As I pointed out in my last post, there is a critical problem with child abuse and neglect in our country, and it is an overwhelming problem to attempt to solve. Years ago, we utilized orphanages, a more institutionalized approach to housing children who had been removed from their homes because of severe neglect or abuse. Yet, consequences from orphanages left children requiring a lifetime of recovery.
The current foster care system cannot accommodate the demand
In recent years, our laws remove neglected or abused children from their original homes and place them in foster care homes. I greatly admire those wonderful foster families who give of their home, time, energy, and way of life to care for these children. However, the present system is underequipped and overloaded. With more than 500,000 children needing care in this country, there is no way that our current foster care system can meet the demand.
While some quality foster care systems exist, most are not quality (not necessarily as a reflection of poor intent or compassion). Because they lack training and are overwhelmed, they are unable to give the children the care they really need.
If you think about it, the kids that need fostering have usually been through extensive emotional and relational upheaval. They have been victims of poverty, sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
As a result, some have developed a host of symptoms that most professionals would struggle to deal with. One example: severe neglect would indicate some have Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which gives them a lifetime of difficulty with forming healthy realizations and relationships. It would be difficult for trained professionals to deal with the number of issues let alone the intracacies, and yet, we make assumptions that foster parents can manage all these dynamics.
I was speaking with a number of social workers, and one of the things they told me was how hard it was to reunify families who have been abusive or neglectful to their children. Yet, the children will do almost anything to get back to their family of origin. In fact, one social worker told me that the only way someone could get their children back was to sue the Department of Human Services. This is shocking and should not be.
We really need to overhaul the foster care system.
These dear folks who are attempting to foster children need far more training and ongoing support. They need medical support for their foster children, continued counseling, and perhaps family coaches to help them with issues at hand—especially if the family has more than one foster child. The lives of these children are too precious and valuable to give them less than what they need, and they need trained foster parents.
Another agenda that I strongly believe in is reunification.
There was a story in our region in which a child was removed from the home, placed in a good foster home and still kept running away. Authorities found him standing on the door of the local Department of Human Services trying to find out where his old home was.
There is something in the DNA of our children that drives them back to their family of origin. Even though they might need to be removed for a season, they still want to be part of their original family…if we could only help that family become healthy and capable of meeting the needs of their children.
Knowing that some of our kids just cannot live in their home of origin without significant changes, we still need to do everything we can to help them reunite to their families. From the moment we remove these children from their homes, we ought to be carefully formulating a plan to help the parents while the children receive foster care.
A transition plan is needed.
There should be evaluations, parenting education, strategic plans, services provided and monitoring of all components of the relational dynamics as we gradually transition the children to be reunited to their family. This is by far the most effective and least expensive way to deal with child abuse and neglect.
I know very few parents who would not give their lives for their children. Most parents will do almost anything to get their children back, but they need some special help and support. Sometimes they really do not know how to raise their kids, and their only experience is found in the abuse and neglect they incurred from their own parents.
We are facing a significant set of dilemmas with children who have been identified as victims of abuse or neglect. We need to take care of foster parents, children and the parents of origin. Unfortunately, that is typically not the case in our systems.
In my next post, I will suggest at least one way we can build a better system that I believe will make huge strides in helping our children and families with this significant set of problems.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network