Rethinking Relationships

At a recent meeting I attended, a foster parent described her role as being a “co-parent” with the birth parent to raise a child in foster care. That is, she envisioned that her job was to temporarily help care for the child – with the birth parent – while doing everything in her power to support efforts to reunify the family.

This philosophy accords with the work of the Quality Parenting Initiative – organized by the Youth Law Center – which has “caregivers, agency staff and birth parents work as a team to support children and youth.”  Consistent with this, across the country, foster parents are leading a revolution to encourage birth parents – by supervising visits, bringing them to doctor’s appointments and school meetings, and helping them with their treatment plan.

The foster care system needs an overhaul. But to do this, we must rethink our unproductive ways of conceptualizing relationships, particularly those that we have construed as necessarily adversarial. Foster parents an…

Unseen and Unheard

My 16-year old client – a young woman who had already spent several years in foster care – just wanted to share her story in court. She hoped to tell the judge the ways in which group home staff were mistreating her. She wanted an outlet to share her dreams about what she was going to accomplish after exiting the system.

She craved the opportunity to hear – firsthand – what was happening in her case. Her case was about her. She desired to be a part of it.

Yet, hearing after hearing, the judge refused to let her in. He didn’t want her to miss school. He was worried that the hearings would upset her.  He didn’t think it was appropriate for a child to hear adults talking about sensitive issues. He couldn’t be bothered to make sure that someone would bring her to court. So for years, he shut her out of the most important thing happening in her life.

The old English proverb states “children should be seen and not heard.”  My case illustrates how the foster care system often takes this one…

Beds for Grandma

In 2003, I was assigned to represent five young children in foster care, who had been placed in a group home in Maryland. During my first visit with them, they told me how much they wanted to live with their grandmother, a delightful, gregarious woman with a big smile who was deemed appropriate by everyone who met her.

Yet for weeks, the kids languished in a strange, unfamiliar facility simply because she didn’t have the money to buy them beds. The child welfare agency claimed it would take up to a month for them to process a payment to buy the beds. Until then, they said, nothing could be done.

Variations of this story are repeatedly heard across the country. When a child must enter foster care, the system rightfully looks to relatives to care for their kin. Yet, these relatives might lack the resources to take on additional children, particularly when large sibling groups are involved. Without financial support, they might be unable to care for the kids.

After kids are placed with …

Diagnosis: Poverty, Prognosis: Poor

I have heard it said many times that we – “we” being the child welfare system – do not remove children because their parents are poor. I have heard it at conferences, at stakeholder meetings and in conversations with colleagues. But I think it’s time we get one thing straight: we do most definitely remove children because their parents are poor.
Both as a society and as a system, we dislike poor people and we especially dislike poor parents. We blame them for not only living in poverty but for choosing to parent under these conditions. We are skeptical of their motives, of their parenting choices and of the people they choose to have in their lives (think “paramour”). And we are scared they will invite violence and disordernot only into the lives of their children but alsointo the lives of foster parents, case managers and service providers. These biases are pervasive in child welfare and are exemplified in its systems, approaches and attitudes. In my experience, there are three ways …

Can We Change Our Foster Care System?

Radically changing or entirely rethinking the child welfare system.It seems to be the hot topic that many people are talking about right now, as evidenced through this blog, a podcast series, and even entire non-profits (e.g. AliaInnovations and Foster America) devoted entirely to this topic.Why we need to change our system is obvious at this point and we seem to have reached a broad consensus that our current child welfare system does not work as well as it should for children and families.The stubborn statistics do not seem to budge despite lots of work to change them.We are still graduating far too many kids from the system into poor outcomes with estimates of 25% of former foster youth experiencing homelessness within a year of exiting care and 25% of youth becoming involved in the criminal justice system within two years of exiting care.Disproportionality is a significant issue within our system with, for just one example, African-American children comprising14% of the nation’s c…

An Invitation To Remake Child Welfare

Grasping the Opportunity to Remake Child Welfare

In December, the federal government quietly introduced a momentous new funding source for child welfare systems. The Department of Health and Human Services will now reimburse states for legal support given to parents involved in child welfare proceedings, and to their children.

This requirement will necessitate that states be creative. For example, in most parts of the country, counties pay for the costs of legal representation. So to access federal matching funds, counties might need to enter a cost sharing agreement in which it agrees to send funds to the state agency so that the agency can pay for the expenses of advocates for parents and children.

But this, in turn, will require state agencies to draft conflict of interest agreements to prevent the possibility that advocates will engage in relaxed advocacy because they are being compensated by an adverse party, the state child welfare agency. In other words, we don’t want to create a system in which attorneys are worried that th…