Thursday, May 31, 2007

An accurate description of the stigma of foster care

Saturday, May 26, 2007

If he beats you, he won't make a good Daddy



Photo of Eva Mauldin - I was inspired to write this blog entry after visiting the StarFish blog (please see bottom link on the right)...

It is tragic that some women feel that they must stay with their husband, even if he assaults them, and that they cannot forsee the risk to their children.

19-year-old Joshua Mauldin had been dishonorably discharged from the Army and had a history of mental problems before he married Eva and she gave birth to Ana Marie. Still, Eva never suspected that her husband would put her daughter in the microwave and burn her alive.

The interview with Eva Mauldin revealed that her husband had assaulted her prior to the baby's birth. At the time that Ana Marie was born, Joshua was in counseling, and had completed his mandatory anger management classes. Eva had been required to attend parenting classes as well.

Research from the 90's reveals that domestic violence and child abuse often occur within the same families. Child welfare and domestic violence organizations have begun to recognize the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse and the need for collaborative efforts between the two fields.

Domestic violence perpetrators often directly injure children:
- A weapon used against the mother strikes the child in her arms.
- A child tries to defend the abused parent and winds up becoming the target of the abuser's rage.
- An abuser intentionally abuses a child in order to intimidate and control their adult partner.

Domestic violence hinders parenting:
- The physical demands of parenting are daunting for spouses who have been awake all night fighting.
- The emotional demands of parenting can overwhelm an abused spouse suffering from trauma, damaged self-confidence, and other emotional scars caused by years of abuse.

Domestic violence affects child development:
- Infants can suffer from failure to attach to caregiver and "failure to thrive."
- Preschoolers can regress emotionally, and suffer from nightmares and other sleep disturbances.
- Older children react with depression, anxiety and/or violence towards peers.


To learn more about the overlap between child abuse and domestic violence, please visit: Making the Link

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Remembering Cameron on Memorial Day

Some of us survive foster care, and live to make a positive difference for others. Others of us don't make it.

As with many youth in foster care, Cameron Smith was shuttled frequently from placement to placement. He began to fall behind in school. At least one family member contacted DCFS to request custody of Cameron, but their request was denied.

Instead, he was housed in a Juvenile Detention Center for a time, because a foster home could not be found for him.

When the Department of Child and Family Services finally did find a home for Cameron, it was with a single mother who was retired, disabled and caring for 7 children.


14-year-old Cameron was playing basketball with a 15-year-old friend in a park in Jonesboro when shots rang out. The friend was shot in the knee; Cameron took a shot to the torso. He collapsed in front of an apartment complex. His body was found on May 21, 2007.

Many questions were asked by friends and relatives when Cameron's body was found.

His many friends, who showed up at the City Youth Ministries in Jonesboro carrying candles to represent his brief life wondered: "Why him?"

Andrea Smith, his cousin, had harder questions to ask, like: Why wasn't there a missing person's report when 14-year-old Cameron first turned up missing?

Terri Ross, Cameron's third-grade teacher found it hard to believe that only four years after leaving her class, Cameron was now being buried. She said, "He was just an innocent child. All of these are kids and they're just kids in bigger bodies as they get older and they still need hugs and kisses and they still need a mom and dad, or somebody to love them."

Yes, they need someone to love them - and, in foster care, you learn to wait.

Cameron Smith of Jonesboro, Arkansas, will never have the chance to outlast the demons of his childhood.

Knowing that makes me feel terribly sad.

Sources: kait8.com and WMCTV.com

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Imaginif Child Protection Site


Imagine if child protection was top priority.

Megan Bayliss, her husband and daughter live in Australia. They are committed to child safety.

In pursui of this goal, they are currently hosting a web page dedicated to the protection of children. Their goal is for this site to become the largest child protection conversation in the world.

Topics include:
- Child Safety
- Parenting
- Family Law
- Foster Care
- Stranger Danger
- Sexual Abuse
- Sexual Assault

The site also hosts a 24-hour Safety Talk Forum.

