Foster Care and Money

By Edie DeVilbiss

It’s time for back to school!  New clothes, new backpacks, pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, and the smell of a brand-new box of crayons!  Heaven!

What if you’re a foster parent?  Surely the money that you receive from the government covers the extra expenses.  Not likely.

Louisiana has over 4,000 youth in foster care.  The families who choose to foster youth likely don’t do it for money.[1] The stipend they receive is not a windfall.  It costs more to board a dog in a kennel than we pay for twenty -four- hour care of a child.[2]  A shortage of qualified foster care homes is an ongoing challenge for the Department of Child and Family Services. Children have had to sleep in DCFS offices because there was no placement available for them.  

How can the state resolve this issue? I mean, we are creative people who love the children in our state, right?  This is a challenge worth meeting.

We can conceptualize this from two angles.  Take fewer children into care or find ways to compensate families for their service.

There are families who are not adequately caring for children for numerous reasons.  The state does not remove children without cause.  Abuse and neglect are serious issues which must be addressed.  What if our state shifted resources to support families in a way that made removal unnecessary?  Can we keep children safe, nourished, and cared for in the residence with their parents?

Underemployment, high housing costs, incarcerated fathers, addictions, and other health issues each play a role in the deterioration of family systems.  Addressing these issues in a comprehensive and effective manner would impact the need for foster homes.

Invest the money necessary to keep from draining the finances of people who are willing to be a foster parent.  Examine the true financial costs and compensate appropriately.  Encourage partnerships with community resources: churches, civic groups, and individuals can provide support beyond finances.

Young people will grow into citizens.  We all have a vested interest in growing a healthy next generation across the board.  Let’s turn our minds and wills toward this valuable goal.    


[1] https://www.lmch.org/foster-parents-supplement-louisiana-board-rate/

[2] Dog kennels charge $25 – $30 per day.  For 4000 children in 365 day foster care, a rate of $25 is over $36 million. :

Social Change the World Needs

This Century’s Great Moral Problem

Sheryl WuDunn calls attention to the powerful positive impact helping a girl get educated can have on a village.  She shares stories of triumph and struggle.  She highlights the injustices that are perpetrated on women and girls. Then she offers opportunities for improvement.

In this blog, I want to focus on the social problems right here at home. While I am writing from the state of Louisiana, in this post I am considering home to be anywhere in the United States of America. Lest we forget, most of the issues we face are minimal as compared to much of the world.  We definitely want to pay attention to the least of these in this whole world.

Here at Home

In our own towns and states, it is in our own best interest to help the people who struggle. Excessive prisons and mass incarceration are a drain on the economy, even though they provide employment in the communities that house them.  Addiction and the underground economy of drug dealing create more violent communities. The stresses from violence ripple throughout our structure, law enforcement gets stretched, trauma units in hospitals are expensive, and the unrelenting stress of feeling unsafe is a health risk for humans. Underemployed single mothers not only do not have enough discretionary income to add to the economic well-being of your town, their teenagers are often up to no good.  Family dysfunction, loneliness and a sense of hopelessness all contribute to mental health issues.

The Common Thread

The common thread of these issues is that they impact women and children disproportionately.  Imprisoned parents mean lonely children. Drug addiction contributes to violence in many ways, including domestic violence.  Dysfunctional families are a factor in mental and behavioral health issues. Unsupervised young people are often detrimental to the community.

What’s That Got to Do With Me?

Everything.

We are our society. We are our government. Remember the Gettysburg address, “of the people for the people and by the people”? It means all of us. Sheryl WuDunn ends this TED talk with two primary reasons we should take on these issues.

Paraphrased, she says, “Once we have our material needs taken care of, one of the only things that can make us happier is contributing to a cause greater than ourselves.”

Call to Action

Privilege and responsibility are Siamese twins.

In addition to contributing to international causes (e.g. Heifer International,  Kiva, Samaritan’s Purse, UMCOR, etc.) how can you find a way to reach out in your own community?

