Saturday, August 12, 2006

Worrying about emancipation

I have been trying to write about emacipation and foster care, but the topic is just too blasted big. There are huge issues. The foster care system was designed to take care of children on an emergency basis. It was supposed to be a place for kids to stay until they could go back home or get adopted.

No one thought that children were going to grow up in care. They still are not supposed to. As we realize the problems that kids who age out of care have, we try to find solutions. We try to figure out how to get them out. Get them adopted. Find members of their birth families who will take them. Get them out of care.

I have no judgment on that solution. I just work with the kids for whom it is not going to happen. I work in one of the few systems that specifically takes kids for whom adoption and reunification are no longer being considered. These kids are going to move from foster care to independence.

It breaks my heart sometimes. I look around. I read. I know that most young people in America do not become independent until their twenties. People who go straight off to college usually get some financial support from their parents. They have a place to go to during the holidays, or when they get sick. Even if their parents are not paying for their tuition, they are probably still covering their medical expenses.

Kids who don't go to college do not typically move out right away. They stay at home for a few years. They get jobs if they can. Some contribute to the family budget in one way or another. Few can afford to support themselves. I see multi-generational working-class families all around me.

But that is birth families. Nationally the situation for foster kids aging out is pretty sad, although it is a problem that it is recognized. There is a lot to be said about the different approaches that are being taken, but today I just want to talk about the system that I am in and how I am feeling about it right now.

The agency for which I work takes kids for whom adoption and unification are no longer being considered. They give support and training to foster parents designed to promote permanent relationships. Those who read my blog know that they are paying a counselor (privately) to see both me and Evan. The case workers have lighter loads. They give us 12 nights a year of respite. They match kids and families as well as they can, and then they support that relationship.

They have a limit to the number of kids they can have in comprehensive care at one time. It is not just a matter of the number of families who are working in the system; it is also that they do not have unlimited resources.

They have a pretty good transitional services plan. It works really well for some kids. They are ready to offer them money for school or training. They will continue to pay for some medical treatment, help them to apply to whatever public assistance they might need, and have some money for some things like work clothes and bus passes. Of course the youth need be the sort of kid who is willing to get a job and work with a social worker. They have to do what feels to them like submitting themselves for constant evaluation (what are your goals? have you met them?). The youth do not understand that every single requirement exists because there is clear evidence that they help youth to become independent. All they see (okay...I am talking about the kids I have known well, especially Carl and David) are nosey social workers making them jump through hoops.

So they have this really great program for permanent placement foster care and a pretty good program for supporting kids as they move into adulthood. The social workers are committed to helping the kids move along the path.

So, in Evan's case, this his plan. He will work at his new job at the grocery store 30-40 hours a week and save money. He will take two night classes through the alternative high school in early fall and then be finished. He will apply to a computer program in a technical college that is associated with the state university in The City. Because it is associated with the university, he will be able to live in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria. He will move in January. The agency will help him come up with a budget, apply for aide, and probably pay for about 1/3 of his total expenses.

If he gets fed up with dorm life and wants to come home for a weekend, we will fetch him. If he wants to spend Spring Break here, he can. If he needs a place to stay for a few weeks between living in the dorms and living wherever else he is going to live he can come here. But I won't be keeping his room available for him.

When he went to rehab I promised that I would keep his room for him. I did let some respite kids stay there, but there was no chance at all that I would take another kid and give his room away. It was his room.

When he moves out though, it won't be his room any more. The agency will ask me to meet a new kid and I will say yes. The new kid will move in and the room will be no longer be Evan's. If Evan wants to come for a visit he will sleep on the futon in the rec room, like David and Carl do when they come to visit.

That does not happen to birth kids. When they move out for the first time their parents do not immediately get calls from people asking them if someone else can have the empty bedroom. There is space in the house for them still. Eventually their parents may turn their rooms into a sewing room or den, but typically for a few years it is still there. It is still their room.

I could do that for Evan. All it would take is telling the agency "no more kids." All it would take is telling them that the next time a queer kid is being harassed by their foster siblings or abused by their foster parents, that kid will just have to find somewhere else to go.

But because the agency is supporting Evan, that is not supposed to be a problem. He should only need to visit here. He should only need emotional support from me. Sleeping on the futon in the rec room should be enough because he will just be visiting.

That is, as long as he follows the rules.

What if he messes up in any of the oridinary ways that young people mess up? Forget about the addiction for a while, what if he get to the technical program and hates it? What if he gets sick and has to drop out? What if he spends all of his money and cannot meet the budget that he and his worker agreed upon? What if he finishes the program but can't find a job? What if he can't find a job for a long time?

I can help him some, but I won't be prepared to take him back in as a full-time resident. I won't be prepared to let him live here for an indefinite time while he gets his life back together. I will not stop loving him, but I will not have a bedroom, and I know how much strain it puts on this family to have someone staying for more than two weeks in the rec room.

The stakes are high for foster kids, even for kids in fantastic programs like this one. There is a support system that will help them succeed into adult hood, but it is a system that has little room for compromise or stumbling.

And I will be able to help him some, but unlike kids who live with their birth or adoptive families, someone else will come along after him and move into his room.

Because the agency will ask, and I will not say no.


  1. rossecorp12:17 PM

    This is really insightful. It makes me angry that the kids who have grown up with the fewest resources, the least support and guidance, and the most emotional damage are the ones who are expected to be the most mature, the most responsible, the most emotionally healthy, the most adult, in order to make it. Every time I try to imagine what it feels like to be a foster kid with not one single person to count on no matter what, I feel so scared and empty that I have to stop.

  2. Last year over two million American families were falsely accused of child abuse!!!

    It is not in any one individual state but is now a worldwide epidemic.

    I don't mean to disturb you but I really want people to be aware about that subject, because today, tomorrow, in the next half hour, it could happen to us too!

    Imagine if you were suddenly accused of being a child molester.....
    Imagine if nobody believed you when you cried out that you were innocent....
    Imagine if you were separated from your children and sent to prison for life....

    Some people don't have to imagine. It really happened to them !

    Please read those people stories and then make your own decision !




    Public need to know what's going on and the more publicity the better chance of getting laws changed to stop false allegations!
    Please don't just say no, give it a chance,please. True info, some local media avenues are already shedding light on this, but we need a bigger voice or it won't change. Someone the PEOPLE will listen to, give innocent Children a voice.


    Very few children in America are genuine orphans. Most have relatives, family friends, neighbors or godparents who could, and are willing to, keep them if they must be moved temporarily or permanently from parental homes. As we know, there is such a halo around "adoption" and states have received financial incentives for finding "forever homes" for the children who are made Paper Orphans by a stroke of a judge's pen. The child is labeled as abused and/or neglected and therefore is "at risk" and usually that means more money goes to the people who adopt the child, usually the ones in the pre-adoptive home where most babies are placed immediately. Those people have a say and can make comments along the way, so they are very much involved and interested in interrupting any chance that the baby will be returned home. If the baby stays in a "foster" home for 15 of 22 months, as you know from reading, then the termination can be effectively automatic by federal law and state incorporation of its provisions and sometimes that's the excuse....
    Foster care in America is a disaster: financially, legally, emotionally, physically and by nearly any other perspective or measure possible to consider it.

  3. Note: as always, the comments do not reflect the my views one way or another.

  4. (heaving sigh>) Thats all I can muster tonight.


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