Possibly one of the few things more challenging than being a teenage parent is being a teenage parent in foster care. While the adverse effects of teen pregnancy have been well studied, researchers and social service providers are only recently coming to terms with the growing epidemic of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care.
According to a 2009 Chapin Hall Study adolescents in foster care are at a significantly higher risk for pregnancy than the general adolescent population:
- At ages 17 and 18, one third or 33% of young women in foster care were pregnant or parenting
- By age 19, more than half or 51 % of young women currently or formerly in foster care were pregnant or parenting, and nearly half of those young women had more than one child
- 60% of 21-year-old former foster males report impregnating a female partner as compared to 28 % of the general population
To be clear, foster youth are children who have been removed from their families and are in the legal custody of the state. Another way to think of this is, the government is their parents. If that is the reality, than foster youth are basically “our children” and we are doing a pretty shabby job at being their parents.
What is possibly even more troubling than a 50% pregnancy rate is the experiences of these young parents while in foster care:
- 1 in 5 pregnant teens in foster care received NO prenatal care
- 22% of teen foster care mothers were investigated for child maltreatment
(this is way above the 12% of teenage parent in general)
- 11% of teen foster care mothers had their children removed from their custody
- 44% of foster care mothers graduated from high school; 27% for parenting foster fathers
- Having a child while in foster care was the largest predictor of homelessness after exiting care
Teen pregnancy and parenting is only one of the indicators of poor foster care outcomes. Very few programs and policies address the needs of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care or work to prevent initial or repeat pregnancy. Other critical foster care outcomes include a significant increase in the risk of homelessness, incarceration, poor educational attainment, and poverty for foster youth ages 14-18 . But there is something uniquely disturbing about the fact that the children of foster youth are at-risk for entering foster care while their parents are still in foster care.
Though I am in no way suggesting that the U.S. do away with child protective services or foster care, circumstances such as these do beg the question, “Is the government any better at being a parent than the very caregivers these children are removed from?” This is a scary question to ask, but one that social workers must constantly be appraising. The answer is not “no” but it is not a resounding “yes” either.
By definition, children in foster care come into care from troubled circumstances, putting them at greater risk for a number of poor outcomes. But we must make a guarantee to these children that the new environments we provide for them will make them better off than the environments we took them from. We must transition child welfare into a place where safety and permanency are not our only goals. Well-being and a better future are essential.
As a child welfare systems change analyst, I applaud the tireless work of child welfare workers and administrations and recognize it is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, jobs to do. There are so many forces beyond our control and endless administrative hurdles to overcome. But we must still do better. We have to do better or what is the point of the entire system?
References & Resources:
100 Former Foster Youth Visit Members of Congress to Advocate for Child Welfare Reform
Each May, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduces a resolution to recognize May as National Foster Care Month. Last year the resolution was cosponsored by more than 130 Members of Congress. In addition to re-introducing this important resolution to call attention and raise awareness about this issue, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth will be hosting a range of events in May, including a panel on May 23rd to discuss kinship placement and navigator programs which will also be streamed on Facebook Live.
The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI, www.nfyi.org) is gearing up once again to bring over 100 current and former foster youth, selected from a nationwide pool of applicants to Washington D.C. for a week of leadership training sessions, workshops on activism, and legislative meetings, culminating in an opportunity to spend a day “shadowing” their individual Congress members. Shadow Day attendees, some as young as 18, have all spent time in the foster care system and will share their experiences, while advocating for reforms in the child welfare system, both in their district and nationwide.
NFYI creates the Shadow Day Program each year, in partnership with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, providing a forum for members of Congress to discuss and develop policy recommendations which strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families. Co-chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth brings together over 100 Members of Congress to discuss the challenges facing all foster youth and develop bipartisan policy initiatives.
NFYI’s Shadow Day Program has trained a corps of foster youth alumni across the nation who have developed chapters in their home districts and partnered with local leaders and organizations to educate policymakers to addresses chronic problems within the national, state, and local child welfare systems.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA, 37th), during Shadow Day 2017, stated that government essentially becomes “the parents” when it puts children in foster care, and then “washes our hands of them” once they turn 18.
“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, then the government is really responsible because when we remove children from their parents, we — meaning the government — become the parents, we are responsible for them,” Bass said on the House floor. “So, we’re working on legislation to improve that.”
No one knows more about the pitfalls of our nation’s child welfare system than those who grew up in it. These young people are coming to D.C. to share their stories both – their challenges with abuse, trafficking, overmedication, or homelessness – and their successes with mentorship, adoption, family reunification, community activism and independent living. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.
