In our own backyard

Feb. 5, 2010, 12:23 p.m. | By Samantha Lint | 14 years, 4 months ago

Children in need of homes overlooked

In the wake of a typically generous holiday season, countless charity groups have benefitted from many people's resolutions to donate and volunteer more. Unfortunately, one group remains largely forgotten. Hundreds of needy people within our community have gone unnoticed for yet another year: foster children.

This year, the National Center for Children and Families (NCCF) is beginning "The NCCF Crusade for Compassion," a campaign with the goal of raising awareness and finding families for the foster children in Montgomery County awaiting family placement. NCCF hopes to recruit about 50 new families into foster care in the coming months through outreach and the media. According to a 2006 Montgomery County Child Welfare Services study, Montgomery County maintains around 280 foster families. In 2006, about the same number of children were being placed in foster homes yearly. The Crusade comes at a dire time - more and more children need homes. Through both repairs to its own bureaucracy and outreach like the Crusade, the foster care system can get the help it deserves.

Full disclosure: I grew up with two foster siblings who were the last of five children my parents took in over the course of thirteen years. With this background, I can testify to how badly the Crusade is needed.

The Crusade is seeking to recruit families that care about the children and treat them as their own, while recognizing that foster children have special needs. Sheryl Chapman, the NCCF executive director, said they are looking for quality foster families. "We're looking for an elite core of volunteers that we give support to," she said. Chapman is adamant that new families be fully committed to the welfare of the children, not just participating for money or religious reasons - accusation which are sometimes justly directed at unscrupulous foster parents.

The Crusade is crucial because of its target demographic. Montgomery County is one of the most affluent counties in the country, yet less than 300 families take in foster children.

The problem does not just lie with unwilling citizens. Many times, families are hesitant to join foster care because of bureaucratic issues within the system. In order to attract and retain families, the NCCF and other organizations involved in foster care need to fix problems within their own system as well as reach out. According to the Treatment Foster Care study, bureaucratic problems plague the foster care systems.

A major problem that my family has experienced within the system - and compared to similar stories relayed at foster parent meetings, we do not seem to be an anomaly - is high case worker and placement turnover rates. My foster siblings' case workers changed frequently, creating problems in court with workers who did not know the history of their cases. One particularly tragic situation occurred when my two siblings were awarded a weekend with their biological mother. She never showed up and it crushed my brother and sister, who were 10 and 11 years old at the time. The two regressed in therapy and my brother became increasingly emotional and acted out violently in school. If their case worker had been more familiar with the situation, then she might have convinced the court that a weekend visit would be problematic. With such issues stemming from the bureaucracy, which lead to more problems with the children without added support, it is no wonder that so few families offer to help.

As more and more children enter foster care because of neglect or abuse, foster parents need to be especially equipped and willing to handle the problems that come with children who have these backgrounds. The NCCF hopes to attract these families through the Crusade. However, there is not enough support for families for a host of reasons, especially when psychological problems are involved. With more support not only from the system but from campaigns such as the Crusade, more families may be willing to undertake what would be a daunting task on their own.

When my parents decided they could no longer keep my foster brother safe because of self-abuse and suicidal thoughts, they had no alternative but to let him go to a group home.

With more help from the system, such as additional counseling, my parents and others in similar situations may have been able to keep their foster child at home, an environment Chapman said is usually preferable.

It isn't only the foster system that has to change to accommodate parents, however. The communal mindset must shift - and that's where recruitment programs like the Crusade come in.

Local residents need to realize that it is our responsibility to help children within our community. The Crusade extends a chance to citizens who are victims of a deeply flawed bureaucracy - the children.

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Samantha Lint. Samantha Lint is a managing entertainment editor and member of design team. More »

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