The holiday season is in full swing. Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Solstice – all these and more are just around the corner. As always, I like to take the opportunity at this time of year to update you on one ongoing disaster, cover a couple of topics and look for signs of hope for better outcomes for our foster children.
Texas Foster Care: A lot of Coal
Texas is now marking the four year anniversary of U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack becoming involved with overseeing the Texas foster care system. She took the job after a scathing news report highlighted several areas that devastatingly impacted the safety and well-being of the state’s foster children. The report showed that the number of child deaths that had occurred in Texas was staggering.
In 2016 alone, 207 children died while in foster care. After a slight improvement in 2017, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) revealed that 211 children died in 2018 -- 92 of them because of physical injuries from being punched, thrown, dropped and/or beaten by their parent or supposed protectors.
In October of that year, U.S. District Judge Jack took DFPS to task once more. In an article by Brian Shilhavy, “Federal Judge in Texas Fines CPS $50K a Day for ‘Shameful’ Foster Care: CPS has ‘Lied to me at almost Every Level’,” Judge Jack stated:
“Texas’s foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades. It is broken for all stakeholders, including DFPS employees who are tasked with impossible workloads. Most importantly, though, it is broken for Texas’s PMC children, who almost uniformly leave State custody more damaged than when they entered.”
One of the shocking aspects of the present state system is that some children brought into foster care are placed in group homes where there is not 24-hour supervision. Imagine having your child at a daycare where the adults left the children alone for an hour or two. Anyone who has ever been around a two-year-old knows it takes only seconds for a child to get into a possibly life-threatening situation. Yet traumatized children who have been taken from their homes were being placed in a strange house with other kids and at some point being left alone. The judge essentially placed an immediate “cease and desist” order on this activity.
If there is a silver lining to the article, it’s Judge Jack’s acknowledgement of the impossible work that DFPS employees are performing with little to no relieve in sight. These are true Texas heroes.
Good Foster and Adoptive Parents: Many Gifts
Foster and adoptive parents are critical to the success of foster care. I think we can all agree that placing a child with a foster family is better than leaving them in a group home. A family can provide care, structure and stability. There’s an adult who can ask about the foster child’s day, help them with their homework, give them praise and help guide them to a responsible life.
These adults go through an oft-times rigorous process to become licensed as foster parents. They can be of any adult age and background. These caring individuals are willing to step into an uncertain situation with a child who may come to them dirty, bruised, hungry, scared and/or scarred.
Foster kids move on average twice a year. Sadly one class action lawsuit presently in front of the courts details how some of the children plaintiffs were moved more than 100 times while in foster care. We cannot overestimate the stress that foster children are under every day from never knowing if today they will have to pack their few belongings into a plastic bag because they are being moved to a new home. No matter how loving a foster family is, almost every foster child longs to have a place that they can finally call home.
Adoptive parents provide a foster child with a permanent family, taking children out of the insecurity and danger of serial foster or group homes. Make no mistake about it - foster and adoptive parents are heroes, although most are too modest to claim that label. But without these selfless individuals, the foster care system would cease to function, and children who are alone, hurt and scared wouldn’t have a chance to have their lives filled with love.
Family Finding Solution: Constant Gifts
I advocate for foster children by helping agencies with Family Finding, the vital process of identifying, locating and notifying relatives that a child member of their family is now in foster care. If given an option, many parents would prefer that their kids be cared for by a relative, even one living in another state, than having their child or children go to live with strangers. Family placement may only be possible if enough relatives are notified so that at least one will step forward to care for the child.
For 25 years, Forever Homes for Foster Kids has successfully located family members of foster children when government agencies have failed to do so. To be clear, we work with foster care agencies; we are never in direct contact with the children. Roughly eighty percent of our cases result in locating a parent, aunt, grandparent or other adult family member. Foster care agencies are then able to notify these relatives so that, where possible, each foster child has at the very least a connection with their blood relatives. In the best of cases, relatives are found who will take in the child and give him or her a permanent, stable home.
The mission of Forever Homes for Foster Kids is simple: To make a positive, lasting impact on the lives of foster children. One way to accomplish this mission is to highlight problems within the foster care system so they can be addressed and fixed. Whether you are good foster parent or someone dedicated to helping these children in need, the health, wellbeing and even the life of foster children depend on our activism, not our silence.
How You Can Help: Giving Gifts
Helping often gets down to taking action no matter how small. Sarah Michelle Gellar, an actress I admire, did a video last holiday supporting a fundraiser to help homeless women and children. She explained that if everyone who watched the video had given just $5, the charity would have raised enough money to fund their work for more than a year.
Foster children need more voices advocating on their behalf. Because you are reading this column, you are clearly someone who cares about foster kids. I ask you to take the next step: Help get the word out to others about foster children and ways to help them.
Go to our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/familyfindingmx, then like, comment and share relevant posts. Do a fundraiser at www.facebook.com/fund/FAMILYFINDINGMX. It’s less time than it takes to get out of your car and to the couch. Donations fuel our work of locating a foster child’s parent and other relatives. Once that happens, the child is on their way back to them families while in some cases, adoption is the end result. Either way, the foster child will now be in a forever home with loving, caring people.
Partner with me to get more foster children into forever homes. By giving now, we at Forever Homes for Foster Kids can look forward to making 2020 the year when fewer children enter foster care, family finding becomes more widespread, and the process results in more foster kids being placed with family members. Let’s also work to attract more caring couples and individuals who are willing to become foster and adoptive parents. That would be a wonderful gift to give to tens of thousands of foster children next year for the holidays and beyond.
And I’d like to take this opportunity to add that if you do work that helps the public, be they children or adults, know in your heart that I and many others respect and honor you for all that you do. In the spirit of the season and the hope for a better 2020, I want to say: “Thank You.”
Richard Villasana, founder of Forever Homes for Foster Kids, is a leading international authority on immigration issues and foster families. A proud Navy veteran, Richard has been featured on CNN International, AP News, ABC TV, Univision, Costco Connections, Washington Post, and EFE, the world’s largest Spanish language media company. He is an international speaker and has also translated for the United Nations. For 25 years, his non-profit has worked with government agencies across the country to find families for immigrant and foster children to create a permanent home. Go to www.facebook.com/familyfindingmx for more information and to help a child.