A Different Perspective

I found this perspective thoughtful . . .

I’m a Christian foster carer though I am not actively fostering as I have a long term child and he is my priority. To me the call from God to Foster was nothing to do with an inability to have children (and I am NOT infertile) and I don’t think it was even a calling to be honest.

We are called to stand in the gap for these children. To be a safe and loving place where they can start to unpack their trauma with help from people like me who actively want to help. Not people that want to adopt these kids and pretend that they don’t have any issues.

The goal of foster care is to get the kids out of it and back home. Unfortunately there are a lot of foster carers who actively choose to ignore that. I would love to see my country move to a model where families are supported first and children are only removed due to the absolute worst case possible, end of the line option.

Unfortunately the system is completely broken and nobody in our government wants to fix it or knows how to. Which is why focusing on finding, training and keeping excellent foster carers is so important in the meantime. There should not just be a volunteering position that anyone can do. I am so sick of the advertisements on the radio and TV saying if you have a spare bed you could save a child’s life, when it is so much deeper than that.

These kids need more than just a bit of love and to be on their way. Unfortunately that seems to be what a lot of people think they need. Trauma is so complex and the whole idea of fostering at all, really should be taken so much more seriously.

Foster Care To Adoption Death

Victoria Rose Smith

After a four-day trial, Ariel Robinson was convicted of homicide by child abuse in the death of 3-year-old Victoria “Tori” Rose Smith. She died at their home in Simpsonville South Carolina on January 14, 2021. Prosecutors said Robinson severely beat the child with a belt which caused her to suffer internal bleeding. After an hour and a half of deliberation, Robinson was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Her husband, Jerry “Austin” Robinson, testified against her. He made a plea deal and faces a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.

Victoria with her large, biological family

Victoria’s biological relatives believe people who scrutinize the young girl’s January 14 death along racial lines will not do anything to prevent another tragedy. (The foster parents and their biological sons were black, the girl and her two brothers were white.) Her biological family says the blame belongs to the South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) who were too quick to seize her from biological mom, Casie Phares, and didn’t do enough to ensure she was going to a safe home. 

“This could have happened in a bad white home or they could have been placed in a loving black home where none of this would have happened. The point is that the people in charge of the adoption process are supposed to see through the smoke. These people are the experts, we trusted them to put the kids in a safe and loving environment. We now know they weren’t safe, they weren’t in a good home. Victoria was sweet, she was sassy. She was a smart, happy little girl and now she’s gone. It’s devastating,” Michelle Urps, Victoria’s great aunt, said in an interview.

Robinson had adopted Victoria and her two older brothers in March 2020. She has written repeatedly about her commitment to social justice, tweeting in the wake of the Capitol riot about how her four sons would experience the world differently because of their skin color. “In my house, my black children get treated the same as my white children, and my white children get treated the same as my black children. It’s a shame that when they go out into the real world, that won’t be the case.”

Three days before Victoria was allegedly beaten to death Robinson posted a cute collage of photos of the pair together, captioning it: “We go together like ketchup & MUSTARD! #MiniMe Being a girl mom is awesome.”

What occurs to me is – why with such a large extended biological family were the children taken and placed where they were ? Victoria’s case is unfortunately not the first time SCDSS has been blamed in a child’s death.

Victoria’s biological mother, Casie Phares, said she was never abusive to her children, but bullied by SCDSS into giving her children up. Phares said she was first flagged by SCDSS when she tested positive for marijuana while pregnant with Victoria. After Victoria tested positive as a newborn, Victoria’s aunt, Michelle Urps said “things just kind of spiraled from there.”

According to Victoria’s biological aunt, Michelle Urps – One day, while under SCDSS radar, Phares fell asleep while watching the two boys and Victoria, who was a newborn at the time. She had been up all night with the baby the night before. The two boys ran to the neighbors while their mom was asleep, The neighbors contacted police and that was the “final straw” with SCDSS. Phares was struggling to find housing at the time, which made her case with SCDSS even worse.

We don’t support families well enough to preserve children in the family they were born into. Many lose their children for nothing worse than being in poverty. This applies even more to struggling single moms.

