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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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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.”

MANY UNACCOMPANIED FOREIGN CHILDREN RECEIVING BETTER CARE THAN US FOSTER KIDS

On June 13, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters in a press conference that the federal government would do what was in the “best interest” of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) crossing the border into south Texas every week. He also denied that the taxpayer-funded care being provided to them was serving as an incentive to Central American families to send more of their children. But a closer look at the services UACs are receiving while they go through removal proceedings tells a different story.

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Over the last several weeks, US Border Patrol stations in south Texas have been overrun with illegal immigrants from mostly Central America. Johnson said that since October 2013, agents have apprehended over 47,000 UACs, roughly double the 24,000 UACs who were apprehended the previous fiscal year. Prior to 2012, the average number of UACs under US government supervision averaged around 7,500 kids. According to procedures outlined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, he stated the goal was to transport these children in “a safe and human manner” to the US Department of Health and Human Services, where they would be cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

The primary goal of the ORR is to reunited UACs with family members or other legal guardians in the United States while they go through removal proceedings. However, if those family members or guardians are in the country illegally, there was no indication by DHS officials that those individuals would also be placed into removal proceedings despite the fact they have to provide a considerable amount of identification in order to claim a UAC.

Procedures for transporting and caring for UACs depend on the children’s ages. According to the ORR’s Division for Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS), most UACs over the age of 13 are placed in shelters or group homes. However, for UACs ages 13 and younger who don’t have a relative or guardian who can care for them, “short and long-term foster care is available through ORR’s foster care program network.”

The services these 58 licensed ORR facilities provide are extensive: “The facilities, which operate under cooperative agreements and contracts, provide children with classroom education, health care, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, family reunification, access to legal services, and case management.” But perhaps the most interesting claim by DUCS is “Ensuring that the interests of the UAC are considered in decisions related to their care and custody.” The “best interest” of UACs coming from gang war-torn countries like Honduras is almost always a permanent stay here in the United States.

Johnson defended the services being provided to UACs while going through removal proceedings. “We provide a number of things [for UACs] because our laws require it and our values require it,” he said. He also said that those apprehended at our borders are priorities for removal regardless of age—a sentiment echoed by ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations Tom Homan, who said, “Every [unaccompanied] child is placed into removal proceedings.”

But the circumstances for those children in removal proceedings are plush in some cases compared to US citizen children placed in foster care. According to Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems, “many child welfare systems are underfunded, understaffed, beset by serious system-wide problems, and lacking the leadership necessary to fix them.” Some of the claims the group makes are that US child welfare systems fail to protect children in foster care from further abuse and neglect, don’t provide adequate medical and mental health services, and warehouse children in institutions, group homes, emergency shelters.

This means one of two things. Either UACs apprehended at the border are being placed into the same system as US citizen children and not receiving nearly the adequate level of care the ORR says it is providing, or UACs are placed into a different federal foster network that provides a superior level of care to that being provided to US citizen children.

The legal support US citizen children in foster care and UACs receive can also vary wildly. During court proceedings, American kids in foster care are assigned a lawyer by the judge in their family court to oversee their cases, according to The Legal Aid Society. For UACs, the DUCS engages in “coordination of a pro-bono attorney outreach project to pilot pro-bono capacity building models in major immigration apprehension areas so that more UAC can have access to legal representation.”

While the US government does not pay for legal representation for UACs, many of the children receive assistance from top-notch immigration attorneys who take part in programs like The Safe Passage Project. In May 2014, Director Lenni Benson wrote a letter to The New York Times in which she said, “Our organization, Safe Passage Project, finds that nearly 90 percent of the unaccompanied minors we meet who are facing deportation qualify for immigration relief, allowing them to remain in the United States legally.” Benson also added, “While emergency shelters provide a temporary solution for unaccompanied minors entering the United States, appointed legal counsel to enable these vulnerable young people to receive the immigration remedies for which they might be eligible would provide permanency and would truly be in their best interests.”

To say that all these benefits being provided to UACs are not acting as an incentive for families in Central America to send even more children is misleading, irresponsible, and is further eroding the efforts of our law enforcement agencies to control our southwest border.

Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about the evolution of cross-border migration in her new book,Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.

 

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Latinos In Foster Care Reach Historic High’s

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A historic number of Hispanic children are in the country’s foster care system, a dramatic change brought on by immigration and the assimilation of a growing Latino population into American society.

The record increase is in part also caused by families breaking apart by divorce or separations caused by incarcerations or deportations of one or both parents.

The startling phenomenon was documented by the child and youth welfare group that operates under the name The Chronicle of Social Change.

“The increase of Latino children in the child welfare system is likely due in part to a growing population of third generation Latino children, who are at greater risk of child welfare involvement than their first and second generation counterparts,” said researcher Alan Dettlaff of the University of Illinois, Chicago.

The best evidence of what has been happening to Hispanic children in foster care is in Los Angeles, where Latino children today make up 59 percent of the youth supervised by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services – up from 39 percent in 2000.

It is a particularly stunning development made even more glaring considering that although Hispanics make up only about half of the county’s population, they comprise about two thirds of the children in the county.

Researchers said that nationally there is a similar tragic finding of an unusually large number of Hispanic children in foster care.

In 1995, only 10 percent of Hispanic children in the country were in the foster home care system. By 2010, that figure had risen to 21.4 percent, startling considering that Latinos make up only 16 percent of the national total population.

A 2007 study by the Urban Institute found that children of second and third generation Latinos were more likely to end up in foster care than those of immigrant parents.

“Latino immigrant children, most of them Mexican, made up one percent of Texas’ foster care population, but seven percent of the total population,” that study reported.

“The children of immigrants (second generation) represented eight percent of the foster care population and accounted for 20 percent of the total child population in Texas.

“(But) by the third generation, Latino children had gone from a marked under representation to steep overrepresentation.”

Children born to Hispanic citizens made up 33 percent of the foster care population in Texas, the study found, even though they comprise only 22 percent of Texas’ overall child population.

Assimilation and acculturation into the American society, these reports have generally concluded, are not usually the panacea to these families staying together.

“Despite cross generational gains in economic integration, there are negative consequences to integration,” Dettlaff wrote in a 2009 study. “Drug abuse, bad parenting skills, recent history of arrest and high family stress, all those things are more likely in U.S.-born Latino families than foreign born families.”