A federal court ruled Texas violated the rights of the state’s foster children to be “free from an unreasonable risk of harm”. Unfortunately, the federal court isn’t protecting children from abuse, only protecting them from the harm further abuse within the foster care system.
Foster care can range from grandparents taking care of biological grandchild to secure facilities that resemble army barracks or prisons. Foster care is used almost entirely by children so badly abused by their biological family that staying with that family is a significant threat to the child’s future. It stands to reason that children will be very damaged upon entering the foster care system.
Each major version of foster care has its own advantages and disadvantages
Kinship care, the placing of children in a relative’s home. This appears to have the best results, the children remain with people they know, and are likely to remain in neighborhoods and schools they know. However, this tends to be the least-regulated version of foster care, relative caregivers tend to get the fewest services, and it’s hard to monitor. Children often experience multiple placements. The Adverse Childhood Experience Study proves that adults who abuse their children were likely abused themselves, so their parents should be subjected to significant scrutiny, which they rarely are.
Traditional foster care, where a small number of abused children are placed in a stranger’s home. The foster parents receive training and monitoring from the state. However, vetting foster parents is difficult under any circumstances, especially since Statutes of Limitations help ensure 90% of those who sexually abuse children stay on the streets. Multiple placements, which are painful and disruptive for children, are even more common.
Group foster homes, where large numbers of children live together in a semi-secure home with paid staff. These facilities are easy to monitor, and staff may receive significant training before they start working with children. Since the facilities are more secure, children are likely to stay there long-term, whereas foster parents can get rid of a foster child for any reason at any time. Children in these facilities often experience tremendous stigma, their education often suffers greatly. Children with different behavioral issues can “learn from” each other’s bad behaviors, and these facilities can become recruiting grounds for gangs and pimps. There are usually only a few such centers in any state, so children are removed from their family and community. Large numbers of damaged children interacting with each other means child-to-child abuse, cruelty and bullying is common.
Secure foster care, where large numbers of children are in secure barracks or dorms. These facilities are designed for children who are a significant danger to themselves and others. Some specialize in children with criminal-justice involvement, all of them specialize in children with significant mental illness diagnosis. Some are liberal in their use of restraint and seclusion. There is a very significant stigma at these facilities, and education is de-emphasized. These facilities have all the disadvantages of group foster care to an exaggerated degree.
While kinship care and traditional models are usually favored, It’s generally accepted that there is no “good” model for foster care. In recent years, foster care has been clearly identified as a major contributor to the trafficking of minors.
And this is why the federal court ruling is so disappointing. It implies that it’s OK to abuse kids, it’s OK to take them from their families, but let’s try not to completely ruin them. The focus, helping kids who have already been abused rather than preventing the abuse from happening in the first place.
The remedies proposed, lowering caseloads, hiring more skilled workers, and keeping kids in the least prison-like arrangement that is available, are disingenuous. We should do these things already. And we should prevent kids from needing foster care.
The question is how to protect children and prevent trauma. Fortunately evidence based programs exist to do that.
- We need to invest heavily in Maternal Home Visiting, so that every willing and eligible family has access to it. Every parent who says “I need help becoming the kind of parent my baby deserves” should be offered it, instead of the 6% who currently get offered it.
- Communities need to educate adults about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. Today’s sexually abuse child is at an increased risk of being tomorrow’s drug-addicted, mentally ill parent who is being investigated by CPS.
- We need to remove the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse. This will make our streets and neighborhoods safer for children by getting more abusers off the streets, and it will also make background checks more useful.
- We need to use best practices to prevent domestic violenceand to mitigate its impact on children.
- We need to ensure that Child Protective Services across the nation are able to engage parents who need help with services that will help. Foster care placement must be considered a last resort. While children certainly deserve the best foster care possible, they deserve to stay out of it even more.
Executive Director, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.