Torn Apart by Dorothy Roberts

The horror stories regarding Child Protective Services (CPS) abound in my all things adoption group which includes former foster care youth. So when I read about Dorothy Roberts new book Torn Apart in Time magazine last night, I knew I would write about this for my blog today. Roberts believes that CPS needs to be abolished and she has found that it is shockingly easy for CPS to destroy poor, Black families. I would add ANY poor family. However, racial inequality and systemic racism are real.

Mother Jones has published an excerpt which begins with the story of a young mother who has health challenges, is married and has two young sons. Her family lives with her mother and everyone pitches in to care for the rambunctious little boys. The family was enjoying a picnic in a park in Aurora, Colorado.

When my own sons were very young, I lived in fear that some do-gooder would misunderstand some situation and report us. There is a Simpson’s episode where this happens to Bart, Lisa and Maggie and they are taken away and given to the Flanders family as temporary caregivers while Home and Marge struggle against the system. I would refer to that episode with my sons so that they would not exhibit some overly challenging behavior in public that would end with unintended consequences.

So it was that this woman’s 2 yr old ran after her cousin as she was leaving. The mother grabbed the 4 yr old and ran after her son. Before the mother could reach him, a woman who happened to be passing by had snatched the young boy by the arm, worried that he was wandering off. The mom could see the woman talking on her cell phone as she and her other son approached. When she caught up to them, only a minute later, she told the stranger holding her child, “Ma’am, that’s my son.” But the woman refused to let him go. She had called 911 to report that the boy was unattended.

Before the policeman who responded left, after the woman’s relatives gathered around to affirm that she actually was his mother, he gave her a ticket for child abuse and reckless endangerment. A month later, as the mom was cleaning up in the basement, her husband gone to work and her mother at a doctor’s appointment, the Social Services Department white caseworker accompanied by a Black female trainee, unexpectedly knocked on the front door, part of a surprise follow up from the citation issued.

The boys were in the front room, the 2 yr old still naked as he had just been bathed. When the mom did not immediately answer the door, the caseworker called for police assistance. Two male officers arrived first, soon followed by a female officer. The caseworker asserted the 2 yr old was neglected as he stood looking at them through the front window.

After the officers entered the house, without a warrant or permission, the mom became angry at the way she was being confronted so aggressively. She called her mother at the doctor’s office and asked, “Mom, can you get here, I got fucking social services and the goddamn police here, they’re really pissing me off.” Two of the officers then engaged the mom in an increasingly combative exchange.

The woman’s mother had arrived and had taken the boys to their bedroom, guarded by an officer who would not let the boy’s mom join them. One officer lunged at the mom and violently pushed her face down into a large beanbag on the living room floor. The female officer and a fifth officer now on the scene now assisting him, pinned her arms were yanked behind her back, cuffed her wrists and cuffed, restrained her head and shoulders. Two more officers arrived, bringing the total count to seven.

Then, they restrained the mom with a hobble—hand and ankle cuffs that shackled her wrists behind her back and chained them to her shackled legs and carried her off to a police car, her stomach and face toward the ground. She cried, “I can’t breathe,” and so, paramedics were called and her restraints loosened by order of a sergeant who had also now arrived.

The officer reports varied as to the condition of the house from “in fair condition with food” to “very dirty, with no food in the refrigerator, and very little food in the pantry.” On the advice of her public defender, the mom pleaded guilty (many legal cases today never reach court but end in plea deals) to child abuse and reckless endangerment to avoid prison and was ordered to take parenting classes and sentenced to one year of probation. Before the first incident in the park, the mom had never been in trouble with the law. Now she had a record as a child abuser. Her attorney was later able to obtain a monetary settlement from the police department for excessive use of force.

The mom was now ensnared in a giant state machine with the power to destroy her family. With the threat of child removal at its core, the child welfare system regulates a massive number of families. In 2019 alone, CPS agencies investigated the families of 3.5 million children, ultimately finding abuse or neglect only in one-fifth of cases, or for the families of 656,000 children. Yet the families of these children are put through an indefinite period of intensive scrutiny by CPS workers and judges who have the power to keep children apart from their parents for years or even to sever their family ties forever.

