Participating in Head Start may help prevent young children from being placed in foster care, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University researcher.
Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education, said Sacha Klein, MSU assistant professor of social work.
Klein and colleagues examined multiple forms of early care and education – from daycare with a family member to more structured programs – and found Head Start was the only one to guard against foster care placement.
“The findings seem to add to what we already know about the benefits of Head Start,” Klein said. “This new evidence suggests Head Start not only helps kids develop and allows parents to go to work, but it may also help at-risk kids from ending up in the foster care system.”
Klein and colleagues studied the national survey data of nearly 2,000 families in which a child had entered the child welfare system for suspicion of abuse or neglect. Those children were either pulled from the home or were being overseen by a caseworker.
Klein said Head Start may protect against foster care because of its focus on the entire family. Services go beyond providing preschool education to include supporting parental goals such as housing stability, continued education and financial security.
There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, about a third of them under the age of 5, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All children in foster care automatically qualify for free Head Start services, regardless of income level.
Klein said the findings suggest policymakers should consider making all children in the child welfare system, including those living at home, automatically eligible for Head Start. That could help prevent more kids from ending up in foster care.
While foster care can be a vital resource for protecting children from abusive and neglectful parents, it is rarely a panacea for young kids, the study notes.
“Indeed, young children who are placed in foster care often have compromised socio-emotional, language and cognitive development and poor early academic and health outcomes,” the authors write. “Trauma and deprivation experienced before removal may largely drive these developmental deficits, but foster care often fails to alleviate them and sometimes can worsen them.”
Klein’s co-authors are Lauren Fries of MSU and Mary Emmons of Children’s Institute Inc. in Los Angeles.
The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act: One Small Step in the Right Direction Towards A More Just Child Welfare System
While most of the mainstream media has failed to report on this momentous piece of legislation created to address the inequities of systemic racism impacting child welfare reform and parental rights, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis quietly introduced the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act (HF 3973).
The bill was first introduced earlier this year with the explicit purpose of stopping the arbitrary removal of black children by the Minnesota Child Protection Division. The goal of the legislation is to address key racial biases and disparities while also seeking to extend better standards of care across the State’s child welfare system.
According to the Minnesota House of Representatives’ website, “a group of state lawmakers say those disparities are caused by widespread inequity across Minnesota’s child-protection system that includes how initial allegations are reviewed, how parents are screened and assessed and how incidents are resolved”.
The Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act has the support of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, numerous leaders within the black community as well as African-American families directly impacted by the State’s arbitrary removal assessments. While there is no doubt there will be challenges for implementation or will right past injustices, this piece of legislation is one small step in the right direction. Minnesota has taken the first legislative step towards using policy to address structural racism within the child welfare system. Maybe, their courageous actions will inspire other lawmakers to follow and do the same in their states.
As a social justice and parental rights advocate, this story is a personal one and a triumph to see on many levels specifically because I was unjustly and unnecessarily removed from my mother in Saint Pauls when I was six years old. The removal was both retaliatory and racially (politically) motivated due to the fact my mother was a fearless and outspoken black woman trying desperately to address the blatant discrimination and racism blacks were experiencing in our neighborhood.
While in foster care, I experienced mental, physical, and emotional abuse, and very nearly died due to improper adult supervision or the lack therefore in my case. Although my mother did eventually get me and my younger sister back after two long and hard years of fighting in the Courts, she was never the same mentally or emotionally.
As a social work professional, I know now, my mother was very likely suffering from severe and untreated PTSD which is a very common diagnosis as a result of family disruption from a child removal. It wasn’t until many years later when I found myself in the very same position (having had to experience the same CPS induced hell), that I truly realized what my mother had to endure.
My experiences inspired my desire to become an advocate and prevent the above from needlessly happening to another family. Structural racism and discrimination are rampant and widespread within our nation, and our child welfare system is not exempt. Racism and discrimination within the child welfare system have directly lead to what some scholars and advocates have termed, the “cultural genocide” of the black family.
A Call to Action…
This bill is extremely important and needs all the help it can get in order to become law. Therefore, I’m calling upon advocates, families, and child welfare professionals everywhere to call and write the appropriate committees and/or legislators and tell them to support the Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act.
If you’re ready to make a positive difference and combat the cultural genocide of African-American families all across the country, please call or write your representatives and request the African-American Family Preservation Act be introduced in your state.
How to Become a CASA Volunteer
Sponsored by Aurora University
Children who are in the court or social service systems due to neglect or abuse are vulnerable, and they often lack reliable adult advocacy. For the past 40 years, however, volunteers have been stepping up to help protect and guide these at-risk youths during their proceedings.
