Friday, July 29, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XXVII

In response to Nobody Wants the "Bad" Kids, LK wrote:

At some point you gotta look at the end result and say, hey, there is too much corruption and too many systematic failures to justify their existence, even when they can claim a success story such as in your case where the child was adopted. That's all it takes for them to make themselves look good in the eyes of the sheep, by how you measure success and sell it to the public through the public relations departments. "The state adopted out X number of foster kids this year." Then sweep the rest of it under the rug.

They are not doing right by these kids, you know that, I know that, they are only making their situations worse by bouncing them through an uncaring and incompetent system then passing them off onto the first people who are gullible enough to believe that with love everyone will live happily ever after.

LT was failed in every way imaginable, both before and after she was taken into care. Her story is all too common, yet all the people involved from the worker to the foster parents are viewed by society as the Angels of Mercy because they are "protecting the children from abuse or neglect." Not one person ever made the commitment to her and many other kids. Yet they're all heroes in the eyes of the ignorant.

Nobody is ever held accountable for any of these failures either, except for the child and the parents (real or adoptive) of course.


Although I'm categorizing this post under my Improving the Foster Care System series, this post is less about what can be done to improve it, and more about identifying the fact that we are dealing with a very messed-up system.  It's not just that the foster care system isn't working, it's that the entire child welfare system, from bottom to top, is completely broken.

There are so many places where the system is not working:
  • Child abuse reporting, investigations and mandated reporting.
  • The foster care system itself, not only in the way that it cares for the children, but in the way that it treats foster and birth parents.
  • The reunification process.
  • How children are aged out.
  • The adoption process, and how it rarely concludes with the "happy ending" that the public relations folks want publicized.
The system has created a lot of angry and hurt people:
  • Damaged children who suffer lasting educational and psychological challenges.
  • Destroyed birth families.
  • Disillusioned and burnt-out foster familes.
  • Frustrated adoptive families who are parenting children beyond their abilities without the appropriate help.
  • Angry former foster kids.
  • Angry adult adoptees.
Are there some folks who are happy with the system?  Sure, if you look hard enough there will always be a few satisfied customers, even when you are dealing with the worst of the worst.  Countrywide Financial, who was at the heart of the mortgage meltdown, had some surprisingly happy customers.  I know this, because we once had a very fair, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with them, and we never had any complaints.

But the reality is, just like with Countrywide Financial, who wrote more than $14 billion dollars in bad mortgages, a handful of satisfied customers doesn't mean that the system is healthy.

So are there people who have been touched by the system who felt better for the experience?  Sure, I'm sure there are a few.  Unfortunately, for the majority of us, whether we are birth, foster or adoptive parents, current or former foster children or adoptees, we've been damaged by the system.

We have all been hurt.

What I find so incredibly sad is that we have folks from all of these groups bashing away at each other on the Internet.  I've seen so many sites, written by angry former foster and adoptive children blaming their birth, foster and adoptive parents for the ills in their lives, when the real problem is the system.  I see foster parents bashing birth parents and birth parents bashing foster parents, and anti-child welfare system sites bashing everybody.

What it seems is that many people are forgetting that we all want the same thing.

I think we can all agree on the following:
  • Children should not be abused by birth, foster or adoptive parents.
  • We need a mechanism for protecting children who are truly being abused.
  • Supports need to be in place for the children who come into the system.
  • Supports need to be provided to parents whose children have come into contact with the system.
  • That system needs to be fair to everyone.
  • The system should be designed to genuinely help people, not simply to punish them for their failures.
Now I have to honest and say I have no idea how to design such a system.  I suspect the difficulty in designing such an organization is precisely why the current system sucks as bad as it does.  Right now, I think the only people who really benefit from it are the social workers and supervisors who collect paychecks, and the politicians who can use these systems to look good. 

Guess what everybody?  We've cut x million dollars from the budget, while adopting out y thousand kids, isn't that great?

Yeah, right.  Bite me.

What I do find troubling, though, is how so many of these groups are intent on bashing each other, when, if we boil down what we really want to the basic essence, we all really want the same thing.

We all want what's best for these kids, and we are working with an absolutely sucky system that doesn't provide the right supports for anyone, kids and adults alike.  It doesn't matter whose side you are on, the system is broken from all angles.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of folks bashing each other on the blogosphere, or making sport out of creating false child welfare investigations because they don't like someone's opinion, people take all that energy, dedication and persistence to go out and do something to fix the broken system at its roots?  Instead of attacking the perceived failings of birth, foster or adoptive parents who dare blog about their experiences, how about doing something to correct the broken system?

It's easy to shout criticism at individual birth, foster or adoptive parents, especially if they have difficult children with whom they are struggling.  However, I don't think that leaving nasty comments (especially those that include name-calling, threats or profanity) solves anything.  If you want to help kids in care, attack the system.  Make the system better.

Because honestly, if birth, foster and adoptive families received better supports, there would be fewer kids in foster care in the first place, and those that were touched by the system would be far better off for the experience than they are now.

So honestly, it seems to me pretty ridiculous to attack a family because you disagree with their decision to give a misbehaving child a peanut butter sandwich, or another because they publicly write about their struggles.  Instead of attacking  people, which doesn't help the kids, why not use that same energy to create change in a very broken system?

If every Congress critter got even some of hate mail I get in any given week, they might actually sit up and pay attention.

But no, it's easier to send nasty anonymous comments and e-mails, even though it's far less productive.

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