To learn more, please visit: http://www.imaginif.com.au/

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Youth insight in the British foster care system

While reading his most recent report, I was both happy to learn that Roger Morgan, Children's Right's Director (pictured left) is listening to the insights and experiences of foster children in England, and saddened to learn that the British foster care system has many similar problems to those that we experience here in the U.S.A.

A Meeting of Strangers
One-third of the young people report needing more information about foster parents before moving in -- and one-third of foster parents report needing more information about the child. There are safety concerns on both sides.

Young people reported that it is very important to them to get the right placement the first time, rather than shuttling from one foster home to another, looking for the right fit.

An insufficient range of placements makes this difficult, and youth long for social workers to go the extra mile by keeping tabs on new placements and having a suitable backup placement in mind if the first one doesn't work out.

Desire For Advocacy
Young people requested that they be able to go to a person of their choice with problems. They wanted to select their own mentor.

Youth in England's foster care system greatly desire an advocate, especially when reviewing their case plan. They want the power to request an independent review of their case plan, if they feel that something is happening that is not in their best interests.

In addition, there are deep concerns about what is written in their file and the level of confidentiality. Should their file be shared with other people by the caseworker? Is it accurate? Would sharing the information within serve to help or harm?

Could the young people request to read their foster care file, and check its veracity? If they read something in it that is not true, how can that information be changed? The young people requested that it be considered a (punishable) offense for someone to write something false about them in their files.

Loss Of Continuity
Foster youth were upset about losing hobbies and activities that they had started due to changing placements. Young people also reported a lack of opportunity for community, school, athletic involvement, and said that boredom was leading them into trouble.

Young people want to be able to stay in contact with previous foster care placements if they wish to do so, unless there are valid reasons not to allow it.

Lack of Availability
There are concerns about frequently changing social workers, broken promises, lack of contact and regular visitation with social workers -- especially for youth who are placed further away.

Some youth report having no way to contact their social worker. Young people in foster care often wish they could choose their social worker, since this person has such an enormous amount of power over their life.

Adoption
Regarding adoption, youth want full information about the process of adoption, the reasons they needed to be adopted and the choice of whether or not to receive news about their birth families. They also report being rushed through the adoption, without given time to adjust emotionally.

Released Unprepared Into the Adult World
In additional, it appears that in England, as here, there are huge concerns about aging out of care. Youth reported that not all social workers were advocating for them to receive assistance or informing them about available resources.

For more information, please visit: www.rights4me.org

Source:
Dr. Roger Morgan, Children's Rights Director
Policy by Children: A Children's Views Report
March 2007

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Foster care and sibling separation

Approximately 70 percent of children in foster care in the United States have a sibling who is also in care.

What's a Sibling?
When families break down, relationships become complex and complicated. Therefore sibling relationships might include biological siblings who were relinquished or removed at birth, half-siblings, step-siblings or current/former foster siblings.

Not all couples are married, so a sibling could include: "Mom's ex-boyfriend's daughter."

Importance of Sibling Relationships
Regardless of how complex these relationships might sound, or how tangled the family tree, it is important to recognize the love and connection that might exist between siblings. In a family wherein abuse is taking place, it's not uncommon for siblings to nurture and protect one another.

Separating Siblings
Across the nation, states vary in their policies regarding sibling placement of foster children.

Reasons why sibling groups might not be placed together might include:

1.) Size of sibling group: It's more difficult to find foster families for large sibling groups. Also, agencies have regulations regarding how many children can be placed in a foster home.

2.) Willingness of kinship care providers: Relatives might only be willing to take in children to whom they are related by blood, and not half- or step-siblings.

3.) Special needs of some siblings: A foster home might not provide the resources and support needed by one special needs member of a sibling group.

Grief at the Loss of Siblings
When I was in foster care, I saw my brother once. It was Easter morning, and I had saved up and bought him a basket of goodies. I still remember watching his brown eyes widen at the jellybeans, Peeps and chocolate bunny that I had for him.

I was fourteen. He was eight. We played kickball in the backyard. He ran around the bases at a look of intense concentration... I didn't have the heart to tag him out with the ball.