In 1977, Seattle juvenile court judge David Soukup found himself regularly waking up in the middle of the night worried about children. He worried that he regularly made drastic decisions in his courtroom about how to handle cases of abused and neglected children with insufficient information.
Judge Soukup envisioned citizen volunteers speaking up for the best interests of these children, and he contacted members of the community he thought could help him find such volunteers. He first asked interested people to come to a brown bag lunch to discuss this possibility and 50 people showed. From there, the program has grown a network of nearly 1,000 Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) programs in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
When he retired from the bench, Judge Soukup himself became a CASA volunteer. He said the experience was “both the hardest — and the best — thing I’ve ever done.”
Sometimes CASA volunteers are the only consistent adult in an endangered child’s life. They are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children and make sure they don’t get lost in the legal and social service system.
Each year, more than 600,000 children go through foster care in the United States. There aren’t enough CASA volunteers to pair with each child, so judges assign volunteers to their toughest cases. In 2017, more than 85,000 CASA volunteers helped more than a quarter million abused and neglected children find permanent homes.
Court-Appointed Special Advocate Overview
The presence of a CASA volunteer in the life of a child who is in the court or family services system has a huge impact on the outcomes for that child. Children who have a CASA volunteer are more likely to be adopted, are half as likely to reenter the foster system and are less likely to be expelled from school. In fact, children who have a CASA volunteer average eight fewer months in foster care than children without one.
CASA volunteers are supported continuously throughout their service. They have opportunities for continuing education and access to online resources provided by the National CASA Association, including a resource library, national Facebook community and an annual national conference. To maintain your status as a CASA volunteer, you are required to submit to 12 hours of yearly in-service training.
According to the organization, when you become a CASA volunteer, these are some of your responsibilities:
- Research: Review court records and other documents related to the case, speak to the child, their family and the professionals involved with their case.
- Report: Share the research with the court.
- Appear in court: Provide testimony when asked and advocate for the child.
- Explain: Help the child understand the various proceedings around their case.
- Collaborate: Help the people and organizations involved in the child’s case come to cooperative solutions. Make sure the child and their family understand the various services available to them and help arrange appointments.
- Monitor the process: Stay up-to-date on case plans and court orders. Make sure the appropriate hearings are being held in a timely manner.
- Update the court: Any time the child’s situation changes, inform the court. Make sure the appropriate motions are filed on the child’s behalf.
Cases are assigned by the CASA staff with consideration to the suitability of the volunteer’s background and education and any prior experience as a CASA volunteer. Volunteers of all experiences and backgrounds are needed.
- Shelter the child in the volunteer’s home
- Give money to the child or their family
- Attempt to intervene in violent situations
- Fail to report the child’s whereabouts in an emergency
They must also adhere to a very extensive code of ethics.
How to Become a CASA Volunteer
CASA volunteers come from all backgrounds; the only unifying trait of volunteers is empathy for children. You’ll be an advocate for children during the most confusing and traumatic time in their lives. It’s a challenging and fulfilling role that will positively impact the children in your charge.
Volunteers must complete 30 hours of training and pass background checks. Being a CASA volunteer is a 10- to 12-hour monthly commitment. CASA volunteers commit to seeing a case all the way through to the end, which averages around a year and a half.
Other requirements to become a CASA volunteer include:
- Be at least 21 years old, though some states have the minimum age as 25
- Be available for court appearances with advanced notice
After completion of the initial training, volunteers are sworn in by a judge as officers of the court. This gives them the legal authority to conduct research on the child’s situation and submit reports to the court.
Do Paid CASA Careers Exist?
Not all people who work for CASA are volunteers. Child advocacy can be a career, whether or not it is with CASA.
One such paid career is a supervisor for a CASA program. This is a critical role because they recruit and manage the volunteers. Their main tasks are:
- Attract volunteers that represent the ethnic and cultural make up of their community.
- Attract volunteers on an ongoing basis.
- Promote CASA in the community.
The average CASA supervisor makes $50,080 a year. Sixty-seven percent of people in that role have a bachelor’s degree, and a bachelor’s degree in social work is excellent for a CASA employee or volunteer. Though volunteers of all backgrounds are needed at CASA, qualified volunteers with a background in social work are especially valuable to the program.
Classes studying human behavior in social environments and family dynamics from Aurora University’s online Bachelor of Social Work lay the foundation for informed advocacy for an at-risk child. Graduates of the online BSW are eligible to take the examination for the State Social Work license (LSW) and to apply for advanced standing in Aurora University’s online master’s in social work if they choose to further their careers.
Bass, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Foster Youth Mentoring Act
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass and Rep. Bacon both serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.
