A letter to the CEO of the NRA

To: Wayne LaPierre, CEO and EVP of the National Rifle Association

Imagine with me the impact of thousands of your nearly 5 million members volunteering in their own towns! Because, what our country is a large body of people who care about our country, understand hard work, and choose what is right and good in our world.  In short, we need your members.

I am thrilled with your words on August 8, 2019, “The NRA will work in good faith to pursue real solutions to the epidemic of gun violence in America. But many proposals are nothing more than sound bite solutions which fail to address the root of the problem, confront criminal behavior, or make our communities safer.”

You see, I’m a Chaplain at a residential treatment facility for troubled adolescents.  Our work is designed to stem the tide of violence to self and others that arises from our cultural ills.  Fatherless children, violent neighborhoods, parents caught up in alcohol and other drugs, poverty, hunger, incarcerated parents, and educational deficits all contribute to angry and disturbed young people.  We have the privilege of pouring our hearts into these children for a season in the earnest hope that it will make a long-term difference in their lives. They are children with beautiful souls and difficult pasts.  

Yet, we send them back to the same community ills.

What if you were the leader who changed the public perception of those who do not support your organization to one of true power instead of greed?

What if the NRA got behind a campaign to mentor at-risk youth?

Invite your members into service to develop solid relationships with kids in hard places. Children in the crime-ridden neighborhoods.  The ones with no father in the household to steer them in the right direction. I can see several benefits to your constituents. If the goal is family safety, then keeping our neighbors healthy is truly important. (Our risk of gun violence from someone in the neighboring community is much greater than the risk from a mass shooter. ) 

The positive growth that we humans experience when we offer our time to someone who needs us is immeasurable.

Relationship with the children who are growing up this way will stem the tide of criminals in the making.  Their current mentors are often drug dealers who teach them how to defend themselves with guns.  Perhaps a mentor from your club could have an impact on how to use guns safely, how to work hard, how to be a man or woman of integrity rather than power.

If you are true to your word that you would get behind something that could work, please contact me.  I would be honored to help get something like this started.  We must start small. But I know of people and programs that can teach us. We can do this if we work together.   

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. :

Multiple Foster Care Placements

by Edie De Vilbiss

She sat in my office over tea and we talked about the things she could do to become more spiritually centered. The conversation drifted to the reasons that she is challenged to trust anyone. A child of a woman addicted to drugs, she was removed by DCFS at three years old. She had the same foster family until she was in fifth grade. With a roof over her head and a deep fear of the unknown, she didn’t say anything about the daily beatings or the verbal abuse for many years. Once she did tell someone, she was removed from that placement. The next several years saw multiple placements. She is not sure how many, more than twelve, she can name them. But, she knows there are more.[1]

“Is there anything you would like to see change about how DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services) handles young people?”

A brief pause, “I want them to be on the kid’s side. I got treated like I was bad or wrong every time I had to be moved. Why couldn’t they understand what was going on with me?”

Indeed. Why is it so hard for adults to understand that outrageous behavior always has a reason? Why is it that when we go into a field to help people, we end up hurting them too? What she’s seeking is called trauma-informed care.  Research is that when a child has been traumatized there are specific behaviors that are difficult to engage with which result.  Rage or self-harm, outrageous language, and other unusual behaviors are common.  When caring adults are trained to respond appropriately to these behaviors, the child can learn to respond to life more appropriately.  When our reaction to the outrageous and unacceptable behavior is rejecting and condemning it increases the child’s negative self-image.  The behaviors not only continue, they get worse.  This is how we, who care for children, make their lives even more difficult.

Data on how often multiple placements are occurring in Louisiana is not readily available. However, the anecdotal reports of the youth we serve indicate that this is an ongoing issue.  We are not the first state to need to address this issue.

In an article on the HHS public access website, Rubin et al. found the following:

The current study provides the most compelling evidence to date that placement stability, independent of a child’s problems at entry into care, can influence well-being for children in out-of-home care. Regardless of a child’s baseline risk for instability in this study, those children who failed to achieve placement stability were estimated to have a 36%−63% increased risk of behavioral problems compared with children who achieved any stability in foster care. The impact of placement stability on behavioral problems was not trivial, as even among the children who carried a low risk for placement instability, 1 in 5 children (20%) failed to achieve any stability in the first 18 months of foster care.[2]

When a child experiences multiple failed placements his or her ability to adapt behavior is not properly developed. Repeated removal likely increases the child’s self-identity as a person who is unworthy of love and nurture. When a caseworker is overwhelmed and dismayed when removing a child, the child does not perceive it is the caseworker’s issue.  The child internalizes a negative self-image.

The merry go round of removing a child and placing them elsewhere has a negative impact on the caseworker, the foster family and the budget as well.

The caseworker is likely to experience the sudden removal of a child for unacceptable behavior as a failure on his or her part. Sometimes the caseworker who responds is an on-call worker with no history with the child. Being new to the child and the case, they might harbor a sense that the previous worker failed in their work. In addition, resources are limited and take time to find. The pressure to keep up with the work load and locate non-existent resource taxes the ability to attend to the well-being of the child’s self image.

Foster-parenting a child is challenging. Other people’s children come to a foster family with a history, unique behavior patterns, and a personality in development. Attending to the physical needs of a child is demanding in itself. Adapting to established behavior requires close observation and adaptation. A “failed” placement does not rest only on the child and the case worker, the foster parent has a sense of inadequacy also.