In earlier years, while my mother was dying, I became my brother's 'mother.' Sure, I wasn't the best surrogate mom in the world. I couldn't cook well, for one thing. But I loved him. When he woke in the night, gnashing his teeth and crying at thunderstorms, I was there. I came into his room and read him stories.

Losing him wasn't just like losing my brother. In a weird way, it was like losing my child.

What Can We Do to Reunite Siblings?
In foster care, when siblings cannot be placed together, it is essential to facilitate regular contact.

Will this be difficult? Yes, certainly.
Is it worth it? Yes, most definitely.
How can it be done? Here are some methods:

1.) Social workers need to create a visitation plan, and involve the children and the adults at their current placements in its formation and evolution over time. This plan needs to include concrete, practical steps and an accountability component.

2.) If siblings are placed in separate foster homes, make sure those homes are in close proximity to one another. Visitation will be more likely to occur if their foster parents or social work doesn't have to drive several hours to facilitate.

3.) Facilitate frequent contact between siblings with letters, email, cards, and phone calls. Make the extra effort to buy stamps and mail the letters, especially for younger children.

4.) Arrange for joint respite care, andnvest in camps like A Camp to Belong (information below).

Allow for Sibling Grief
If children are sad after visiting their siblings, allow them to share and experience those feelings. Listen to them -- but don't use this as an excuse to end the sibling visitation because it's too hard on you afterward.

To learn more about a camp that reunites siblings, please visit: www.camptobelong.org

Source:
Child Welfare Information Gateway
2006 Bulletin for Professionals
Sibling Issues in Foster Care and Adoption

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Foster Thoughts


As one person has noted, I don't usually talk a lot about my day-to-day personal life on my blog. I tend to focus more on the news, and what's going on, and my opinions based on both research and personal experience growing up in the foster care system. And, I will continue to do so.

But for Foster Care Month, I am going to open the veil a little bit, and give you a glimpse of little girl that is still inside the grown-up me.

I watched the TV show 24 for a while, until they started basically killing off cast members like flies. And one thing that ran through my mind was that the foster care experience is not unlike being Jack Bauer. He has a wife, he's lost his wife. He has a daughter, he's lost his daughter. He has a girlfriend; he's lost his girlfriend.


I am 34 years old. I have a husband and two stepchildren. I live in a house that my husband and I designed together, that I just love.

And if I were placed in the witness protection program tomorrow, and lost my husband, children, house, job and everything familiar, I could adapt right away. I could make myself "forget" them. I could bury my love for them and my memories of them somewhere deep beneath the surface, and force myself to move on and get the job done (Which sounds just horrible).


It is not that I am cold-hearted. I love my husband and children. But this is how I would survive. It is what I learned, at an early age. Moreover, this is what the foster care system teaches each and every child, especially those that have more than one placement.

One day you have a brother, and then you don't.
One day you live here, and now you are living there.
One day, you are at this school with this circle of friends, and now you are somewhere else with strangers.


And you can make it. You are resilient. You can and will survive.


But one of the coping mechanisms that you learn is not to hold onto people too tightly. You can love them and invest in them, but a part of you is always ready to let them go.
A part of you might even be waiting for the other shoe to drop, and your new family might not want you anymore.


Why do we do that to small children?
At the very time that they most need to bond and imprint, to connect and to learn, the foster care system takes them through one placement after another.


What can we do to change this?

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tell the U.S. Census that foster children count - and we need to count them

The United States Census and the American Community Survey are the only data sources available about the economic status of children in foster care, the race and ethnicity of foster parents and overall living arrangements for foster children.

This information is used by lawmakers to make critical funding decisions.

But now, the United States Census Bureau plans to eliminate the “foster child” category from the 2010 Census. Why? Because the extra line on the form made the page too long and tripped up the scanners.

What will happen if this change takes effect?
Loss of information about where foster children reside, demographics of families caring for foster youth and where to allocate resources.

This proposed modification would also remove foster children from the American Community Survey, thereby eliminating important data that is not available from state foster care records.