“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges youth in the system face,” Rep. Bass said. “In all of my years working with children in the child welfare system, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, the number one thing I hear is that they want a consistent source of advice and support.
They want someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary, but for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue.”
“As the father of two adopted children who came into our home through foster care, I understand the need for foster youth to have the consistent support of a caring adult,” said Rep. Bacon. “I am thankful to join Rep. Bass in co-leading these efforts, as they will ensure adults will be able to be successful mentors who have a positive impact on the education, personal and professional challenges our foster youth go through every day.”
“Mentoring provides young people with the social capital, confidence, and support they need to thrive,” said David Shapiro, CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “Far too often, young people in the foster care system experience adults coming in and out of their lives, without having a consistent presence of someone focused solely on them and their journey.
Research confirms that young people in foster care benefit from quality mentoring in a range of areas including mental health, education, peer relationships, placement, and life satisfaction. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act centers the critical role relationships can play for foster youth and provides proven mentoring programs with the resources they need to serve young people through evidence-based and culturally relevant practices.
MENTOR is thankful to Representative Bass and Representative Bacon for their bipartisan leadership to create policies and resources that incorporate the power of mentoring relationships into the child welfare system and ultimately, the lives of our young people.”
The bill comes one day before the 8th annual Foster Youth Shadow Day, an event hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth in which current and former foster youth from more than 30 states ranging from Alaska to Maine come to Washington, DC to shadow their Member of Congress. This year’s Shadow Day includes 130 delegates aged between 18 to 30. They have spent a combined 725 years in the child welfare system. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.
The bill authorizes funds for mentoring programs that are currently engaged in or developing quality mentoring standards in screening volunteers, matching process, and successful mentoring relationships. It will ensure that mentors are trained in child development, family dynamics, cultural competence, the child welfare system, and other important factors that enable long-lasting and strong relationships. The bill also increases coordination between mentoring programs, child welfare systems, and community organizations so that the systems serving young people are working together to help foster youth flourish.
Building Families: Social Workers in Foster Care
Sponsored by Campbellsville University
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there were approximately 443,000 children in foster care in 2017 with more than one-quarter of those children waiting to be adopted.
Unfortunately, the foster care system needs help, according to Anne Adcock, program director and assistant professor of social work at Campbellsville University. Some people get into fostering for the wrong reasons, thinking that they’ll be able to live off the money they receive.
Fortunately, social workers in foster care can help. According to the National Association of Social Work (NASW), social workers play a critical role in child welfare systems, and studies point to social workers’ education linking to better outcomes for children and families. “The foster care system is not perfect, but social workers are there to make it as good as it can be,” Adcock said. How does that happen in roles like the foster care social worker? In an interview, Adcock shared details on job responsibilities and the impact that social workers in foster care have.
How Foster Care Social Workers Help Children and Families
Social workers in foster care are often employed by private agencies that have contracts with the state, Adcock explained. The agencies have a number of foster care families who are considered when it’s time to place children into homes.
Foster care agencies employ social workers who work as therapists for children and those who work as case managers. Case managers, who are also known as foster care social workers, take care of responsibilities like assessing families for suitability, placing children and monitoring children. Regular contact is often made with the family about two to four times a month.
There are two crucial tasks that encompass how foster care social workers help children and families. “Mainly, the social worker’s role in the foster care system is to make the connections between the family and the kids,” Adcock said. “And then to monitor those relationships to make sure the child is getting what they need and the foster parents are managing that situation well.”
Building connections with foster care children and potential families is vital for creating a successful placement. Social workers in foster care must take care in choosing the right home for kids in foster care.
Once children are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, according to Adcock, they receive a social worker either through the state or the state will contract out with an agency to provide a social worker. The social worker will begin the process of finding a more permanent foster home.
In some cases, children have greater needs, such as those with disabilities or behavior problems. In that case, foster care social workers will start searching for what’s known as therapeutic foster homes. Those homes and parents can accept children who need special attention. If that scenario unfolds, social workers will need to work on connecting children with the right therapeutic home. There’s a lot of linking required to find the right environment for those children.
Once a placement is made, foster care social workers will monitor the relationship. Regular contact is kept with at least two visits a month must be in person, at the home, and the remaining visits can be by phone.
If help is needed, social workers can step in and respond accordingly. “As a crisis comes up on the part of either the parent or the child, they go and take care of those things,” Adcock said. From crisis prevention and response to providing other types of support, there are a number of ways foster care social workers monitor cases.