In the Time magazine article by Janell Ross, on the racial disparities in the child welfare system, interviewing Dorothy Roberts, she notes that more than half, 53%, of all Black children will experience a child-welfare investigation by the time they reach the age of 18, compared with less than a third of white children. However, white children from very impoverished areas, such as rural Appalachia, also experience extreme amounts of state involvement. Black children are more likely than white children to be taken from their families and put in foster care. They’re less likely to go on to college and more likely to end up in prison.

I completely agree with her – our society does not support families well enough. She notes income support, health care, affordable housing, an equal, high-quality education would keep most of these children out of foster care. She asks, why is child welfare’s response to the greater needs of Black children this very violent, traumatic approach of family separation ?

The facade of benevolence associated with Child Protective Services makes most Americans complacent about this colossal government apparatus that spends billions of dollars annually on surveilling families, breaking them apart, and thrusting children into a foster care system known to cause devastating harms. Dorothy Roberts notes – after 25 years of studying family separation as a legal scholar and author, I’m convinced that the mission of CPS agencies is not to care for children or protect their welfare. Rather, they respond inadequately and inhumanely to our society’s abysmal failures. Far from promoting the well-being of children, the state weaponizes children as a way to threaten families, to scapegoat parents for societal harms to their children, and to buttress the racist status quo.

My Past Does Not Dictate My Future

I was very sad to learn that this kind of governmental judgement takes place.

“I was adopted into a foster home in the 80’s. My babies were just taken from me and are being adopted out. I keep hearing how they will be fine and have great lives and how they won’t experience the same life I have had.”

The first commenter acknowledged – “Sadly Child Protective Services does think that if you grew up in the system, you will not be good enough to be a parent.”

Yet another put forth a different perspective –

I am a former foster care youth that aged out of the system and became a foster parent. It is a lot of hard work to be a parent, especially a parent with trauma. It is something I am aware of and ‘show up and work on every day!’ But that doesn’t mean that we will not be good enough to be good parents or can’t be good parents. Does it mean we have to work harder and be aware that we have trauma that a lot of people don’t?! Yes! But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t incapable, it just means we actively work every day to be different then the generations before us! Child Protective Services asked me very extensively about my past and trauma, and I had to prove in a lot of ways how I have worked on it and that I am aware of it and continue to be aware of it. And work on my trauma and triggers as they arise. Now that doesn’t mean that former foster care youth and other people with trauma aren’t at higher risk for having Child Protective Services involved or their children removed. Because unfortunately, many of the kids I grew up with in the foster system are still in some way involved in the system or dead, it is a hard trauma to break out of. But honestly I feel like a lot of that, comes from the fact that everyone in my life, told me I would never be any better than my parents, or better then my genetics. We need to start telling these children with trauma that our pasts do not dictate our futures, we get to control them. We get to be better. And we need to help them do that. Before their inner voice turns into this message of ‘I’ll never be good enough, so why try to be better?’.

It is a tough world out there for a lot of people. Not every one has the same experience. Here is one that turned out “better” than “worse,” and still . . .

After finding my biological family and meeting my sisters, I definitely had the better life (theirs was full of switching homes, being raised by different people, drugs and addictions, and poverty). I was raised as an only child and had college paid for by my adoptive parents – up to my masters degree. They also helped me and my husband buy our house. Does adoption still affect me? Heck yeah it does. I have horrific abandonment issues, anxiety and depression.

This experience is also VERY COMMON among adoptees –

I was adopted at birth. My adoptive parents were great, and I didn’t deal with a lot of the issues I’ve seen mentioned by other adoptees (favoritism, neglect, abuse, doing the bare minimum, etc) I love them very much and consider them my parents. I would imagine my childhood is what most adoptive parents think they will provide, and birth moms think they’re giving their child up to.

But I still have always had this very deep sense of not belonging or fitting in anywhere. Feeling that everyone will leave me, I can never be good enough. I don’t ever feel “home”. I always thought there was something wrong with me, and despite my best intentions or efforts I still just couldn’t do it “right”.

