Kids Who Linger

June 19, 2013 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Nebraska Foster Care Review Office has put out its quarterly report and it’s worth a look. As the Journal Star summarizes it, some data are moving in the right direction: fewer children are in out-of-home care, and children are spending less time in temporary “shelter care” situations—basically limbo between home and a more long-term foster care placement. That’s the good news.

Here’s (some of) the bad news: oodles of children have been out of their homes for two years or longer, and most of those children are under the age of twelve. These aren’t trouble-making teens, in other words. These are young kids spending a significant chunk of their lives in impermanent situations. The implications for their mental, behavioral, and social health are profound.

This issue hits home for us here at 625 Elm Street. When we adopted Joey he had spent a total of roughly three-and-a-half of his eight years in foster care. Keishor spent his first 20 months in foster care, lived with his bio mom for a year, and then was in foster care with us for 1.5 years before we adopted him.

The FCRO report identifies some worrying statistics indicating that African American and Native American children are far more likely to spend more time out-of-home than other children. The question is why. The Indian Child Welfare Act is an obvious contributor for Native American kids. But there’s an easy-to-identify, much larger issue that covers pretty much every other explanation: poverty.

When I talk to people about foster care, one of the frequent complaints people have is that the bio parents just don’t seem to try very hard to get their kids back. There’s a kernel of truth in that complaint, but it’s largely based on an extraordinarily naive understanding of poverty. Not that I’m an expert on the topic; I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the things I’ve witnessed. Lack of education and/or mental health problems play important roles, as does what might be termed “poverty culture”. Whatever the cause, the fact is that many things just take longer for people in poverty. That includes getting kids back into the home.

Complaints are the length of time children spend out-of-home make me worried. I worry that one of two things will happen as policymakers rush to improve numbers: children will be shoved back home before the home is ready or they’ll be taken away before parents have had adequate time to fix their problems, all because a page turned on a calendar somewhere deep in the bowels of the DHHS offices. If you think I’m exaggerating, if you think that DHHS wouldn’t possibly do something so arbitrary, you clearly haven’t dealt with the office very much.

So although I do want kids to spend less time in limbo, all parties must be treated fairly. That includes the kids, of course, but also bio families and foster and adoptive families. The solutions need to encompass everybody or they’re simply not going to work. Fortunately I’m aware of a couple private efforts here in Lincoln to work on just those sorts of problems. I hope they work out. The one I’m most familiar with is still in its early stages, but I will definitely post more information about the effort and its results at a later date.

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