- Emotional Support: Foster care children need emotional and behavioral support. “Most of the time these kids also have a therapist,” Adcock said. “The case manager and the therapist kind of work as a team. So, if there are things that the case manager sees that need to be discussed in therapy, they can communicate that to the therapist.” The foster care social worker can also talk with children in general about their concerns and fears, or anything else on their mind. Another way social workers in foster care provide emotional support is by accompanying children at family court. That enables children to receive some help navigating the court system.
- Financial Support: If children have extra needs that go beyond the monthly stipend parents receive for food, clothing and basic necessities, social workers will ensure they receive what they need.
- Mediation and Crisis Intervention: Some situations can be difficult to deal with. “A lot of these kids have trauma in their past,” Adcock said. “They have abuse in their past. It’s not uncommon for a foster child to have significant behavior problems . . . Sometimes they will run away from the foster care home. I know I had a former student that was in a foster care agency, and the kid just took off.” The social worker in that case was out with the police helping look for the child. In other instances, such as when foster parents have proven to be inadequate, the social worker may need to correct the situation or remove the child from the foster home.
- Respite Care: Parents can request respite care for circumstances when they cannot care for foster children. For example, if a parent has surgery or an out-of-town family reunion, there are respite homes social workers can locate to take children for a few days.
The Rewarding Nature of Working in Foster Care
There are some tough times for social workers in foster care, but that’s not always the case. “Overall, it’s rewarding, because they get connected to the kids and the kids rely on them,” Adcock said. “Sometimes they’re the only one that the kid trusts, and that’s a good thing.”
There are times that demonstrate why foster care social workers dedicate their lives to helping children and families. “If everything goes well, they’re (reunited) with their original family,” Adcock said. “The best times, I think, for a lot of my former students . . . is when an adoption goes through. When the foster care family is the right fit, everybody’s happy, and it moves forward to adoption . . . I think those are the best days.”
Optional pull quote: “When the foster care family is the right fit, everybody’s happy, and it moves forward to adoption . . . I think those are the best days.”
Another great part of social work is that there’s always room to move up. Foster care social workers, or case managers, can earn their master’s degree and become a therapist. That enables them to have some variety while staying in the foster care specialty.
Career Information for Foster Care Social Workers
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earn a median annual wage of $47,980 per year. Starting salaries will be less when starting out, according to Adcock, but there is plenty of growth in this area. “Especially if someone with their BSW moves forward and gets their MSW,” she added. “That’s where the most significant growth in earnings would come. Typically, there’s a $10,000 to $15,000 salary difference right off the bat, depending on where you are.”
Employment for all social workers is projected to grow 16 percent by 2026, according to the BLS. That figure is more than double the average percentage increase for all occupations, which is 7 percent. According to Adcock, there is a special need for social workers in foster care. Private foster care agencies are always hiring, given the demand that has resulted from states contracting their work to those agencies. “And then a lot of foster care agencies are expanding their services and starting to provide alcohol and drug addiction treatment services for juveniles,” Adcock said.
The BLS noted that social workers need a bachelor’s degree. Providing counseling services as a clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work.
An online bachelor’s degree in social work can allow you to become a foster care social worker. You’ll develop an understanding of the basics of social work while gaining, hands-on, practical experience in the field. There’s also a course, “Foster Care & Adoption,” that covers the foster care specialty.
Campbellsville University’s program lets you study in a convenient, flexible environment. Gain the skills and knowledge needed to become a social worker at an institution that was ranked the 4th most affordable among Christian colleges in the United States. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies – Alan Sinclair
It is widely accepted the earliest months and years of a child’s existence have the most profound impact on the rest of the lives. Attachment theorists believe the early bonds and relationships a child forms with his/her carer(s) or parent(s), informs that child’s ability or inability to form successful and healthy relationships in the future.
Alan Sinclair’s ‘Right from the Start’ is the latest in the Postcards from Scotland series of short books, which aim to stimulate new and fresh thinking about why us Scots are the way we are.
In my previous book review in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, I commended the author of ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ (another book in the same series) Carol Craig for her ability to write succinctly and accessibly about a complex subject matter. I feel the same way about Alan Sinclair’s writing in this book.
The premise of this book, put simply, is laying out the bare truths of how good and bad us Scots are at parenting as well as having the appropriate supporting systems in place for parents and carers of our most vulnerable children.
A consistent thread throughout the book is the author arguing that by investing in parents and babies ‘from the start’, governments and the surrounding systems who support children and families can relieve the heartache of tomorrow in the form of poorer outcomes in education, employment and in health.