And I do agree with this person –

I was adopted into an amazing family, always loved and cared for. Had a good life and am a privileged adult. I have a good relationship with my biological family too. However, I despise adoption. It affected me in negative ways regardless of my “good” adoptive family and upbringing. It also has the ability to greatly affect our children and future generations. The trauma gets passed down. Nothing about adoption is ok. It should be a crime to separate families simply because there is money to be made from a demand greater than a supply. We need to overhaul our system so that adoption is nearly non-existent, like it is in other countries.

The outcomes are always unique and individual. No need to not all or even so –

I was adopted within a year of my birth. I had crappy adoptive parents. My life became significantly better after I was kicked out. I worked extremely hard to pay my way through college and live on my own. Life got even better when they stopped talking to me permanently. My biological kids are amazing and so is my marriage. However, I still sit and wait, expecting it to all fall apart. I don’t feel deserving.

One last perspective –

I was adopted at birth and have felt “lost” my whole life – empty – and have struggled. I’ve never felt complete and have always had bonding issues even with my own children. It’s like I love mentally but emotionally it’s a struggle to feel. If that makes sense. I’ve went through years of counseling, when I was in my 40s. I’ve worked my DNA, so I know who all my people are. I have a good relationship with my birth dad and some biological siblings and I now feel complete. But the love side of me, the connection…. I still don’t have it and probably never will.

I have often described my own adoptee parents (yes, both were adopted) as “good” parents but strangely detached. I blame adoption for that.

It Can Be Complicated

A young woman shares this story – hi. I don’t really have a point to this, maybe someone else has gone thru something similar. My sister is fostering my baby right now. I named him *William* *dad’s last name.* My sister doesn’t like his dad. (I’m guessing that’s the reason idk???) but she calls him, and everyone knows him by William *M* (our last name). It really irks me. I find it totally disrespectful. His dad’s name is what is on his birth certificate. I just find this disrespectful. !!! Do other foster parents do this??? I don’t think so.

Without knowing more about this specific situation, one foster parent explains the circumstances from their general point of view – I know this isn’t your situation but whenever we received children into our care – [1] They couldn’t talk clearly due to age and [2] They came with very little information because they were removed in the middle of a crisis, obviously. So there were times, we knew the child’s legal name but not the name the family called them by… Or didn’t know what nicknames the family used… Maybe for months at a time, depending on the case. So I guess #notall but also just #itscomplicated. And after adoption, the issue becomes a whole other story because sometimes everyone just wants to do what feels like fitting in. It seems to me the key is keeping an open mind and an open communication line, as much as possible. The adults hold so much power in the household… I’ve heard “a name is a gift” and isn’t meant to be a burden… Keep it for as long as it is useful, treasured, wanted, etc. But don’t owe it any debts. Idk if any of that rings true…

This answer reflects how most adoptees feel about the issue of their name having been changed . . . I care what’s on a birth certificate. I care that people think nothing of changing a child’s identity. I care that someone is creating a false identity for a child who isn’t competent to agree.

Another one writes – Some fosters (#notall) particularly F2Adopt (foster to adopt) HAP’S (hopeful adoptive parents) ….. will call themselves mom/dad with other people’s babies. And they will call the babies by the name they plan to rename them, if they ‘get lucky.’ This undermine the original mom’s self confidence and make reunification attempts difficult but sadly is common. Making mom feel as though she isn’t ‘enough’ and that her baby is thriving and better off with the fosters…

(BTW This is totally untrue! Fight for the return of your child, request they refer to your baby by name. And affirm that the only mom he has is you!)

And it is common as this example confirms – my nephew’s adoptive parents called him a different name before their adoption was finalized, they were foster to adopt as well. We also asked that they at least keep his middle name because it was our dad’s name. He had just passed away. Nope they changed his entire name. I know they will have to answer for it later with him but I just feel so bad for him not being able to keep any of his original identity.

Only adoptees, and sometimes infants in a foster care situation, are forced to live a false identity.

Privatizing Foster Care

A woman in my all things adoption group encountered this business (and by that I do mean for profit) at a pop up market. I had to go looking for a definition of that. Pop-up retail, also known as pop-up store or flash retailing, is a trend of opening short-term sales spaces that last for days to weeks before closing down, often to catch onto a fad or scheduled event.

