Careless foster care

Imagine a boy spending his whole life in a car seat or in a playpen. He never leaves his place and has been living in a home where fruit flies cover walls so thickly that they look like a wave.

Imagine a boy spending his whole life in a car seat or in a playpen. He never leaves his place and has been living in a home where fruit flies cover walls so thickly that they look like a wave. Or perhaps there are piles of garbage and rotten food in your home, as you are locked inside while your parents are out doing drugs. These are both true stories.

In February 2008, a team from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reviewed Oregon’s child welfare program and concluded that it failed in 11 of 14 areas considered to be critical to the safety and wellbeing of children in foster care.

More than a year later, there are still reports in both The Oregonian and Statesman Journal of issues regarding foster care in Oregon.

One is a serious shortage of foster care homes, and kids are being placed with families that come and go, making it so children lack the stability and security they need to mature and grow to their potential. More than anything, all children need stability, love and care. If they don’t have a true family, they should at least have a support system that they can develop and mature in until they can take on the world themselves.

It was not long ago that when children were abandoned by their parents or were taken away for safety reasons they could be placed in the hands of responsible grandparents or other relatives to act as their guardians. Unfortunately, this is no longer an option for many reasons, giving children no other alternative to entering the foster care system.

There are many issues with the foster care programs in Oregon that must change, because if they don’t children will suffer a great amount of pain that could have been prevented if the proper steps were taken.

One of the most critical issues include a lack of placement stability for foster children who move from place to place, constantly changing schools and making new friends knowing that they will soon move again.

Another concern is foster care homes that are operating beyond capacity because there are long waiting lists for addiction and mental-health treatment that parents need to complete before they can get their children back.

Other issues include a lack of support for foster parents, leading to high turnover rates and crowded homes because of low reimbursements. Inexperienced or overworked caseworkers who are unable to fulfill their state policy requirements of seeing each child in foster care every 30 days is another problem that should be resolved.

In Marion and Polk counties alone, the rate of child abuse is higher than in the state of Oregon as a whole. According to the Statesman Journal, for every 1,000 children in Marion County, 17 were confirmed victims of abuse and neglect last year. It is believed that this is because the methamphetamine epidemic hit Marion County harder than most other areas in Oregon, creating a correlation between high rates of drug use and child abuse.

The challenges Oregon faces now are even greater than before because the downfall of the economy has created underfunded foster care programs. This is the worst possible time for children who are already struggling in foster care programs, because in some situations their parents may be willing to choose meth over them.

To me, this rings an alarm not of “let’s find more money to put into foster care programs,” because they may or may not make a tremendous difference. I think the real problem is that Oregon uses foster care as a response to abuse, neglect or any threat of harm as the only answer. While other states are finding ways to deal with those risks, Oregon is still relying solely on foster care programs.

Alternatives must be created, because foster care programs can only do so much. Family-based services such as parent training and treatment programs to help prevent family sex-abuse are potential programs that could help reduce the number of kids in foster care.

Foster parents are people who have tremendously kind hearts because they don’t take care of these children for money, as it should be widely known that it costs a lot to take care of any child. And on top of this, Oregon is one of the few states that does not pay for day care for foster children.

I think it is time Oregon looks for alternatives to foster care programs. Create programs that will take care of children of any age and increase their chances of becoming an individual with a high potential of being successful.

Each child deserves love and the best thing Oregon can do is free of charge, as it doesn’t cost a thing to be compassionate, caring and show unconditional love to these children.