Foster Care and Online Technology: Are you Keeping your Child Safe?

As a foster and adoptive parent myself, I recognize the importance of technology in the lives of children.  Indeed, technology is everywhere, and for our children today, it is a large part of their lives. Yet, social network sites, such as Facebook, have opened up a whole new world for those involved in the foster care system. Foster children, foster parents, birth parents, and social workers have all felt the impact of this powerful technological communication tool. Social Networking allows foster children to stay connected to friends and family members from all over. For these children in need, it can very much be a benefit as they stay in touch with birth parents and biological family members.

socialmedia_menThese sites open up a new way to communicate with birth parents and other biological family members. Facebook and other networking sites allow foster children and birth parents to remain in day to day contact as it allows the foster child the opportunity to continue in a relationship that is important to him. This may help in allowing the child to cope with the separation from his family.

However, social networking can present challenges for children in fostercare. Some caseworkers may prefer that contact with birth parents be limited. Yet, with social networking, this can be most difficult and almost impossible for foster parents to monitor. More and more birth parents are contacting their children through social networking sites, and many times against the wishes of both foster parents and caseworkers. Birth parents are able to openly communicate with their child unsupervised, which can lead to false accusations as well as false promises.

Indeed, social networking is a whole new world for all involved in foster care; a world that can be both wonderful and dangerous at the same time. “There is the chat component of Facebook,” one caseworker noted, “where a child and their parent could essentially have a conversation that no one would be able to monitor unless they were sitting right next to the child, which is a grave concern.” Case managers would have to be familiar with the birth parent’s Facebook page before the foster child was to even access it. Along with this, there are many reports of foster parents being bullied and stalked by the birth parents through social networking.

Another caseworker suggested that, “I am personally aware of inappropriate things that parents post on their Facebook pages that would not be appropriate for their children to view. Not only might there be inappropriate information and comments on there, there also might be inappropriate photos and other harmful content that the children do not need to be exposed to, not just from the birth parents, but from the internet, in general.”

Indeed, social networking is a whole new world for all involved in foster care, and its a world that can be both wonderful and dangerous at the same time. Much more information and research is needed before the social network explosion engulfs foster care.

Does Obamacare Benefit Baby Boomers?

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are changing the definition of what it means to grow old. Baby boomers don’t want aging services the same way their parents did, boomers don’t want senior centers and adult day care centers, they want wellness centers and spas. They don’t want to be isolated in nursing homes, they want to live in active communities. They don’t want to stay home and watch Gunsmoke reruns in their moo moo, they want to go out dancing in high heels wearing Gucci. Boomers are spearheading the movement to age in place and our health care policies are following.

Obama_healthcare_signatureThe health home model of service delivery in section 2703 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the most recent federal initiative promoting integrated health care and aging in place. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H. R. 3590) is a federal policy that signed into law by President Obama in 2010, also referred to as Obamacare.

Section 2703 of the Affordable Care Act authorized states to develop a system of coordinated care through a health home. The health home facilitates access and coordination of health services through home health care, including primary health care, behavioral health care, and community-based services for Medicaid recipients with a chronic condition.

Health homes are of particular importance to older adults since the passage of the Affordable Care Act means reducing health disparities for older adults. For example, the barriers that prevent screening and assessment, and treatment among all older adults have a larger greater impact on homebound older adults due to transportation issues, handicapped accessibility, and isolation. Homebound older adults have greater physical health issues, and therefore, seeking treatment for chronic health conditions presents a significant barrier.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, brought increasing recognition of the need to consider the totality of an individual’s health and health care. This means fostering overall health and wellness by promoting the integration of behavioral health (mental health and substance abuse) and primary health care to increase access to affordable and effective integrated health care, treatment, and recovery support services.  Within this context, now is a perfect opportunity to engage stakeholders and partners to embrace recovery and all of its dimensions.

However, as the baby boomers redefine what it means to be “elderly” or “senior”, what will this new healthcare system look like for older adults? The home health model is an idea that promotes aging in place. It hasn’t been researched fully to know the benefits of this system. More research needs to be done, but what do you think, is the home health model truly of benefit to older Americans?