From a budgetary stance, child removal and seeking a new placement is an expensive endeavor. Immediate costs are high.

  • Often an emergency removal occurs after hours, and there is the expense of overtime.
  • Locating and training foster care families is expensive.
  • Emergency lodging in a hotel room has costs associated with it.

The long term costs of multiple foster care placements may be incalculable.

  • The lost production of the child as an employee when he or she reaches adulthood. .
  • Increased risk of long term incarceration because of unmanaged anger and violence.
  • The medical costs over a lifetime for children with multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences[3] are born by our society.

The issue of multiple foster care placements must be addressed.  New Jersey is tackling this issue. The “key strategies” they identified are:

  • Placing children with relatives or family members when possible
  • Placement matching to make optimal first placements for children
  • Improving services to children in care
  • Programs that support foster caregivers to better address children’s needs
  • Caseworker retention
  • Staff training[4]

The first strategy is addressed in the Louisiana DCFS Policy 4-807. The first consideration is to find a relative who is an appropriate placement.  

Louisiana also has placement specialists who are trained to match a young person with a foster family.

Staff retention is often an issue when people are working with troubled children. Empowering the worker may prove to be a positive avenue for addressing this.

Training in trauma-informed care across the systems, from administrators in the Department of Child and Family Services to Child Placement Specialists, Case workers, and most assuredly to foster parents is a positive step in alleviating the harm from our current system.

Improving services to children in care; programs that support foster caregivers to better address children’s needs, and staff training could all be addressed by rolling out a program of TBRI® (Trust Based Relational Intervention) training for both case workers and foster parents.

TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection.[5]

The principles of TBRI® are practical and simple. Addressing the basic human needs of the young people in our care makes sense.  For caseworkers and foster parents to be trained in trauma informed care principles, with information about how to address the issues will empower positive outcomes. Training together will help form relationships between the caseworkers and foster parents. Common training will engender a common language based on the understanding of life challenges for the young people in our care.

Training is expensive and time-consuming. However, the expenditure to train people appropriately will alleviate much of the long term costs of the foster care merry go round.  We have a moral and legal responsibility to offer the best we can for the youth we serve. When the state removes a child, the state must provide better than the child had. Multiple placements fail this endeavor.

[1] The study referenced below identified a stable placement as one established within 45 days of removal, and instability as not meeting that mark. Her first placement was stable; she was there for years. Once she was removed from that placement, she was unable to re-establish stability with a different caregiver. 

[2] Rubin, David M., MD MSCE, O’Reilly, Amanda, MPH, Luan, Xianqun, MS, Localio, A. Russell, JD MS. The Impact of Placement Stability on Behavioral Well-Being  for Children in Foster Care. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2693406/ accessed 07/24/2019.

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/journal.html

[4] How can we improve placement stability for children in foster care? Casey Family Programs. 10/03/2018. https://www.casey.org/strategies-improve-placement-stability/ accessed  07/25/2019.

[5] https://child.tcu.edu/about-us/tbri/#sthash.aGde0fKv.dpbs

Immigration Issues from a Both/And View

Photo by Yigithan Bal from Pexels

The situation at the border of the United States of America and Mexico is overwhelming to think about. The varying points of view presented either blame President Trump or President Obama for the mess. Mudslinging from the left to the right and back again uses up an inordinate amount of energy. Meanwhile, children are suffering. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are suffering. Meanwhile, non-profit organizations and for-profit organizations are overwhelmed.

The roots of the massive migration from Central America lie in compromised personal safety and economic insecurity. The demographics of humans at the border has shifted from primarily lone males to families. Our border patrol agents have been caught by surprised by this shift and have not caught up to what is necessary. Leadership at the highest level of our country is using the separation of families as a deterrent to migration.

The effectiveness of this plan is evident in the numbers of people still presenting themselves. It hasn’t worked and is not likely to suddenly begin to work on some bright new day.

As a pastor, in my view the core of the problem is simple. Humans are confused about ownership. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all those who live in it, Psalm 24:1a).” As Americans, many of us seem to believe that we own this land, when the bible clearly states it belongs to the Lord. We do not own our lives. The accident of where we were born and the parents who bore it was utterly out of our control. If we were fortunate in one of these foundations, we are lucky. If we were fortunate in both, we are overwhelmingly fortunate.

Now, I get that we have ownership laws and a system of tracking whose land is whose. We have a biblical narrative of God designating land for various tribes. The legal ownership of our piece of property is not an ownership of all of the country. It still belongs to God. The people at our border, clamoring for a chance at a better life, are also beloved children of God. How we treat them matters to our own souls.

Our being born in this nation does not make us superior to people born in other nations. That we hold many goods does not make us superior. The people who are knocking on our door may or may not be harmful to us, but they are most certainly not our inferiors. We need to recognize that human to human treatment is expected to be civilized. It is not ok to treat people as animals.
Our government agencies need to be called to task.

This is what I am seeking:

1. Immediately find a way to house those who are being detained in a clean and healthy environment.
2. Reunite families now.
3. Create a clear path to citizenship.
4. Allow greater transparency into what is going on in the detention centers.
5. Find a way to partner with the non-profits and faith-based agencies to help with the human side of this crisis.
6. Stop criminalizing people who extend help.

We all need to work together to resolve this crisis.  We can do this if we work together!