Long-term foster care is not the place for a kid
There are thousands of children in need of foster care or adoption in Ohio, and foster parents, courts and social workers are struggling to meet their needs.
But too often — regardless of good intentions — too many children are aging out of foster care without receiving whatever it was they needed to lead productive lives. To be fair, no child enters foster care without scars, and perhaps even the best of foster care or what appears to be an ideal adoption would not be enough to heal those scars. But numbers cited together by the Department of Job and Family Services are sobering, and they fully justify the recent efforts of Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, and the Foster Care Advisory Group he assembled to look for solutions to a life-shattering problem.
Here are some of the national statistics on what is likely to happen to a child who ages out of foster care:
By age 24, 81 percent of males will have been arrested.
54 percent report having at least one mental health problem.
48 percent of females become pregnant by age 19.
33 percent receive neither a high school diploma nor a GED, compared to fewer than 10 percent of their same-age peers.
33 percent have household incomes below the poverty level, which is three times the national rate.
25 percent have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans and 12 percent of Iraq War veterans.
22 percent experience homelessness, and 40 percent of the adult homeless population spent some time in foster care.
Those are national statistics, but there is little reason to believe that the 1,000 to 1,400 young men and women who leave foster care in Ohio each year fare any better.
In short, the costs associated with long-term foster care are too high, both in human suffering and in the expense involved in responding to such dysfunction.
The best foster care is loving, disciplined and as short as it can be.
Parental rights cannot be ignored, but when efforts to reunite children with their parents seesaw between foster home and the parental home and drag on for years, the inalienable right of the child to pursue a meaningful life is trampled.
Courts must move more decisively toward determining when a child’s best chance lies with adoption into a stable, loving home.
The advisory group recommended that laws and Supreme Court rules be amended toward quicker adjudication of cases involving child abandonment or serial mistreatment.
It also recommended that foster parents be provided more training and that they be given notification of court action involving their foster children — and that the court be encouraged to consider the insight that foster parents may be able to provide. It also recommended that older children be in attendance at court hearings where decisions will be made that impact their lives.
But the biggest take-away from the study is that more must be done by the courts, child welfare agencies and the state — working with private agencies that encourage adoption — to find homes where children will have a chance of blossoming, where the hardships and challenges of their earlier years will not define the rest of their lives.
This is a cause that should clearly cross political lines and should get immediate support from liberals and conservatives from the county level, to the General Assembly and to the Ohio Supreme Court.