The Failure of Foster Care: The Tale of A Child

It has been assumed that foster care exists as a safe haven for children who have been neglected or abused. It was meant only as a short-term response to empower and enable the parents of origin to find long-term relevant solutions that allowed the to then get their children back. However, the state of child welfare seems to have become a form of tokenism. Some people become foster parents because of the financial benefits of taking in foster children.

I was placed into a foster home at the age of 4, but I wasn’t adopted by my foster parents until I was 16 years old. I was told later by my foster mother, that the reason she waited so long was that the State paid them well. According to City Journals, “For every child put into foster care, the foster family — which may be complete strangers or only a slightly different configuration of the child’s birth family — gets a subsidy two to three times larger than what ordinary welfare pays. Whole communities of grandmothers are living on the money they receive for their abused or neglected grandchildren. Welfare advocates treat foster care payments as just another routine way to pump government money into troubled neighborhoods.”

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Another issue this exposes is the criminal behavior that has exponentially raised by those who are adopted. Although the hope is the opposite, the reality is more hopeless. According to Science Direct, “Children and adolescents who become involved in such programs are often burdened by a number of risks that elevate their vulnerability to behavioral and developmental problems. They may have experienced chronic poverty, dysfunctional and disrupted family situations, abuse and neglect. The problems that these children face are known to predispose them to juvenile conduct problems and delinquency that, if not remediated, may persist into adulthood and may also interfere with an efficient accumulation of productive human capital (Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; Widom, 1989 ; Cunha et al., 2010). Such children present substantial challenges to child welfare providers. These challenges warrant continued development of policy responses to the complex treatment needs of children in the public child welfare system and thorough evaluations of existing services (Nisenbaum, 2013).”

One of my foster brothers is in prison for life, for murdering someone when he was 17 years old. He had many mental health issues that affected his behavior. The major deficit in the current state of child welfare is the neglect of educating the biological parents with relevant parenting skills, giving them a livable wage, and having ongoing oversight to assist them. Some parents have mental health issues that impede them from patenting ad leave children vulnerable. I those particular cases, it’s understandable for a child to be placed into a safer environment. If the parents can be helped, then this is where the local state should intervene.

My biological parents made bad lifestyle choices, that could have been helped with the right ongoing practical life skills. They sold drugs to make a living, which is not a stable income. Which brings up another issue, the way the current economic class system in America is set up, there will always be unskilled parents who become victims of a system that does not work in their favor. This is why the livable wage has to be considered.

The state of mental health issues with those in foster care should be enough to argue that child welfare needs to be reformed. Because of such chronic psychological issues like the fear of abandonment, mental health must be dealt with in children who are in foster care. Researchers from The American Academy of Pediatrics found that “…more than 1 in 4 children between the ages of 2 and 17 in foster care received an ADHD diagnosis, compared with 1 in 14 children in Medicaid who received an ADHD diagnosis. They also found that about half of the children with ADHD in foster care also had another disorder such as oppositional defiant disorder, depression, or anxiety, compared with about one-third of children with ADHD in Medicaid.

I struggled through school, but I never said anything, mainly because I was afraid to let my parents down. I couldn’t focus enough. I ended highschool with a B-average. My mother had this hatred for the medical profession (she was a nurse!) and didn’t trust any diagnosis from doctors. She never had me checked for ADHD. I was diagnosed as an adult, and another familiar partner with ADHD is anxiety. I never knew what to call it as a young child, but looking back, there were moments where anxiety reared its ugly head to the point of incapacitation. I overcome it by putting myself through rejection therapy, but medicine might have made things a bit easier.

America has never been really good at discussing mental health. We tend to be a nation of deniers, or even worse a nation of convenient rejectors. This socio-cultural phenomenon of ostracizing those with mental health issues is ultimately a caste system whereby the only way that the US has dealt with those with more severe mental issues is to lock them up out of the social consciousness.

Foster care has a hand in developing some of these long-term issues. Mostly, because parents who take on the responsibility of being a surrogate are not educated or skilled enough on how to alleviate fears like abandonment in those adopted children. They tend to use parenting as a way to simply pass on their own personal issues. I had an emotionally abusive foster mother and a physically abusive foster father. Did they care for me? Yes. But, not developmentally. This brings up another issue in the current state of foster parenting; just because you think you can parent, doesn’t mean you should. If the state is to continue the process of allowing people to participate in the foster care system, the whole infrastructure needs to be altered to be in favor of the child.

When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopted children overseas they exposed a structural issue within the foster care system,that of tokenism. This isn’t just problematic with international adoptions but is an issue within America. There is a social value to having foster children, especially if the kids are from different ethnic backgrounds, or if the parents are from a non-hetero-normative family makeup. This isn't to say that transracial adoptions should not exist, but cultural appropriation is an inherent issue that will occur. This must be taken into consideration.

I was raised with 3 African-American siblings and a Hispanic father. It was a culturally diverse environment that bred tolerance and celebrated cultural relativity. It can be good, but it is on the parent to ensure that each race represented is given space to discover themselves. But some adoptees who seem well-adjusted and productive feel racially incomplete and struggle to find a nexus to make them whole, said Dr. Robert T. Carter, a professor of psychology and education at Teachers College of Columbia University, who is conducting research on transracial and biracial identity development.”

If parenting in isolation is an issue, that maybe one of the ways to reform the foster care system is to adopt the age-old practice of communal parenting. Its been a practice for thousands of years. In fact, the American attempt to privatize parenting is a new model for parenting. Communal parenting goes back to the dawn of humanity.

Even in the ancient Levant cultures, group parenting was expected. The famous parable of The Prodigal Son, where the son runs away is a picture of a culture where community parenting was the norm. The son runs away only because he was afraid he would be stoned by the all the ‘parents’ in the insular village. Communal parenting would create an inter-network of parenting, expand the skills, and ultimately provide the safe haven that foster care promises. In fact, if we can promote this as a new model for America, we might not need foster care after all.