I agree entirely with the author of a recent San Francisco Chronicle editorial: "It is often been said that the once-a-decade census represents a 'snapshot of America.' No family portrait is complete without all of its children in it. Foster youth are our children, our collective responsibility. Their predicament is our challenge. They need to be counted."

For more information, please visit: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/04/22/EDGHQP1I221.DTL

Source: Editorial: Inconvenient youth. San Francisco Chronicle, April 22, 2007, pg. E-4.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Kids Are Waiting: My Story Project



My Story Project

Young people who have experienced foster care are invited to participate in the Kids Are Waiting My Story Project.

This is an opportunity to speak out and encourage Congress to make important changes to the foster care system. Too many foster children are spending too many years in the system - and then aging out without a network of support.

Using photo or video, tell us what you are waiting for as a current or former foster youth, and then tell us why you think a change in how Congress pays for services for families in crisis, and youth in foster care, could help young people like you.

- Selected submissions will be featured on a Web site and in a film festival.

- Ten young people will be selected to fly to the film festival and work with other youth.

- Every submission will be entered into a drawing to receive an iPod Nano.

- Every person who submits one entry will also receive a My Story Project T-Shirt for participating.


To learn more, please visit www.pcsao.org/mystoryproject.htm

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Boni Bill (finally) passes


Photographs from www.amw.com

On October 16, 2006, social worker Boni Frederick took 10-month-old Saige Terrell to his mother's house in Henderson, Kentucky.

The decision had been made to terminate parental custody and place Saige up for adoption.

Boni didn't know that this visit would end with her death.

Renee Terrell and her boyfriend Christopher Luttrell (pictured above) stabbed Boni and beat her to death. They stole her car and jewelry and kidnapped the child. Saige was found safe and returned to foster care after a three-day manhunt.

The field of social work can be very dangerous:

-According to the National Institute for Social Work, over 75% of social workers have been verbally or physically attacked.

-Half of all human services professionals will experience client violence at some point during their careers.

As a social worker from Glasgow, Kentucky stated, "It's scary knocking on someone's door and not knowing what's on the other side."

The "Boni Bill" was proposed, in the aftermath of Boni Frederick's untimely death, in an effort to address social worker safety.

State Rep. Tom Burch, sponsor of the bill, said it best: "When you get involved with removing children from a home it can get very dangerous. You don't know what your reaction would be if someone came in to take your child away."

The Boni Bill originally included:

1.) Hiring 200 more social workers. Kentucky desperately needs more social workers, because current staff are overworked and under-supervised, with weighty caseloads.

2.) Adding safety equipment, such as panic buttons or a GPS system to track the location of social workers in danger. Social workers have reported that cell-phone coverage isn't available in many rural areas.

3.) Creating secure visitation sites around the state for parents to visit their children in state custody. Neutral locations might include state welfare offices, local health departments and/or churches, as well as building secure visitation centers across the state.

4.) A price tag of up to $20 million. Governor Ernie Fletcher approved of this spending, saying, "I consider this an urgent need."

Obstacles that the Boni Bill faced over the next several months:

1.) MONEY: On February 15, 2007, the House Committee approved the Boni Bill -- with only $4.8 million attached. On March 9, 2007, the Senate passed the Boni Bill -- stripped of all funding.

Without funding, this bill is just a piece of paper. Money is required, in order to hire more workers and create safe visitation centers.

Governor Ernie Fletcher criticized House Democratic Leaders for 'gutting' the Boni Bill, saying, "It took away everything that's important for the safety of social workers and the children they serve."

2.) PROCRASTINATION: The House also wanted to create another task force to study the matter and report back to lawmakers before the 2008 session --- despite the fact that oficials for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services have already worked with lawmakers to develop the original Boni Bill.

As Secretary Mark Birdwhistle stated, "We've already done the research. It's now time for action."

3.) POLITICS: The Kentucky House and Senate became trapped in an impasse over the bill. To fund or not to fund? How much money can be spent on the bill?

An 'untested' idea?
Senate President David Williams opposes visitation centers. He claims that they are an untested idea. He believes that visitation centers will only "create more targets."

Williams should visit The Family Place in Louisville, Kentucky, a visitation center where supervised visits have taken place between parents and children from 1996 to the present date, with no serious incidents.