For more posts like this, follow me on Twitter @karenwhiteman

Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care Epidemic

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Possibly one of the few things more challenging than being a teenage parent is being a teenage parent in foster care.  While the adverse effects of teen pregnancy have been well studied, researchers and social service providers are only recently coming to terms with the growing epidemic of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care.

According to a 2009 Chapin Hall Study  adolescents in foster care are at a significantly higher risk for pregnancy than the general adolescent population:

  • At ages 17 and 18, one third or 33% of young women in foster care were pregnant or parenting  
  • By age 19, more than half or 51 % of young women currently or formerly in foster care were pregnant or parenting, and nearly half of those young women had more than one child
  • 60% of 21-year-old former foster males report impregnating a female partner as compared to 28 % of the general population

To be clear, foster youth are children who have been removed from their families and are in the legal custody of the state. Another way to think of this is, the government is their parents. If that is the reality, than foster youth are basically “our children” and we are doing a pretty shabby job at being their parents.

What is possibly even more troubling than a 50% pregnancy rate is the experiences of these young parents while in foster care:

  • 1 in 5 pregnant teens in foster care received NO prenatal care
  • 22% of teen foster care mothers were investigated for child maltreatment
    (this is way above the 12% of teenage parent in general)
  • 11% of teen foster care mothers had their children removed from their custody 
  • 44% of foster care mothers graduated from high school; 27% for parenting foster fathers
  • Having a child while in foster care was the largest predictor of homelessness after exiting care

Teen pregnancy and parenting is only one of the indicators of poor foster care outcomes. Very few programs and policies address the needs of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care or work to prevent initial or repeat pregnancy.  Other critical foster care outcomes include a significant  increase in the risk of homelessness, incarceration, poor educational attainment, and poverty for foster youth ages 14-18 . But there is something uniquely disturbing about the fact that the children of foster youth are at-risk for entering foster care while their parents are still in foster care.

Though I am in no way suggesting that the U.S. do away with child protective services or foster care, circumstances such as these do beg the question, “Is the government any better at being a parent than the very caregivers these children are removed from?” This is a scary question to ask, but one that social workers must constantly be appraising.  The answer is not “no” but it is not a resounding “yes” either.

By definition, children in foster care come into care from troubled circumstances, putting them at greater risk for a number of poor outcomes. But we must make a guarantee to these children that the new environments we provide for them will make them better off than the environments we took them from. We must transition child welfare into a place where safety and permanency are not our only goals.  Well-being and a better future are essential.

As a child welfare systems change analyst, I applaud the tireless work of child welfare workers and administrations and recognize it is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, jobs to do. There are so many forces beyond our control and endless administrative hurdles to overcome. But we must still do better. We have to do better or what is the point of the entire system?

References & Resources: 

Boonstra, H.D. (2011). Teen pregnancy among young women in foster care: A primer. Guttermacher Policy Review, 14 (11) pp.8-19.

Center for the Study of Social Policy: Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care

Children’s Bureau, Administration of Children, Youth, and Families. The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2012 as of July 2013.

Children’s Defense Fund. (2010). Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act Summary.

4 Ways You Can Prepare For Foster Care In Your Home

Home is Where I Make It
Home is Where I Make It

The foster care system is constantly seeking out people who are willing to provide shelter for children in need, however long or temporary it may be. Foster parents are required to go through trainings and will encounter many home visits so that child welfare agencies can properly assist and guide families that are new to foster care. If you’ve already decided that this is something you wish to be involved in and are just waiting to take in your first foster child, there are many things you can do aside from attending classes and talking to social workers to better prepare yourself before receiving the call for a placement.

Have a Family Discussion

Becoming a foster parent isn’t a decision that only one person in a family can make. It’s important that all members of the immediate family, including spouses and children, be in agreement and excited about the plan. It’s only natural for the flow of your household to shift to accommodate your foster care placement, impacting marital relationships and other children already in the home. Being as open and honest about the situation as possible before welcoming someone new into your home helps to get everyone used to the idea.

