Sunday, March 29, 2009

When Foster Care or Adoption Separates Siblings

Diagram created by Lisa Dickson

It has been estimated that 80% of people living in the United States today have siblings.

The sibling bond may be the longest lasting relationship most people have; outlasting relationships with parents, spouses or children.

Siblings play a crucial role in the development personal identity and self-esteem. Brothers and sisters can provide emotional support, comfort, and a sense of stability, belonging, and continuity.

During Foster Care Month 2008, a statewide panel of young adults with foster care and adoption histories all agreed that the Family Tree Assignment was the most painful assignment that they had to do in school.

When families break down, relationships become complex and complicated.

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."

This postcard is part of Foster Care Alumni of America's ongoing national Culture of Foster Care Project.

Research demonstrates that the sibling bond is stronger between brothers and sister from dysfunctional families.

When parents are neglectful or abusive, older siblings often voluntarily take on a quasi-parental role. In such circumstances, it is common for siblings to nurture and protect one another.

75% of children in foster care in the United States have a sibling who is also in foster care. As a former foster child myself, I might worry more about the sibling who is still at home with the bio-parents.

Some social workers opt in favor of separating siblings who take on a parental role. I strongly disagree with this practice.

Entry into foster care is often accompanied by grief, pain, anxiety and guilt. Many foster children report feeling that "they have lost a part of themselves."

Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support argues that "informed practice tells us that separating a child who has taken on the role of parent from younger siblings hurts all of the children involved."

The younger children not only lose their parents, but also the older sibling with whom they have developed a strong bond. The older child experiences guilt and anxiety upon separation because he/she feels responsible for the younger siblings.

Research has demonstrated that siblings who are placed together in foster care tend to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than those who are placed apart. "I relaxed," said one foster child when asked what he did after finding out that he was to be placed for adoption with his older brothers.

Siblings As Survival Unit:

Diagram created by Lisa Dickson

Quote from Time Magazine article; The New Science of Siblings: “From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales, our protective barrier against family upheaval. They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys.

"Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us. Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.”

Diagram created by Lisa Dickson

This diagram was created to illustrate the experience of an adoptee who is separated from his/her siblings.

This adoptee is: Grateful to have found a family. Grief-stricken over loss of the sibling connection(s). Guiltridden over not being able to express this grief to the adoptive family. All these things add up to feeling conflicted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thoughts about foster care advocacy challenges from Lisa

"Our advocacy efforts cannot be demolished like a house of cards. Life as an adult advocate is much less fragile than shuttling through systems as a child."

~ Lisa Dickson

Friday, March 20, 2009

Please don't cut Ohio's TANF Independent Living Allocation

Witnesses Tell Personal Stories of What State Assistance Means to Them
Hannah Report, March 19, 2009

Thursday’s Human Services Subcommittee hearing had a whole different tone as legislators got to hear from a number of beneficiaries of state human services programs – many of whom thanked them for supporting a variety of state programs.

An upbeat group of witnesses were members of the Ohio Chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America.

While they were lobbying for the restoration of $2.5 million/year in Independent Living funds to help foster youth who age out of the system, they themselves were perhaps the best selling point, with Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) commenting that they were a “thoroughly impressive group.”

Making a notable impression was Adrian McLemore, who addressed the subcommittee as “future colleagues” and who said he hopes one day to be mayor of Dayton, governor of Ohio and president of the U.S.

He also addressed the panel as “Momma Brown, Daddy Burke, Auntie Sears, Sister Boyd and Cousin Driehaus, making the point that it is the state that is family for foster youth.

Gabriel Koshinsky expanded on that idea: “Many of you growing up had the privilege of living in a loving home with caring parents and a strong community that supported you. These relationships provided a basis of empowerment and investment that gave you the reinforcement to believe in yourselves.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case for all children and young adults in this state. Over 17,000 children in the state of Ohio do not have a home and many are separated from their own siblings. They are alone in a world that is difficult to navigate.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Long-term Cost of Abandoning Young Adults = More Expensive Than Helping Them

Tom Packard, D.S.W., School of Social Work, San Diego State University, Nov. 2006

● In purely financial terms, this program, if fully successful, would have a benefit-cost ratio of 3 to 1 (using present value dollars, the ratio is nearly 2 to 1).

● California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21 By Mark E. Courtney, Amy Dworsky and Clark Peters; Partners for Our Children; March 2009.
Expanding Transitional Services for Emancipated Foster Youth: An Investment in California's Tomorrow by the Children’s Advocacy Institute, January 2007.
● Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth: Outcomes at Age 19: Chapin Hall Executive Summary by Mark E. Courtney and Amy Dworsky, 2005.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mapping Out a Cost-Benefit Ratio for Investing in Transitional Youth

Comic strip courtesy of Mark Stivers at

Failure to Launch is not just a movie.

Today, most young adults in the general population rely upon their families for assistance with a place to live, financial support and other guidance as they transition to adulthood.

According to Children's Rights, half of young adults ages 18-24 in the general population in the United States live with their parents.

Meanwhile, every year, 20,000 of the 542,000 children in foster care nationwide "age out" of foster care and enter the adult world.

Young people in foster care have already survived harsh circumstances, such as neglect, abuse and/or abandonment. Their "parent" is a system.

And, too often, this system fails to equip them with the knowledge, skills, experience, attitudes, habits, and relationships that will enable them to be productive and connected members of society.

