This week, Governor DeWine called for a top to bottom review of the foster care system. All I can say is – it’s about dang time someone took notice.
While workers in our system try their hardest to do right by the children in crisis – in many ways, it’s not working. First off, the sheer number of children needing stable homes is overwhelming. Last year alone, Ohio had 3,000 infants enter the system. Many with issues tied to their parents’ drug addictions.
Ohio currently has about 20,154 children in foster care right now. That’s almost enough to replace every child in the Circleville, Logan Elm, Westfall, Amanda-Clearcreek and Teays Valley School districts – twice. That’s right – more than every school age child in our county.
Here are some of my thoughts regarding “the system” as we have come to know it, either through our own experiences or through friends and acquaintances who are also foster parents.
Ensure mental health resources are available to every child. Like it or not, any child who has been removed from their family has had a traumatic experience. Often, they are separated from siblings, comfort items, friends, pets, everything and everyone that is familiar to them.
They are thrust into a new environment with strangers and it is often a new culture to them. Scary and confusing, and in some ways, damaging, even though they are in a safe environment. Counseling is needed to help them develop coping skills and to reinforce they are not the cause of the removal.
Listen to the caregivers. Often foster parents have no place at the table when developing long term plans for the children. Even though we are the ones who are in the trenches helping these lost souls, we are often not consulted about what we observe, or what we do observe is discredited or disregarded.
Indeed, at one time, we were told, “we were just the foster family” when asked if we could attend a meeting. We did not push back at that time and have lived with that regret for four years now.
Reduce the number of placements. Did you know that 90 percent of children with five or more placements (including family) will enter the justice system at some point? Being bounced from home to home teaches a child how to survive, but not necessarily to thrive.
Constantly being uprooted greatly impacts their ability to build relationships, develop trust and has awful consequences for learning. In fact, one in four children in the foster care system will not graduate from high school or obtain a GED.
Even more sadly, one out of two children will develop some sort of substance dependence as a means of coping because they did not grow up in a nurturing and stable environment allowing them to develop life and survival skills.
Hire more staff. It seems simple enough, but the fact is, caseworkers have typically 60 percent more work loads than recommended to be thorough and effective. The burn out rate is terrible and social workers are leaving the field in droves because they feel guilty for not being able to do enough.
There just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything in place for every child and family. They can’t give their best when they are overwhelmed.
Next week, I will talk about another aspect of children in the foster system.
*data source Foundation for Foster Children
Written and submitted by Sarah Roush for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.