 

Grandma Love

Imagine with me that you are a grandmother. That role is one of overwhelming love. One of the most difficult aspects of being grandma is standing back when you think your child (your grandchild’s parent) is about to make a mistake.  It is heartbreaking to anticipate the problems that you can see looming on the horizon. Your may interfere, you may not. But, whatever you do it is  pure love. Now, imagine with me that your grandson has done something reprehensible and has been incarcerated. Your grandma love might be tainted with dismay or disapproval, but love is still your default for with this beautiful amazing creature. When this child is released, the greatest need is for a place to stay. Simply a place to sleep while trying to put together a new and free life.

Well, Grandma, if you live in public housing, you can’t help your grandchild. Not that way.  Because you are specifically prohibited from harboring a person on probation or parole.

What an awful place to be.

This system is in place to protect the property of public housing and to protect the residents from being taken advantage of by predatory people. Because society’s assumption is that if a person has committed a crime, that person is a criminal. What a horrible label for someone to have to live into. Sad that some people do what’s expected.

What are our options as citizens? How can we help grandma, and this former prisoner, and still protect the property and well-being of our neighbors? One of our options is to provide housing. A halfway house is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, there are not enough beds for everyone who is released. The rules can be difficult for some people. But, often newly released people are so accustomed to having others make their decisions that it is more difficult to be without external structure than with it.

Hope Restored in Monroe, LA has one house that is available for former prisoners who want their lives to change. Rev. Marcelle Crow conducts bible studies in the local jail and the nearby state prison. She became frustrated that she saw the same people that she had met behind bars when she went with Hope Street Ministries to feed the people living on the streets. With a small amount of money and a congregation with a huge heart, they founded a home for a few of these people.

The house has some rules, but according to one resident, “they are the sort of thing a decent person would just do.” This house only holds a few people. The need Is much greater. The requirement to actually want a life change and be willing to learn keeps some people from even trying. It can be so difficult to envision a different life!

What can we do to make homes like this more available for former prisoners?

How can we come together and support those who are doing this work?

Wrong About Addiction?

 

My experience in counseling people who have problems because of using alcohol and other drugs is that healthy social connections are incompatible with continued use.  This Ted talk shifts my personal observation.  His conclusion is that the lack of healthy social connections is the root cause of these issues. I find it a compelling idea.

What would happen if we shifted the enormous amounts of money that we spend on incarceration and law enforcement to job creation, addiction counseling, and housing support?  What if the people who have addiction issues had help with their relationships to keep families together?  Not all people who are chemically or behaviorally dependent are unemployed and homeless.  Yet, we know that continued addictive behaviors are difficult for families. Sometimes the pressures split the family down the middle. What support can we offer to those families?

But to do that, we would need to shift our attitude toward the people who are caught up in negative cycles of substance use, joblessness, and despair.  We would have to see them as people who deserve our help.

What would it take to shift these attitudes?

Top Ten Issues in our Society

    1.  Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services  interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support.  Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
    2.  Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle.  Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
    3. Homelessness–affordable housing:  When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world.  There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering.  Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
    4. Job readiness training:  Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job.  A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue.  We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
    5. Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
    6. Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them.  Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking.  We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
    7. Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation?  The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices.  They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status.  This issue is negative all the way around.  The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
    8. Educational deficits:  There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math.  What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
    9. Drug dealing-using culture:  Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life.  How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
    10. Massive incarceration of people.  Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country.  The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs.  Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.

It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.

These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.

What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?

Parents and Prison

“My grandma says I’m just like my mama.” Horror flashed across her face. “She’s at St. Gabriel doing ten years behind a drug charge.”

“Is that how you’re like your mother?  What does Grandma say about how you’re like her?”

“Grandma says its it my eyes, and the way I walk and how smart I am.”

“Do you think you’re going to be going to prison just because you’re like your mom?”

She nodded slowly, eyes welling with tears,  “If Mom is smart, why did she do what she did?  What’s going to keep me from that kind of stupid choice?”

This exchange illustrates the particular abandonment issues that children of incarceration face. There’s loneliness and a hollow longing for the absent parent. But there is also a layer of embarrassment and shame.  That fear of repeating the pattern often lays below the surface. It’s one of those beliefs that is often difficult to share with others.