“National Foster Care Month is a month to honor the successes and challenges of the more than 400,000 foster youth across the country and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of those who work to improve outcomes for children in the child welfare system. Making sure that all children have a permanent and loving home is not a Democrat or Republican issue—it should be an American priority. This May, we come together to celebrate the experiences of the youth who are in, or have been in, the child welfare system and raise awareness about their needs.” – Bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth
Exposure to Domestic Violence Costs U.S. Government $55 Billion Each Year
The federal government spends an estimated $55 billion annually on dealing with the effects of childhood exposure to domestic violence, according to new research by social scientists at Case Western Reserve University.
The results of a study on the national economic impact of exposure to domestic violence—published in The Journal of Family Violence—showed higher health-care costs, higher crime rates and lower productivity in children as they aged.
“This is a significant public-health problem that not only means long-term consequences for these children, but also imposes a substantial financial burden to society,” said Megan R. Holmes, assistant professor and founding director of the Center on Trauma and Adversity at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines intimate partner violence—more commonly known as domestic violence—as any physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and/or psychological aggression perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner.
In the United States, an estimated 15.5 million children each year are exposed to at least one episode of intimate partner violence, with more than 25 percent of children exposed to domestic violence in their lifetime.
The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports that 27.3 percent of women and more than one in 10 men (11.5 percent) have experienced physical violence, sexual violence or stalking by intimate partners at least once in their lives.
Married or cohabiting couples who have children are reported to experience the highest likelihood of domestic violence.
By the time a child exposed to domestic violence reaches age 64, the average cost to the national economy over their lifetime will reach nearly $50,000 across the following main categories, according to the research.
- Health care: Estimated effects of domestic violence exposure on the use of hospital care and physician and clinical services.
- Crime: The estimated effect of domestic violence exposure on the lifetime likelihood of violent crime: murder, rape/sexual assault, aggravated assault, robbery.
- Productivity: The productivity effects of domestic violence exposure stem from a connection to lower educational attainment. Using estimates for the age-specific effects of education on worker earnings, the study calculated the expected earnings detriment associated with exposure to domestic violence.
That includes at least $11,042 in increased medical costs, $13,922 in costs associated with violent crimes and $25,531 in productivity losses.
“And that’s just for one person,” Holmes said. “If we consider Ohio’s young adults, for example, the 172,500 Ohioans who are 20 years old, the cumulative lifetime cost for the estimated 25 percent who were exposed to domestic violence as children will be nearly $2.18 billion. Applied to the entire nation, the economic burden becomes substantial—over $55 billion.”
She said the effects of children’s exposure to domestic violence carry long-lasting consequences—and society picks up the tab.
While much research has been conducted on the effect of domestic violence exposure on short- and long-term outcomes, this is the first study to add a price tag to this public health problem.
“Although we researchers often use words like ‘ground-breaking’ to describe our work, few studies really meet that bar,” said Rebecca J. Macy, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Family Violence and associate dean for academic affairs in the University of North Carolina School of Social Work.
“With their study on the economic burden of children’s exposure to partner violence however, Prof. Holmes and her colleagues have really produced a groundbreaking study.”
By understanding the extent of the costs incurred, policymakers can now reference the economics to push for more effective preventive and therapeutic interventions, Holmes added.
The study was done in coordination with Francisca García-Cobián Richter, research assistant professor; Kristen Berg and Anna Bender, both doctoral candidates, at the Mandel School; and Mark Votruba, associate professor of economics, at the Weatherhead School of Management.
Getting Care Right for All Children – Free Online Course
Join over 5,000 learners from across 172 countries who now understand just how important the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children are when caring and protecting vulnerable children.
Now is your chance to register to be part of this FREE global online course. Starting on 19 February, it is open to everyone who is interested in or responsible for children’s care and protection.
It only takes a maximum of 4 hours a week to take part in this six-week truly interactive course. Allowing you to learn wherever and whenever it suits you.
By the end of it, you’ll better understand the key principals, pillars and implications of the UN Guidelines. You’ll also connect and learn from people throughout the world.
What to expect?
During this course, you’ll have access to a mixture of learning materials including:
- A film following a family moving through the care system.
- Filmed lectures, articles and reports from world leading experts.
- Online discussions to debate, ask questions and share opinions.
Course materials delivered in English, with some course materials available in French and Spanish. Don’t miss your chance to take part!
