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. :

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?

Politics: Poverty, child welfare, addiction, education, oh my!

Why Politics Can’t Do It

It’s an election year. Woo hoo. We have a bunch of people telling us what we want to hear. Whether it is a message that poor people really need to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps or that rich folks need to kick in more money, the problems are never really ours.

The Problems are Ours.

We are on this planet to help each other out. Our neighbor, whether in our community or on the other side of the world, deserves our help. As much as we deserve theirs.

If you think you don’t take help from the government, think again. You drive on paved roads. Your food is affordable because of subsidies to farmers. Did you or your children ever have a student loan? Government subsidy. Police and fire departments are operated by government entities. National, state and local parks are all government run. That’s what keeps them accessible to you and me. Because we know that if private people own these beautiful sanctuaries, they don’t necessarily want to share them with the rabble, you and me. Our mortgages are often government subsidized. The list goes on and on. We utterly depend on the government in so many ways that we are blind to it.

Responsibility

Somewhere along the line, we the people decided to abdicate our responsibility to our neighbor. It may have begun during the depression, when people were simply unable to help each other. We put government systems in place to keep people from falling through the cracks. Then, since the systems were there we thought that we had no more responsibility. It was no longer us who needed to go alongside the unwed mother and help her with the million and one decisions that must be made in raising a child. We failed to recognize that the elderly and the young are vulnerable populations and if their biological family can’t help them, then we need to step up. It became simpler to just arrest people who turn to drugs and alcohol in the despair of their lives.

The Truth

The truth is, the government makes a really lousy parent. The system doesn’t work for the human beings that it is meant to serve. Foster care truly does help some youth. However, there are plenty that are damaged again and again through moving from placement to placement. What our society needs is strong family units. How can we go alongside families and help them to be stronger? Especially when they don’t seem to want our help? How do we protect children from neglectful and abusive parents PLUS help the family get stronger? How do we support foster families? How do we intervene in the drug culture? How do we turn around the high imprisonment rate in this country? What about education? Is there a way we can help young people learn to read and to do simple math?

The Solutions

This is just the slightest glimpse at the magnitude of our societal woes. The truth is, overwhelm is the only appropriate initial response. None of us can do everything. All of us can do something. What’s your passion? Literacy? How about finding one four year old and help them to learn to love books. Is it hunger? Help a poor neighborhood find a spot and plant a community garden. Maybe you have a passion for abused and neglected teenagers. What about becoming a foster parent? Too much commitment? How about a mentor at a Boys and Girls Club? Tell me, what’s your passion? How would you like to add meaning to your one precious life that you’ve been given?

Poverty, the brain, and child well being

Poverty and the brain

008A researcher in Philadelphia, Martha Farah,  has been studying how living with a low SES (socio economic status), or living in poverty can hurt people’s brain capacity.  The study is significant because it puts a different light on what is often perceived as a lack of self motivation.  When we begin to understand the different ways that being poor hurts men, women, and their children then we are more likely see them as worthy of helping.

Child Well Being effects of poverty

When children are raised in poor homes, they are not spoken to as much as children in higher income homes. What language they hear has a smaller group of words used and the sentences are simpler.  Parents struggling to make ends meet spend less time focused on their child’s cognitive development.

In another article Eric Jensen pointed out that children in more affluent homes have more books in the home, and low SES parents are less likely to read to the children in the home.  These factors affect vocabulary and reading readiness once the child arrives at school.

Poverty and stress

According to Farah, some of the factors of living in poor neighborhoods are exposure to violence, crowding and other social ills. When the parents are under a lot of stress, they are less affectionate and demonstrate less patience with their children. Jensen’s article points out many different effects of stressed parenting including a greater amount of time the television is on plus less monitoring by parents.  Children of poverty are more likely to go into foster care or suffer some neglect.  They are often from single parent homes.

Where is the hope?

Jensen’s article is all about hope. Brains are flexible and can be trained. It takes intention and consistency to shape a brain into a healthy response to life.  A school which chooses to focus on hope and speaks hope into a child’s life may have a tremendous impact.  There are specific strategies that can be used. But, he emphasizes that it is the will of the staff that make the strategies work.

What’s our role?

How can we as citizens help to encourage our schools to help children of poverty develop their brains more?

