Tag Archives: foster parenting

“SANTA” delivers holiday cheer to 300 kids in foster care

 

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MURRAY, Utah – Some foster children in Utah won’t have to go without this holiday season, thanks to airmen from Hill Air Force Base and athletes from the University of Utah.

They’re part of Utah Foster Care’s Santa’s Brigade. Their mission is to make the holidays a little brighter for kids who are trying to adjust to a new home.

Santa’s Brigade spread holiday cheer to 300 kids in foster care in Northern Utah as University of Utah athletes delivered Christmas trees and decorations.

“Everything was donated, so all it takes is manpower,” said Stevenson Sylvester, former Pittsburgh Steeler & U of U football player. “Just to see their excitement today when we deliver these trees is just going to be epic.”

Airmen from the 419th and 388th showered kids with nearly 800 gifts.

“We’re here to bless all the families with things they don’t have or more that they need,” said Tech Sgt. Neysa Henson.

The volunteers use their own vacation time to be part of this special day.

“I am so humbled that they take time out of their schedules, they use their personal resources, they take personal leave to come make a difference in the lives of these kids,” said Karrie Scott, a foster parent.

Scott has adopted six children from foster care.

“Sometimes the families have made bad choices,” she said. “The parents are struggling with something, but that’s not the kids’ fault.”

To see their faces light up during a challenging time is the best gift she could ask for.

“Everybody deserves a home, everybody deserves to be loved,” she said.

For more information about ways to donate to Utah Foster Care, click here.

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Church hopes to match kids with foster families

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WAYNESBORO — Sonya Payne remembers her best birthday ever.

It was in 2010, the day she legally adopted her foster daughter Ariel Simone Payne, 16.

Ariel wasn’t the first child that Payne has fostered. In fact, Payne estimates that she’s legally fostered 40 children since 1993, and taken in over 70, even if only temporarily.

“That’s why we call her superwoman,” said Ariel’s adoptive sister Taimonique Payne, 15 and a half years old.

Payne decided to become a foster parent while working with battered women, and seeing the effect it had on both the women and children.

“It was too much,” Payne said. “I told my husband, we have to do something to help these kids.”

She read about her first foster child in the newspaper in 1993 and the rest is history.

Even with families like the Paynes, there are still local children in the foster care system that do not currently have homes and are at risk of aging out of the system, which severely affects their chances of success once they become adults, said Jennifer Eccles, foster parent and member of the mission team at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro. There are 163 kids in foster homes locally, but 14 that don’t have somewhere to call home.

That’s why the church decided to hold a summit about foster care, with a panel of foster care workers, parents and adopted teenagers, to inform the community about the need for more participation in the foster care system.

The summit was Sunday afternoon and about 25 people attended, Eccles said.

“The church feels very strongly that we have a calling to help these kids in our community,” said the mom of six. “They need families.”

One of the main focuses of the summit was on the need for care for older children and children with siblings, specifically, Eccles said. Removing the stigma that older children come with more problems is key.

“This is not about bad behavior,” Eccles said of why children end up in the foster care system. “It’s because of abuse or neglect.”

Both Ariel and Taimonique spoke about being adopted and what they would tell other foster parents if they could.

“Never give up on your adopted kids,” Taimonique said. They may have difficult behavior and difficulty adjusting, but never to give up.

For more information about foster parenting call Jennifer Edson or Heather Hudnall at Shenandoah Valley Social Services at 540-245-5800.

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#URGENT AAP Care Recommendations for Foster Care Children

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Despite having resources available to provide for their healthcare needs, a vast number of children in foster care are not receiving adequate medical care.

Given that children in foster care are prone to physical, mental health, developmental, and psychosocial impairment, it is critical that pediatricians claim their role as advocate for this population, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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According to the updated position paper from the AAP on healthcare issues for children in foster care, 641,000 entered into foster care for some period of time in 2013—a figure that peaked at more than 814,000 children in 2002—and those children have a wide range of needs.