She shares her experience thus – Today I did a pop up market and after I was fully set up I walked around. One of the other vendors that were there was this one (First Home Care). They claim to be there to help children in the foster care system. Ok, cool. I asked what they did for the community as I’d love to be able to help local families… The good ends there… After talking to the lady for less than 5 mins, She starts talking about how much money you can make as a foster parent. My jaw hit the floor. I was like are you a not for profit or a for-profit company? They are for profit… Not unification… Wtf… I told her she should be ashamed of herself and walked away… Is this common? I feel like a complete noob. I had no idea that there were foster companies for profit. Like I know there’s adoption companies for profit, but foster companies…

To which someone else posted a link to an article in The Hill – “Privatization of foster care has been a disaster for children.” The article highlights an abusive system, where corporations profit from and victimize vulnerable people: foster care for children.

Twenty-eight states allow some degree of for-profit contracting of foster care services. The private companies that make money off foster children would have us believe that they are providing quality service at affordable rates — as is often the selling point of privatization made to the general public. But evidence has shown that some of these for-profit services are rife with mismanagement and abuse.

One woman, who aged out at 18, describes her last (of 3 placements) in Utah – “It was the worst of them all. I still have bad dreams. My sleep was monitored; I wound up banished to the basement, alone for days. They listened in on my phone calls, read my mail. I was told the sexual abuse I had lived through was my fault. The meds they put me on threw my moods all over the place. I wanted to kill myself. I feel lucky I made it out alive.”  She had entered foster care when her mother died after being severely abused by her father.

Privatizing the core functions of the foster care system makes it harder for the public to exercise the necessary oversight over the activities of companies that are entrusted with the safety and well-being of vulnerable children. Of course, the for-profit foster care industry argues that abuse claims are nothing but isolated cases — bad apples in an otherwise pristine crop.

Foster care contractors benefit from a steady flow of children into the foster system, just as private prison contractors rely on the persistence of steady rates of crime and incarceration. A bipartisan congressional report released in 2017 by former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) found that, by and large, “children who are under the legal authority of their state, yet receive services from private for-profit agencies, have been abused, neglected and denied services. The very agencies charged with and paid to keep foster children safe too often failed to provide even the most basic protections, or to take the steps to prevent the occurrence of tragedies.”

Youth Villages

My husband called my attention to an article at NPR.org – “18 can mean an abrupt exit from foster care. For some, it’s no longer a solo journey.” I already knew somewhat about aging out of foster care and the effects of that.

What attracted my attention was this – Helping young people see that they can have a stable future is the goal of the LifeSet program. Developed in 1999 by the Memphis nonprofit Youth Villages, it is being used today in 18 states and Washington, DC. I appreciate this from their Mission and Values statements – “When at all possible, children belong with their families. We help families provide the support and structure that all children need.”

Also this – We develop innovative programs that serve children and families facing the most challenging circumstances. Our entrepreneurial spirit leads us to test the limits of existing services and create new opportunities. We provide care and treatment for children in an open, safe environment. We ensure that young people are physically and emotionally safe. We help children and families develop skills to live successfully by focusing on areas that have a long-term impact on the family.

LifeSet puts transition-age youth in the driver’s seat of their lives with a trained specialist by their side to help them identify and achieve goals. It is is an individualized, evidence-informed community-based program that is highly intensive. LifeSet specialists meet with participants face to face at least once each week. They text, email and call young people regularly throughout the week, when needed. Specialists stabilize even the toughest situations and help young people build healthy relationships, obtain safe housing, education and employment. LifeSet is one of the nation’s first — and now one of the largest — evidence-informed programs helping young people who age out of foster care. More than 20,000 young people have helped through LifeSet across the country since the program began in 1999.

Shock And Confusion

Ashley John-Baptiste

I was drawn to this man’s story in The Guardian because such unexpected events are happening more often these days thanks to social media and inexpensive DNA testing.

He had entered foster care while only still a toddler. He had been in four foster homes and a residential care home, all across south-east London, by the time he aged out at 18. He had always believed he was an only child. In his mid-20s, he received a message on social media from a stranger, about 10 years older than him, who claimed to be his brother. Turned out he was a half-brother, they shared the same father. This older man had been one of his baby-sitters when he was very young. And he knew this man had at least three other siblings.

