An alarming number of foster kids in Michigan live in group homes and emergency shelters. Nearly half of whom have no clinical need to be there, and far too many are staying well beyond what is legally acceptable, according to today’s Kids Count policy report Every Kid Needs a Family: Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The reasons? A lack of community services to allow children to stay safely in their homes and an inadequate supply of kin or foster homes. Agencies should be encouraged to provide more services in home and community settings. Family supports shield children from the further trauma of being placed in out-of-home care.
Kin and foster parents also too often lack the necessary support to succeed at making a good home for a traumatized child.
While most foster parents would happily welcome a boost in the $17.23 daily rate, what they really need is support in other ways: better training, respite care, support groups, mentors, timely payments, streamlined application processes for child care subsidies and other assistance programs that are supposed to be automatic for children in foster care.
Recruiting more foster parents won’t help unless there are supports to keep them. Surveys show 40% of families who quit fostering cite lack of support as the primary reason.
My husband and I currently foster an almost 2-year-old boy. We waited 10 weeks for the child care subsidy to kick in for him. In that time we spent $2,250 out of pocket. We will be reimbursed about two-thirds of it but the point is that while my family could afford that, many could not. Last summer, we waited three months to get our first payment from the state. We don’t complain about the cost, we will happily share what we have but we worry about what this means for other foster families or potential foster families.
Families like Mr. and Mrs. G (who asked to remain anonymous to protect her children) took in a sibling group last summer, ages 1, 2, and 3. They were first-time foster parents. The kids were dropped off with few belongings, no diapers, bottles or food, no paperwork, and no Medicaid cards even though all three were sick, the youngest with double pneumonia. The couple had to take the baby to the ER and received the full bill. It took months to get any reimbursement and another six months to receive the $100 clothing allowance per child. The child care subsidy was yet another struggle in a long battle to get support. The G family adopted the three children on Dec. 31 and promptly closed their license.
Another foster parent, Veda Thompkins, has spent the past 30 years fostering youths in Detroit. She knows the system inside and out, yet she still has to fight for every support her kids need. Right now, she’s trying to get help with behavior issues presented by the two 15-year-old boys in her home. One spent five years in residential care; the other was in for seven years.
“They finally just stopped asking me permission to go to the bathroom.”
There are success stories of foster parents who find great support from their agency. But the level of support varies by agency, county and caseworker. Tricia and Eric Bouma have one of those experiences. The Hudsonville couple with four biological children took in a teenage girl last summer. The girl, who was removed from her home in 2011 at age 11 due to neglect, already had been in three foster homes with the longest stay only two months before she spent a year and a half in a group home.
The girl exhibited some behavioral challenges but with support and resources offered through their caseworker and others at Bethany Christian Services in Holland, the Boumas learned to manage the behaviors. The family also accessed a local support group of other foster parents and made use of a clothing closet offering free shoes, clothes and other items to children in foster care. The Boumas, who are adopting the girl, credit their success to the support they received from their agency.
As Veda says: “If you treat foster parents right, they will do great work for these kids.”
– Stacey Range Messina