Rather than visitation centers, Williams advised social workers to request that law enforcement officers accompany them on visits. Will the Cabinet be willing to pay for these officers? Will social workers who refuse to visit homes without an officer run the risk of losing their jobs?

Outcome:
Reason finally won out over politics, as lawmakers pushed the Boni Bill on the last day of the legislative session. The bill passed and is on its way to Gov. Ernie Fletcher to be signed into law.

1.) Instead of $20 million, the measure appropriates $6 million to institute safety procedures, including opening regional visitation centers and hiring additional social workers.

2.) The number of social workers to be hired has dwindled from 200 to 60.

3.) Money was also set aside for other safety measures, such as purchasing two-way radios with panic buttons for all social workers.

The safety of social workers and children shouldn't have a price tag. But in Kentucky, it apparently does...

I just hope that the cost doesn't include another lost life.

To learn more about The Family Place in Louisville, visit:
www.familyplaceky.org

Jim Holler's presentation, The CPS Worker: Making A Case for Safety, is available through free online trainings offered by the National Children's Advocacy Center for child advocates and investigators.

To register for free online classes, please visit:
www.nationalcac.org/professionals/trainings/onlineregister.php

Sources:
Alford, Roger. Bill to protect social workers gains approval. Kentucky Post, March 28, 2007, pg. A13.
Alford, Roger. Lawmakers: Take the danger out of social work. Kentucky Post, Feb. 8, 2007, pg. A14.
Biesk, Joe. Break in session leaves budget items in limbo. Kentucky Post, March 13, 2007, pg. A6.
Bindner-Wooten, Erica. Readers' forum: Safe visitation centers not an experiment. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 14, 2007, pg. A10.
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Adoption bill back on track, sponsor says. Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 22, 2007, pg. B3. NASW News, Vol. 49, No. 4.
O'Neill, John V. Tragedies spark worker-safety awareness. Many think client violence 'won't happen here;' Violence or threats of violence are reasonably common for social workers during their careers.
Schreiner, Bruce. Senate reshapes social worker bill. Kentucky Post, March 10, 2007, pg. A6.
Vos, Sarah. Senate oks revision of Boni Bill; Williams says it's improved - others say its gutted. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.
Vos, Sarah. $2.5 million added to Boni bill -Measure doesn't add social workers. Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 23, 2007, pg. C3.
Yetter, Deborah. Better safety sought for social workers: Bill would also boost numbersLouisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 27, 2007, pg. A1.
Yetter, Deborah and Stephanie Steitzer. Funds stripped from social-work bill; Senate panelcuts $4.8 million. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 9, 2007, pg. B1.
Yetter, Deborah. Impasse remains on social worker protections. Louisville Courier-Journal. March 13, 2007, pg. B4.
Yetter, Deborah and Stephanie Steitzer. Kentucky General Assembly: Senate passes social worker bill; Critics call it useless after money removed. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.
Yetter, Deborah. Panel restores $2.5 million to aid children, social workers. Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 23, 2007, pg. B5.
Yetter, Deborah. Visitation centers are tied up in impasse; Legislators still hoping to pass social work bill. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 19, 2007, pg. A1.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

May is National Foster Care Month















Follow this link to learn more...

http://www.fostercaremonth.org/GetInvolved/Toolkit/Pages/default.aspx

Unfortunately, there are no more free toolkits available. However the fact sheets, graphics for use on web sites, posters, etc. are free of charge. There is also some very valuable information about what educators can do to help young people in foster care.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Foster care and No Child Left Behind


Research reveals high school mobility rates for young people entering foster care for the first time. Over two-thirds of foster care youth change schools shortly after their initial placement.

When I was in foster care, I experienced this first-hand. Moving from placement to placement required me change high schools five times. I lived in three different towns, and each time I changed schools, it was mid-semester.

Each school used a different textbook. The area where this affected me most was in math. Algebra? Yipes - don't talk to me about Algebra. I changed schools three times the year I was taking Algebra 1. By the the end of the year, I was completely lost.