“The majority of children entering foster care have lived in deprived and chaotic environments for a significant period of time until removal for imminent safety concerns secondary to maltreatment,” states lead author Moira A Szilagyi, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California at Los Angeles. “More than 70%
of children in foster care have
a documented history of child abuse and/or neglect, and more than 80% have been exposed to significant levels of violence, including domestic violence. In addition, even before entering foster care, many children have experienced multiple caregivers, limiting their ability to form a stable attachment to a nurturing caregiver. Removal is emotionally traumatizing for almost all children, although for some, it is the first time they may feel safe.”

Pediatricians are uniquely qualified in these situations to offer medical assessment and intervention for the child; mental and psychosocial counseling; education for caregivers; and to advocate for the best interests of the patient. The child in foster care will enter a pediatrician’s practice with a host of unmet healthcare needs precipitated in traumatic histories and inadequate access to care, Szilagyi says. The problem is so extensive that AAP has begun to classify children in foster care as a population with special healthcare needs, she adds.

“Overall, 30% to 80% of children come into foster care with at least 1 medical problem, and one-third have a chronic medical condition. It is common for such problems to have gone undiagnosed and untreated before these children enter foster care,” she says. “Up to 80% of children and adolescents enter with a significant mental health need, and almost 40% have significant oral health issues. Approximately 60% of children aged younger than 5 years have developmental health issues, and more than 40% of school-aged children have educational difficulties.”

More: Cutaenous clues of child abuse

Szilagyi also pointed out in the study that foster children are 3 times more likely to drop out of high school compared to other low-income children, and slightly more than 50% graduate high school—most often with an equivalency diploma. Beyond schooling, Szilagyi says data suggests that children who were in foster care during their adolescence grow up to experience higher rates of mental health problems, homelessness, posttraumatic stress disorder, and low educational achievement.

Despite the clear need for intervention, however, data suggests that only a fraction of children in foster care are receiving the help they need before, during, and after entering the foster care system.

According to a 2013 report by the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies and the New York State Health Foundation, children in foster care are receiving minimal care in many cases, and outcomes are generally unavailable for those that do receive care. National data on healthcare frequency in foster children is lacking, but the New York report provides a snapshot.

According to the New York report, a mere 15.7% of children had a preventive care visit with a physician in the 12 months prior to their entry into foster care. Statewide, the number rose to 31.9%. Once children were placed into foster care, the frequency of visits appeared to increase, but not by much. According to the report, preventive visits for children increased while in foster care in New York City from 15.7% to 25.2%, and from 31.9% to 36.5% across the entire state. After exiting foster care, however, the frequency of preventive visits dropped down further than before—to 11.9% in New York City and 25.4% statewide in the year after exit from foster care.

Where visits were higher were in emergency visits—42.8% of children in New York City and 40.4% statewide had at last 1 visit to an emergency department (ED) in the year before entering foster care. Those visits dropped by 38.8% and 30.9%, respectively in the year the children were in foster care, but dropped further in the year after exit from foster care, with 22.3% visiting EDs in New York City and 27.6% statewide.

For infants, the most common reason for an ED visit was childbirth, indicating a high number of deliveries occurred through the ED.

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In terms of inpatient stays, a top reason children in foster care are admitted to hospitals is for treatment of mental health conditions. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was the top diagnosis for children aged 1 to 5 years, followed by bipolar disorder. For children aged 6 years and older, bipolar and depressive disorders are top admitting diagnoses. Infants also were frequently admitted for respiratory problems, while toddlers and preschool-aged children were commonly hospitalized for injuries and asthma.

The most recent national data on healthcare compliance among children in foster care is from the 1990s, Szilagyi says, when the Government Accountability Office released a “scathing” report on the state of healthcare compliance in foster care.

At the time of the report, the number of children in foster care more than doubled over the previous 5 years but was still half of what it is today. The review at the time found that, despite resources being made available to provide healthcare services for children in foster care, roughly 12% of young children in foster care received no routine health care; 34% were not immunized; at least 32% had unmet healthcare needs; and an estimated 78% were at risk for human immunodeficiency virus but only 9% had been screened for infection. Another 62% of children in foster care were estimated to be at risk for health problems related to prenatal drug use, the report states.

