Why end foster care?

Let’s play a game.

It’s a game you’ve played before.

It’s called “pretend.”

It’s a fun game where you can make all kinds of assumptions, wild arguments and create fantastical outcomes.

Let’s pretend the following…

You’re 13.  You’re in middle school,  seventh grade.  Your best friend is clearly having a bad day.  After lots and lots of annoying nagging from you she finally opens up – and breaks down.

Turns out, your best friend has been molested by her father for the last three years.  Her mother doesn’t know.  Her priest, priestess or minister or doesn’t know.  Nobody knows – except you and her.

What do you do?

a) Convince her to tell her mother?  Surely her mother will put an end to this.

b) Tell your teachers(s) and principle and your own parents, hoping someone will call the police?

c) Call child protective services?

d) Go home with your friend, pull an Ashton Kutcher “Butterfly Effect” on her dad with a stick of dynamite and explain how you will systematically dismember his “member” if he ever touches your best friend again?

Which is it?

Personally, I vote for D.  Hands down, every time.  But that’s me and I don’t have to face this problem.  And I’m not supposed to tell anyone else to do something like that.  So, honestly, no, I can’t choose D.

And, not only do I not believe that violence solves problems, it often makes things worse.  Besides, I am a mandated reporter and I have to choose options B and C.

So, while I really, really, really like the sound of option D in this game of pretend, option A is probably best.

(Or D.  I am really stuck on option D here.)

Now, before I continue, let me just say that if you happen to be the imaginary 13 year old in this game, reading this right now, please go tell someone NOW what is happening to you. The rest of this discussion isn’t easy to digest, and right now you need help and protection. Go. Tell. Someone. NOW!

For everyone else… Here’s the issue you have to think about:  

Chances are good that mom probably does know about the situation, even if she’s in denial. The issue isn’t that mom doesn’t know – though you do want to make sure that she does know – and that she knows that you know.

The real issue is that this is just as big of a problem for your friend’s mom as it is for your friend.


I mean think of it from her mother’s point of view – if her husband is having sex with her and their daughter, clearly mom is not beautiful enough. Right?  And the other women at church are going to say things.

And it means a messy divorce. And it means her daughter is going to hate her for not stopping it sooner.  I mean do you really think about these things?  You can’t just go and ruin someone’s delusions like that. Jeez, what kind of person are you?

It is very possible that the young woman in this scenario is going to enter foster care.

And you, being all concerned and caring, are going to be relieved.  At least until you meet her again at age 18.  ( Then, you’re going to wish you had chosen option D.)

So the bad news is, once in the foster care system, a 13 year old girl or boy (of any age) who has been molested previously, is 6 times more likely to be sexually abused again than if he or she were still at home (Jennifer Thoth, “Orphans of the Living”).  And if he/she was sexually abused at home… well, you do the math.

In other words – it’s very probable that removing the child from her home didn’t accomplish anything and only made things worse.

Think she had self esteem problems before? You have no idea what’s about to happen now.

Think of it another way.

Let’s pretend that 13 girl is you.  And you’ve just come home from school to find the police in your home.

Your father is being led away in cuffs, your mother is going downtown for questioning and a very ragged looking social worker is shoving sugar coated sunshine up your ass  while randomly throwing your clothes into a garbage bag.

Yes.  A garbage bag.

Not your suitcase – a garbage bad.

The social worker explains that there is no time for you to be choosy about your clothes, you will take the garbage bags she has packed, hop in her car and off you go to some really, really, really freaking awesome people who are just dying to solve your problems with the power of Jebus Christ and then adopt you.  ‘Cause that’s what you need, you see?

You thought for just a few seconds that your problems had been solved when dad was carted off.  After all, he was the guilty one. Not you. But our society’s solution is that we need to do one more thing to you.

Just.  One.  More.  Thing.

After having been raped or beaten or mentally abused or neglected, what you need now is to have the mental and emotional bonds of family broken, once and for all. This will make you better somehow.  You need to know the experience of never eating “your food” again.  You need to attend a different school.  You need to attend a different church.  You need to cooperate.

No one can say with any seriousness that allowing dad to stay in this (pretend) home is the solution.  No, dad needs help. You need protection from him. There’s no argument there.

