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Family. It’s something most of have, many of us take for granted, and at least a few of us complain about to friends and colleagues. But family is also at the emotional and biological core of our society. Families give us life, care for us when we are vulnerable, and provide love and support through challenges big and small.
Unfortunately, too many children and teens today don’t have this fundamental element in their lives. These young people can’t live safely with their birth parents right now, and need someone else to care for them. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care. More than one in seven experiences a group placement while in the system. One in three teenagers in care is in a group setting, rather than a family. More than 100,000 children are currently waiting for an adoptive family. Many are desperately hoping they can leave care — or avoid care at all — by going to live with a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or other relative. It’s time for us to do more to ensure that all children have the family they need and deserve.
This month is [adoption month, foster care month, grandparent month, etc.], and it’s a great time to remind our community that there are families who will care for children who can’t remain at home. We simply have to invest in the right practices and policies so that we can find and support these families. There are people like Debbie and Earl who have provided foster care to medically fragile children for many years — helping them return safely home when possible, training their relatives to met their medical needs, or adopting them when they cannot go home. There are parents like John, who provides short-term care for teenage boys who would otherwise be placed in a group home until their relatives are found. There are grandmothers like Anne who is providing a loving home for her grandsons because her daughter was unable to take care of them.
But parents like Debbie and Earl’s, John’s, and Anne’s need our support to help their children thrive. Abuse, neglect, trauma, and loss can affect children’s behaviors, mental health, and ability to attach. Children and youth in out-of-home care are at increased risk for physical and mental health disorders and disabilities. But research has shown that supporting kinship, foster, and adoptive families enables children to heal from past trauma, helps keep families together, and improves outcomes for all.
Finding and supporting families for children isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the fiscally prudent thing to do. Group care can be 7 to 10 times as expensive as family foster care. Research has shown that each adoption from foster care can save as much as $235,000 in government funds. And placing children with relatives instead of in foster care saves at least 4 billion taxpayer dollars each year.
[insert specific policy or practice recommendation here]
This month, and every month, we need to take action to ensure that every child and youth has what we all want—a safe and loving family. Together, we can ensure that the child welfare system is dedicated to finding and supporting a family for every child.
America Is Stronger When Children Live in Families
There wasn’t a dry eye around recently when Demille Cole-Heard paid tribute to his grandfather — the man he said showed him how to be a man. He testified saying of the man who raised him, there could be no greater father figure.
The young man tricked his grandfather, Charles Warthan, by saying he needed his support as he tried out for The Voice. Instead he really wanted to publically honor the man who worked at least two jobs to support him, after he’d already raised his own children, and encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
His grandfather had always dreamed of singing in front of a large audience so together they made that dream come true singing the Star Spangled Banner on the Today Show. They made their voices heard in the land of the free and home of the brave.
Our organization is dedicated to supporting families across the country like Demille’s. We lift our voices for families that are too often overlooked — kin (grandfamilies), foster, and adoptive families. Our whole purpose is to support and advocate for families like the stable, encouraging, and loving one in which Charles raised his grandson. We are dedicated to helping these families who care for children and youth, promote their healing, and help them thrive when their birth parents are unable to do so.
Why? We know children and youth do better in families. Young people can age out of a system, but they never age out of a family.
Still more than 23,000 youth age of foster care each year without any family connection. At the same time, grandfamilies, foster families, and adoptive families struggle to meet the needs of children in their care. These families are lovingly caring for children who have experienced trauma, and need information, training, support, and resources to the help children heal.
According the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Stepping Up for Kids, foster care benefits provide about 52 percent of what it takes to raising a child. Adoptive parents typically receive the same or lower support than foster families. Child Only Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which is what most grandfamilies access if they access any financial support, only provides about 25 percent of what it takes to raise a child.
All the sadder, the kids in care are seldom asked what they want.
Take Catherine Sanders. She came into foster care when she was 13. She was never told adoption was an option, she was only asked what her plan was when she aged out. On Capitol Hill recently, her voice was clear when she told policy makers, “Remember that you get to go home at the end of the day, but kids (in foster care) have to live it 24/7.”
She went on to say, “I know that I am ‘someone’ and I am becoming even more a ‘someone.’ But I want to be a ‘someone’ who has a family cheering her on.”