Pediatricians play a big role in providing caregivers—who come to foster care with a wide range of experiences and skills—with education and support to connect them with the services they need and to emphasize the importance or regular, timely healthcare intervention.

To address these healthcare needs, and the special circumstances involving children in foster care, AAP’s updated statement places greater emphasis on early childhood trauma and its impacts on all aspects of health, including physical and mental wellness, developmental health, and how trauma becomes predictive of poor outcomes, Szilagyi says.

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If caught early while the brain is still malleable, pediatricians, through good care and good experiences, can help shift the trajectory for these children in a better direction, Szilagyi says.

“The pediatrician has both a responsibility and an opportunity to really improve outcomes for these children. It really does require some work across systems to implement everything and it requires a lot of time they might not be reimbursed for,” Szilagyi says. “However I think it’s just a really big opportunity to make a big difference in a child’s life. I really view foster care as an opportunity for healing. It’s an opportunity to make sure all their needs are assessed and they have all the services they need.”

Even in cases when children don’t require medical or psychological support upon entry to foster care, things can change quickly, Szilagyi says. Birth parents may be struggling to comply with visitation and mental health care, and noncompliance during the foster care period may negatively impact the child.

“It’s really incumbent on pediatricians to reassess them periodically,” Szilagyi says. “It’s a great thing about having a periodicity schedule in pediatrics. There is an argument for seeing these kids more frequently because they have a lot of stresses and things that can go wrong in their lives.”

By staying attuned to the needs of the children in foster care, as well as their caregivers, pediatricians can provide valuable support at the personal and population level.

Ideally, the AAP guidance recommends that all children receive a full mental health evaluation, including a trauma assessment, shortly after entering foster care. Assessing for suicide risk and acute mental health needs is a priority, but the full evaluation is probably best conducted after the child has had some time to adjust to their new living situation, Szilagyi says. Social workers and foster caregivers may not have adequate experience in caring for a child’s mental health needs, and the pediatrician can offer support and guidance. In instances where psychotropic medications are needed or have already been prescribed to a child, pediatricians must weigh the benefits of the regimen.

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“It can be challenging to discern the appropriateness of psychotropic medication for those children with multiple mental health diagnoses. The use of psychotropic medication to manage the behavioral and mental health problems of children in foster care has come under scrutiny in recent years, as data suggest that children in foster care are prescribed psychotropic medications at a rate 3 times that of other children enrolled in Medicaid and have higher rates of polypharmacy,” according to the AAP statement. “Some children clearly benefit from psychotropic medications when appropriately prescribed, but concern exists that some children are not receiving appropriate mental health and trauma assessments before treatment and that medications are sometimes prescribed in lieu of evidence-based trauma care and other mental health interventions. …In addition, there are concerns about the effects of psychotropic medications on the developing brain as well as the adverse effects of some of these medications.”

When the use of psychotropic medications is warranted, they should be initiated at low doses and titrated slowly, with close monitoring, and no patient should receive more than one psychotropic medication from any given class, Szilagyi says.

In physical assessments, pediatricians should assess upon entry to foster care any evidence of abuse or developmental delay. Follow-up assessments should be performed within 60 to 90 days after placement and include screenings for abuse, poor weight gain, compliance with healthcare recommendations, and bonding between children and their foster caregivers.

In terms of frequency, it is recommended that children in foster care be seen monthly within the first 6 months of life, every 3 months from 6 months to 24 months of age, and then every 6 months thereafter to monitor the wide range of physical and emotional stressors the children can face within the foster care system.

Next: 5 steps to a trauma-informed practice

Pediatricians should allow additional time for assessing children in foster care due to the complex nature of their situations, and also develop an office system for communicating with caseworkers and foster caregivers following each encounter.

