I have had this post on my mind for awhile--it's one of those big balls of disorganized thought in my head that comes spilling unceremoniously whenever I rant about foster care, and I suppose I would like to throw it out as a somewhat coherent formation of words. Forewarning: very little organization awaits.
Identifying the Problem
I'm a firm believer that you can't fix a problem until you identify it. I usually tend to stick to fixing my own personal problems in my life; issues I have with myself and so on, and I'm fine to let the rest of the world worry about themselves, because I don't believe I have the answers to anything. (For what it's worth, I don't believe anyone else does, either. We're all clueless.) This is the one issue I'll get up on my soapbox about, because I've lived the system in the worst ways imaginable and I have seen, doubtlessly, what the problem is.
The problem lacking identification in the foster care system is that it, by nature, is a failure. It will always fail, and nothing can help that. It's not a profitable charity for youth where they eat glue paste all summer or a seasoned young women's camp where they sew squares and learn about pioneers then go home at the end of the day. This is a monstrous, non-functioning engine built around the premise that people harm their own children. Where's the success in that? What's the game plan? Yeah. The laws all weave around these tiny little micro-solutions and exemptions and try to treat human issues and abuse issues as a puzzle that can be solved with regulations and a "system" in the first place. Goddammit, it can't be solved that way, and if everyone would stop pretending that it could be, the children involved would benefit greatly.
It would be nice if the foster care system didn't have to exist. But that's life. Just like pain and hunger and death exist, so does and will always, abuse toward children by their caretakers and family. If this is something you know about or endured, rest assured there are millions of us out there with the same problem. Everyone who goes through this always feels so alone but I've learned that family hurts so, so many people out there. It's a very real epidemic and it will never, never go away. It is just a part of human nature, sadly. Some might criticize my analogy, but foster care is a lot like war. It's inevitable and it will always produce pain and casualty. I'm not speaking to anyone who had a great upbringing and a great life with their family; good for you. For the rest of us who have struggled with wondering why our young lives weren't worth a heartwarming Lifetime movie, we know that blood can hurt, and the people who are supposed to protect us don't always do so. You'd think "the system" would grasp that better than they do. The thing these people seem to forget while they cite this law or take that parenting class in hopes of bettering the "situation" is that the casualty in foster care will always, always, always, always, always be the children.
The Wrong Focus
And where these workers--the State, lawmakers, and so on--fail, is focusing on the wrong problem. The focus is usually on reunification--i.e., get this kid back to the morons who abused them. I get the principle of the thing. Everyone's human, parents make mistakes. Their reasoning is that most parents are sorry for whatever they've done and will do the steps necessary to get their children back. It's a nice thought, but it's a huge pile of bullshit and anyone, a caseworker, a parent, a foster kid--ANYONE will tell you the shitty success rate of that route. And we all know, the real reason for returning the child to the parent is to get them out of the system, where they eat up money and resources. If your parents can provide a few cans of pork n beans a month and a pee-soaked mattress for you, that's considered gold star material by the State. And yet, there are thousands of children every year who are put in and out of the system, swapped around like a bad white elephant gift at Christmas, because "likelihood of permanency at home is low." I was one of those children.
More Incorrect Priorities
So what's the next step for these problem children who suck up all the state resources, whose parents cannot provide stability? (They couldn't in the first place...?) Adoption, foster homes. The market for young optimistic couples looking for a giggling, unspoiled baby is very high. The market for young optimistic couples with the grit to take on an emotionally abused and suffering child or teen with behavioral issues and no sense of trust is minimally lower. And foster homes might as well be train stations on the long track to nowhere, because foster parents are not interested in what's best for the child--they are only interested in what's best for "everyone". For them. To expect foster parents to be a solution, even a temporary one, is setting children up for failure. To hope for a successful, trauma-free adoption--also a failure.
Again, the focus is all fouled up. The mindset of the broken system is "give the kids what substitution for normalcy we can, and hope it helps" when the only beneficial mindset is "they are destined to fail. How do we make the failures less instead of more?" Foster youth will have trauma. They will have PTSD. They will act out or develop issues that prevent them from integrating into society at 18. They are more likely to continue the cycle of abuse. To abuse drugs, to be incarcerated. To be in abusive relationships. To have children of their own in foster care. The mind blowing failure thought train of the system does not take into consideration a potential life utterly wasted with every single foster placement or court ruling. Everyone urges permanency. Everyone urges stability. That's a nice pipe dream, and it's just that--a dream. It's basically the same as saying, well yes, what would be best is if we could just have cars that fly. That is what would help. Flying cars. Great idea! Terrible failure rates. There's no realism. This system does not grant stability by its very nature.
Now that you've heard me rant, I'm sure your question is, okay genius, what do we do? It's simple. Stop worrying about placement. The placement, whatever it is, is going to affect the child, and negatively. Doesn't matter how long you hold a little hand to a red hot stove eye, there's going to be a burn and a scar, whether it's five minutes or five seconds. What I'm saying is, you can put a kid in the warmest, most nurturing adoptive home on earth, full of hugs and roses and perfect parenting, and that kid will still have lifelong issues related to their background. So fuck the placement and the perfect fit, because there isn't one. Get these kids into legitimate life skill classes, get them into serious, reputable therapy geared toward treating PTSD, because let me tell you, they have it. No one is in foster care for a stubbed toe. We all have it. Dedicate the proper funds and time to getting these youth driver's licenses and the ability to pick a trade school or other post-graduation realistic option before they have time to be homeless or get pregnant at 18. They are going to be adults one way or the other and the only logical solution is to plan for that, not scramble trying to fix what's already broken. Hand is already on the stove eye, moving it around and calculating the best position for it is pretty futile. Treatment needs to be focus.
These youth will fail and they will fail hard when they become adults. We all do. I did. It didn't matter that I had scholarships and grants awarded to me when I entered college. I didn't have food, so I failed at college. When I became homeless and asked the State for the assistance I was due, I got a shady motel room rented out and a caseworker telling me in a snotty voice, "Look at all the trouble you've caused." No one showed me how to be a functional adult. I wasn't even allowed to be a functional kid. None of us were.
Prepare For Failure
But that's all another story for another day. The biggest takeaway I have is for those of you interested in helping this failure of a system, just know that it will fail and you will fail. The only way to help is by preparing realistically for what's to come. And it's not a small drizzle or even a hurricane. It is literally a devastating typhoon + earthquake combo with very little hopeful outcome. How would you plan differently if you knew that? Know that you will not change the world, you probably won't even change the life course for any of these kids. What will happen to them is always going to be based on what happened in the past and how they choose in the future. Take your hope and positivity and shove it up someone's appropriate orifice, because foster care is not the place for false hope and first world affirmations. It's a nasty prison world where children are lied to, neglected, abused emotionally, sexually, and physically, then punished by being moved around without any hope of stability, and then lastly, thrown out into a world where their best bet is food stamps and community housing--through no fault of their own they are left with no parental guidance. No direction. No safety net. No one to call when they need help filling out those college forms. No help to buy a car to get around as an adult. Nowhere to go for Christmas. No explanation why. Why everyone was so busy flitting here and there and putting this order together and visiting this home and "working with the system" when the system is just a dead vehicle on the side of the road, going nowhere.
Once we accept these things as truth, I truly believe progress can be made.