Research Day Care Facilities

Some foster families are able to have a parent stay home with the children, while others must continue to work full or part time. Whether you will require child care for most of the day or only for a couple hours after school, it’s essential that you find a place that is accepting of foster children and will be able to positively deal with any physical or mental disabilities they may need help with. It might involve extra research to find just the right facility where you feel comfortable leaving the child.

Adjust For Appropriate Space and Safety

When it comes to things like childproofing your living space and yard, purchasing basic necessities and setting up a room, there can be a lot to remember, especially if you’ve never had children of your own. Make certain ahead of time that your home and yard are in accordance with state safety regulations to save time and money.

Though there aren’t generally rules regarding a foster child having to have their own room, you will need to make sure there are enough empty beds for every child you take in and adequate personal space for their belongings. Even if your placement isn’t an infant, don’t expect them to always come with enough clothing, toiletries or toys and be ready to go make purchases at a moment’s notice.

Look Into Support Groups

A lot of things can change when someone new begins living in your home. You may experience behaviors you’ve never dealt with before and you may need assistance navigating through your interactions with the foster care system. No one will know how you’re feeling or give you better advice than others who have been or are going through the same things. There are plenty of support groups that foster parents can connect with, and finding ones local to your area before you receive your placement can go a long way in helping you remain patient and understanding in tough situations.

Supporting a child in need and getting involved in foster care is one of the most rewarding things a person can do in their lifetime. If you decide it’s right for you, take the appropriate steps to prepare so you and the child may have a successful and satisfying experience.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hx2uMZvQglY[/youtube]

Building a Better Foster Care System

Ever wonder why people are not clamoring to build a better abacus?  Most people wouldn’t know how to use an abacus if they found one.  Some might not even recognize an abacus if they saw one, and some may not even know what an abacus is because they are obsolete.  An abacus is a counting frame or calculating tool which have been long replaced by paper and pencils, calculators, and computers.  Similar to the abacus, there have been several attempts to improve foster care over the years.  Communities, states, federal organizations, ‘think-tanks’, and ‘thought leaders’ have all grappled with improving, re-inventing, re-positioning, and re-envisioning the approach to protecting vulnerable children.

AbacusThe antiquated abacus has gone through similar processes and iterations. They have been enhanced by adding more beads capable of performing more complex calculations with larger numbers; the materials used improved to promote ease of use and reduce the cost of producing; ‘Cadillac’ versions have been produced using rare woods to cater to the elite abacus user.  The beads on a new and improved abacus probably glide more smoothly, the wood less likely to splinter or break.  However, despite all the improvements over time, the abacus is now little more than an object to be studied in history classes, a collectors’ item, or a conversation piece in libraries and living rooms.

Several years ago, a new group was formed, obtained financial backing, and held a series of national meetings aimed at creating a better child welfare system.  They invited a group of people they believed to be critical ‘players’ in the field, either because of their leadership or because they worked in organizations perceived to fill a vital role in the established ‘system’.  There were presentations, round-tables, panels, and other facilitated discussions conducted to create a better child welfare system.  Before and since then, this approach has been replicated at multiple levels, with some of the same faces at the table, some different.  People have been hired, papers have been written, websites have been built, and a variety of on-line communities established to facilitate communication.  At the end of the day, what is ‘produced’ generally looks very much like the foster care system in place before the conversations started.

Does the foster care system await the same fate as the abacus?  I believe so.  In fact, I hope so.  It is well-known that foster care can be traumatic to children and families.  Child abuse and neglect can be extremely damaging to the development of children.  Some research suggests that foster care can be as damaging as the family situations it is meant to ‘treat’ or ‘cure’. Research by Economist Joseph Doyle at MIT Sloan School of Management certainly suggests that foster care is not a beneficial treatment option. (Study: Troubled Homes Better Than Foster Care) Maybe it is time to re-evaluate foster care as a treatment option. Maybe it is time to seek true innovation, find a new cure.