Even with the best efforts, however, many barriers exist to providing adequate healthcare to children in foster care, Szilagyi says. Care coordination is particularly difficult given the transient nature and diffuse authority of the foster care system. Pediatricians may also be faced with incomplete medical records, inadequate resources, and difficulty in identifying an authority to consent to health care services for the child.

“See them early, see them often, and continue to see them to monitor their progress and be an advocate when needed,” Szilagyi says. “We’re often the first real child professional that families encounter so we really have an amazing opportunity to either prevent adversity or ameliorate the impact of adversary. Sometimes that just starts with recognizing that bad things have happened and for both children and parents it can begin the healing.”

State of emergency: Shortage of foster homes leads to separated siblings, moving far from home

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GA Foster Care

Georgia is in a “state of emergency” when it comes to foster care, and Floyd County was ranked the fifth highest county per capita for children removed from their homes, according to DFCS officials and a report from Georgia Child Welfare Measures.

Some 244 children from Floyd County were sent into foster care from April 2014 through March 2015, according to the statistics.

That state rate over that time period was 31.2 children per 10,000. Floyd County’s rate was 104.5 per 10,000.

Why is the rate so high? There are several reasons, according to local officials.

“It comes down to the fact that we are looking more,” said Floyd County Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price. “We have two hospitals and many medical professionals who are required to report suspicious things. We have a high number of teachers and law enforcement as well.”

These individuals are trained to notice signs of trouble, he added.

“When you’re a mechanic trained to fix problems on VWs, when you drive down the road, you’re going to see the VWs first,” explained Price.

Another issue is cyclical abuse and neglect, according to Price and Lindsey Howerton, director of the Floyd County Division of Family and Children Services.

“We have many families who repeat the cycle of abuse and neglect,” she said. “They stay here. Their children have children, and it keeps going and no one breaks the pattern.”

The reasons for the removal of children from their homes covers a wide range, with 120 removed for neglect, 80 removed because their parents were abusing drugs or alcohol, 52 removed because parents were unable to cope, 88 removed for inadequate housing, 30 were abandoned and 32 were victims of physical abuse. Other reasons include sexual abuse, domestic violence or because parents are incarcerated.

Howerton said the specific reasons stated can be misleading.

“Many times, when we investigate further, we may find signs of physical or sexual abuse when the child was originally removed for neglect or drug abuse,” she said. “This is especially true for a younger child who is not in school. If that child is only going to the doctor once a year, it is much harder to catch.”

A major crisis situation arises after these children are removed, because Floyd County only has 16 DFCS foster homes.

“This often results in our children being placed out of county, which causes all kinds of problems,” she said. “The children have a harder time coming back for court dates and for visits with their families. Also, you have the added trauma for the child, which is just increased by them having to completely relocate and have nothing familiar around them.”

DFCS always tries to help the families, she added, and this is made more difficult when the child is miles away.

“Our main goal when a child is removed from a home is to work with the parents to help them change behaviors if possible and bring their child home,” Howerton said. “Having to place that child in a home in Macon just makes it that much harder on everyone.”

So, the first thing DFCS does is try to find a qualified family member or family friend who can take the child. This is the best option, but sometimes is impossible because they might not live in the area or may be unsuitable.

Issues also often arise because of siblings, she said.

“We have a lot of multiple-child families, and the ideal would be to have those siblings together or at least close to each other,” she said. “This becomes hard because many foster families can’t handle that many children at once.”

Floyd does have 23 homes that work with child placing agencies, such as Faith Bridge, Howerton added. However, these homes can have children who are not from Floyd County placed in them. Winshape Homes is its own entity and does work with DFCS as much as possible, she said.

“We have two large sibling groups placed with Winshape currently,” she said.

The Open Door Home is a group home and children are only placed there if they are 13 or older.

“We are always hoping that if people know there is a need, they will be willing to serve as foster families,” she said.

Potential foster families attend classes, she said. Families are taught about the process from start to finish about policies and how a child might behave.