The way I explained it to my third Algebra teacher that year was that I didn't know much about Algebra -- but what I did know was the formulas were dependent on each other. Learning Algebra was like constructing a building -- and I had no solid foundation. Just a few bricks here, a few stones there, no cohesive structure that fit together.

At the time, he didn't really seem to be listening to me. He asked me a couple of mathematical questions, and then threw up his hands and said, "If you don't know that, it's no use my trying to teach you. You are too far behind."

Thankfully, Casey Family Programs and the National Education Association don't have that sort of lackadaisical approach when it comes to improving the educational outcomes of foster children.

On April 24, 2007, they released a list of recommendations, which were included as part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act and McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act in a congressional briefing.

These recommendiations include:

1.) Improving school stability for young people in foster care.

2.) Ensuring that foster youth have access to education-related support services by making them automatically eligible for Title 1 services.

3.) Increasing funding for school counselors and mental health services.


I firmly agree with William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs that, "Our children and youth in foster care deserve better than the educational outcomes they currently face. We must be steadfast in working to provide them hope and success for their future."

For more information, please visit: http://www.casey.org/MediaCenter/PressReleasesAndAnnouncements/NCLB24April2007.htm


Source:
Press release from Casey Family Programs and the National Education Association.

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Too Many Birthdays in Foster Care


Photograph from www.kidsarewaiting.org
Kids are waiting. Fix foster care now.
This was the message sent by current and former foster youth, advocates and policymakers on March 27, 2007 at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. as they delivered birthday cakes to every Congressional office and every member of the House of Representatives.

Each cake came with a birthday card that read: "Happy Birthday to the 513,000 children who will celebrate their birthdays this year in foster care without a permanent family."

People in and from foster care wore T-shirts. On the front, the shirts said, "I am waiting," and on the back "Don't turn your back on me."


The message was simple: "Foster children spend too many birthdays in foster care, waiting for a permanent family to celebrate these and other special days in their lives. Congress could act to help more of these birthday wishes come true. Kids are waiting. It’s time for reform."

WHO ARE THE NATION’S CHILDREN WAITING IN THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM?
There are 517,325 children in foster care:
31% are between the ages of 0 and 5
29% are between the ages of 6 and 12
40% are between the ages of 13 and 21

WHERE ARE THEY WAITING?
42% of children experience three or more foster care placements
19% (96,593) of children live in group care or institutional settings

WHAT ARE THE NATION’S FOSTER CHILDREN WAITING FOR?
250,790 (48%) are waiting to be reunified with their birth families
116,031 (22%) are waiting to be adopted

HOW LONG DO THEY HAVE TO WAIT?
Average time foster children have been waiting to be adopted: 42 months
Average number of birthdays a child spends in foster care: 2.5 birthdays (30 months)

WHERE DID FOSTER YOUTH GO AFTER LEAVING FOSTER CARE IN 2004?
Roughly 287,000 children leave foster care annually.

In 2004:
282, 597 young people exited foster care.
149,154 (54%) were returned to their parents
50,567 (18%) were adopted
32,848 (12%) left to live with relatives or via guardianships
22,741 (8%) “aged out” of foster care at 18 or older
10,722 (4%) left for other reasons (ran away, transferred, died)

*Data from AFCARS (2004), ASPE Claims Reports (2005), and ACF Budget Reports (2005).

The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, a group made up of child welfare experts, legislators, system administrators, judges, foster and adoptive parents and youth, issued a set of recommendations in 2004.

These included:
- More prevention services to avoid the need for foster care.
- Support relative caregivers through federally subsidized guardianship.
- More flexible use of federal funding in order to meet each child’s needs.


The vast majority of federal child welfare funds are restricted for foster care maintenance. In the United States, only 9% of federal dollars dedicated for child welfare can be spent flexibly to serve families and children. Approximately $704 million out of a total of $7.7 billion child welfare dollars are flexible.

With more flexible funds, states would have the flexibility to use funds to provide necessary services before, during and after foster care.

They could use these funds:
- To reunite children with their families.
- To place them with adoptive families.
- To provide legal guardianships when reunification and adoption are not possible.

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