But foster care isn’t the best solution either.

We need a better solution, a community solution, a connected solution, a solution that does not involve juvenile homes, group homes, foster homes and yet more sexual,  mental and physical abuse.

And it’s not just this kind of scenario that cries for a better solution. All foster care situations DO DEMAND a better solution than foster care.

So, what do we do?

The best solution is a child centered solution.

A child centered solution is for those cases where the neglect, abuse and abandonment involve one or both parents.  And in that case, as in our pretend game, it means letting the child decide their own fate. Its means letting the child determine where they go, who they will live with based on their extended network of friends and family and then providing extensive support to that network. It means if one parent is guilty and the other one truly is not, letting the child stay with the other parent. And if both are guilty, it means letting the child decide their own fate. It means letting the child chose a family that they already know and trust.

How likely is that? How likely will our system change to make that happen? Not very.

So until we can get there, until we can convince the public and the politicians to make that happen, we need to focus on ending the current system as we know it by arguing the cost of the system, the horrible outcomes, and how we can make changes now:

First, address the underlying problems by doing two things legislatively right now:

  1. Universal health care for every person in this country, citizen or not, I don’t care. Make it a “right.” This will reduce the number of children entering the system and will save money, lives and families.
  2. Foster the family by enacting laws allowing the state to literally “take” the family as a whole and insist on providing counseling, services, food, shelter, rehab and addiction services, etc., on a 24 hour basis.

If you manage the legislative aspect you will reduce the number of cases of incoming foster children dramatically within 2 years. The goal should be to reduce the number of kids in foster care from the current 500,000 to about 1/2 within 5 years, by age group. So, the number of 16–18 year olds entering the system should drop by 50% within 2 years, the number of 14–16 year olds entering the system should drop by 25%, etc. down the line. (Ages, numbers are simply an example).

Second, divide current foster children into two groups:

  1. Acute
  2. Chronic

Acute are all those children who will be literally taken into custody by the state today and placed in a foster home, group home or other temporary facility.

Chronic are the kids that have been in care for more than 6-12 months.

Acute cases should have an immediate court review within 72 hours, rain or shine, 7 days per week.

If there is evidence of substantial and/or severe physical harm or abuse — (there are plenty of clear cut cases of physical harm,  the caseworkers and courts see it every day) — then terminate the parental rights on the spot. Period. On the spot. Allow for a 30-60 day search of a responsible relative or a family known to the child, who will be bound by law not to interact with the birth family if that is best for the child.  If none are found, the child should be placed in a long term foster home, available for adoption.

Chronic cases need to be completely revamped along these lines:

  • No group foster homes, and no more than 2 foster children per foster family unless the kids are siblings. This will require a few things that cost money but will be cheaper for our country in the long term:
    • High / large incentives for families with a stable income, positive financial picture, clean background to become foster parents, with the goal to increase the number of foster homes by a factor of 5–10x. Train these families in the mental health aspects of fostering as a requirement. And, require ongoing training (this is already required already in most states and municipalities).
    • Constant monitoring and counseling of kids in said homes by the case worker which will require hiring of more professionals. As it is now, kids do not see their case worker as frequently as they should, and so they do not develop a trust relationship with that case worker, and they often do not report cases of abuse in a trusted manner.
  • Require that the foster homes remain open for only those kids they are fostering so that when reunification with the family fails (it will in 1/3 to 1/2 of cases), the child comes back to the home they already know. This means you do not have a foster home that takes in 3 kids the next day after 3 have just left – each home must be dedicated to specific children only until reunification with family, if attempted is successful.
  • Make it OK for the child to not be adopted by a foster family if they don’t want to be adopted. Allow them to stay with the family as long as they want if that is the legal status they prefer. This is important because adoption is a psychological issue that children who are older may not desire.

You will never completely eliminate some human conditions – prostitution, poverty, orphans…

But you CAN reduce the instances.

I would be willing to be wrong about the solution I have outline here if I were ever able to make it law.  I’d rather try something like this and have it fail miserably than for the current system to continue. I honestly don’t think the results could be worse.

We can change it.

You can change it.