Once a child enters the foster care system, there are three preferred outcomes: reunification with their parents, placement with relatives or adoption. Each year about 50% of foster children return home. Of the roughly 200,000 children remaining in the system, 100,000 are eligible for adoption. For some of those foster children who are adopted, this outcome can turn deadly.
As much as people may feel that family must come first, the reality is that some parents have their children taken away for a very good reason. Some are convicted of criminal activity such as making meth in the kitchen while other parents physically and sexually abuse their children.
You may have seen a social media post with a picture of a little girl or boy holding a chalk board that lists the number of days they spent in foster care before being adopted. I would hazard a guess that most people smile and think how lucky that child is to now be with a loving family. In many cases this is a happier ending since the foster care system was never designed for long-term child care. Siblings are especially lucky if they are adopted and able to remain together. However, there are those cases that remind us that a perfect solution will not always be found for foster children.
Natalie Finn was just 16-years-young when she died last October on the floor of her unfurnished bedroom. The Des Moines Register article, “Starved teen found in diaper on linoleum floor, records reveal,” stated that the cause of death was attributed to emaciation. Essentially Natalie starved to death. Her body simply lacked the strength to keep her heart beating. Starvation is a slow and painful process that no one, especially a child, should have to endure. Natalie’s abusers were her two adoptive parents, Nicole Finn and ex-husband Joe Finn.
Police who found Natalie shared that there was plenty of food in the house. The girl had attended school but was being home schooled at the time of her death. Joe revealed that he had nailed the window shut in the bedroom of Natalie and her two siblings so they couldn’t go out at night in search of food.
As you might expect, officials are investigating all aspects of this case. Apparently the police and teachers were aware of the situation but unable to act. Two caseworkers involved with the three children have been fired. The article disclosed that Nicole Finn is “facing a charge of first-degree murder for Natalie's death and several other felonies for her treatment of two of Natalie's siblings” while Joe “is facing several charges of kidnapping, neglect or abandonment and child endangerment.”
This is a horrible story with an even sadder ending for a young teenage who never got to go to her senior prom or to graduate with her friends. It’s possible that had other relatives been found, this tragedy could have been avoided. Natalie might still be alive if she, her sister and brother had been placed with an aunt or grandparent. Yet no news story has explained much about Natalie's birth parents so we can only speculate on whether relative placement was possible.
When children enter foster care, society has a contract through our government agencies to protect and help these innocent kids. As a society we failed Natalie. Finding a foster child’s relatives and placing the child with them is not a silver bullet, but in most cases, being with family is preferable to being sent to live with strangers. On the other hand, adoption is an important and sometimes the only alternative for a foster child other than their spending years languishing in a government institution. There are tens of thousands of parents who do love and care for their adoptive child. Sadly Natalie was not given to such parents. We have to do more because foster children deserve so much better.