By Charles Glover, Jr.
As the school year nears its conclusion throughout the country, parents will try to figure out how to keep their children occupied during the summer. Meanwhile, there are thousands of children across the country who are hoping to return to their families from foster care this summer as well. The plight of children in foster care is typically emphasized in May, Foster Care Month. According to childrensrights.org, roughly 640,000 children spent some time in out-of-home care last year.
There are many factors that cause children to be removed from their homes and ultimately placed in foster care. In many instances, parents have legal, physical or mental health issues that prevent them from being capable of being the primary care givers for their children. The children are also removed from the home because of their own issues, such as legal issues, sexual, emotional, drug or physical abuse, or mental health problems. Once removed from the home, the children have to receive treatment to address their presenting issues.
According to childrensrights.org, nearly half of the children in foster care have chronic medical conditions and upwards of 80 percent of these children have diagnosed emotional or mental health problems. This reality makes it challenging for potential foster parents who want to make a difference in these children’s lives. As a result, group homes, residential treatment facilities (RTF), and residential treatment centers (RTC) have become alternatives to provide resources and care to children who need extra attention. However, this solution has drawbacks for the children.
The Children’s Village is a foster care agency that services children in New York City and Westchester County. Children’s Village President and CEO Jeremy Kohomban Ph.D. believes that “The longer kids stay in institutions, the less capable they are of reintegrating into society.” There structured settings often do not resemble everyday life and limits emotional, educational and social development of many foster children. There are also unfortunate incidents where children endure physical or sexual abuse while in these institutions, from either other children or staff, that compound their situation. These factors make it difficult to find the proper place for these children that need the proper care.
Ideally, children can find the care they need within their neighborhoods and stay as close to their families as possible. John Mattingly is a senior program associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland. While studying national trends in childcare services he surmised, “The key [to helping foster children] today is to build a stronger neighborhood to protect our kids.” Mattingly highlighted trends that demonstrated that children greatly benefited from being in traditional settings when possible. However, there is a balance that needs to be met that allows the child to be properly healed, or instilled with the proper coping mechanisms, so that they can thrive in their returns from foster care.
The awareness that children have of their circumstances while in foster care cannot be understated. The average age of foster children entering care is over 9 years old. Former NBA player Alonzo Mourning became a foster child at the age of 11 after his parents divorced. Mourning remembered, “I wasn’t comfortable at home. Divorce is hard to understand when you’re a kid.” The decision that resulted in Mourning’s entrance into foster care helped him come to an understanding that, “No part of life is always going to be milk and cookies.” The resolve he developed at that age helped him in his career and forged a mindset that was the genesis to Mourning’s giving spirit.
Mourning used his celebrity profile to bring to issues surrounding children in need including the Overtown Youth Center he helped found. Other notable celebrities who have been in foster care include Eddie Murphy, Victoria Rowell, and Antwone Fisher. They have all brought attention to the improvements needed in the foster care system while standing as positive role models for those who share the foster care experience.
For those interested in becoming a foster parent, information is readily available at www.fostercarenetwork.org.–OnPointPress.net–
Charles Glover, Jr. is a former foster care case worker. He is also a sports writer and management training consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com.