Monday, March 21, 2011

I Still Think Neglect is Better than Foster Care

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I thought that we should eliminate neglect as a reason to place children in foster care. Not surprisingly, a few people disagreed with me. One of those who disagreed is my blogging buddy Baggage, who wrote about this topic on her blog.

In her post, she wrote:

Foster Abba questions whether being in foster care is worse than being neglected. And while being in foster care isn’t great and my children have suffered the loss of their birthparents, the effects of their neglect still remain. Stargirl is still significantly smaller than her peers. As a result of her food neglect, she still, four years later, has anxiety over when food is coming and how much she will be allowed to eat. Both of my children are afraid to sleep with the lights off. Stargirl had to have extensive dental surgery where they removed many of her back baby teeth. She suffered hearing loss from untreated ear infections that required ear tubes. This delayed her speech. She learned to walk late and she still has gross motor skills. Although they are in regular classrooms now, they still struggle with keeping up with their peers in terms of academics and social skills and this is AFTER four years of intensive work on my part to get them up to speed.

I have to say that as much as I respect and care about Baggage* I still think that neglect is better than foster care.

Now it might not be true for all kids. Certainly Baggage's kids had a better foster care experience than most children. They weren't bounced around from foster home to foster home, nor were they further mistreated by abusive or neglectful foster parents. Danielle's experience is similar -- she landed in one foster home and stayed until she was adopted. That's not a bad experience, and certainly the experience of these three kids is better than being neglected.

The problem is, our situation is just not the norm for foster children.

Most kids aren't lucky enough to land in one foster home and stay until they go home, are adopted, or age out. Most kids are bounced around through a series of homes, some of which are uncaring at best, and abusive at worst.

When I hear stories like the ones that LT and Growing Up Lost share, I really believe that in many cases, being abused and neglected by the devil that you know is better than being abused and neglected by the devil that you don't.

Now don't get me wrong -- kids shouldn't be abused in foster care any more than they should be abused at home. Unfortunately, there's a big difference between the way the world should be and the way it really works.

The reality is that there are some really sick, messed-up foster parents, just like there are sick, messed-up birth families. There was a case in our local area, not too long ago, where a long-time, and well-respected foster parent was accused of doing some terrible things to the children in her care. I'd met the woman, though I can't say that I knew her well, and the allegations didn't match up with what I thought I knew about the woman.

Did she do it? There's no way to know for sure, but there were corroborating statements made by multiple witnesses. The case is still pending, and no doubt it will be a long time before the case is finally settled. If she's innocent, then this is just another example of how false allegations can ruin someone's life. If she's guilty, then it's another situation that feeds the stereotype that all foster parents are bad.

What I do know is that the outcomes for foster children aren't good. I also realize that it's often hard to determine if the problems foster children suffer are caused by being in foster care, or caused by the abuse or neglect they suffered before they came into the system. What I do know, is that many of the foster care alumni I've spoken to have said that they would have rather stayed with their abusive or neglectful birth family than to be abused and neglected by strangers.

If there's a choice between a child being neglected by their birth family or going into foster care, I still think that the neglect is better, only because the foster care system can't guarantee an outcome that's any better than what a kid might have had if they'd stayed at home. I know that goes against everything we've been taught as a society, but I think it's the reality. We can't fix kids or families by grabbing children and putting them in foster care.

As much as I'd like every foster child's experience to be like Baggage's children, where kids are placed with one good and caring home, the reality is that's not what usually happens. Kids suffer multiple placements, disrupted attachments and sometimes even more abuse and neglect in the homes that are supposed to protect them.

So I think that kids will do better, even neglected, by the devils they know, rather than the ones they don't.

* I think Baggage is completely awesome. She sent Danielle a much-appreciated and needed gift a few years ago, and her kindness and generosity has not been forgotten.


  1. I think that severity levels need to be considered. The terms Abuse and Neglect have become too generic. One size fits all.

    In most cases neglect is minor and you have workers making mountains out of mole hills. Family preservation services can usually help to improve the situation, but funding is often not allocated for that. Funding is allocated for foster care and the feds will pay there share based on the numbers of kids in care.

    One of the other problems is that they don't respect the fact that kinship placements are almost always better than foster care. Nor have I seen any of foster parent blogs bring this issue into the discussion. More often than not, they're bashing any relatives, and placing them into the same categories of lower life forms just like they do with the real parents, simply because they can't live up to a self-righteous hypocrites holier than thou standards.

    I have talked to many grandparents who were cut off, not being allowed any contact, not being allowed into the courtroom after being told that they're not a party to the case. Even though they know it's better to take a kid out of the home and place them with a grandparent or an aunt who loves them rather than stranger care. Still, a large portion of my reader base is grandparents who have been completely cut off, not even looked at or approached as a potential placement. Like Dorothy here...">

    Some states even require relatives to have foster care licenses, and the state will drag their ass on that just like they will with anything else. Never mind what's best for the kid.

    Relatives also do not get any where near the amount of help and support that foster parents get. I know that foster parents complain about not getting the help and resources needed for the job, that's not the point. Kinship placements often get nothing and are set up to fail from the beginning.

    Personally I think that there has to be a line drawn somewhere and the standards need to be set. They need to come to some reasonable definition of the words that is not so easily subject to misinterpretation or intentional fraud.


  2. I agree. I am and have dealt with far more issues related to being bounced around than neglected in the first place. I think it is infinitely more painful when a child enters foster care and is bounced around because they are told they are being taken to a safe and better place. They expected abuse and neglect from their parents. They knew it. Then superheroes come along and promise better and when that doesn't happen, it ruins that child's ability to ever believe they deserve better.

  3. Some kids wind up in better places. Even though we have had GB since she was 5 1/2 months old, she is still dealing with the after affects of prenatal abuse and severe neglect her first 5 1/2 months of life. If she had been left with it any longer, she would not have survived. Even with all the intensive services she receives/ received, she still may not survive... but at least she has a chance.

  4. I have to agree that it depends on your definition of neglect. I personally like the idea of kinship foster parents - I do think they should be able to get their license retroactively (in other words, not delay the child's entry to the home - if they look at all capable of handling the child, but give them at least what little training foster parents get, agency support and supervision, and foster child subsidies). My in-laws became foster parents to care for my nieces and nephew when my ex-SIL lost custody (repeatedly until she eventually had her parental rights terminated. I don't know if they received a subsidy though. We would have taken the kids in a heartbeat, but we lived on the other side of the country.

    Mary in TX


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