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Keep Families Together This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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John is five years old. He lives with his mother Nancy, who is 25. One night, child welfare services receives a call from the police department. Nancy has been arrested. Child welfare is asked to come pick up John. In the days that follow, it becomes clear that Nancy's drug addiction is serious, but she loves her son, and John, who's been in foster care since the arrest, really misses his mom. Now, my dream isn't for anyone to feel sorry for Nancy. Nancy got herself into this position. She is young and foolish, she hangs out with a bad crowd, and this isn't the first time she's been in trouble. My dream isn't for society to feel sorry for Nancy; my dream is for society to think about John.

Most funding for child welfare agencies comes from the federal government, which has told states that it places a high value on keeping families together. The government points to every study ever done on attachment theory to demonstrate that children need a connection with a parent; without it, they may grow up disengaged, aimless, lost. There's a saying: A weak parent, with proper support, is always better for a child than a really strong stranger. The federal government tells the states that children should go into foster care only as a last resort. But is that what is happening?

Vice President Joe Biden attributes this quote to his father: “Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value.” Child welfare is funded by two main sources: Title IV-B and Title IV-E. Title IV-B provides funding for prevention. This would have given Nancy access to parenting classes early in John's life, after she first got into trouble. This funding also attempts to keep John in his home, if services can be provided that will ensure that he is safe. Title IV-B funding could provide therapy for Nancy to help with her addiction, counseling to help her understand why she is addicted, parenting training to help her learn the impact of her actions on her son, and child care for John while she attends these sessions. But there's a problem with Title IV-B funding: it is capped – so only so much is given to states each year, and when it runs out, it's gone.

The other funding stream, Title IV-E, provides funding for foster care. This funding is not capped; it is unlimited. However much money the state spends on foster care for John, the federal government will match. John can stay in foster care until he is 18.

So why does the government say we should avoid placing children in foster care? After all, isn't it a home where John can get love, care, and attention? Most of the time, the answer is yes, but not always. There are different types of foster care. Sometimes, relatives act as foster parents; in California, about 40 percent of children are placed with relatives. Foster care can also be in a stranger's home, or in a group home.

In a group home, instead of foster parents, there is a staff. Instead of being considered children, they are considered residents. Group homes are the least desirable placement option for children. According to Malcolm Bush, in his study of children in these homes, “The children we interviewed did not like living in institutions, and their comments included criticism of institutions for the absence of some essential qualities of parental care. The children clearly preferred other types of surrogate care.” Because they are institutions, group homes are never really “home.”

Now remember, group homes are funded by Title IV-E, so they receive unlimited resources. Is it possible that states will more readily put John in a group home, for the pure reason that they have money for it? States know all too well that children who live out their childhood in group homes are less likely to finish high school, and more likely to become dependent on drugs and end up in prison. States know that putting John in a group home will give him worse peer influences, and make his chance of adoption less likely. According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, “In the long term, institutionalization in early childhood increases the likelihood that impoverished children will grow into psychiatrically impaired and economically unstable adults.” States know this, and yet their resources are geared toward placing John in a group home. What choice do they have? The government is giving them conflicting messages on where John should go. On the one hand, the government tells states to keep families together, not in foster care, and yet, on the other, it gives states unlimited resources to care for John in foster care or a group home and almost none to keep him in his own home.

The IV-B money – which provides prevention services for states – runs out early every year. If the government truly values keeping families together, why does its budget tell a different story? Why does it tell states that the most important place for John is with his mother, and then deny them the resources to make that happen? It makes no sense.

States struggle to find the resources to help families like Nancy and John's, even as they know that there are unlimited resources to split them apart. Unlimited resources to place John with strangers. Unlimited resources to put John in a group home, where he will be denied the family all children need.

Perhaps it's time to change this. Perhaps it's time to make Title IV-B, the funding for prevention, open-ended. Perhaps it's time to cap Title IV-E. Perhaps it's time for the government to put its money where its mouth is. To put its money where its values lie. Perhaps it's time to turn this system of funding right side up so that the resources truly are available to keep children with their parents, to keep families together, to put the group homes out of business. But one thing is for certain – for John and his mother, that time cannot come soon enough.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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eternalgoodness said...
Jun. 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm
Nancy was raised that way obviously for her to hang out with those types of people, and think that they are the ones to hang out with in the first place. She had John, and raised him the way she THOUGHT was best. Unfortunately she was blinded by the light, and stuck in darkness, and the people that are aware of this should stand and unite in the favor of all the women being used by this abuse, this abuse is in place so that children are in foster care and it all works that way. Keeping families ... (more »)
 
kah11231 said...
Apr. 30, 2012 at 11:33 am
I can relate to the passages, from seeing friends and other youths having parents that are drug adicts,so addicted they don't remmember that they have children. It's sad to see a child living with a person who cant take care of him/her self.
 
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