After aging out, he was rebuilding his life. He had gotten a degree and was employed as a BBC journalist. This unexpected note from a stranger on Facebook had collided with his already fractured identity, raising a wave of questions about who he was and where he came from.

At the time, the two never went on to meet in person. They messaged each other a bit for a few weeks and of course, he scoured the man’s Facebook profile, but they didn’t pursue a more intimate relationship. Years passed without any contact – until the first COVID lockdown.

His partner had given birth to his first child and they were at a hospital for a routine well-baby check. He spotted a man outside the building. They locked eyes. Weirdly, perhaps, he recognized the man instantly. He was the half-brother who had got in touch with him all those years ago. He looked exactly the same in person as he did in his profile picture.

So, he called out the man’s name and, to his relief, the man also recognized him. They stood there, outside the hospital, chatting. Time stood still. In that moment, it felt as if they had known each other their whole lives. There was a deep knowing. Nothing was awkward about it. If anything, it felt too normal.

He said at the hospital visiting his sick mother. He introduced the man to his baby. They took a photo together and even made plans to catch up properly in the near future but since that chance encounter, they haven’t met again.

For ages after that meeting, he was consumed with questions about his past. Why did social workers and foster carers tell him he was an only child? How could no one in authority not know about his siblings? Do children’s services even care about, or prioritize learning about, the family histories of looked-after children?

Sadly, he still has not had any contact with his other siblings. At this point, all he has is that photo of his half-brother who is his baby daughter’s uncle. Even so, he says this – “Although I don’t know, and may never know, these siblings on a personal level, they serve as a touch point to understanding my past and my sense of identity. Knowing they exist reassures me that I am a part of something bigger than myself. . . . knowing they are alive and well is more than enough for me.”

Tiffany Haddish Grew Up In Foster Care

I discovered that comedian Tiffany Haddish grew up in foster care. Though foster care is NOT part of my personal experience, I have learned a lot about it from my all things adoption group and I once read the personal memoir of a woman – Foster Girl by by Georgette Todd – that is a nightmare of a story but that does have a happy ending – thankfully. Anyway, I went looking for Haddish’s own story of foster care. I owe much of today’s blog to the story in Simplemost.

Haddish spent part of her childhood in foster care. As I often read is recommended if someone really wants to adopt, she has spoken about adopting older children who are in foster care. I had already learned that babies and younger children tend to be adopted out of the system more easily than older kids, and generally, the older a child is, the harder it is for them to get adopted. Haddish would like to help an older child who might otherwise be passed over by other families.

She says, from having spent many years in the foster care system, that she knows firsthand how difficult it can be. “You’re dropped in these strangers’ houses, you don’t know these people, these people don’t know you, you don’t know if they’re gonna hurt you, if they’re gonna be kind, you don’t have a clue what’s going on.”

When Haddish was a child, her mother was in a serious car accident that left her with many injuries and altered her personality, causing her to become erratic and violent — and unable to care for the kids. Haddish, who is the eldest of five, was 12 years old when she and her siblings entered foster care, and she remained in foster care until she she became an adult and was emancipated from the system.

In foster care, the comedian spent years moving from home to home, with all of her belongings in a trash bag. She shares, “I remember when I got my first suitcase, I felt like I was a traveler, like I had a purpose, like I’m a person, like I’m not garbage. I got this — it’s mine, and my things are in here, and wherever I go I can take this with me and I’m going somewhere.”

Haddish tells her difficult but inspiring stories in her book, “The Last Black Unicorn.” Here is the interview of Tiffany Haddish about her book from The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Adding More Misery To The Suffering

Daisy Hohman’s 3 children spent 20 months in foster care.
When she was reunited with her children,
she received a bill of nearly $20,000 for her children’s foster care.

An NPR investigation found that it’s common in every state for parents to get a bill for the cost of foster care. Case in point –

Just before Christmas in 2017, Daisy Hohman, desperate for a place to live, moved into the trailer of a friend who had an extra room to rent. After Hohman separated from her husband, she and her three kids had moved from place to place, staying with family and friends.

Two weeks after living at this new address, police raided the trailer. They found drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to court records. Others were the target. Hohman was at work at the time. No drugs were found on her, and police did not charge her.

