The United States has spent more than $11.7 billion fighting ISIS, or an average of $12.7 million per day of operation, yet we have no idea about the size and scope of this enemy. There is a greater threat to America’s future that is measurable, fixable and home grown – our foster care system. One of the latest travesties of this system involved 14-year-old Naika Venant, who was in Miami foster care in January when she committed suicide while thousands watched on Facebook Live. This should never happen.
We know the name and address of every single one of the more than 428,000 foster children in America, and the system is all too often incubating human disaster. This is a crisis that can be fixed quickly as opposed to a challenge that we only hope to resolve. Shame on us if we fail to save these children. Shame on us if we don’t fix this system that is incubating future tragedies at public expense in the name of “child welfare” and “child protection.”
It’s awful enough that so many American families are so fragile that they expose children to neglect, abuse and abandonment. But so many children are victims of a system that assigns them to dangerous group homes and predatory foster families whose only interest in them is the daily fee they are paid to house them. Many end up suffering even worse abuses than they did before entering the system. Poor Naika talked for two hours about her abuse before taking her own life – a decision a child should never even realize is an option, let alone have a means to accomplish.
How is it that so many Americans are fiercely concerned about protecting children before they are born yet once they are among us we allow more than 428,000 to be less than a priority?
America doesn’t even regularly report what it spends on foster care, and what is spent varies greatly by state. The Center for State Child Welfare Data estimates that $26 billion annually is spent at all government levels “to promote the well-being of vulnerable children and their families.” The Congressional Research Service reported that a total of $8.3 billion, or a little more than $19,000 per child, was spent on child welfare in FY2015. However, the amount per child spent varies greatly from state to state, with some states reported spending about $30,000 per foster child per year while others spend less than half that amount.
We all rejoice when we hear the miracle stories of children who were abused but then triumph after the care of loving foster parents. Still, we have more than 700 times the number of Americans as needed to take in each foster child and nearly 300 times the number of homes. Yet, routinely, government agencies and nonprofits struggle to find suitable foster families.
Of course, study after study show the negative effects of being a foster child -- including a higher likelihood of becoming incarcerated, homeless or addicted. Foster children also show cognitive and emotional gaps, are more likely to become unemployed and are more likely to have early pregnancies.
What happens to a society that gives up on its most vulnerable members? President Abraham Lincoln often reminded the country of the majestic beauty of America’s birth based on high principles and, even during war, said it was worth preserving because of its unique nature. He said to depart from these moral obligations was “to trample on the blood of [one’s] father.” In 1864, Lincoln told soldiers returning from battle: “Nowhere in the world is presented a government of so much liberty and equality. To the humblest and poorest amongst us are held out the highest privileges and positions. The present moment finds me at the White House, yet there is as good a chance for your children as there was for my father's.”
Where was Naika’s chance? Why aren’t we doing more to hold out the highest privileges and positions to America’s hundreds of thousands of foster kids? Are they as disposable to America as once were the slaves that Lincoln freed? Lincoln gave his life and the lives of the 750,000 soldiers who died from the Civil War to defend these principles. How many soldiers have died since in the defense of America’s freedoms?
We, of all societies, have a moral obligation to take proper care of our children. They are the rightful beneficiaries of the trusts that were built with the blood of our nation.