Thursday, April 2, 2009

Foster Care and Residential Facilities

Once in a great while, Hollywood stars will raise public awareness of a worthy cause.The spotlight shined on overseas adoptions by Madonna raises the legitimate question of adoptions in general. The easiest to place children are white infants in good health being given up at birth. Everyone else faces obstacles.

Those who want to adopt overseas should consider children of war. There are many cases of children of rape suffering from social stigma and rejection by their mothers. It need not be reiterated that children with AIDS face daunting obstacles to finding loving homes.

The United States has many children who spend their entire childhood and adolescence in institutional care. Residential treatment facilities and group homes provide these children with the closest approximation of home that they will ever know. Such residences for orphans and wards of the state are often impressive looking places .... at first glance. They are indeed well funded. Everything looks great on paper. The social workers have to provide a paper trail to prove that the children are getting education, therapy and care.

There is unfortunately a downside. Often the children are given the most economical therapy possible, which in many instances means that children are heavily medicated. The consequences of heavy psychotropic medication being given to children and adolescents has not been fully explored.

The heavy subsidies given to some of these facilities has an unintended drawback.There is no financial incentive in many facilities to place a child with an adoptive family. As long as a child is in residential care, the facility receives a hefty check from the state and federal government. The facilities which house children who are wards of the state get far more for a child who remains in their care than if they make an adoption or foster care placement.As a result, residential facilities operate with open purse strings, perfunctory rubber stamp oversight and full, fully subsidised beds. The unions get a roster of secure jobs, the administration takes its cut, and the agency gets kudos for its "mission of mercy" which is really an industry.

There are many changes that can and should be made
1) There should be an agency that encourages private home foster care and adoption. Facilities should be given monetary incentives for adoption and foster care placements that prove to be successful.
2) Outside agencies should examine the administration of psychotropic drugs to adolescents and compare the cases in residential facilities to established therapeutic norms.
3) Children should have a legal advocate to ensure that their rights are being respected. I have heard of instances where children signed papers that severed their legal ties to their parents and had no idea what they were signing. The facility had a high priced legal team and the children had no awareness of their rights under the law.
4) Children in residential facilities should be educated regularly about their rights under law. They should be able to meet with counsel without agency social workers present.
I can not stress enough the importance of legal counsel. Many children in the system resent having been conned into signing legal papers.
6)Visits by regulatory agencies should be unannounced. They should occur at any time, 24/7. Sending children on trips to keep them away from inspectors should be forbidden.Records should be available for surprise inspections. Inspections that are known beforehand are a sham.
7) Every child should have the services of a chaplain of his faith. It is a disgrace that a facility that has a gay pride cookout and bulletin board display offers no pastoral counseling. A facility that has no meaningful interaction with the outside world is susceptible to abuses and excesses.
8) Legal advocates for residential facilities should work in consultation with children who have been in the system. It is shockingly easy to abuse and intimidate children who have no family to speak for them. The use in particular of psychotropic drugs and isolation should be subject to outside regulation. People who have never been in residential care are ineffective in regulating residential facilities. Children who have no sense of themselves as citizens with rights and human dignity are extremely vulnerable to abuse.

It would be nice if simple human decency moved the public to care about children in the system. I fear that it might take a tragedy to wake people up.With the ability and desire to cover up as strong as it is, it might take a rash of tragic incidents before anyone wakes up. Until the public starts asking questions, let them start asking what the weight of a teardrop is on the scales of heavenly justice and whether the tears of orphans weigh any less than yours and mine.

I would welcome letters from people in the system, whether their experience is as residents or workers. I have spoken with people in the system. I eagerly await some of what I have heard being put into writing. Sphere: Related Content

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