In the words of Melanie Delgado, Staff Attorney for the Children's Advocacy Institute, "Even for average youth - kids who never had the added struggle of life in foster care - the age of self-sufficiency is 26. And that's with their parents contributing over $44,000 during their post-18 transitional period."

But forget about compassion. Silence any voice of conscience. Try to be hard-boiled for a minute and see the whole thing through the spectrum of money.

Guess what? It is still worth it.

According to Dr. Mark Courtney of the Chapin Hall Center for Children,“Every $1 invested in continued foster care supports and services results in a return of $2.40."

"Our research shows that supporting foster youth to 21 increases their ability to become educated, productive, taxpaying members of society, and increases their lifetime earning potential by at least $92,000.

Let's review the risk factors faced by young people aging out of foster care without support:
- 1 in 4 become incarcerated within two years of leaving foster care.
- Less than 50% graduate from high school; fewer than 5% graduate from college.
- 1 in 5 experience homelessness within a year and a half of aging out of foster care.

Where would we rather invest our money? What would we rather pay for?

1. Incarceration: The easiest transition between "systems" is between the juvenile justice and the adult prison system. Even for young people with no criminal background, the one place they are guaranteed to receive food and housing after foster care is prison.

So, no, we don't need to intervene. We can just wait for a struggling young person to find "family" in a gang. Chances are, they won't be able to afford an apartment in a very safe area. I couldn't, when I first aged out of care. My neighbors were drug dealers. My first roommate, also a former foster child, quickly fell into a criminal lifestyle.

Forget conscience, just think of dollars and cents: According to the National Institute of Corrections, Ohio taxpayers pay over $26,295 per inmate.

2. Unemployment: Right now, young people are "aging out" of foster care in the midst of recession. Depending on where they might have resided while in care, such as a residential facility or a group home, they often have little to no job experience.

We have the opportunity to invest in workforce planning, funded by the Workforce Investment Act. We could link them with job shadowing opportunities. Or would we prefer to just set them adrift and let them sink or swim?

Dollars and cents: In Ohio, the average monthly unemployment check is $1,327.

According to the report, California's Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21, foster care youth who received support until age 21 experienced the following positive outcomes:

- Three times more likely to enroll in college.
- 65% less likely to have been arrested.
- 38% reduction in the risk of teen pregnancy.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy estimates the taxpayer cost of unwed pregnancy in Ohio to be $1,512 per teen birth.

For a starting point to map out the cost-benefits for your area, it might help to read over Expanding Transitional Services for Emancipated Foster Youth: An Investment in California's Tomorrow.

The Appendix breaks down some of the costs and benefits including:
- A Logic Model that maps out Inputs, Throughputs and Expected Outcomes
- Prison Recidivism savings
- Benefits from Higher Levels of Graduation
- Improvement on Lifetime Earnings

- Benefits to the State and Federal Treasuries through paid taxes
- Benefits of stimulating and supporting the economy as a whole

Aging out of foster care during a recession

The National Center for Family Homelessness just released a report indicating that 1 in 50 children is homeless in the United States every year.

It's also important to understand the risk of homelessness for young people aging out of foster care, and the need to invest in improving their chances of success.

1.) In 2008, the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition contracted with Philadelphia Safe and Sound to study the needs and experiences of youth in Philadelphia who had become homeless after aging-out of the child welfare system.

Aged-Out and Homeless in Philadelphia:
Researchers found that along the continuum of care that these youth received, there were service providers, administrative and legislative policies, families, and "support networks" that were inconsistent, contradictory, negligent, and impeding on youth success.

Quote from study: "In any given year, there are approximately 500,000 children in foster care throughout the United States. Of these, about 20,000 age out each year and are at risk for a variety of problems, including homelessness, un-/under-employment, criminal activity, and a lack of education."

2.) The Congressional Research Service released a 2007 report on Runaway and Homeless Youth. By the close of fiscal year 2005, close to 11,000 foster youth ran away from their placements and 24,000 young people "aged out" of foster care.

3.) A 2005 Survey of Homeless Youth in Minnesota conducted by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation revealed that 7 out of 10 of these young people spent time as children in a foster home, group home, or other residential facility.

4.) In 2008, Voices from the Street: A Survey of Homeless Youth by Their Peers was facilitated by the California Research Bureau. Homeless and formerly homeless youth conducted interviews of their currently and formerly homeless peers across the state, inviting them to share their experiences, the services they need, and changes they would like to see happen in policy or law.

Quote from study: “Those young people in our study for whom foster care was a trajectory into homelessness often described an instability and ‘emotional homelessness’ that began long before they literally had no roof over their heads.”

5.) Web of Failure: The Relationship Between Foster Care & Homelessness
In 1995, the National Alliance to End Homelessness conducted national research to examine the over-representation in the homeless population of people with a foster care history.

Principle findings of this study:
- There is an over-representation of people with a foster care history in the homeless population.

- Homeless people with a foster care history are more likely than other people to have their own children in foster care.

- Very frequently, people who are homeless had multiple placements as children: some were in foster care, but others were "unofficial" placements in the homes of family or friends.

- Those people with a foster care history tend to become homeless at an earlier age than those who do not have a foster care history.

- Childhood placement in foster care can correlate with a substantial increase in the length of a person's homeless experience.