Due to confidentiality concerns, the names of social workers and families in this article have been changed.
Author David W. Earle once said, “Our parents were our first gods. If parents are loving, nurturing, and kind, this becomes the child’s definition of the creator. If parents were controlling, angry, and manipulative, then this becomes their definition.” Child care problems in America revolve around the parents’, or foster family’s, control of the children, as well as the way Child Protective Services attempts to mend the wounds created by some parents. CPS is a state-run organization that serves a means of providing protection for children who are experiencing, or are at risk of, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or physical and emotional neglect.
Early childhood trauma can lead to long-term mental and physical health issues, like toxic stress, as well as social and behavioral problems. Toxic stress from childhood trauma releases hormones that damage the brain; these hormones prevent the formation of healthy neural connections that are necessary to developing essential skills, such as problem solving, frustration tolerance, and emotion regulation. A healthy upbringing will allow a child to succeed, but an abusive and stressful one will affect the way a child acts when they are an adult. Judith Lewis Herman writes in her book Trauma and Recovery, “Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life…[The child] is still a prisoner of [its] childhood; attempting to create a new life, [it] reencounters the trauma.”
The earlier a child suffering sexual, emotional, verbal or some other trauma gets counseling, the more likely it is that the child will eventually heal. If the parents have financial or mental health problems, this can leave an enormous negative impact on the children. This negative impact can cause kids to have emotional, psychological, and education challenges, which can even result in legal problems and juvenile detention.
According to a May 2015 report from the Institute for Family Studies, this stress can be caused by a variety of housing environments, including cohabiting homes. Children living in cohabiting homes are much more likely to experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse than who live with married parents. According to the report, the most obvious and dangerous type of cohabiting relationship is the kind between a mother and her unrelated boyfriend. The report also states that most cohabiting relationships are destined to end eventually, exposing any of the children involved to the trauma of separation from parents and caregivers. Whether or not a child’s parents are married and stay married has a significant effect on his or her future success.
Children born to broken homes, handed to a broken system; tragedy is inevitable. John William Tuohy, author of No Time To Say Goodbye: A Memoir of Foster Care, describes what it feels like to be a child that was frequently moved throughout the foster care system: “…the very definition of disillusionment is a sense of loss for something you never had. When you are disillusioned and disappointed enough times, you stop hoping.” All children want the same thing; They want a safe and loving family environment. Sadly, like Tuohy, too many children will become lost within the system and will be brutally abused or neglected along the way.
Reports of maltreatment in the foster homes are not uncommon, because the country is unfortunately running out of safe homes or institutions in which to put the kids. When children are transferred from one foster home to another, some may be separated from their siblings; others may be moved from one foster care placement to another, never knowing when and if their lives will be uprooted again. Many will be further abused in systems that are supposed to protect them. Instead of being safely reunited with their families, or moved into adoptive homes, many will wither and struggle for years in foster homes or institutions. After the government realizes that the institutions do not help certain children, the social workers attempt to return the children back to the abusive home that they came from. These abusive homes are not just the homes that the children are born to but also the homes within the foster care system.
The best thing to do is try to keep the children in their original home, if at all possible, and provide different services to help the family cope. If that is not possible, the next best solution is to have other family members or nearby foster parents take the kids in, and at the same time provide a group of professionals such as a therapist, a pediatrician, and a social worker, to help the kids as well as the adults. This resolution is called “wraparound services.” Wraparound services were first developed and implemented in the mental health field for children and adolescents with social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. However, other child-serving agencies, including education, juvenile justice, and child welfare, have begun to incorporate the wraparound process into their system. Children thrive and are able to grow in families, not institutions or temporary care. Every child should be given a place to call home, where they can be loved and supported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that if generation after generation of children are mistreated, it can lead to the creation of a whole new group of criminals, because crime is one of the most socially costly potential outcomes of maltreatment.
Unfortunately, numerous children do not have that one place they can call home; they have the foster care system, which is far from consoling. Each year, as many as 25,000 young people that live in foster care in America “age out” of the foster care system. This usually happens to children on their 18th birthday. After having spent their whole childhood in a system where every important decision was made for them, these people are now adults, and they are on their own with no one to count on. On the issue of these having decisions made for them, John William Tuohy states that, “In foster care it’s easier to measure what you’ve lost over what you have gained, because it there aren’t many gains in that life and you are a prisoner to someone else’s plans for your life.” The result of aging out of the system is a disastrous pipeline of around 25,000 young adults that head out into the world and are annually at risk for incarceration, unemployment, homelessness, early parenthood, and lives of poverty. The fact that there is a foster care pipeline that produces the next generation of poor and homeless people in this country is inconceivable and unacceptable.