This course is designed for practitioners and policymakers from both state and non-state bodies (such as NGOs, CBOs and private service providers) and anyone working in providing services around children’s care.
This might include social workers, para-social workers, community support workers, lawyers, psychologists, child protection professionals, teachers, medical workers and care workers, including those in family-based and residential settings.
The course will also be accessible for people not working directly in this field and others with an interest or responsibility in the field of child protection and child care.
The course will be conducted in English with some course materials (including text and videos) also accessible in Spanish and French, reflecting the truly global nature of this issue.
What previous participants said:
‘I really enjoyed this course and gained a lot from what has been shared in articles, videos and other learners’ posts. This has already impacted my work.’ – Participant from Togo
‘I have learned so much about what happens in other countries around the world. I will continue to reflect on my current practice.’ – Participant from Swaziland
To get access to this free resources, sign up here.
Tracking the Impact of Early Abuse and Neglect
Children who experience abuse and neglect early in life are more likely to have problems in social relationships and underachieve academically as adults.
Maltreatment experienced before age 5 can have negative effects that continue to be seen nearly three decades later, according to a new study led by Lee Raby, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah.
“It is not a controversial statement to say abuse and neglect can have harmful consequences,” Raby said. “This study adds to that by showing that these effects are long term and don’t weaken with time. They persist from childhood across adolescence and into adulthood.”
The journal Child Development published the study. Co-authors are: Glenn I. Roisman and Madelyn H. Labella, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota; Jodi Martin, Department of Psychology, York University; R. Chris Fraley, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Jeffry A. Simpson, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota.
Raby said his team wanted to know two things: Does maltreatment early in life have long-term associations that extend into adulthood and do those effects remain stable or weaken over time?
The researchers used data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, which has followed participants since their births in the mid-1970s. The U study looked at data on 267 individuals who had reached ages between 32 and 34.
Information about the participants’ exposure to physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect was gathered from multiple sources during two age periods: 0-5 years and 6-17.5 years. Throughout childhood and adolescence, teachers reported on the children’s functioning with peers. The children also completed standardized tests on academic achievement. The participants were interviewed again during their 20s and 30s, during which they discussed romantic experiences and educational attainment.
Unlike studies based on adults’ retrospective accounts of their childhood experiences, the data used here were collected in real-time. In addition, because data on the participants has been collected throughout their lifetimes, the researchers were able to disentangle the effects of maltreatment that occurred in their early years from experiences of abuse and neglect during later childhood.
“The design allows us to ask our two questions in a way no other study has before,” Raby said.
Raby said the findings showed those who experienced abuse or neglect early in life consistently were less successful in their social relationships and academic performance during childhood, adolescence and even during adulthood. The effects of maltreatment did not weaken as the participants got older.
“The harmful effect of early abuse and neglect was just as important when we were looking at outcomes at age 32 years as when we looked at outcomes at age 5,” he said.
The researchers found abuse and neglect in later childhood also impacted these competencies in adulthood, but that later maltreatment did not fully account for persistent and long-term influences attributed to abuse and neglect experienced in early childhood. They also found long-term difficulties with social functioning — but not academic achievement — occurred independent of such factors as gender, ethnicity and early socioeconomic status.
“These findings add more evidence for the importance of identifying high-risk families and attempting to intervene before experiences of abuse and neglect occur,” Raby said.
Bipartisan Task Force Hosts Discussion on Effects of the Opioid Epidemic on the Child Welfare System
The Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force teamed up to host a dinner highlighting the effects that the opioid epidemic has had on the country’s child welfare system. This epidemic has impacted countless lives throughout the country and has already had a specifically insidious impact on children.
“The opioid crisis is devastating families and our already over-burdened child welfare system,” said Rep. Karen Bass, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “We have learned so much from the crack cocaine epidemic and how it affected those in the child welfare system. Now, we have to apply those lessons to the epidemic at hand. Last night’s bipartisan dinner was a step in that direction and I look forward to working with my colleagues in both caucuses that participated tonight on this incredibly important issue.”
More than 20 Members of Congress from the two caucuses came together Tuesday night to work with experts — individuals who grew up in the child welfare system and individuals who have dedicated their life’s work to children in the child welfare system — to identify tangible ways Congress could assist the overflowing child welfare system and also take meaningful action in bringing this epidemic to an end.
