The Foster Care System Needs to Be Improved

Commentary by Kim Supermutt Goodman

      When a baby is born they are usually placed into the arms of a caring mother who takes them home to a supportive family. As the baby grows into a child, a teenager and then into an adult their parents and family teaches them everything they need to know in order to live and survive in the world. The child grows up, makes mistakes and learns from them. Some children are born to caring parents but sometimes their parents pass away, get sick or become unable to care for them and they end up in foster care. Other with children end up in foster care because they were removed from their homes by children services because of abuse and neglect. In the past unwanted children, abused children and parentless children were placed in orphanages which had an institutionalized set up making the children feel as if they were being punished for not having parents. Now children are placed in foster homes or children’s homes.

      The idea of a foster home is to give a child a sense of family. The set up is supposed to be a caring family offers their home, love and support to a child in need so the child can grow up to lead a healthy and productive life. The problem with foster homes is not all foster parents are kind and caring. Some people take in foster children just for the perks, benefits and subsidies. Some children mainly teenagers and children with special needs are left to reside in children’s homes. A lot of people don’t want to foster a teenager due to the stereotype of “rebellious teen,” and don’t want anything to do with a special needs child.

      On the child’s 18th birthday they are no longer considered a child, they are now a legal adult. At age 18 a person ages out of the foster care system and can no longer live in a children’s home. As for children who live in foster homes many lose their homes once they graduate from high school. Some foster parents can’t afford to support an extra person once the benefits run out and others refuse to support a child they didn’t create with their own money and resources.

      In the greater Cleveland area 120 teenagers age out of foster care each year. Each month 15-20 teenagers in Cuyahoga County alone leave the system with nothing. In Ohio over 1,000 teenagers age out of foster care each year. Many of these teenagers have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Foster children are 5 times more likely to become homeless than their peers. A lot of 18 year olds go directly from the children’s home into a homeless shelter. Too many young men who age out of foster care end up in jail or prison and only a small amount get college degrees. Many young women end up getting pregnant so they can receive government assistant. A lot of young adults self medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs to the point they become addicted. The only program really designed to help young people with comprehensive services is Job Corp. There is a proposal to improve conditions in foster kids. Ohio House Bill extends foster care up to the age of 21 as long as the person is completing high school, going to college, going into a vocational program, enrolled in a job program, employed at least 80 hours a month or has a medical condition. This is a good start especially for those who live in foster home.  This allows a foster parent to care for the child longer.  This will also work for young adults who are mature and mentally stable. A mature and mentally stable young adult will find it easy to finish school and enter a job program, vocational program or enroll in college while they can. But what about those ones who can’t? Let’s face it, not all children are alike. Some mature faster than others. Some have more issues than others. In the past some parents gave up their children and sent them to orphanages because they didn’t want them or couldn’t care for them. At age 18 or immediately after graduating from high school we expect all young adults in foster care to be mature enough to live on their own and fully support themselves mentally, emotionally and financially. We expect them to have the natural motivation to get up each day and go to school with their peers who still live at home with their parents. We except the foster child to fully focus on their school work without dealing with the pain of not having a supportive family or not feeling any kind of jealousy toward their peers for having the support they wish they had in their lives. We expect a foster child to enroll in college and stay focused; never giving up until they get their degree while they watch their peers make mistakes and slack off but have their parents and family to help them. If society wants to make a big difference in the lives of foster children, they need to address their needs starting with childhood. Every child needs to fell a sense of belonging. Every child needs to feel cared for and every child needs to feel valued. Understand that some children were severely abused or had their needs neglected so abusive and neglectful behavior is all they know. Teach the child how to live, how to be gentle, how to be patient and whatever skills they need to be taught. In my opinion, the most important thing we can do is to create a support group for children separated from their families. Many children who live in children’s homes feel as if they are alone in the world and they must deal with and solve all their problems on their own. By creating a structured support group the adults who run it can teach the children how to get along and build a meaningful relationship with each other. Life is more manageable with a buddy. It is more cost effective for 2 people to get jobs, get a 2 bedroom apartment and share the rent and utilities than it is for one person to work, get a 1 bedroom apartment and pay for everything. Many children in foster care wish they had that family to be a part of, but if there was a way to teach these children how to become a family to each other it would make a bigger impact in their lives. Sometimes life is more about finding love, acceptance and companionship than it is about money and material things.

 Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle September 2015 in Cleveland Ohio All Rights Reserved