfare knows his extreme challenges, officials will not disclose the facts to the next foster home – and he sadly will get moved again.

Lack of Collaboration between Foster Parents and Child Welfare Officials

For too long too many foster parents have not been treated as part of the team – nor respected. It is not the kids that kept me from starting again but the system that puts parental rights before the rights and welfare of children.

We need to support our foster parents that we have that are good ones, respect them and their home along with their house rules within reason. Don’t disrespect them, lie to them or have no care in the world about what they are doing for these children. Most caseworkers have no clue who the children are aside from a piece of paper and could care less about what the caregiver says. We need rights – at least some!

Did it for years, I am out….so much hassle from egomaniacal county caseworkers and much too little training and resources for what these kids go through today.

Sadly, I am guessing that many of the foster parents who remain in the system over time aren’t the best parents and are in it for money. The system really makes it difficult to be a good parent who puts your whole heart into it. And it means a lot of folks quit relatively quickly or after they’ve adopted one or two. When you’re lied to by case workers, obstructed in getting children proper help and treatment, told to ignore dangerous behaviors and taken for granted; it’s hard to want to keep going. Then you throw in very difficult behaviors from kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder and other mental health diagnoses. Fostering full time felt crushing.

The very worst part of being a foster parent was the workers. I was not initially trauma-informed, and let me tell you – they did absolutely nothing to change that. When my foster son got violent (triggered by things I later learned on my own to avoid and then address), I would call for advice. It was as though I was speaking a foreign language because there were no recommendations of training, books, no suggestions – just a question. “When do you want us to pick him up?” I learned not to call. Hate to say, I’d never do it again.

 I would never foster through just the state. I am 100% glad we chose a foster company contracted with the state. They truly have been our advocates. I know that many go through the state for a better chance at getting an infant.

Click here to read The Adoption Letter: The One I Never Received. 

PTSD

Training

I would say we don’t just need to recruit able and willing foster parents, we need to educate them on trauma, support them when they have a child placed, provide them with respite opportunities and continue education on best practices. Our agency said, “You’re approved. Here are some kids. There are no problems. You are just trying to find things that are wrong.” Fourteen years later that problem still exists and is now reaching dangerous levels of behavior that isn’t as treatable as when we began. This is why people burn out, quit, or in some situations, create secondary trauma in their home.

We would have done so much differently if we had known what we were dealing with, had known what we needed to explore personally, etc. Even though we were an intended forever home, I think we made a lot of avoidable mistakes in the beginning – as did the previous homes in which our daughter lived.

When we took our classes, they talked a lot about survival behaviors. Many people were “scared off.” I get that. But what the trainers did not do was to offer any suggestions how to handle those behaviors. “No physical punishment.” Ok. But what then? There was no trauma-informed training for how to parent through the behaviors. There’s post-adoption support in my state. Yet they made everything worse. It’s so hard.

nurture

Exposure to Alcohol in the Womb – FASD

It is estimated around 70% of kids in the system have been exposed to alcohol in utero. But there was NO education on that in all our training classes. This is a huge omission. Huge.

We must support and teach the parents and not leave them hanging to find out what they don’t understand. Desperation shouldn’t be a part of adopting a child, yet many of our parents who have a child with an FASD are desperate for answers that are often elusive.

Cut Backs in Services

I think all kids do need a home and love, but I’ve been down this route.  There simply aren’t enough services. When adopting, I was told there was respite until age 18. Now it’s just once per month for the first 6 months after adoption. There was a therapeutic day program. It no longer exists. You get the picture. It’s difficult for me to believe that it’s more economical and healthier for society to cut these services – then spend more on juvenile delinquency, group homes and prison.

Financial Assistance

My husband and I did foster care for 14+ years, 55 children. The statement “We cover all expenses” is a joke! $15 a day for care, no money for clothing or school supplies. But, you do it for the love of the kids!

We were told right away that the stipend might not cover all the expenses of the babies we might foster. I believe in what we do. Yet, I feel like the state is taking advantage of us, in a sense.

More than Love

I started fostering as a single 25-year-old. I was told love conquered all. I believed it. I adopted 6 boys from 2 birth moms by the time I was 31. I pleaded for help with my oldest son from day one. He was 21 months old and would take food whenever he saw it (garbage cans, street, on someone else’s plate). Everyone said he seemed attached to me, but I said he acted that way with literally anyone who he thought would give him what he wanted. They told me I was making things up, to take a “Mommy and Me” class and just keep loving him. He’s 16 now. And while it could be much worse, we are surviving – in part because I educated myself and sought out all the help I could. And our entire family has been in and out of therapies all these years. And I hate, seriously hate when people gloss over foster care. Or tell me I’m going to scare away potential homes. If my story (which is mild in comparison to many) can scare away a home before kids are placed, then good. We need more than a bed for these kids so we can stop the cycle.

I don’t hold out much hope for foster parents ever getting the respect, compensation, and especially support that they need and deserve. As foster then adoptive parents, we have learned over and over that when you reach out for help, we usually find that real help isn’t available. I will never foster again. And we had an exceptional experience – adorable child, good caseworker, cooperative birth parent. Most people aren’t cut out to withstand this kind of stress forever.

Foster care has the capacity to further traumatize kids. We had to attend a several months long course in order to foster. It was not enough. Even the extra classes we found on our own were not enough.

A Culture of Entitlement

Educate child welfare workers about traumatized children. I will not adopt nor foster since children in our county have more rights than parents. Too often children learn to milk the system while never receiving the necessary mental health care to be a successful adult. Our son decided that “the system” was better place to live than our stable home because caseworkers gave him more things and expected much less.

collage2

Breaking the Cycle

Biology is powerful. That is something we weren’t told 20 years ago. It was all about nurture over nature. They cannot be separate. The issue is that people who experience generational poverty, mental illness and addiction issues are the ones more likely to have their children end up in the system – which means a higher percentage of children enter the system with these types of biological issues. Frankly, we are not properly prepared to help them since most of us adopting/fostering did not come from this cycle. Much more needs to be done to address societal issues like generational poverty and addiction and keep kids with their birth families whenever we can.

This. I think when a child has an abusive parent, as long as the parent is not extremely abusive, they have a chance to recognize in teen/young adult years that the parent is abusive and screwed up. But when children go through *many* homes that can’t handle their behaviors or (worse) are abusive, the child internalizes that THEY are unlovable and incapable of having family. And then that belief translates into behaviors to reinforce the belief. It broke my heart that we could not break this belief in our foster son

Little to No Respect for Foster Parents

Counties need to stop squashing good foster parents for being proactive and not just towing the line.

I had a worker treat me like crap. He threatened to take the child we were adopting out of our care if we wouldn’t foster the hard to place kids. I got out as soon as I could after that.

I like a lot about fostering. What I don’t like is dealing with the agency. Have fostered in two states and both times the agencies are just so messed up.

Our county cannot keep good foster families as they treat them all poorly.

It Takes A Village

People need to step up! You may not be called to foster, but everyone can do something! Mow a lawn, babysit, support others who foster! Also you don’t have to be perfect to foster!

In my experience the foster care system dehumanizes the young people it’s supposed to serve. The community must take a larger role in raising these children.

Conclusion

Thank you to parents who continue to use their voice in positive ways. We must remain diligent. Together as a united constituency – with a consistent message focused on children, change will occur. DCP

________

Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the pageEACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click hereAdopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page NoLimitsAndrew – Andrew Peterson

To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson ESPN Documentary

Leave a Reply