Even so, child protective services in Wright County MN placed her two daughters, then 15 and 10, and a son, 9 in foster care. County officials argued she had left the children in an unsafe place. After 20 months in foster care, her three children were able to come back home. Then, Hohman got a bill from Wright County to reimburse it for some of the cost of that foster care. She owed: $19,530.07

Two federal laws contradict each other: One recent law directs child-welfare agencies to prioritize reuniting families. The other law, almost 40 years old, tells states to charge parents for the cost of child care, which makes it harder for families to reunite.

The NPR investigation also found that: The fees are charged almost exclusively to the poorest families; when parents get billed, children spend added time in foster care and the extra debt follows families for years, making it hard for them to climb out of poverty and the government raises little money, or even loses money, when it tries to collect.

Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement for children, provided by state and county child welfare agencies when families are in crisis or when parents are thought to be unable to care for their children. It’s long been recognized that the best thing for most children in foster care is to be reunited with their family. While in foster care, children live with foster families, with relatives or in group settings. More than half will eventually return home. There were 407,493 children in foster care on the day the federal government counted in 2020 to get a snapshot of the population, according to a report from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

In 2018, Congress reformed funding for child welfare when it passed the Family First Preservation Services Act. That law tells state child welfare agencies to make it their focus to preserve families and help struggling parents get their lives back on track so that they can be safely reunited with their children. But a 1984 federal law still stands, as do additional state laws, that call for making many parents pay for some of the cost of foster care. Among the costs the federal funding pays for: shelter, food and clothing; case planning; and the training of foster parents.

Of parents who get billed for foster care: A disproportionate number are people of color. Many are homeless. Many have mental health or substance abuse problems. And almost all are poor — really poor. 80% of the families in a data analysis had incomes less than $10,000 annually. Try living off $10,000 a year. You’re in deep poverty, if you’re living off that kind of money.

Hohman followed the case plan set out by county caseworkers in 2018 and completed the steps required to get her children back. She went to family therapy sessions and submitted to random drug testing. She saved up enough money to rent an apartment in order to provide the children with safe and suitable housing. The $19,530 bill was just a few thousand dollars less than Hohman’s entire paycheck in 2019, for her seasonal work at a landscaping company. The debt went on her credit report, which made it hard to find an apartment big enough for her family or to buy a dependable car to get to work. When Hohman filed her income tax, instead of getting the large refund she expected it was garnished.

To charge poor families for the cost of foster care sets them up for failure. Mothers, often single, work overtime or take on a second job to pay off the debt forcing them to leave the kids alone and unattended. While it might not seem like that much to have to pay fifty or a hundred or two hundred dollars a month in foster care child support, if you are a very low-income, low-earnings mom, that can be the difference in being able to save money for first and last month’s rent on a decent apartment or not. The mom is at risk of losing her child again because of poverty. That doesn’t make sense from a child well-being, family well-being standpoint, or from a taxpayer standpoint.

Even a small bill delayed reunification by almost seven months. That extra time in foster care matters. It increases the cost to taxpayers since daily foster care is expensive. And it inflates the bill to parents. It matters because the clock ticking for the parents. They are given a set amount of time to prove they should be allowed to get their child(ren) back. Once a child spends 15 out of 22 months in foster care, it is federal law that the child-welfare agency must begin procedures to terminate a parent’s rights to the child with a goal of placing the child for adoption in order to find them a permanent home.

Today’s child welfare system also struggles with conflicting incentives. Laws meant to hold parents accountable can end up keeping families apart. When parents don’t pay, states garnish wages, take tax refunds and stimulus checks and report parents to credit bureaus. In the overwhelming majority of the people in the child welfare program, a significant contributor to the reason they’re in that situation is poverty. Abuse is an issue in only 16% of cases when kids go to foster care. Mostly, the issue is the parent’s neglect. Maybe there’s no food in the refrigerator or the parent is homeless or addicted. These are issues of poverty.

States don’t actually have to go after this money. There’s some leeway in the 1984 federal law. It says parents should be charged to reimburse some of the cost of foster care – when it’s appropriate but it does not define the term appropriate.