Catherine wants what Demille found with his grandfather. Unconditional love.
So what can we do? Simple—put families first. And here’s how.
We urge policy makers to support:
- Providing kids who have been abused or neglected with a family that will stay with them forever.
- Prioritizing family care over institutions when it’s necessary to remove a child from the birth family.
- Preparing caregivers to meet the complex needs of children coming into their homes.
- Empowering youth and family voices so they can advocate for what they want and need.
- Ensuring that children and youth have opportunities to participate fully in their life
planning, and that caregivers have the right to make decisions for the children in their care.
- Giving children and youth the support and services they need to be stable and successful in their lives.
Cole-Heard learned from his grandfather that hard work, love, and persistence always pay off. He made a grand gesture honoring his grandfather.
Now it’s time we join together to celebrate and give voice to children like him and the families who step up and care for them.
Response to stories emphasizing or defending group care for children with serious challenges
[start with an introductory sentence or two referring to original article or media story. For example, “We agree with Name of Author (link to story) that children should grow up in families that love them. We also agree that some children need quality, time-limited residential care.”]
But what he glosses over is that too many children in foster care are placed in group settings when there is no need. One in five children in care — one in three teens — will experience a non-family placement. Research has shown that children who have been in group care were not significantly different from those placed in a family.
Across the country today, children with serious challenges are being successfully raised in kinship, foster, and adoptive families. With the right support, parents can take care of children who have difficult behaviors and who have mental health challenges. We must invest in recruiting, training, and supporting these parents so that children have the family they deserve — a family to grow up and grow old in.
Studies shows children who live in a family prefer where they live and are better prepared to thrive in a permanent home. Residential treatment centers should be viewed much like emergency rooms — they serve a vital role, but aren’t the best long-term choice and should not be the default for large numbers of children.
Response to stories or movements promoting the stability of orphanages or group homes
Children Need Families, Not Just a Building
We are always pleased to see public attention to the needs of children who cannot remain with their birth families. When such attention also promotes childhood-long institutionalization, however, our pleasure quickly turns to pain. Children should not have to choose between stability and family — they deserve both.
Research shows that children reared in institutions are at serious risk for developmental problems and long-term personality disorders. In an analysis of group versus family care research, University of North Carolina professor Richard Barth concludes: “…there is virtually no evidence to indicate that group care enhances the accomplishment of any of the goals of child welfare services: it is not more safe or better at promoting development, it is not more stable, it does not achieve better long-term outcomes, and it is not more efficient as the cost is far in excess of other forms of care.”
All children deserve parents who love and care for them — forever. Families teach children how to trust, share, and give and receive love. Parents advocate for their children, care for them when they are sick, and guide them into adulthood. Moms and dads and other caring relatives cheer at basketball games and shed tears at graduations.
But parenting doesn’t stop when children turn 18. As Jessica, a young woman who aged out of a group home, put it, “The scary part was when I turned 18. I had nowhere to go. They told me, ‘When you turn 18, basically, you’re done.’ When I left, I was unprepared to be on my own.” Young adults return to their families with good news — promotions, marriages, and parenthood — as well as in times of crisis and need. A family means people to turn to and return to for life, and children should not be denied this basic right.
Children do move too often in foster care, but finding stability in a building rather than a family is not the solution. If only a portion of the money needed to maintain an orphanage was invested in supporting birth families, finding and supporting relatives, and foster and adoptive family recruitment, training, and support, children would not need to move from place to place. Wraparound services, treatment or multidimensional foster care, and specialized post-placement services have all proven to keep children, including teens and those with serious disabilities, in safe, loving families. It may be easier to use one 30-bed orphanage than to invest in finding foster or adoptive families for the same 30 children. In the long-run, however, it is both more expensive and worse for children.
We need to invest in families, not orphanages.
Here is a sample that has been published
“Kids do best in families. Kids who live in families, supported through the tough times, have the best chances for life success,” said Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia KIDS COUNT. “Far too many West Virginia children under the care of our child welfare system are missing the support of a family because they are being unnecessarily placed in long-term, residential care. These group placements exact too high a price – in both human terms and taxpayer dollars. As a state, our top policy priorities should be keeping kids connected to family or kin; and strengthening the foster care system so that foster parents are available to nurture and protect children until they can live with a permanent family.”