“For instance, a child who has suffered neglect may hoard food,” she said. “I’ve had children who don’t understand or know about the bath routine and a child who had never seen a toothbrush.”

Those who want to foster are also given a home study session in which a DFCS agent comes into the home and observes the environment and the family’s interaction.

“Most understand the reasons behind this,” Howerton said. “It is all about the safety and well-being of the child. The home studies are usually completed within two or three sessions.”

Foster parents also have to undergo fingerprinting, background checks and financial checks.

“We have to make sure they can handle the extra expense,” Howerton said. “We do not so much pay as reimburse. A foster family has to be stable enough to handle extra costs like clothing, diapers and glasses, and then be reimbursed.”

Once approved, foster parents are often immediately needed.

“I’ve had families receive a child the day they were approved,” Howerton said.

About 75 percent of the 422 Floyd County children in foster care are placed outside of Floyd County, Howerton said. Of the 25 percent here, the majority are placed with family members.

These numbers frustrate Howerton, she said.

“I would love to put myself out of a job,” she said. “We are trying to build strong families in a strong community. When it comes to foster care in this county and this state, we are in a state of emergency.”

Hand for Hope National Adoption Awareness Month

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This month is National Adoptions Awareness Month. This year’s National Adoption Month initiative emphasizes the importance of sibling connections for the 102,000 children and youth in foster care waiting for adoptive families. Please support the movement and cause together we can make a change.
Good morning Foster Care Kids Need Love Too Family! Foster Care Kids Need love Too® provides community education, public policy/advocacy and direct services for children and youth who have been removed from the care of their parents to the supervision of the state. The organization recruits and sustains volunteers who serve in public and private agencies or work on projects designed to enhance the lives of foster, homeless, transitional and incarcerated children and youth.

Think back to that one person that made a huge impact in your life. Now don’t you want to be that person in someone else’s life? Together we can make a change.

Year-Round we are in need of backpacks, diaper bags, school supplies, hygiene items, stuffed animals, books for all ages, toys, address books, journals, coloring books, strollers, pack and plays, baby clothes, games, socks, shoes & clothes. Also donations will go to special projects directly to the child to enhance the life of their future send your monetary donations http://www.gofundme.com/fepxos . “Drawing Success”

La. foster care system to undergo new initiative

Louisiana unveils new 'Faith in Families' initiati...

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Lasting connections for foster children is one of the new goals for Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services, Secretary Suzy Sonnier said Thursday in Alexandria.

A new initiative the department is rolling out, called “Faith in Families,” looks to safely reduce the number of children in foster care, decrease the amount of time children spend in the system and ensure that each child has a permanent connection when they leave foster care, Sonnier said.

“Children deserve strong and loving families. This initiative will bring positive and life-changing impacts to children in our foster care system,” she said.

Last year more than 7,500 children were in the foster care program in Louisiana, according to DCFS statistics. About 3,710 were discharged from foster care during the year and about 3,180 children were placed in foster care in 2012. There are currently 4,031 children in foster care across the state.

Additionally, DCFS plans to work aggressively to improve permanent connections for youth on the verge of aging out of foster care.

DCFS, Sonnier said, “will work to identify family or other community members who can provide lasting relationships for young people ensuring that no children exit the foster care system without someone to call family.”

Research shows that children who age out of foster care without a permanent connection face significant challenges including homelessness, unemployment, mental health and substance abuse issues and involvement with the criminal justice system.

“Life-long connections are key to ensuring that these children have a place to live, stay in school and make positive decisions about their lives going forward,” Sonnier said.

The initiative sets the following goals to be met by 2015:

» Safely reduce the number of children in foster care by 1,000.

» 95 percent of all children returning home will not return to foster care.

» 85 percent of children will exit foster care within 24 months of entering — either through reunification with family or adoption.

» 50 percent of those in foster care will be adopted within 24 months, exceeding the national standard of 37 percent.

» 75.2 percent of children will be reunified with their family within 12 months, achieving the national standard.

» 85 percent of all children will exit foster care in a permanent placement — adoption, reunification, guardianship.

