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Foster Care: Not So Caring, Actually


After reading and blogging about the Nikolayev family and the abduction of their child, Sammy, by the CPS, I’ve done some research about corruption in the CPS.  It is all tragic and disheartening.  But rather than rehashing that, I thought I’d share a few of my observations from my experience with Foster Care.

For a few years during college I tutored foster youth, aged Kindergarten through eighth grade.  These were all kids who were deemed “at risk” of dropping out of school.  I tutored them in reading, writing, and other language arts, and math, mostly basic math, algebra, and geometry.  Some of the kids I only worked with for a couple months, some for over a year.  Some of these kids I got to know pretty well, while others I hardly knew at all.

Some of my students (mostly the little ones) were glad to see me each week.  Many were indifferent; they were polite to me (mostly) but weren’t all that enthused.  Some were very much against tutoring and it took much persuasion to get them to work with me.

The kids I worked with were in four different kinds of foster situations:

  1. Some lived with their actual parents.  They had previously been taken away, and had been returned under the watchful gaze of a social worker.
  2. Some lived with other relatives, such a grandparent or an aunt.  This was the case of the majority of kids that I worked with.
  3. Some lived with foster parents who were not related to them.  These were homes just like the other ones, but the children were not biologically related to the adult caretaker(s).
  4. Some lived in group homes.  Several kids, usually teenagers, and all of the same gender, live in a house with adult employees who see to their physical safety and, to some extent, needs like hygiene, food, and going to school.

By far, the most ideal situations are when kids are with their own parents or are with some other family member.  Children need family ties.  They need people who love them and care for them, and a place where they belong.  The kids I worked with who seemed the most “well-adjusted” were with family.

If family really isn’t an option, I guess foster parents would be the next best choice.  Kids are still with someone who (presumably) will care for them as a parent would, and they have the stability of a family setting.

Group homes are straight up not good for kids.  Supervision is low, and there is little to no attempt to meet their intellectual and emotional needs.  I’m not casting aspersions on the people who work in group homes; I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re doing their best.

It simply isn’t the right atmosphere for the kids.  They don’t have the benefit of a strong, positive role-model and someone who will love and nurture them.  Values, ethics, and good behavior aren’t being taught.  All they learn is to not do anything bad enough to get them kicked out of school or thrown into jail.  (Or, at least, don’t get caught doing it.)

Beyond the undesirability of group homes, foster care placements are arbitrary.  Families are split up.  There is no attempt to keep siblings together.  I taught one boy who hadn’t even met some of his siblings.  Kids are often moved around.  There were girls I taught in a group home that were only there for a few months, then were sent somewhere else, for no apparent reason.  I knew one girl who ran away from her group home, and no one even seemed to care very much or even wonder if she was okay.

As a tutor, my students were sometimes assigned to another tutor, and I was assigned different students.  I would know this a few weeks in advance.  However, I was told to not tell my students until my last session with them, when the new tutor would accompany me to the session.  Why in heaven’s name couldn’t I tell them before the last week?  Some of these kids took a long time to get used to me and trust me.  One girl actually locked herself in the bathroom and cried when she found out I wouldn’t be her tutor anymore.  If I had told her sooner, she would have had a chance to get used to the idea before I left, and perhaps she wouldn’t have felt like I was abandoning her.

No wonder foster kids experience so many emotional problems.  They have a hard time forming attachments and learning to trust because their lives have no stability.  Many of them don’t have adults they can trust.

These kids need an advocate.  They experience so much heartache, and much of it is unnecessary.

The CPS needs reformation.  Kids should only be taken away from parents as a last resort.

We also need to reform the system that determines what happens to these kids once they are taken away from their parents.


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