The United States has one of the highest comparative child poverty rates in the world. Poverty can impede a child’s ability to learn, and it can contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. It can also contribute to poor general and mental health. The health risks are the greatest for the children who experience deep and persistent poverty and experience it when they are young. Adults can temporarily fall into poverty; however, for a child, falling into poverty could last a lifetime. These children rarely get another chance at a good education or a healthy start in life. Child poverty threatens not only the child themselves, but it is possible that this poverty can be passed onto future generations, increasing the inequality in society. The production of the next generation of poor people, due to the foster care system, is experienced not only at a national level but also at state levels.
The federal government, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services, establish’s all the rules about foster care, then the states, such as Virginia, take the mandates and put them into its legislative schedule. For a kid to be put into foster care, there must be evidence that they have been abused and neglected. Once the child is in the system, legal custody is then transferred to the Department of Social Services of Virginia. Foster care within each state has to do everything it can to rehabilitate the family to make it a better and safer environment for the child. There are countless families that are so broken that any hope of repairing their wounds in as quickly as a couple of months is a lost cause. However, that does not mean that the family or the social worker should give up. They have to have the willingness to do it.
More than a decade ago, a Virginia social worker, whom we’ll call Pat, was sent to the home of a young couple that recently had a baby because there was a complaint that this couple was abusing their newborn. The DHHS told the Virginia Department of Child Protective Services that they must offer support services before they can remove the baby from the harmful environment. Pat, a woman with an hourglass shape and dirty-blonde hair that barely reaches her shoulders, was a dedicated, hands-on social worker. She was sent to the young couple’s home. Upon arrival, Pat saw a young boy lying on the floor, listless, with a blank look. Pat knew the child needed to be put in a safe home immediately, due to injuries and visible maltreatment by the parents. Pat was desperate and, unfortunately, did not have any foster homes available. However, Pat had a friend, whom we’ll call Beverly; Beverly had a disabled daughter, and Pat called the friend and asked “Would you like to have temporary baby for while?” Beverly, a tall, approximately 40-year-old stay-at-home mom with long brown hair and broad shoulders, told Pat that she and her husband would think about it. After some deliberation, Beverly and her husband accepted the child as one of their own. Pat quickly approved them as the young boys’ foster parents. Once all the paperwork for becoming a foster parent had been completed, a juvenile judge insisted that the child meet with the biological parents at least twice per month. While at MCV for a physical, the doctor noticed that the child had several broken ribs and bruises, signs of abuse from his first family. The two-month old baby boy was lying on the table, not moving because his parents had beat him.
Pat, as required by law, started to work to rehabilitate the birth family. It was soon discovered that the father had a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder where he would pinch his skin or even his child’s. This is more commonly referred to as pinching disorder, a version of OCD. The judge urged that Pat attempt to put the couple through rehabilitation. There appeared to be no progress during the couple’s therapy sessions, however, and Pat urged that the doctors continue to work with the couple until both of the birth parents reach an optimal healthy mindset. After a few years of therapy, the couple unfortunately had not make any headway and decided to stop the sessions. The psychologists said that the couple’s parental rights must be terminated as they had not made the necessary improvements required to keep these parental rights. The foster parents, Beverly and her husband, gave the boy the best they could. After the birth parent’s parental rights were terminated, Beverly and her husband decided to officially adopted him. He has now since grown and recently graduated from college.
Now imagine, what would have happened to that little boy had Pat not had the intervention with the young couple? When asked why she was so persistent in helping this little boy, Pat said, “A child is a message we send to the future that we will never see.”
The problem with today’s system is that the willingness to fight, until a family is helped and a child is saved, is not as strong as it needs to be. The passion to take an extra step to protect maltreated children is, unfortunately, not present within the mind of today’s social workers. Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma once said, “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.”
Regardless of the government and social workers having this passion or not, there will still be children that are maltreated and neglected. The wounds created by parents or the system may never heal, but there should be people working towards preventing these wounds from ever occurring. If children are not given the attention they deserve, it affects the community as a whole because the children are the future of that civilization. As Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”