» All children exiting foster care will do so with permanent connections.

“DCFS’ over-arching focus is to keep children safe,” Sonnier said. “We will build partnerships with a variety of organizations that can assist us in accomplishing our mission, use existing best practices and tools and drive performance to continue to improve the way we provide services.”

The new initiative follows a record year for DCFS in adoptions. Last year, DCFS saw 652 children adopted by 468 families. Today, there are 638 children who are immediately eligible for adoption.

DCFS features profiles of foster children eligible for adoption on its website, www.dcfs.louisiana.gov.

Be Inspired with Raquel: Adoption is about love, not skin color

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Love is colorblind. This also is true for adoption.

While it is important for a child to know his history, that knowledge doesn’t translate into who he is or how he should govern his life. His history doesn’t define him; the love he receives does.

By choice, I don’t have children — but if I someday decide otherwise, I’m totally open to adopting a child outside of my race. I don’t believe there is anything such as “black love” or “white love” — there is just love. The same type of love God gives to us all regardless of skin color or ancestral past.

Over the past several years, I’ve seen more parents adopting babies and children of different races. I’ve seen it in everyday working folks as well as celebrities. The issue has prompted some discussion of whether it’s right or wrong for a white couple to adopt a black child; for an Asian child to be raised by a black family … or any combination of nationalities.

For me, it isn’t a question of right or wrong, but one that pertains to the well-being of that child. We don’t know the backstory of these children. We don’t know the alternatives they are confronted with in relation to orphanages, foster case or homelessness. What’s wrong with a family of a different nationality opening their home, arms and hearts to children that need love?

I am an American who happens to be of a certain ethnicity, but before any of that I am a human being, which bridges all gaps and connects us all to a common theme: God.

I don’t believe the question should be about whether a parent can successfully raise a child of a different race. Instead, the question should be about whether the parent can successfully love a child … period. Clearly, some of society is focused on a small piece to a very big puzzle.

Growing up in a family that shares some of your social and ethnic concerns is important. I understand the point made that a white mother can relate to the trials and tribulations facing a white child better than a mother of another nationality might. I can relate to the fact that a black child can better empathize with the black experience by way of parents who look like her and have a comparative story to share.

I understand these well-intended points. But, if you look at today’s teens and young adults, many of them are unaware of their heritage and historical backgrounds. Many of them are accepting of all nationalities and they see themselves as Americans — and this phenomenon is partly due to a big shift in our culture.

Actually, I think interracial adoptions could be a good thing for the children, because they are being reared from a different perspective, leaving behind some of the self-imposed limitations some races have passed from generation to generation.

If I were a child without parents, living with uncertainty and the odds stacked against me, I’d want someone to take me into their home and love me, feed me and grant me a somewhat normal childhood. I would want someone to give me an opportunity to attend school and become something great. It wouldn’t matter if that person was Chinese, Japanese, American or Sudanese.

As I previously mentioned, knowing our history and where we come from is important, but in order to even care about our background, we’ve got to be loved. Love helps us identify with groups, communities and the world, but that love must start within and most of us are able to get that process going by way of a loving parent, no matter her genetic makeup or skin color.

Troubling spike in foster children prompts budget shortfalls

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The number of children in foster care in Haywood County is on the rise, a depressing sign for Department of Social Services workers whose first goal is to keep a family together.

“Growing up in foster care or growing up in an institution is no way to grow up,” said Ira Dove, director of the county’s Department of Social Services. Dove presented his case to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners Monday, requesting additional money to pay for the increasing costs of running foster care.

 

The commissioners agreed to give DSS $342,113 to cover a budget shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year in June brought on by increase in foster kids. The federal government will reimburse the county between 60 percent and 66 percent of that cost.

Despite efforts by the DSS to keep children in the same home as their parents, the number of children in foster care rose 53 percent during a 12 month period. There were 102 kids in foster care in October 2011, and by October last year, there were 156 kids in the program.

Part of the problem is children kept entering foster care last year quicker than they left.