What would happen if your church decided that every three and four year old within five miles of your church had three books and one adult who read with them once a week?  Is that possible?  (Most of us do have pockets of poverty within five miles of our church.)

What would happen if five volunteers from your church went and encouraged and celebrated the first graders at your nearest under-performing elementary school at least once a month? Is that possible?

What ideas do you have?

The Roots of Child Welfare Issues

THE ISSUES

In order to know who to talk to and what to look for, I have begun reading more about the issues. The Child Welfare system, Foster Care, and other state agencies and efforts are in response to an even more awful reality. The roots of the problems with families are buried deeply in poverty and violence. Political oppression, lack of opportunity, sex trade, the drug culture and communities blanketed with hopelessness all play a part in this weight pulling down our communities.

HOPE
Yet, there is hope!
“A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” is written by Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

This book details non-profit efforts in agencies throughout the world. But, it is not just about a feel good, let’s see what is possible. The authors also detail efforts to measure the impact that the projects have on the future of the people served. One project is led by an MIT professor, Dr. Esther Duflo. She experiments on different initiatives and helps us to know what actually helps (P. 35-41). The danger in feel good projects is that they can cost a lot of money and have limited effect on actually helping people.

Overall the book is optimistic that our drive to make a difference in the lives of others is a powerful force for good in our world. The problems of our society are challenging. Yet, the human desire to make a difference for others is a spark of hope in this world.

Possibilities for those aging out of foster care!

Some interesting things have popped up in the past few days. A social movement is underway and may be gaining momentum. More and more people are paying attention to what needs to be changed in our society. Frustration with the lack of real solutions from the government generates a deep need to do something. The cool thing is that nothing enlivens a community more than working together on a common cause. And, it’s good news-bad news, it’s never difficult to find a situation that needs some attention.

Children and families need help. In a state which loves family as much as Louisiana loves family, it is surprising to know that our care for children through state services is appallingly lacking. It becomes less mysterious when we recognize that Louisiana people love their own families. There is not as much care and attention paid to the needs of others.

Chere Breaux is a realtor in the Acadiana area of Louisiana. She helped my daughter’s family find their home. She is spearheading a movement to start a ministry called Seeds To Success. She plans to house young people who have aged out of foster care in the state of Louisiana. This is such a necessary ministry. Our state cut its funding to the program that was able to help this population. One of the problems the state faced is that young people are so sick of dealing with the state’s bureaucracy and inconsistencies that many were not interested in staying in the state’s care. Seeds To Success will offer them a real opportunity without all of the baloney of dealing with the state system. It looks like a wonderful program. She has an initiative on GoFundMe to raise the money to get started. I would encourage you to go and donate! https://www.gofundme.com/seedstosuccess

Violence and poverty

 

 

I recently watched a TED talk on poverty. Gary Haugen’s premise is that violence is at the root of much of the world’s poverty.  Take care of violence, and economies can grow. It’s as if the linchpin of the whole thing is violence.  I’m not sure if that is true.  It would be sort of nice if it were, it would give us something definite to focus our energies on. Now, we look at education and transportation and housing and child care and make ourselves dizzy with trying to figure out where to start.

I can’t think of  a linchpin for the child welfare system. Yes, the root of it is poverty, and perhaps it is violence as the fertilizer for that root. But, the solution is also part of the problem.  How widows and orphans are cared for is a mark of the integrity of a society.   When families are fractured and feel abused by the very system that is trying to protect them, we clearly have room for improvement.

Is our first task to find a linchpin? Or is it to start having multiple conversations about defining the problem in order to find solutions that work and work together?

Let’s talk!

 

 

 

 

Questioning the child welfare system

I am beginning this blog in order to open a conversation.  I am saddened by the damage that is inflicted upon the victims of child abuse and neglect by the child welfare system which is designed to rescue them.  I do not believe that there is malicious intention involved, simply bureaucratic quagmires.  My hope is that this conversation will lead to a plan and to action.

I have lived through the cultural shift which has occurred around cigarette smoking. When I was a child, many movie stars and television actors smoked on camera.  It was completely acceptable to smoke at one’s desk, in a restaurant, and on an airplane.  That has dramatically shifted in the last thirty years.  This powerfully significant change came about because people started speaking up and pointing out the negative effects of this behavior.  No one person is responsible for this shift. But, it began somewhere and others joined in. Maybe it began in several locations.  Perhaps I will find that our voices are joining others in crying out to do something different for our children.

