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Dear Michael Antonovich (LA County Supervisor),

As someone who has experienced the loss and devastation of losing someone to the foster care system, I ask that you re-evaluate and help change the process of determining the best interest regarding placement of a foster care child.  Since you have been actively involved with the issues surrounding the “aging-out” process that foster care teens go through when they are left feeling abandoned and unprepared for their future; I ask you to address the child placement process in the earlier years of a child’s life.  To have a strong foundation and upbringing should be of utmost importance in the foster care system and I strongly believe, through my own personal experiences and detailed research, that the system is wrongly focused and determined to reunify a child with their birth family regardless of the conditions of that biological family.  There is currently no enforced law to first right of adoption after a child has been reunified with their birth parents just to be brought back into the system shortly after…  When children re-enter Foster Care, so many of today’s youth are torn from loving foster families because of the system’s focus on re-unification and lack of agency protocol when the child re-enters the system.

I ask that you bring to light and take action towards enforcing a method for checking past placement records so that if children leave their birth parents again, they can be reunited with their foster family prior to the re-unification.  This way they can at least experience a form of normalcy and the best chance of being adopted.   The child’s record/case must be re-visited and thoroughly assessed so that the child can be placed in a home quickly and in a timely manner.  With thousands of children in the system, shouldn’t there be a strict focus on giving the child the best future?  How can placement agencies fail to contact previous Foster Care parents for placement consideration or other biological family members when they re-enter the system?  It appears that the cycle continues for children moving from home to home because there is a lack of attention or even consideration of checking their past foster placements….

I would truly appreciate and admire any work that can be done because change needs to happen.  I believe you are the person to make this change.  What kind of future will our country have if thousands of today’s youth are trapped in the system unable to speak up for their rights to the best life and family to support them?  What is it like to love if you’ve never been loved yourself?  It is time to put the child’s needs first and do what is in their best interest – placement in a loving and stable home they all deserve.

Thank you,

An advocate for the little wonders waiting for their lives to begin…

Reunification

I found an article on the American Bar Association Website that makes me cringe.  “Enhancing and Celebrating Family Reunifications from Foster Care.”  Before you make assumptions, I have mentioned in previous postings that I am in full support of parents and families re-uniting with their children if they have done the work to cleanup their situation and get the help they need to be the best guardian and provider for their child.  However, with the experience my family had with Meredith, who we lost when family relatives gained custody of her, and so many other cases, the standards at which the biological family must meet are not being met or enforced whatsoever.

“Reunification is the most important, since the cost of separation is quite damaging both on emotional and financial levels,” said Amie S. Gladfelter, a caseworker with the County Office of Children, Youth, and Families in Pennsylvania. “Funding should be supplied for things necessary for the family to be successful, like housing, transportation and food.”

What I see jump off the page is “financial levels.”  From my experience and from reading this article is that parents who want their child back and are committed to loving and caring for them in the best way possible, should have the support of the system for a certain amount of time before the child can go back into their care.  Meanwhile, I know from my sister’s experiences, that foster parents are raising these children for sometimes up to TWO YEARS while the US government spends money on helping these parents, who make no effort to improve themselves or their living situation, become better fit parents.  Meanwhile the child is torn between fully adapting to their foster family and going for weekly visits with their parents.

Without going into detail, I have seen the effects of this separation and attachment process and how unhealthy this cycle is for foster children at a young age.  This article addresses the need for a better system to help willing and fit parents make positive changes to be the parents they want to be.  It is NOT about Foster Care making them what they want to be just so they can put the “we reunified the child with their parents” band aid without making sure the home is the best option for the child.

Take a moment and read the article as it reinforces the assumption that reunification is the optimal choice for foster children.  Law needs to enforce what every child deserves – the best possible home and environment to prosper.  Reunification is a great option if it’s what is best for the child.  Otherwise, the system should primarily focus efforts on adoption or foster parents serious about future adoption.

Click image to be directed to article

In other news, I also found that ABC News Online posted an article titled, “Foster Care System Faces Problems,” where Logan Nakyanzi discusses the “financial and human cost” of the growing half a million children in the foster care system today.

Here is what I liked about the article: pointing out the purpose of advocates, which is to “urge strengthening communities.”  The goal of foster care must be set to placing children in competent foster homes while the child spends less time being in foster homes and is on a quicker route to adoption by a FAMILY BEST FOR THE CHILD.

Here is what I didn’t like: Although the article pointed out the importance of strong communities to protect foster children, there was no clear leader or advocate pushing the changes the article is so able to point out yet not commit to creating any ideas of resolve.  Other than the references to former pro-basketball player Alonzo Mourning and actress Victoria Rowell who spent time in the foster care system, the article does not identify a leader in law or in the position to make change that can be a united voice for these children.

Link to ABC NEWS Article:

http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=132011&page=1#.TuLsEmDgIb0

Attention Michael Antonovich! http://antonovich.lacounty.gov/Pages/Issues/foster_care.htm

In the News

In the past two months, I have noticed more attention to the foster care problems in the news and in articles addressing the upward battle taking place with the number of children entering the system and the condition they are in when/if they “age out.’’  My sister sent me an email a number of days ago that provided a positive glimpse into what progress is being made in the foster care issue.