“We didn’t move a lot of kids out of foster care last year,” Dove said.

The number has come back down, with 109 Haywood County children in foster care as of this week, but the spike caused DSS to burn through its budget allotment before the year was up.

Haywood County is not the only county in the state seeing such an increase. Jackson County’s foster care population doubled, and Swain saw similar increases to Haywood.

Dove said he could not name a single correlating cause of the statewide rise in foster children. It is usually a combination of factors, he said.

In most cases, the parents of foster care children have substance abuse and/or mental health problems. In more than 30 percent of cases, the child was physically and/or sexually abused. Nearly half of the time, there is a history of neglect and no stable housing.

Both Haywood County commissioners and Dove indicated that a rise in prescription drug abuse may have influenced the number of cases moving through DSS.

“It appears the foster care population grows and fades with the (popular drug of the day),” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick.

Some parents with drug addictions end up in prison, leaving children without a guardian. Chairman Mark Swanger postulated that the increase might be a result of concerted efforts by police to crack down on prescription drug abuse in Haywood County.

“It’s ironic the more effective law enforcement is the higher foster care costs we have,” Swanger said.

Dove assured the board that DSS tries every other option before separating a child from their family. The first strategy is having social workers visit the family regularly and work on rectifying issues affecting child safety.

If the child cannot remain with a parent, DSS searches for other family members willing to care for the child. But it can be difficult to track down relatives living outside North Carolina or, in some case, convincing them to take the child.

“Those kids have some pretty significant traumatic issues,” Dove said.

If the in home program is ineffective or willing relatives cannot be found, the child is placed in foster care.

“This is the last resort for us. It’s not where we go first,” Dove said.

Although the department goes through several steps before resorting to foster care, Dove told commissioners that he would not be happy until the program was not needed.

“As long as there is one child in foster care, we can do more. We can do better,” Dove said.

DSS is in need of volunteers willing to take in foster children. To start the process of becoming a foster family, call DSS at 828.452.6620.

Support Safe Housing for All Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

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Imagine a world where your child is forced to leave your home at age 18. You can no longer provide the love, support and roof you worked so hard for throughout your child’s life. On his or her 18th birthday, your child must instantly transition into adulthood with little more than a suitcase of their belongings. Would your child be ready?

This is the reality for too many of the nearly 10,000 children and adolescents who have been removed from their families and placed in the foster care system because of abuse or neglect.  They enter the foster care system in a time of crisis only to be kicked out at age 18, unprepared for the crises to come.

It is unacceptable that in a society where approximately half of all youth live with their parents until age 24, we expect those who have experienced PTSD-inducing childhood trauma to be the ones surviving completely on their own at age 18 – with no family to fall back on when things get rough. And what happens to these youth? Study after study demonstrates that they end up homeless. In its most recent annual survey, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) estimated that one of every eleven youth from foster care will experience being homeless.

The Mockingbird Society, in collaboration with community partners, foster parents and legislators, is laser focused on reversing the longstanding pattern of Washington discharging youth from foster care into homelessness.  This pattern is not unique to Washington. In fact, it is a national epidemic.  The NAEH has rightly identified stopping foster care systems from this practice as a key strategy for ending youth homelessness in America.

In 2006, Washington established the Foster Care to 21 pilot program thanks to forward-thinking legislators. This program allowed up to 150 youth to remain in foster care to age 21 to pursue their post-secondary education.  The evaluation results are consistent with national research as well as what most parents and grandparents might say: youth who had safe housing and other supports did significantly better than those who were literally on their own.  Not only did they reduce their negative behaviors such as stealing, early parenting, and reliance on public assistance, but they also increased their academic achievement, gained valuable work experience, and began the successful transition to healthy adulthood. In fact, for every Washington tax dollar invested in this service, our community received a return on investment of $1.35.  Ensuring youth have safe housing to utilize as a foundation for achievement makes both fiscal and common sense.

