Thursday, May 15, 2014

foster care isn't always the problem

The System is broken. There is no doubt in my mind on that one! There are statistics all over about all the ways The System is broken. So many children in The System. Children that are supposed to be kept safe are abused by people in The System. Moves. Residential treatments for kids that don't need it. Psychotropic drugs handed out like candy. Hospitalizations. More moves. Problems in school. No permanency. Permanency found isn't always safe and cherubs end up back in The System again after they leave.

I could go on and on.

But the stuff I'm rolling around and around in my brain has to do with teens in The System.

So many people point their finger at The System and show how it's failing the kids.
I pulled this information off a Google search:


Education:

  • By the age of 19, only 57% of emancipated foster youth have received high school diplomas or GEDs.
  • Less than 5% of former foster youth graduate college.

Employment:

  • Employers are less likely to hire a former foster youth who have the similar qualifications than a non-foster youth.
  • Less than 50% of former foster youth are employed 2½ - 4 years after leaving foster care, and only 38% have maintained employment for over one year.

Housing:

  • In California, 65% of youth leaving foster care do so without a place to live.
  • Only 40% of eligible emancipated foster youth receive independent living service.
  • Nearly 40% of transitioning youth will be homeless within eighteen months of discharge.

Health and Wellness:

  • 56% of youth leaving foster care reported using hard drugs.
  • Nearly 50% of foster children suffer from chronic health conditions such as asthma, visual and auditory problems, dental decay, and malnutrition.
  • Former foster youth experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at twice the rate of US war veterans.
  • More than half of children in foster care have moderate to severe mental health problems.
  • Former foster youth were significantly less likely to have attended any sort of religious services.

Relationships and Permanency:

  • Foster youth are more likely than their peers to have marital problems, and are more likely to raise a child outside of marriage.
  • Foster youth tend to be more socially isolated and have a harder time forming long term relationships.
  • Parents with a history of foster care are almost twice as likely as parents with no such history to see their own children placed in foster care or become homeless.

Finances:

  • In one study, median earnings among employed former foster youth were just 59% their peer's income.
  • Foster youth are several times more likely to rely on public assistance.

Incarceration and institutionalization:

  • Over 70% of all California State Penitentiary inmates have spent time in the foster care system.
That is a lot of information to digest. Part of me wants to go through each statistic line by line.

But this is what my brain keeps rolling around....
FOSTER CARE isn't the problem.

Trauma is!!!!

Somehow we have to get to the root of the problem and it isn't foster care! It's trauma. It's everything that happened to Ricky BEFORE he came to live with me! That is the shit that has to get addressed!

I certainly don't have all the answers.

But I know what can help.

Get involved in your community.
Donate to your local food banks.
Drop extras off at the school for kids in need.
Offer to babysit for a family that is struggling.
Do whatever it takes to help families before they "need" foster care.

-----

Part of the aging out process for Ricky was filling out a form called the Casey Life Skills Assessment. I had to fill out one too. The PALs instructor just stopped by the house with the results. She compiled a form that shows how I filled out the form about Ricky compared to how he filled it out about himself. Somehow I'm supposed to address all the areas where there is conflict.

For example, one of the statements was:
I can figure out the costs to move to a new place,
such as deposits, rents, utilities and furniture.
I said that Ricky doesn't understand that.
Ricky said that he does.

Exactly how do I teach something to Ricky that he says he already knows?

The example the PALs coordinator showed me was:
I know how to fill out a job application.
Ricky said he knows this. She said they went over it in class.
I showed her the application pinned to our message board waiting for ME to fill it out because Ricky says he can't do it himself.

In eight months Ricky is going to age out of The System. I seriously doubt he's going to choose to stay in Care past age 18. Right now his plan is to go back to Rebecca's and finish high school.

He will be 18 though. He will have the choice to leave Rebecca's and she won't be able to do anything about it. If Ricky doesn't choose to accept help from The System, or my family, or Rebecca - he will be on his own.

It won't be "foster care's" fault though if he can't stay clean, get employed or find housing. The resources really are there for him. And he's lucky because he does have a deep support system of friends and safe family.

But he's going to have to fight against everything he ever really learned growing up. The System is telling him things but they are the exact opposite of what he learned at his mother's side. One and a half years of life in The System simply cannot undo all that he learned and suffered through before foster care caught up with his family. He missed out on so much. There are things he's never been exposed to and he doesn't fully understand them now. It's like he's watching some strange movie sometimes. He's a part of our family but I know he's purposefully keeping himself on the outside of it. Despite my best efforts, he's on the outside looking in. And I cannot force him to join us.

I hurt so badly for Ricky. I want to help him. I joked and told the PALs teacher that I think of him like my man-child. He's ready to grow up and be on his own. But in so many ways, he's still such a young child and I can't expose him to enough to counteract his deficiencies. I wish I could.

She just shook her head and completely agreed with me.

No five week course can prepare any teen for independent living. You can't teach 18 years of life in five Saturdays. It's not possible.

So, in honor of National Foster Care Month, I beg you to get involved. Help families before foster care is necessary.
Have that kid over to dinner in your son's class that is often left home alone.
Introduce him to a home cooked meal, fruits and vegetables.
Invite the neighbor along to go to the pool. Let them watch healthy family interactions.
You know the kids I'm talking about.
Help them. Help them now.

2 comments:

Duck Mommy said...

For once I have a suggestion! (Yay me!)

For the stuff at he said he knows that you don't think he does, ask him to demonstrate his knowledge.

"On your assessment, you said you know how to fill out a job education. Let's fill this one out together, and you can show me what you know. "

"Let's sit down together & calculate the monthly expense of renting an apartment at You'reAGrownUpNowVille."

Annie said...

Just hard to know HOW to help families before foster care is necessary - because (like Ricky and occasionally, my Maxim) they "know it all" and resist help. Those parents are so often broken down to the core, too.

It isn't anything a parenting class can cover, of plenty of financial and other support can make up for. My daughter could take a parenting class, but if (like so many other teenage girls) she was out there trying to take care of Monica on her own.....she'd still be going out nights, having sex with random boys (though she hates it) and passing onto her daughter the vision of herself as without value - the lesson she got from HER mom.

Now Anastasia has two loving parents, a support system outside the home of tutors, therapists, and other people who give her regular care, time and support. She has a sweet room, plenty of healthy food, a special educational plan, people to teach her how to fill out job applications, etc. She is blessed with artistic talent, extraordinary beauty and high intelligence. BUT - nothing will stop her thinking she is worthless - and acting like she is....because the first seven years of her life taught her so.

Most foster kids don't begin to have her gifts, certainly don't have her support.....so, see why I feel hopeless? I am beginning to feel as though all the support in the world is not going to save her.