The book begins by acknowledging the UK’s position on the UNICEF global league table of child well-being, ranking 29 of the world’s richest countries against each other. The UK is placed 16th, our particular challenge being a high proportion of young people not in work, training or education. Although the league table did not single out the devolved nation of Scotland, the author describes the UK as a ‘decent proxy for Scotland’.
The first 1,000 days
The author goes on to explore the theory of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This theory suggests this is the most significant indicator of what the future holds for them. He touches on child poverty, which we know from well-cited research can lead to adversities in life, but he also mentions too much money can be an issue as well.
This point is explored more deeply later in the book’s in a chapter titled: ‘Is social class a factor?’. The author is effective at challenging the popular rhetoric that it’s the least educated and most poverty-stricken parents in society who are most likely to neglect their children. He talks about the longitudinal study, Growing Up in Scotland, which tracks the lives of thousands of children and families from birth to teens. Amongst many other findings, the survey shows 20% of children from the top income bracket have below average vocabulary; it also finds problem-solving capabilities are below average for 29% of this group. This proposes child poverty is only a small indicator of the child’s developmental prospects.
Where the Dutch Get it Right
The most intriguing part of the book from my point of view is the comparison the author makes between raising a child in Scotland versus the Netherlands (which ranked first in the UNICEF league table). In Holland, pregnant women have visits from a Kraamzorg, an omnipresent healthcare professional who identifies the type of support required. Post-birth the Kraamzorg plays a very active role and can typically spend up to eight hours a day supporting the new mother in her first week of childcare. The Kraamzorg also becomes involved in household chores including shopping and cooking. And it doesn’t stop there. The Dutch system includes Mother and Baby Wellbeing Clinics, which support families from birth to school age and have been doing so effectively for the last century.
On reading how the Dutch system operates, it’s hard to not make comparisons to the system here in Scotland (and the wider UK) within our NHS where mothers are wheeled in to give birth and very quickly wheeled out again to free up bed space. I exaggerate slightly here and I do not want to discredit the incredible job hard-working NHS staff do, but I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling envious of the Dutch system and thinking they’ve got something right, in comparison with Scotland. This was neatly summarised at the start of the book in a quote from a Dutch woman who had spent time living in both Holland and Scotland when she said: ‘In Holland we love children. In Scotland you tolerate children.’
But it’s not all bad. As the author remarks himself: ‘Scottish parenting is not universally awful: if we were we would not be almost halfway up the global table of child well-being’ (p. 12).
The penultimate chapter explores some real-life examples of parents who are struggling and striving to succeed in bringing up children with some success despite the odds stacked against them. I found the author’s injection of such human stories among the explanation of evidence useful as it allowed a chance for the reader to reflect on how all this is applicable in everyday life in Scotland.
To me, there was, however, a glaring omission in these stories: a voice from the LGBT community. Gay adoption in Scotland was legalised almost 10 years ago in 2009, and at the same time the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulation 2009 came into force allowing same-sex couples to be considered as foster parents. It would have been interesting to hear from this historically marginalised part of our society what the experience has been like and how different, or similar, this was from the other stories included in this chapter. Are they arguably better equipped as carers of Scotland’s most vulnerable children given their own life experiences of being marginalised?
The book ends with the author setting out his vision for a better future for Scotland’s children where they have better life chances and are fully nurtured. It’s clear we have some way to go but reading this book makes you feel a glimmer of hope that could, one day, become a reality.
Reps. Bass, Marino Introduce Legislation To Develop And Enhance Kinship Navigator Programs
“With the rise of substance abuse highlighted by the opioid epidemic, more and more kinship caregivers are stepping up to raise children in need of temporary care or permanent homes,” said Rep. Bass. “This is happening in every state and every county in the United States. While we work to address this immediate epidemic, our child welfare systems are being overwhelmed. Kinship caregivers need support and this bill will help provide the assistance necessary to creating a stable home and environment for the child. I hope Congress can come together on this bipartisan issue to stand up for our kinship caregivers and our nation’s most vulnerable youth.”
“Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy, safe, and loving home,” said Congressman Marino. “We know that when children grow up in stable households, they are much more likely to succeed as adults. This legislation will help ensure that every foster child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams, start great careers, and raise loving families of their own.”
The bill will allow community-based organizations to apply directly to the Department of Health and Human Services for funding and also require program evaluations that include community perspectives. You can read the full bill here.
Why Kinship Care Matters:
Research demonstrates that children in kinship care are less likely to experience numerous different placements with different families. Kinship care results in better outcomes for all children living in out-of-home care because they are more likely to remain in their same neighborhood, in the same educational setting, be placed with siblings, and have consistent contact with their birth parents than other children in foster care. This is one critical piece in improving outcomes for the children in the child welfare system.
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