Thanks to the bi-partisan support of our Legislature, we have made great gains ensuring foster youth have the opportunity to remain in foster care to age 21.  Currently, youth who pursue their secondary or post-secondary education are eligible to remain in foster care to age 21.  But certain populations don’t get this support.

Now, we are asking our elected-leaders and community members alike to provide this opportunity to those youth who need it most. Current proposed legislation (Extended Foster Care HB 1302/SB 5405) would extend this support to the remaining youth who are not able, or not yet ready, for the educational track.  This includes youth who have serious medical issues including cognitive or physical disabilities, youth who have significant barriers to employment or academia, and youth who are working part time but still unable to afford full independence.

Earlier this year I testified in favor of HB 1302 with a courageous young man with a seizure disorder which would have qualified him for Extended Foster Care had this legislation been in effect when he turned 18. He modestly said that his condition made things more complicated after leaving care, and that pursuing his education or employment was not a realistic option for him at 18. Soon after his testimony he had a minor seizure, right in the hearing room. Are we really going to kick youth like him out at age 18?

Imagining a world where we cannot provide our children the support they need to be successful, independent adults is a nightmare. The moment the state decides to remove a child from their home, that child becomes our collective responsibility as a community. As parents, our care and support guides our own children safely into young adulthood. Our commitment should be no less for youth in foster care.

I call on legislators and community members alike to fulfill this responsibility and support Extended Foster Care, House Bill 1302 and Senate Bill 5405.

Foster Care System Faces Problems

Foster care we need help

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More than half a million children are in foster care in the United States today — roughly double the number who were in foster care in the mid-1980s, according to the Child Welfare League of America.

“Having thousands of kids in foster care is a cause for concern because it’s at an enormous financial and human cost,” says Carrie Friedman, who runs the the CWLA’s national database of child welfare statistics. The number of children in foster care nationwide fluctuates between 550,000 and 600,000, according to Friedman.

In 1980, about 500,000 children were in foster care, but a series of successful reforms, starting with that year’s Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, dramatically decreased the number of children in foster care. But in the early 1990s, with the advent of crack cocaine and an economic recession — the numbers went back up, Friedman says. “Nationally, we saw a dip and then a rise, and now the numbers are staying flat.”

Advocates Urge Strengthening Communities

Child welfare advocates say the foster system is in need of changes so that children spend less time in foster homes, with foster families who are more competent. Young adults who have grown up in foster care also need more help in making the transition to independent living, the advocates say.

Another problem is that today more and more children are going into care as victims of violence or sexual abuse. “Kids are much more disturbed than they ever were,” says Max Donatelli, director of care management at Baker Victory Services, a nonprofit that provides services, including foster care, to children in the Buffalo, N.Y. area.

Some advocates also argue for greater efforts to strengthen the impoverished communities where foster children often come from. When communities break down, foster rolls grow and the cycle feeds itself, they say. Because of the connectedness between the health of communities and the safety of kids, many experts recommend child welfare agencies look to rebuild old-fashioned safety nets.

“The key today is to build a stronger neighborhood to protect kids,” says John Mattingly, senior program associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, Md., where he studies state and national trends in childcare services.

In places like Cleveland, where Mattingly worked for years, a history of poor foster care is part of a more complicated picture, he says. “Cleveland still has serious problems, made worse by drugs and unemployment.”

Cleveland was also where Antwone Fisher, the man whose life inspired Denzel Washington’s new movie, spent years in foster care. Mattingly, who has met Fisher as an adult, believes his difficult years in the foster care system might have been avoided if child welfare authorities had been more aware of his extended family in the city. “What’s so tragic about his story is that Antwone used to walk by his paternal grandfather’s house every day. The first thing child welfare workers need to do is to find these kids’ relatives. That’s why neighborhoods, particularly knowing who’s in the neighborhood, are both so important.”

Despite difficult circumstances, foster kids can be great achievers, advocates say. As well as Fisher, basketball star Alonzo Mourning and actor Victoria Rowell were both foster children. Mourning and Rowell now advocate for foster kids.