Children of prisoners pay a price in other ways also.  Having a family member in prison is an expensive endeavor.  There are transportation costs in traveling to the facility for visitation. Plus, the cost of missed work hours for the person who is caring for the child.  Visitation hours are rarely convenient. Emails and phone calls can be had at a price, and sometimes it is a stiff price.  Prisons don’t supply hygiene products, so the prisoner must pay the high prices of the facility canteen.  Many times, the relative who is caring for the child is also trying to pay the lawyer also.

Prison Fellowship and Kairos Prison Ministry go into prisons and share the hope of The gospel with the people who are imprisoned.  They are both wonderful programs designed to help people’s hearts be changed by the love of God in Christ.

Kairos Prison Ministry also has a program called Kairos Outside. It is designed to help the women who have been impacted by a family member’s incarceration. I’d be interested in visiting with someone involved in this ministry. It seems like there would be tremendous opportunities to help families in practical ways.  If you know someone who is involved in Kairos Outside, I’d love to visit with them. Please put them in contact with me!

 

Stand Against Violence

Violence is not the answer. Ever.
So, we are taking a stand in the community to stand against violence. To stand against the kind of mass murder that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. To stand against hatred and destruction.
Who knows what the ripple effect could be of a few people taking a stand in a small town Louisiana to say, “No more”?
Perhaps a seed will be planted in a young person. One with the energy and vision and passion to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi and say, “No more” to the rhetoric of violence and disregard for humanity. Perhaps a great leader of a powerful non-violent movement will rise up from our band. Or, perhaps the great leader will simply be inspired by hearing about a small number of people gathered in the name of peace.
MLK said that no one could do everything but everyone can do something. That is what I am longing for, to be one who does something. For too long I’ve lived with complacency. For too long I’ve accepted the situation and felt powerless. No more. I may not have a lot of power, but I am going to use the power I do have. I will be strong and courageous, very strong and very courageous.
Won’t you come with me? We can be stronger and more courageous when we walk together on this journey of taking a public stand for peace.

Get out of Jail Free? Paying the Debt to Society.

Imagine working for five years to pay off a credit card debt. You made the maximum payment you could possibly make every single month and at last, you have paid off your debt! Then you discover that you must pay a penalty payment each month for the foreseeable future. What would that be like? It would be just like going to prison for five years, working hard pay your debt and earn your release then you discover you must continue to pay every single month when you get out.

Many Sources of Additional Costs

Former prisoners are hit with probation and parole fees. When a person must be monitored by an ankle bracelet, he or she must pay the monthly fees for the ankle bracelet. Sometimes there is restitution to pay. That is usually finite, but it can be burdensome as well.

There are additional costs, not necessarily money paid to someone else. It is in opportunity cost: the price the individual pays for lost opportunities both from time out of the workforce and discrimination against former felons. Checking the box, the one that says you have had a conviction, makes it more difficult to get hired. You are likely to be unable to travel abroad, thus limiting your employment opportunities. There are certain professions that ban felons, including many jobs that require a professional license.

Hope

If you have been incarcerated, you probably already know that you must decide whether or not prison is the place you want to be.

Interventions

If you are looking for ways you can hlep those who have paid their time and are dealing with the challenges of rebuilding their live, Dr. Davis’ story illustrates that he did not get through his journey alone. He certainly had at least one person in his corner saying, “You can do this.” It is easy for people who have made big enough mistakes to serve a felony conviction to believe that they simply can’t get anything right. Would you be able to be the one to point out a person’s strong points and encourage them in their endeavors?

There are real, basic things that can be done.

  • Proper clothing for an interview.
  • Conduct a few mock interviews.
  • Have your Sunday School class adopt a family and write everyone notes.

If you run across a former prisoner who is having a hard time, don’t judge them.  Listen carefully.  I promise you, the list of system barriers is long; the litany of disrespect from family, neighborhood and community is disheartening; and the barriers are solid and real.  Just truly hearing what  a person has to say somehow draws down the power.  In your listening you may have had one or two ideas pop into your head.  Things that you and a few interested people might be willing to take on in an effort to help.  I encourage you to talk about them with the person that needs help. Our ideas might not actually be ones that are useful. Listen deeply.  Respond with love. Repeat. Possibilities will emerge.

