“Your parents don’t love you more because you’re biologically theirs…
They love you because you’re you” – Rita Hendricks, The Fosters
My interest in the foster care system started in 2013, when I first saw ABC Family’s, The Fosters. The Fosters is a drama which focuses on an atypical family who take in two siblings, Callie and Jude, who have endured rape, juvenile detention, and domestic abuse. Before watching this show, I did not really know much about the foster care system. This made me wonder if conditions were as bad or even worse than what the show portrayed. So, I did my research and found a 1988 article in The New York Times, explaining the plight of many children the system. NYU Professor Thomas J. Lueck wrote that children who were detained in Social Security offices “were kept in rooms that had no air-conditioning on days when temperatures were over 90 degrees with high humidity”(Lueck). The conditions of some of the foster homes themselves were often much worse, ranging from abusive foster parents to unsafe living conditions. Fourteen year old Naika Venant, for example, was abused by her birth mother from a young age. According to Washington Post reporter Kristine Phillips, during Venant’s time in the foster care system, she was not given enough support for her traumas and ultimately committed suicide (Phillips).Background:
Abuse of the system started in 1562, when laws were enacted to take children out of almshouses and place them into indentured servitude. Almshouses, also known as poorhouses, were used to house homeless children and unemployed adults. During their stays, children slept in the same rooms as distasteful adults, who exposed them to many traumatic horrors according to NFPA. However, servitude was not any kinder to them, as the young girls and boys were exploited and abused by their masters (NFPA). These children were often placed in almshouses because their parents had died or abandoned them (Nelson).
The Orphan Train Movement:
Moving ahead many years to New York in 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to house and educate the estimated 30,000 homeless children of New York City (Children’s Aid). With poverty at a high rate, many families required their children to work in the factories (Eviator). Homeless children, even non-orphans, were desperate to find food, shelter, money, and rags. Brace noticed the children being regularly victimized and had the idea of an “emigration plan” where he would send orphaned kids to live on farms in the West. Since they were sent across the country by trains, his later became known as “The Orphan Train Movement” (Children’s Aid).
The conditions of the train were very poor, as they resembled cattle cars. Charles Loring Brace said, “the best of all asylums for the outcast child is the farmer’s home. The great duty is to get these children of unhappy fortune utterly out of their surroundings and to send them away to kind Christian homes in the country.” Brace believed that a stable family would be able to provide support for the neglected children and help them move past their traumatizing pasts (Brown). Some children were warmly welcomed by their new families, but unfortunately, others were forced into labor, similar to being indentured servants (Foster Care).
“Spare The Rod and Spoil The Child”
Still, there were no laws that prevented “parents” from beating their kids, as the motto of this time was “spare the rod and spoil the child,” which meant that children needed to be physically reprimanded in order to strengthen their personal developments (Markel, New York Times). In 1874, the case of Mary Ellen McCormack (formerly Wilson), brought attention to child welfare. McCormack had been whipped and beaten by her foster mother, Mary McCormack, on a daily basis. During her court hearing, the young girl testified that “[Mary] used to whip me with a twisted whip — a rawhide… I never dared speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped” (Markel, New York Times). Investigator Etta Angell Wheeler, lacking any other resource, appealed to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (A.S.P.C.A), who assigned a lawyer, Elbridge Gerry, to take the case to the Supreme Court. The court sided with Gerry, and Mary McCormack was arrested for assault and battery (Foster Care).
Lisa Ling, an American journalist and author is hosted by Katie Couric on her show, Katie. Ling touches on the biggest foster care system in the US, which is the Los Angeles Foster Care System. She talks about the many pressure the overworked, underpaid and under appreciated social workers have when dealing with the system. They are required to be “on alert” when trying to extract children from dangerous situations, which can be very difficult. Social workers also have the tough decision of deciding whether or not to take a child out of their home if they think they are in danger where they are currently living.
Lisa Ling Talks Tackling The Foster Care System
“There is such an urgent need for people to open up their homes, it’s not easy and it takes a lot of time. The moneys that they receive from the system is really fairly insignificant in comparison to what it takes to raise a child. But there really is a need and I want people to know that these children are not in the system because of any fault of their own, it’s something that their parents did, propelled them to be in the system. And these kids are traumatized, and even though they might be in an abusive situation, think about happens to them psychologically when they’re removed from the only home that they’ve known, and essentially put into the system where they’re bounced around from facility to home to possibly group home. It’s really traumatizing and they just need loving people who would be willing to take them in.”
– Lisa Ling
The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 was enacted by President Bill Clinton on December 14th, 1999, to support youths leaving the system when they are 18. The act provided funding for state, who then set up programs enabling children to transition out of the foster care system and into adulthood (Solutions).
Title IV-E Bill
In addition to this act, a bill was approved by the House on June 21st, 2017, that revised Title IV of the Social Security Act which was originally passed in 1935. The bill amended Section 437 by adding a clause that required funding in order to expedite the adoption process and placement of children in guardianship or foster care (Haas). Even though the bill accelerates the process by which youths are placed, this does not fix the living situations of the foster/group homes. Foster parents must go through an inspection to test whether or not they are fit to be foster parents. Once appointed guardian, foster parents have much leeway on how they treat their foster child. However, home inspections are more focused on the physical safety of the foster care environment and often overlook the abusive and violent nature of the homes. The previous bills are both helpful when it comes to supporting children outside of the system, but does very little to fix hazardous living situations such as, domestic violence and exposure to substances.
Through a TED talk, former foster child, Angel Mechling shares her experience growing up in the foster care system. Mechling touches on her many obstacles, including sexual abuse, verbal abuse and
Growing up in the foster care system: Angel Mechling at TEDxUMDearborn
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