Foster Homes and Related Problems
By Sarah Afzal

July 16, 2009

Having grown up reading books like Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Harry Potter; the thought of orphaned and destitute children’s shelters never fails to conjure up images of dingy, poorly lit rooms; bored, pitiless matrons; and bony children in old shabby clothes, performing tiring chores. Although the concept of foster care is different—this is when stand-in parents, instead of birth parents or other custodial adults, are given the temporary responsibility of the children by the state authority—the atmosphere I’m reminded of is similar.

The experience of living with a foster family was much the same with Billy, who, along with his brother, was sent to a foster home through Social Services because of parental neglect. This, however, was just the beginning of his troubles. During his 5 years stay at the foster home, he was mentally, physically and sexually abused. He was frequently cussed at and smacked on the face—so much that he had bruises on his face for years. He was also thrown down the stairs. Being the oldest of the children there (he was 6 when brought), he was made to take care of everyone and terrorized into not telling anyone. After their foster father got tumors in his head, Billy and his brother were sent to eight different foster and group homes but could not settle in any, mainly because of the problems Billy was facing in controlling his temper. So he ended up running away, becoming involved and getting shot at.

Statistics point that cases like Billy’s are not uncommon. Foster children are moved to an average 3.4 different foster homes. In many cases a foster child will have lived in over ten homes before they age out of the system or are returned home. Many foster homes have 3 t0 6 other foster children in their care. This means that most children do not get a chance to live a normal life in proper, family-like conditions in foster homes, or even in proper orphanages.

Similarly, there is the problem of psychological scars the children bear due to previous abuses. This prevents them from settling in with new families, even if they are treated well there. When Cathy and Dave took the foster care of the siblings Natalie and Jimmy, they had no idea about Natalie’s Reactive Attachment Disorder, probably a result of the severe neglect, abuse and drug exposure she was subjected to by her birth parents. She had also been bounced around in the foster care system before coming into Cathy’s care. Natalie would be superficially charming towards strangers, but actually very defiant and aggressive. She would destroy her belongings and would beat Cathy. When her adoption process started, Cathy sought free psychiatric check-ups for her, but was instead rejected adoption of the girl, as the woman in-charge did not appreciate Natalie’s problem and instead blamed Cathy. This explains the need for proper investigation into the mental condition of the child before they are adopted or given for foster care.

Georgia native Anthony L. Reeves believes that foster care can be a life saver but it should be a temporary solution. Too many children end up spending their entire childhood in the system and age out with no family to rely on and no permanent home. Reeves experienced six different foster homes but what he found difficult was the fact that he had to be separated from his brother.

Coming under foster care may also mean giving up one’s culture and religion—and hence their identity. Theresa Moy, brought up initially in a Chinese household, felt that she wasn’t her own person after being shifted to foster care; being told by others how to act based on their cultural expectations.

Children are automatically placed out of the foster system once they are 18. This is quite unfair for people who do not have a place to go. Statistics demonstrate poor outcomes for youth that have aged out of the foster care system.

* One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system.
* Over one-fifth will become homeless at some time after age 18.3
* Approximately 58 percent had a high school degree at age 19, compared to 87 percent of a national comparison group of non-foster youth.

There is also a need for training the prospective foster parents about the general mentality of children. Most are required to have a four-year degree; in rare cases some have only a high school education. With little or no education in the field of children's studies, over forty cases at one time and no hands on experience with raising children, it is no wonder that mistakes are being made left and right. With any other job mistakes would be correctable, however when dealing with people's lives these mistakes take on the form of tragedies.

Sources:
http://robtshepherd.tripod.com/cathy.html
http://fostersurvivor.netfirms.com/
http://www.fosterclub.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foster_care

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