Rob Geen, director of policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charity "devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes," has asked an important question: "If you suddenly couldn't care for your children, what would you want for them?"
Naturally, most people would want a family member or friends to take over, and quickly. At the very least, most people would want kind people with a nice home to be there for their child. They would want someone who could help the child through hard times, and, as a last resort, they would hope that an institution or group home would have to be used for a very short amount of time.
But the reality is that of the 400,000 children who are in the child welfare system across the nation, one out of seven has been placed in a group home or institution, and almost 11,000 of those kids are younger than 13.
In some states, up to 35% of children cared for by the welfare system are in group situations, says KJ Dell'Antonia in The New York Times' Motherlode blog. African American and Latino children are more likely to be placed in group settings than are white children, and boys are more likely than girls to be placed in groups.
These statistics, compiled from data from all states by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and published in its Kids Count policy report "Every Kid Needs a Family," show how the nation is failing children who most need help. One in three teens in the child welfare system is in a group placement even though at least 40% do not have behavioral problems, a mental health diagnosis, or a medical issue that might explain such an assignment. The problem is that teenagers are difficult to place, so many reach the age to be released from the system without ever having a chance at being a part of a family.
Kids who are placed in group settings are more likely to score below or far below other kids in math and English, are more likely to drop out of school, less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to be arrested, and at a greater risk of physical abuse.
In an editorial by Gov. John Kasich of Ohio published in The Daily Caller, the governor says that teachers, doctors, and mentors who help the children in our country, and the countless families who adopt or foster children, must be recognized. These are the people who want to see all the best for kids, particularly those who have been neglected or abused. The governor states that many children in Ohio leave foster care at 18 without ever experience being part of a real core family. These young people too often are arrested at an early age, become pregnant before turning 20, live below the poverty level, or become homeless.
Kasich says Ohio is partnering with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to employ excellent recruiters who connect to the adults in each child's life – teachers, coaches, friends, former foster parents – in order to find opportunities for adoption. Research shows that this method is as much as three times more likely to match a child with an adoption family. Although the process of adopting a child is extremely time-consuming, the end result is life-changing not only for the child, but future generations as well, says the governor.
Jim Roberts of The Chronicle of Social Change, headquartered in San Francisco, says it is time for the Child, Youth, and Family services industry to become proactive. He continues by saying that long-term foster care and institutional settings are going to become institutions of the past. The new paradigm will include "resource parents", or professional parents, who will provide short-term care to help children move into their permanent home. The changes will not happen quickly and will not be easy, but once changes in public policy take place, success will follow.
Rhode Island's Warwick Beacon profiles Elaine Gabellieri, a foster parent who finds joy in helping children who need a family. She says her older biological children enjoy having the kids as part of their lives, too. The article explains that in Rhode Island, any adult is eligible to become a foster parent, and comprehensive training is provided, along with 24/7 support once the child is placed in the foster home. Some foster parents are interested in supplying care for children who only need a short-term stay. Others see foster care as a gateway to a permanent relationship with the child and, perhaps, adoption.