Friday, May 6, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XXV

I'm sure that this is old news for some folks who are good about following current events, but since I'm not sure this story has received much in the way of national news coverage, it's worth sharing.

From Michigan radio:

Plan would require foster children to shop for clothing in thrift stores

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

Although I can understand that the plan is designed to a) reduce costs and b) ensure that foster children actually receive the clothing to which they are entitled, it's a dumb idea.

I've already written about foster children using garbage bags as luggage, and I think this plan is yet another way that foster kids will be forced into feeling like second-class citizens. If the only place they are allowed to shop for clothing is at a thrift store, that tells the child that they aren't worth anything new.

That's a crappy place to be.

Even within in-tact families, many kids grow up feeling that wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings is a source of shame. Although some kids look forward to wearing their older brother or sister's cool shirt, many younger kids feel a certain amount of resentment that the older children get the new stuff and they don't.

How is a foster child going to feel, especially if he or she is living in a home where the biological children get new stuff?

Again, I think this is a place where the foster care system fails kids. It fails to recognize that these children have feelings. Putting a child in foster care shouldn't further traumatize a child. If the state is going to assume the role of a parent, it should assume the role of a really good parent, and that means things like a good education, proper services and new clothing.

Now I'll admit that not everything we bought for our own child was new. She's received a lot of new clothes over the years, from us, from friends and from our relatives. She's also been given quite a few nice hand-me-downs from friends, and we've made a few trips to the secondhand store. Danielle's clothing consists of a mix of stuff, most new, some not.

Now I don't think that taking a foster child to shop at a used clothing store is inherently bad. Going to a thrift shop is like a treasure hunt, in that you never know what you might find. Sometimes, you find vintage clothing. Sometimes, you find brand new, name-brand items with the tags still on them. Sometimes, you find nothing at all. It can be an interesting and fun adventure.

But my worry with Michigan's plan is that it would force kids into a position of using thrift stores for everything, and that just feels lousy. Who wants to wear secondhand underwear or socks, for example?

Although I understand Senator Caswell is all about saving money for the state, I think the plan is a bad one because it fails to recognize the emotional impact it will have on the kids who fall under the policy.

I think a better plan would be to do what our state does: twice a year, foster parents receive a check for x amount of money, which they can spend any way they like. It's not a lot of money, and many foster families end up dipping into their own pockets and spending more than what the clothing allowance provides. If the state is worried that parents aren't spending the money properly, then perhaps they should just require that the parents show receipts to prove what was purchased.

So if we are going to improve the foster care system, politicians need to recognize that these children are human beings with thoughts, feelings and emotions, and not simply numbers on a spreadsheet.


  1. This story set off an internet firestorm against the senator, however I have read, but can't find it now, that he had already abandoned the idea before it hit the news.


  2. Completely stupid idea. I get the idea to insure that kid's are getting clothes and the parents aren't pocketing the money but our area had two ways around this: 1) they would issue you a voucher to a department store. You would take the clothes back to the customer service desk with your voucher and they would charge it to DFS. 2) You could buy the kid clothes whereever you wanted and then turn in the receipts to be reimbursed. I have nothing against thrift stores..I love some of the upscale kid's consignment stores where you can find great deals, but making you use those stores is not cool.

  3. This is sooo stupid!!!

    Reminds me of Charles Dickens!

  4. In our county, it's the opposite. You can't buy second hand clothes. I still do, but only because there's a fabu second hand shop that sells designer kids clothing. My kids were really gorgeous clothes.

  5. I'm glad to hear this idea was abandoned. What a silly idea though, to think that a teen could find an entire wardrobe at thrift stores. Lots of what is there is worn and massively out of style. I still find some nice things, but you pretty much have to fill in with new stuff. Now for a young child it might be possible. And what about bras and swimsuits and underwear? Yuck.


I love to get comments from my readers. Please be aware that comment moderation is on and there may be a delay between the time you post your remarks and the time they appear on the blog.

If you would like your comment read and/or published, sign your name to it and play nice.