According to the nonprofit organization Children’s Rights, that is the number of children who were in foster care in the United States in 2017. That’s almost half a million children who are potentially without the proper love, support and comfort that is essential to growing up healthily. More than 13,000 of those children live in Pennsylvania.
There are a multitude of reasons that a child is placed into foster care —abuse, neglect, a parent’s drug use ... the list goes on. These children face trauma and are deeply affected by the separation from their families. With the ongoing drug epidemic in Pennsylvania, there are more families that are becoming incapable of caring for their children. According to drugabuse.gov, “Drug overdose deaths increased significantly in Pennsylvania by 16.9% from 2016.”
Parents who struggle with addiction, mental illness and other serious issues can have a detrimental effect on their children’s well-being. In many cases, it is in the child’s best interest to be placed in a safer environment. That is where foster parents’ essential job as caregivers and nurturers is needed.
There is a shortage of good foster parents all across the United States. Children under age 18 (in most states) can be taken out of the only life that they have ever known and bounced around to group homes and institutions. With so much instability already occurring in their lives, they can feel isolated and misunderstood.
The purpose of foster care is to provide disadvantaged children with a safe and stable environment, so that they can later be reunited with their parents. But if they are taken from one unstable environment to another, what is the purpose of the system? How is it helping them?
We need more families to stand up and help the children who need it the most.
Half of foster parents quit after their first placement. They report not feeling supported by their caseworkers, who often cannot properly check on all of their cases. Caseworkers, however, tend to be underpaid and overworked.
According to socialsolutions.com, “The crushing combination of too many cases and not enough time or support can lead to a number of negative consequences. The most serious consequence is fewer visits or services for seriously at-risk clients, including one of society’s most vulnerable populations — foster children.”
This is not only a problem in the United States. According to communitycare.co.uk, in 2018, 4 out of 5 caseworkers reported that their caseload was not manageable. These are the adults who are responsible for checking in on the welfare of children. When they rush through cases to get to the next one, a child’s deeper problems can often be overlooked.
The first step in helping to change this problem is to support our caseworkers. Casework is a difficult job that requires extensive emotional strength and a desire to advocate for those who often cannot advocate for themselves. With all of the stress they experience, and the support that they offer all day, caseworkers deserve someone that can be there for them.
Support groups, counseling and mental health days could also benefit their well-being. Healthy caseworkers can then better support foster parents.
You can also help by being a family to a child who has been taken out of his or her family. You could be the one to teach a child about healthy family dynamics and help him or her discover a brighter world. You have a role to play in rescuing these children.
When lawmakers hear about these potential solutions, they may only see dollar signs. But what is the life of a child worth?
Shaunacy Brown is in the 11th grade at Conestoga Valley High School.