“Family Homes”: A Foster Home Alternative

June 3, 2012
By HannahBanana32 BRONZE, Malvern, Pennsylvania
HannahBanana32 BRONZE, Malvern, Pennsylvania
2 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Imagine being a foster child. Separated from your parents, you have no home. Unsure of where you’ll go next, the hope of feeling the warmth of a home again is fading. Sadly, the lack of sound, stable foster homes threatens the dream of a “Home Sweet Home” for thousands of foster children. Those who grew up in foster homes realize the importance of parental guidance, as one former foster child, now grown, says that his foster parents “really set me on a great path.” But, when beneficial foster homes are unavailable, it forces children into living with dangerous relatives, staying at harmful foster homes, being stuck in desolate group homes, or even languishing in jail. This is the harsh reality that a group of teenage girls in foster care must face. Living in a juvenile building right next to a jail, they are rarely able to go outside and their bedrooms are like jail cells with no windows. Their living space consists of a bedroom, a room with a TV, and a school room. With little to do, these girls are bored. When they age-out of foster care, they will be sent off on their own. The time that could have been used to learn life skills will be of no use to them. Something must be done in order to create a future for, not only these girls, but all foster children who are in need of a real home.

The major obstacle that blocks the way to achieving this goal is the lack of foster homes. Barbara Manual from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services says that “when there is a shortage of volunteer homes, counties must look at alternative ways to ensure foster children are properly placed in homes”. However, the current foster care system has no positive alternative to individual foster homes and so “while foster care agencies prefer to place children with families, a shortage of foster parents means many children end up in” group homes or jail buildings. Some see group homes as a fitting alternative, but a close look proves that “group homes don’t work”, just like one foster mom says. In some cases, the people in charge provide minimal care for the children and use the rest of the funds for their salary, in others all the children’s physical needs are met, yet their emotional needs are left unattended. Those who work at these group homes see the care of the children as a job, and therefore the nurture and care of the children is not provided.

Consequently, a new alternative to foster care must be formulated, and with that we must travel to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where a foundation has already been laid. In 1909, Milton Hershey, owner of the Hershey Company, started the Milton Hershey School, as a school for orphan boys. He and his wife, Kitty, were unable to have children of their own, so they began the school and invested their money and lives into it. The school, still in operation toady, now provides for girls and boys of all ages from low income families. Children from two parent families, single parent families, or the foster care system can attend this tuition free school. With a focus on pushing these children to be the best they can be, academics is a large focus at the school. The children’s health, safety, and emotional needs are also met. Currently there are around 150 student homes, each with nine to thirteen children in each, all the same gender and age group. Student homes provide the kids with a safe neighborhood to play in and a structured home. Student homes provide a family atmosphere with a married couple who are the children’s “houseparents”. One student described how their houseparents treated them by saying that they “loved me just like they were my real parents.” That is the houseparents main responsibility, to mentor, guide, care for, and, ultimately, love the students.

With the foundation set, a detailed blueprint of a substitute to foster homes can be drawn. “Family homes” should serve as this substitute. They are the solution to the lack of foster homes and a definite way to provide for each foster child’s needs. Similar to the student homes at the Milton Hershey School, a “family home” should have a married couple who will act as parents, with each home housing around 10 kids. Yet, because many foster children are fairly young, there should be a range of age groups in one home along with different genders, in order to keep siblings together. One experienced foster mom states, that the variety of age groups is needed so that the older children can help care for the younger children who need more attention and care. Plus, having the older kids help care for the younger ones can help teach the older children life skills and what it means to be part of a family. With the support and mentoring of their “family parents”, the kids can posses valuable life skills when they age-out of foster care, and have trusted parental figures who they can turn to. Just think, establishing 20,000 “family homes” throughout the nation could ensure that each foster child could have real home. Instead of each foster child going to a different home and the government supporting each one, in “family homes”, many kids will be under one roof and the government, by supporting one household, will be supporting 10 kids. It starts with taking the first step, then someone else takes another, soon radical change is made, and hope shines a little brighter. Building these types of “family homes” will give more foster kids a sense of belonging in a place they can truly call home.

The author's comments:
A home provides shelter and a family provides love, two very important parts of life. Yet, for foster children without a true foster home with a loving family, their future doesn't look so bright, unless something changes.

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