Child Welfare in the 21st Century

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  • June 2012
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Families Matter! (and) Family matters?

Posted by lboyd544 on June 15, 2012

It is estimated that approximately 400,000 children and youth are in foster care placements in the US. However, there is an equally important statistic that is unfortunately overlooked too often.
There are more children in TANF kinship care settings then there are children in foster care! 450,000 are estimated to be in kinship foster care placements, according to testimony on Thursday, May 17, before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Ways and Means Committee. These are foster youth also, albeit youth living with ‘kin’ vs. non-kinship foster placements, as we typically think of foster care.
We must be cautious, however. Recent data do not show significantly better outcomes for youth in kinship foster placements when it comes to measures of mental health needs and access to services. Yet earlier data suggested that children do better in the long-term when placed with kin. And of great concern should be additional recent reports that services from the public child welfare field do not provide the same levels of support, frequency of visits, or access to services for kinship placements as is available to regular foster placements. The mythology is that “Grandma will handle it”. We know that Grandma MAY handle it a bit longer without support than a ‘stranger’ foster family might. But Grandma (and any relative ) faces the same challenges from children entering her home, her own age and need requirements, finances, etc., that other foster families face. She, too, needs support and services!

It would be inappropriate and non-productive to simply blame the public child welfare system. Almost all states experience high case loads and over-worked public child welfare staff. The research data is changing. Fewer children are in foster care in many states, but those same states often show increases in kinship foster care placements. Adoption numbers are increasing; however services to these same youths and families post-adoption are scant and pose families for future pain and potential disruption as children and relationships evolve in a new family structure.

As always, these youth, whether foster youth or kinship placements, and their families (foster families, kinship families, adoptive families) are the families of OUR communities. As communities, it is incumbent on us to look around, extend a hand, offer support, encourage leaders and policy makers, ….and offer a smile, a cup of coffee, or an hour of respite to these heroes trying to make a difference in a vulnerable child’s life.

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