My work as a Chaplain for a children’s home invites me to really hear a child’s story from their own point of view.  Listening to the pain that they experience through multiple placements, continual adjustment to new environments, rejection from family after family and always a subtext of longing for love and acceptance from their own biological family makes me acutely aware of the failures of our system.   We must rescue these children from abusive and neglectful homes.  But, there has to be a way to do it without having the child rejected over and over again.  Surely we can figure this out!

But, I am not inside that system. I don’t know what barriers it is up against. I don’t know how to fix it.

Maybe you don’t know what I am talking about.

When a child enters into the foster care system, a placement in a foster care home is secured.  This can be challenging because there is often a shortage of homes.  A  child who has been severely abused or neglected will be prone to significant behavior problems.  And, they are not easy problems to manage.  Bed-wetting, cursing, violent outbursts, stealing, and self harming behaviors are not uncommon.  So, care is taken to find the best home possible.

Think of yourself.  Out of the generosity of your heart you have opened your home to a foster child. In comes this child who has behavior problems.  You believe that you can deal with anything.  Yet, this child does something so awful to your child that you realize you would be harming your own child if you keep this one.  So, you call your social worker and they come and pick up the child.  You feel like a failure. It is devastating.  But the child receives an internal message that they are somehow flawed.  This child has been rejected again.

This happens over and over again to some children.  Now, I believe that there are children who find foster families and have a long-term healthy and loving relationship with them.  Or, their parents are able to overcome whatever their barrier had been and receive the child back.  (Which is what we all want!) Frankly, I don’t meet the children who have a successful foster care placement.

The intentions of the agency which has responsibility for the child are in the right direction.  A desire to protect and nurture the child drives the work.  Then intentions of the family which opens its home to foster care are in the right direction.  A desire to be a safe haven for children who need a family.  The intention of the child is in the right direction. A desire to be loved and accepted, but without the skills to behave in an acceptable manner.  If everyone involved is leaning into the right direction, how is it possible that we get it so very wrong for individual children?

 

ACES Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey and Child Welfare

I went to the LouisianaChildren.org Child Well Being conference in May.  It was jam packed full of information. It was interesting to see how the different presenters each re-enforced the other.  Two of them even used the same quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”

What I found frustrating is that I went to the conference hoping to find others who are passionate about improving the child welfare system. And I did. Numerous people are concerned about the well-being of all children.  We truly are a compassionate people here in this state.  But, there is no coordinated effort to intervene in an effective manner.  What we have are silos and gaps.  We have a host of caring and ineffective delivery of inadequate services.  Sometimes there is some success, but for the most part what the young people we desperately try to help experiences is far from adequate.

There has been significant research for many years about Adverse Childhood Experiences.  The more issues one faces as a child, the greater health risks one will face as an adult.   We already know this, it is well documented.   (You can calculate your score here: www.theannainstitute.org/Finding Your ACE Score.pdf).  The items on the survey include different types of abuse and neglect.  Not included are things that no one can foresee or prevent, like death or disaster.  Each event named has a profound effect on a person’s life. Stacking up these types of events in a childhood leads to a burden too heavy to carry.  The long term emotional and physical health of a person is at risk.

Let’s pretend that we don’t care about other people. Their well being is none of our business.  They are not our family members, that’s not my grandchild, why should I care?  (I know that’s not you or me, we wouldn’t be here on this blog together if that were the case).  The health risks from these events in childhood are heart disease, diabetes, mental health problems and addiction.  These problems are expensive to treat.  Early intervention is far less expensive.  Positive outcomes bring more able bodied people to the work force, thus the economic benefit is beyond simply the savings of early treatment.  To me it is painfully obvious that we who have been blessed to have lower ACES scores have an interest in helping those who are at risk of high scores to overcome them.

We do try. We have a social service system in place. However, in the misguided mindset of fiscal responsibility, services are frequently underfunded.  There is a huge gap between our expectations of social service providers and our willingness to equip them with the people, training, and supplies that they need in order to be effective.  We are not paying adequate attention.