Feedback

I’d love to hear from you.  Have you any experience with helping someone who has been released from prison?  Are you aware of any programs in your area?  What do you think we can do?

Raindrops

During a serious rainstorm recently, I spent three days home alone. My house is on pilings.  As my yard filled with water I went from window to window waiting to see if I would be flooded. Thankfully, the water did not get deep enough to threaten me strongly. On the third day, my trash had developed an interesting and unpleasant stench. It had to go.

Out here in the country we don’t have trash pickup to our door. The parish provides dumpsters at strategic locations and the citizens haul to the sites. I’m fortunate in that the closest trash area is only half a mile away. I normally drive over there, because the highway to it has a 55 mile an hour speed limit and a narrow shoulder. Pedestrians are at high risk. I had been housebound for a couple of days, though, and I wanted to stretch and move. I also did not want to get my car stuck in the muddy area in front of the dumpsters. The rain had let up, so I gathered the trash for my short hike.

It was only sprinkling as I walked carrying my smelly trash bag. In a holy moment I noticed the freshness of the trees that lined the road. Branches strewn over the ground, leaves bursting with green, and the birds were singing joyously. I agreed with their declaration that God is good and life is beautiful. When I arrived at the creek which was bloated and rushing with excess I noticed single raindrops bouncing along the surface. Each rain drop added to the already swollen flow.

Individual rain drops are small, insignificant, powerless and unimportant. When they come together in massive numbers, though, they become a force. This force may be perceived as destructive. Or, it can drive massive clearing and renewal. The force itself is neutral. When harnessed, flowing water can bring power to the communities.

My heart sees a movement afoot in Louisiana. The small, insignificant, powerless and unimportant people in our communities are coming together. Our voices are joining into a powerful force. Rather than trying to change our political system, we are becoming better citizens. Rather than looking down on the poor, we are offering a hand up. Rather than ignoring the systems that contribute to the destruction of the family, we are deconstructing them. Rather than demonizing those who are marginalized, we are asking what they need. We can come together and meet needs and change the future story for our children and grandchildren. We can.

We must.

Restoring the felon 

Demetrius* is my friend’s brother.  He ‘s been released from prison, has been for seven months.  He was serving 5-10 years for possession with intent to distribute in Louisiana.  He served five years, he’s on parole, and he still owes a hefty fine.

Let me tell you about Demetrius.  We call him D, he’s tall and handsome.  He has a quiet sense of humor.  He makes fun of himself a lot, but also teases about the society around him. His niece and nephew adore him.  D has been learning to cook and clean in appreciation for the roof over his head.  The little old widows in the neighborhood absolutely rely on him to help them with heavy lifting, yard work and sometimes just a listening ear.  His daughter was born three months after he went in. He doesn’t hear from his baby mama, but her brother stopped by to tell D that he owes five years of child support and the amount is rising every day.  The man offered an “opportunity” for D, one which would violate his parole.  D declined, and the brother left with a vague promise of negative consequences to D if the child support is not paid.

Release is great news! Yet, he’s so disheartened at not finding a job that my friend isn’t sure how hard he’s still looking. He stays with their sister, and job hunting isn’t really a safe topic for conversation.  Little brother reacts badly to what feels more like judgement than concern. What does a family member do in such a circumstance?  Avoid? Confront? Both have definite hazards.

THE BIG QUESTION

How do we as a community of faith help?

SOME ANSWERS

Hope Restored is in Monroe Louisiana. They are offering a series of classes designed to help people when they regain their freedom.  Things like anger management and parenting.  AA meets in their facility to aid addiction recovery. There are counselors available to people who come in. They also sponsor a recovery house which provides a place to live while women find their way to employment, sobriety and housing.  Their goal is also to sponsor a men’s house. This work is so vital and necessary!!

Prison Fellowship has programs for grassroots ministries to learn more about the difficulties of re-entry and ways to address them.

ROOM FOR MORE

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country.  Yet, a Google search for ministry’s helping prisoner re-entry provides minimal results.  There is a huge opportunity here! We can make a huge difference not only in the lives of the former inmate, but in the lives of their children and other family members.

I’d love to hear about what ideas you have. Are you working in a ministry addressing this?

*Not a real name