Two of “Stacy’s” four grandchildren were in foster care. She is a nurse and her husband does freelance work, and they live a working class lifestyle. Her primary frustrations are to do with cultural differences that were suppressed in the system.

She does not feel that the professionals were not working on her children’s side because of this. “The children were placed in a non-Jewish home where the foster parents took them to Church and Catholic school. They discouraged them from seeing or speaking with their mother; and the whole entire time the children were in their care, they encouraged them to call them mommy and daddy. The judge seemed like a fair judge except he sentenced my daughter for ten years for cruelty to children. She is a victim herself and the judge should let her out, as she has been in for the past 1 ½ [years]. My oldest granddaughter was injured by my daughter’s partner. She tried getting help but instead made a wrong decision which not only had her daughters taken away, but got herself into trouble with the law. The social workers never had the decency to contact both my husband and I, who happen to elsewhere. Instead, we had to hear it from another relative that the kids were taken into custody by CPS.” She thinks their experience was different than most because “Most children are placed in a home with the same faith.” She doesn’t think anything works well in foster care. “It only makes children more vulnerable and confused.”

She had interest recommendations for how placements should work. “There should only be children’s villages instead of foster homes. This way, there is no adoption when family or other relatives want the kids back. And when a family member or the biological parents are fit and able to take back their kids, they would have a much easier time rather than place them in a foster home and having both parents and kids getting more and more attached.”

When asked, What do you believe is the job (goals, purpose) of the foster care system? She plainly responded, “There really isn’t any.”


 

Insights:

Stacy’s story brings up some important points. First, why weren’t they notified quickly if they were a viable possibility for caring for their own grandchildren? Social workers have acknowledged that (in some states) the process for identifying possible kin who can care for children is weak.

Second, if a mother is subject to abuse by a partner or spouse, and her children are abused, should she be subject to criminal charges? This is a complicated issue. On one hand, an adult who leaves children in a potentially dangerous situation has few excuses. On the other hand, the complexity of leaving an abusive relationship is well-documented as a highly convoluted process. The abused adult needs an entire series of supports in order to make leaving viable. Domestic violence experts widely agree that the point at which the abused partner decides to leave is the most dangerous moment in the relationship.

Third, how much consideration should cultural differences like religion, ethnicity, or even national origin get in placing children? Native American Indian children are provided special protections to cultural continuity, but they are a particular exception that is in many ways due to the special legal differences of Native American peoples. Ideally, case workers would (and many do) assign children to homes where children will find more in common with foster families—including religion and ethnicity. But this is often not possible. There is a general lack of foster families generally that makes “matching” difficult.

Given this, is Stacy’s solution a viable one? Indeed, this approach may have serious benefits. The old belief that children thrive best in homes with families originates with backlash against hostile orphanages in the early 1900s. Studies that focus on how children in group setting fare worse than children in homes rarely account for the disproportion of adults to children. In children’s villages like the one Stacy references, results tend toward positive, although more studies are needed. In these “villages,” children live with families or in orphanage-style buildings but with a high ratio of adults to children (usually better than four adults to one child).

Stacy has a point. If children who aren’t already available for adoption are not placed with families, foster-to-adopt families will experience less heartbreak, the children will be more stable (particularly in environs where their special needs can be met), and the children do not get mixed signals about who their parents are. This is the antithesis of the concurrent planning policy. The downside to Stacy’s suggestion is well-documented. The lengths of time children are in-care will be drawn out. The costs to taxpayers may be higher. If an adoption match doesn’t work out, since the adoptive family will have less time adjusting, where then does the child go?

There are no simple answers. But given the lack of support for the way things work currently, it is time to explore and study innovative approaches.