I was having a business meeting with my partner this morning.brainstorming on ways we could help our foster care community. I had a long list of things that I knew were needed, a long list of things I knew could help those that are working in foster care: the agencies, the Social Workers, the Foster Parents, the Attorneys, the Judges. Then my partner says” Lisa, I thought you were an advocate for decreasing the amount of kids in foster care..I thought you wanted to see kids moved through faster to either go home or find permanency? How are all of those things on your list helping the kids? OMG! Light Bulb! He was right, my list served to make foster care softer, easier for all of the adults involved, I guess I thought – if the adults were happier then the kids would be too? WRONG!
In California (according to the 2014 statistics) we have over 62,000 children in foster care. Over a 1000 of those children are here in Contra Costa County with African American children in the lead and surprise..Caucasian children in second. I know that that common thought is that Social Workers run around looking for reasons to remove children from their parents..not true. It takes a pretty good amount of abuse and neglect to justify removal. When a call is made to the CPS Hotline, a social worker answers and screens the complaint coming in. A caller has to have witnessed abuse/neglect and have proof, some piece of tangible evidence to warrant a Social Worker to go out to a home to investigate..you can’t just say: “she’s a teen mom” or “I’ve seen her let the baby cry” or “I think they are doing drugs” there has to be enough for when the SW enters that home she can witness your complaint. It doesn’t matter if mom is a bad house keeper or there’s not enough food, or there are 5 people sharing a bedroom. We no longer remove babies from mom’s at the hospital for positive drug screens. (this is a whole other blog for me)
If a child is removed the clock is started and so are the court dates. So remember the primary reason that CPS/DSS or CFS whatever you want to call them, exists is to keep children safe, assist to heal families and to keep them together. This is supposed to be what’s best for the child right? Well it would be in an ideal world where we could wave a wand and make everyone a great parent and provide a wonderful world for a child to grow, be nurtured and thrive, but it’s not. Children who do get removed , are removed from situations that are dangerous, not just a one time drug use kind of thing. On average, if removed and placed into foster care a child spends about 12-16 months. First they are placed in an emergency home..a home that is licensed or certified to do foster care until a disposition hearing, which can take a week or two. If the child is going to stay in care then they can stay there or be moved. If they are going to need to move, a longer range plan is looked at. Is this a family that has a history with CPS, was the reason for removal so horrific that the child will probably not go back? Then a con current home, a home that wants to adopt will be considered for placement. Not all homes that want to adopt , want to be concurrent. Some homes do not want to take a child unless they are freed for adoption, they don’t want to take the emotional risk that the child may be reunified. I share all of this because sometimes people tend to assume that all families who adopt through the foster care system are doing so for altruistic reason, not so.Some kids might go to a relative home and stay or that relative home doesn’t work out either and they are moved to another foster home. Studies have proven that more disruptions are actually from relative caregivers than from unrelated foster home placements, this is a fact that most foster parents will agree with. So hopefully from what I’ve just shared..you can see that kids can be in 1 -2 or more homes in a short time.
We have so many great foster parents in our county. I know this because I used to train them. We have GREAT Social workers too. But we don’t have to have this many kids in care. Our SW’s don’t have to carry loads that go on for years. We keep our children in care when they don’t need to be. How do we stop this? We start talking to our families when they enter care. We start talking about adoption options at the beginning. We let these families know that they can make Open Adoption plans and they don’t have to wait until they are going to lose their parental rights…AND they can choose who to work with. See the biggest obstacle with all of this is that each adoption the county does , they receive funding for. All of those months spent in reunification plans are hours of job security. Do you know that the attorneys who are hired to represent the families and children in court don’t even know their clients sometimes. Ask a handful of foster parents how many times the child’s attorney has been to their home? Ask when they get the phone call about how the child is doing…it’s usually a day or two before court date. Ask when the SW has been out to the home to meet the child. I’m not pointing fingers or blaming..I’m just saying the system is over worked, has too may meetings and not enough time is spent dealing with the situation and looking towards the future. It’s all spent on running in circles . Child Welfare has analysts that spend 40 hours a week researching, developing statistics and writing best practices and all of this is to recruit more funding ..none of it is spent in time with the families.
So what can I do, someone who sees the problem, but is so little no one knows I even exist, to best serve these children? The children who linger in care? The children who wait around while all of the “Best Practices” get put in motion. While months and months go by . I could ask for donations of pajamas…..or I could start to make a lot of noise and talk about how unfair it is for all of these kids to wait and wait and wait…for all of the grown ups in their life’s to make a decsion..to do what’s right and start talking from the beginning about whats going to happen with them. To stop making adoption the last option…..I can talk to the professionals about Private adoption vs Foster Care and about how and why it can make a difference in a life. I can talk about “rights for kids ” and what that means. I can get as many people who also care about this involved and make some noise! I think my time is better spent educating foster parents on how to advocate for their kids, talking to Social Workers about how to think outside the box and providing attorneys with education about private adoption, and maybe that’s how I can help keep children out of foster care…or at least moving through the system faster.