Can child welfare professionals accomplish this feat? I doubt it. There may be great minds working in child welfare, but it takes collaboration, cooperation, cross-system problem-solving, and true innovation to address the complex problems faced by vulnerable children and families. Perhaps it’s time to ‘crowdsource’ child welfare and find new solutions, new strategies, and new treatments.

FOSTER CARE AND IMMORAL FOSTER PARENTS

by Socialworkingal

Foster CareThe social services field consists of an assemblage of factions that involves a multitude of players who attempt the impossible… cohesively facilitating the protection  of abused and neglected children.

If you’ve ever been involved in the social services system, you are aware that there are the social workers that manage the dependency portion of the case, and social workers who manages the foster homes where the wards of the court are placed.

In comparison to non-profit state and county social services agencies, those in the private sector, which are for-profit agencies, or FFAs, function more like a business, depending exclusively on the placement of children and the recruitment of foster parents to stay in business. But wait, it gets deeper….

How it works? A private agency seeks out “qualified” individuals to care for children in their homes. The foster parents are compensated by the agency, and may even receive monetary incentives to foster children with severe behavioral issues. The foster parents are the key in this field because they are meeting the needs of the children…or say they are.

From experience, there are some foster parents who run their homes similar to businesses. They estimate how many children can be placed in their home according to licensing guidelines, and the amount they would receive for each child. I have met a foster parent who received almost $3,000 in foster care payments, but was always asking for clothing assistance, or funds to cover school expenses. When this same foster parent’s car was repossessed, there was an inquiry into her spending habits with the “reimbursement” money for the foster children in her home. Sadly, it was discovered that she was paying her estranged husband’s college tuition. Instead of paying bills or purchasing food for the house, she spent the money on her estranged husband. When asked to rationalize her behavior, she explained that taking care of her husband’s tuition was an attempt at reconciliation. She was immediately decertified, but unfortunately, the children were moved to yet another foster home.

The Anonymous Social Worker

For more view the Anonymous Social Worker’s Blog

Photo Credit: http://looneytunes09.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/things-that-suck-about-being-a-foster-kid/

Foster Fails: Challenges of Children in the System

by Angel Ofire

In a world of diversity that is fast changing to see our kids suffer the hardships of homelessness, abuse, or falling victim to the system which is designed to protect not neglect them as they grow, I struggle to see how and why we have so many adolescents who are doing it rough (for lack of a better term).

At any given point in any young person’s life they are impressionable,

Their minds like sponges absorbing all they see, and hear, they learn from us their elders their mentors; it is our role to protect the growing generation, encourage and to lead them.

It is our role to provide them with a stable environment an environment that will encourage them to grow, an environment that will assist them with the transition of life as they move out into the world on their own similar to when the baby bird leaves the nest.

However in many cases sadly worldwide this is not the case, children are being used as cheap labour, they are being exploited and sexually abused, they are finding themselves victims of the system that has taken them out of a place they know and call home placing them into foster family care, which for all intents and purposes is stated by the child protection agencies to protect the child that they have viewed to be in a situation of risk or harm.

The agencies are placing these kids who come from backgrounds unlike the average child that has not been stable, that has not had consistency and often they have witnessed their caregivers abusing substances and one another.

Where these agencies fail to protect our adolescents is when they place these individuals into the foster system,

With a family who is not prepared for the high needs of a child who has been in often traumatic situations who has seen, lived with, and often been abused in some form,

Therefore leading to the adolescents that this family had imagined they would help by offering their homes to be foster or temporary care givers in reality is not that child they had in their minds eye.

Foster carers need to be aware of the high needs and behaviour of a child or adolescents that has been subjected to the instability and often unsavoury life style that this child has come to view as their normal,

often acting in manners that the average adolescents would not, often these kids are withdrawn, non-trusting, with a range of other issues that go alongside of living in a world where there care givers have given no care to that individual only to themselves putting their own needs before that of the innocent who is now in a world that they do not understand and do not trust.