“I was pleased to join my colleagues last night at a bipartisan dinner that addressed our country’s opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Marino, Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. “This epidemic has affected countless children in the foster care system and it is up to Congress to come together to find a solution to end this horrible tragedy in our nation. I look forward to having more productive discussions on this issue and will continue to work tirelessly with Congress to ensure that our children are protected from this crisis.”
Ideas presented ranged from reforming law enforcement’s ability to respond to on-scene overdoses, to overhauling relapse protocol in court orders, to creating an entire cabinet position to address the issue of drug epidemics in our country. Experts and Members were quick to caution that there will be no one quick fix to this expansive issue, but agreed that conversations like the one held last night will bring us closer to a better future for these communities affected by this epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact on communities in New Hampshire and across the country,” said Congresswoman Kuster, the founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. “That impact has been acutely felt by families and children who so often bear the brunt of substance use disorder. I’m pleased that the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth have come together for this constructive conversation about how we can better support children as we take on the opioid crisis.”
“The opioid epidemic continues to destroy communities and families across my home state of New Jersey and throughout our nation,” said Republican Chairman of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, Congressman MacArthur. “More and more children are ending up in foster care because of this crisis and straining our already burdened child welfare system. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth to combat the opioid crisis and help children impacted by it.”
The dinner featured three panelists, all of whom have been directly impacted by the child welfare system, addiction or both. Linda Watts serves as the Acting Commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and provided detailed analysis regarding her work at both an administrative level as well as in the field.
Angelique Salizan is a former foster youth who is currently serving as a legislative correspondent in United States Senator Sherrod Brown’s D.C. office and a part-time consultant for the Capacity Building Center for States, an initiative of the Children’s Bureau. China Krys Darrington has been a trainer for the Ohio Child Welfare Training Program since 2010 and a provider of Recovery Support Services through XIX Recovery Support Services since 2007.
How to Support Foster Children
When you choose to become a foster carer the rewards can be great. Supporting a child through a difficult period in their life, watching them grow and develop into a well-rounded individual; it’s understandable why so many choose to pursue this worthwhile vocation.
However, as with any profession, it does come with some downsides. Primarily helping some children to cope with the trauma and stress that being in foster care can evoke.
So, how can you best support a foster child in a meaningful way? One that will be beneficial to the both of you.
Feeling like the most overlooked member of society can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on foster children. Meaning that the simple act of offering them an ear to vent their worries, experiences or anything at all can be extremely positive. It establishes you as a point of reason in their life.
You can’t always solve the issues that are brought up during these moments. Nor should you try, but it is worthwhile simply being there to hear. Because, at the end of the day, your foster children deserve to be listened to.
Birthdays. Christmas. Halloween. Important events can often go overlooked as a foster child. So, taking the chance as a foster parent to celebrate these milestones – no matter how little or big – can be the change that a child needs. Simple things such as helping put up a Christmas tree could be a moment they will remember for a long time to come.
And at the end of the day events like Halloween and Birthdays are fun – something every child needs a little more of in their lives.
Your support is vital, but often the support of peers can also be invaluable for the wellbeing of those children in foster care. Setting up playdates – even for older children – can be a great way to help them interact and enjoy time with children their own age.
Older children or teens may be unreceptive to you making playdates for them. But, arranging ‘coincidences’ of kids their age coming over can always be an alternative solution. What they don’t know…
This can also be beneficial for any of your own children that may also be in the house. A disgruntled foster child can be a distressing presence in the home, so balancing this out with a familiar friend and playmate is often needed to offset this. All of the children in your home can benefit from socialising with others both in and outside your own home at times,
Sometimes life can get a little too much when you are forced to come and go through a number of foster homes, which is a reality for many foster children. A day out – not even an expensive day out or holiday – can be a bright spot in an otherwise overcast moment in their lives. The zoo, beach, museum and even the park can be an adventure.
It’s not always clear what a child is going through, nor will they always express their emotions in healthy ways. Removing them from the environment which creates these feelings can be a relief in many cases.
Help with School
On average, foster children tend to do worse academically and behaviour wise in school than other children. The reasons are often self-explanatory, but it is something which you can positively influence whilst they are under your care.
Helping with homework, actively engaging with teachers over what you can do further to help and encouraging after-school activities are some ways to do this. Goals should be set, but ensure they are realistic and rewarded when surpassed.
Overall, being a foster parent is a big task but one that can bring so much enrichment to a child’s life. As a solid figure in their life, you can help ensure the rest of their life is more positive than the start. Supporting a foster child can be a challenge, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you see a positive effect on the life of a child.
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