In honor of November being adoption month, the White House hosted a panel on the importance of adoption in the United States.  “Focus on the Family” is a religious organization that started the “Wait No More” campaign dedicated to finding families for children waiting in foster care.  What struck a cord with me was not only the fact that the email I received highlighted that Focus on the Family had been to the White House to discuss the issues, but that they were addressing the country’s leaders commanding the very clear need of foster children:

“Why are these kids still waiting!” – focus on the family

 Here is Focus on the Family’s campaign mission and initiative that was recognized at the White House for its success:

“Since its inception, Wait No More has helped approximately 1,800 families start the process of adoption through foster care. That means that, through the joint efforts of Focus on the Family, state foster care programs and adoption agencies, more families are considering the possibility of welcoming children into their forever families.” – Tom Minnery, Senior Vice President, Government & Public Policy for Focus on the Family.

Voices Heard

Many people have recommended this book to me, “Hope’s Boy.”  Andrew Bridge describes the life of a child being torn from his mother to be placed in foster care at the age of seven in his powerful memoir and New York Times Best Seller.  A graduate from Harvard Law School, Bridge has dedicated his life to fighting for the lives of children who don’t have a voice and are trapped in the vulnerable position foster care puts them in.  Through the telling of his own personal story and tragic end to the life he once knew with his mother, he addresses the harsh reality foster children face when they are attached to their own family or a foster family just to be ripped out of the comfort they felt and back into the system.

“It took great courage to write this memoir…. Our discomfort with love and failure has helped create and fuel a foster-care bureaucracy that often operates with a breathtaking lack of humanity. Bridge survived to write this beautiful, moving memoir. So many children don’t.” —   Los Angeles Times

 

I urge you all to read this book and watch Bridge’s interviews available online as he speaks out against the foster care’s treatment and lack of law enforcement when it comes to the standards of living with a biological or foster family.  So many children are permanently scarred or don’t survive the system because the lack of attention and dedication to find the best home for the child.

As I work towards being a voice for change in my blog posts, I admire and look to the incredible voices of people like Andrew Bridge who survived the system and works today towards being a voice for the voiceless.  Please help me bring voices to the voiceless in foster care by reading the literature and news that is lacking the force and energy needed to create change in this deeply flawed system.

Book Website: http://www.hopesboy.com/

Child Advocacy

“Changing the System that Raised them.”  As I am always searching for material and references to build up more and more evidence against the foster care system, I find it powerful to see stories of young adults who have aged out of the system who are struggling to survive yet find a way to “change the system that raised them.”

I can’t help, but feel completely confounded and upset about the reality of Meredith’s situation (see my story) now that she has been away from us for over two years and could be back in the foster care system…my family and I are never allowed to know.  The trailer below makes an impact on me and I hope it does on you, especially the end where the kids who have “aged-out” are speaking in Washington D.C. to have a voice for kids currently trapped in the system and set out on the same path.

As it is referenced on the Place-to-Place official website, the Casey Family Services makes a strong comment about the film and actions of the foster care system making long lasting and damaging effects on the youth in this country.  The importance of permanency in their lives when they are growing up and in the fundamental stages of learning should be the top goal of foster care – not reunifying them with their parents who abuse the system.  Eight billion dollars a year is spent on the foster care system... and yet hundreds of thousands of kids are still waiting.  This money must go towards finding the best home for the child and not a bounce back-and-forth struggle between what is best for the child and who they share DNA with…

“Aging out without a permanent family and/or adequate preparation for adulthood is a crisis. It is a personal injury to each and every youth in care and a public emergency for our national child welfare system.” – Casey Family Services

“How we care for the youth in this country, really defines the country’s strength.”– Place to Place: A documentary uncovering America’s hidden tragedy

Reform Foster Care

The first step in promoting the message of how damaged and corrupt the foster care system is, to both children and the foster families, is to look to the statistics.

According to the documentary “Place to Place,” in May 2011 there were 423,000 foster children in the United States.  What is even more baffling and heartbreaking is that in September of 2010, (according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report) there were 408,425 children in foster care.  In less than a year, the system grew by nearly 150,000 children being filtered through foster homes and back-and-forth between foster homes and biological parents.

The following data is from 2010 as it has better yearly-percentages than the current 2011-year:

24,634 of the 408,425 children in foster care were less than a year old.  I find this important to point out because I strongly believe this to be the most important time in a child’s life for foster care to act according to what the law SHOULD BE enforcing.  And that is –  find the best home for the child as soon as possible. This is vital so that the child can get the best start and foundation to a happy and healthy life before they experience memories with lasting and damaging effects when moving place-to-place as an older child.

51% (202, 389 separate cases) had the primary goal of reunification with the parent(s) when only 25% (96,772 children) were adopted.  So more than 105,000 children’s cases are dedicated to parental reunification and either stay with their parents or bounce back and forth between foster care and their parents who are unable to provide a stable home for them.

In just 2010 alone, 254, 375 children entered foster care. At this rate, where do you think the future of this country is going when thousands of youth are growing up without stable homes and loving families? 

As of September 2010, 107, 011 children are identified as having the goal to be adopted because parental rights had been terminated – their average waiting time in foster care was 37.3 months. The average age of the children who were taken away from their parents was 5 years old. Five years of their life attached to their biological family, moving from home to home all to be terminated around age 5.

Is this what is in the best interest of the child?  Five years of waiting to see if their parents can be the foundation they need? Five years that they could have already been adopted by a loving family? Five years of separation and attachment to their parents who end up losing all right to their child?

Sources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families

From Place to Place Documentary:  http://fromplacetoplacemovie.com/

Image: http://vi.sualize.us/invis/children/