It is these individuals who find themselves having their temporary care providers unable to cope with the behaviour that they are displaying, and the high needs that they require in order to enable them come to terms with the life they have been removed from, only to find that their case worker assigned by the child protection agency is moving them from temporary accommodation time after time, because the family who assumed this role to be one that was easier or more of a fairy tale ending than what the reality is finds themselves in a position where they are unable to provide this individual with the care they require, therefore the circle of moving on again begins for the person in need of stability doing often more damage than good.

Group housing is not an option as group housing seems to fail in ways that the foster care or temporary care arrangements may not fail in, yet group housing fails in offering that family placement, that the government agencies seem to think will be beneficial to the adolescent who is now a  case number.

Often these groups of kids are the kids we call street kids, couch surfers or gangs.

As they decide to leave the system that continues to fail them, to live on the streets, finding a way to survive daily.

This is simply unacceptable, it is simply barbaric and wrong, yet what can we as social workers overall do to prevent this from reoccurring?

Letters and petitions to the government quite frankly are no more than a waste of time; therefore let’s tick that off the list of what we can do to help those who need assistance.

We need to be real about how it is out there in order to help our kids, we need to take a step back from what the text book answers say and look deeper into the bigger picture in order to assist those who are most vulnerable.

All the white papers research numbers and statistics mean shit at the end of the day, it’s time that the focus was redirected from this book worm research and number crunching approach and reality was re-introduced.

Overall in order to help anybody who is in a position that they require outside intervention the only way to ensure that intervention is successful is by providing the right intervention not some half-done quarter researched white paper quota given out by governing departments world-wide.

Numbers and statistics mean nothing at the end of the day when a child has to sleep in a park or behind a dumpster rubbish bin, those numbers mean nothing in the light of day when that child is finding they are running drugs for the local dealers or simply entering a prostitution ring to make the money they require to survive when in reality that child should be safe in a class room getting an education looking forward to a future, not looking down the pants of a total stranger to hand them $20 after they become further degraded in acts they really should not know anything about.

Again I ask the question what can we as social workers do to assist those who need assistance the most for the long term? Not just some band aid cover up that is temporary?

Financial Lives of Young People in Foster Care

YPII is one of 15 sites across the country participating in Opportunity PassportTM, a package of resources designed by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative that teaches young people who have been in foster care how to manage their finances, and matches their savings toward approved asset purchases such as a car to get to work, a computer for school, or housing.

The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, a national foundation that supports young people transitioning from foster care into adulthood, commissioned a recent report that examines the impact of this matched assets and financial education program on young people aging out of foster care. Carol Behrer will discuss the report’s findings, her experience on the ground in Iowa, and the importance of programs that target asset accumulation among vulnerable young people in the child welfare system.

Enduring Assets: Findings from a Study on the Financial Lives of Young People Transitioning from Foster Care

By Clark Peters, PhD JD AM; Margaret Sherraden, PhD AM; and Ann Marie Kuchinski, MA

This report, published in September 2012, examines the impact of the Opportunity PassportTM‘s asset matching and financial education resources in the lives of young people aging out of foster care. The report found that these supports have a tangible impact on the ability of young people to lead financially stable lives long after they have left the foster care system. This summary presents major findings of the full report. For more information, download our news release.

The Jim Casey Foundation’s Youth Opportunities Initiative is the force behind the research on this invaluable topic. The Foundation designated Carol Behrer the Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa (YPII) to participate in our Twitter Chat.

[vimeo width=”640″ height=”380″]http://vimeo.com/43135529[/vimeo]

Here are a few of the tweets during the Live Chat. 

View Complete Chat Here

A live twitter chat was held on October 15, 2012 at 8 PM EST for a #SWUnited Twitter Chat which will discuss the Financial Lives of Young People in the Foster Care System. The Jim Casey Foundation’s Youth Opportunities Initiative is the force behind the research on this invaluable topic. The Foundation has designated Carol Behrer the Executive Director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa (YPII) to participate in our Twitter Chat.

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