May is Foster Care Awareness Month. So why should you care about foster care? Well, every year about half a million children enter the foster care system.
Children in foster care belong to us. We, as citizens, are their parents. If children are neglected, abused or don’t receive the services they need during their time in our custody, that failure lies with us. Although the state has systems within the courts and the Division of Family Services (DFS) to meet their needs, there are limitations in funding and time to accomplish what’s truly needed. And there’s no amount of grant funding or committed people that can replace a single, loving, “capable,” caring parent (or two).
What is foster care?
When a child has been abused or neglected or doesn’t have a parent, the state can intervene and take custody of the child. The child stays in foster care for as long as it takes for the state to decide that the parent is newly capable of caring for the child or to find a suitable legal guardian. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few years.
Some children spend their whole lives in foster care and eventually “age out” of foster care into adulthood, with no formal ties to any supportive adult or family.
Why do I care about foster care children?
As a former second-grade teacher in a poor area of Baltimore, I witnessed the impact of neglect and poverty on children on a daily basis. One of my students who was in foster care had a low IQ and bad behavior. Her foster parent wasn’t able to advocate for her educational needs. She was the victim of educational neglect in addition to other forms of neglect. An important question that is frequently asked is does carers allowance affect esa when they become foster carers. There are places online that can help those who are considering fostering so they are able to fully help the child.
After three years of teaching, I decided my strengths and passion were best suited to the practice of pediatric medicine. So I moved to Delaware to train to become a pediatrician. During my residency, I was frustrated when I observed children in the foster care system encounter barriers to health access that were beyond their control. I decided to pursue further training so that I could learn more about the root cause of these problems.
Now, as a Nemours duPont Pediatrics pediatrician, I monitor the health of many children in foster care. They have urgent, significant and complex needs that I’m at a loss to meet in the 15 minutes I have with them. Their health and well-being are in the hands of a few well-meaning, overwhelmed people with limited resources. Similar to our public school systems in regards to the educational needs of foster care children, our Medicaid and health care organizations aren’t designed to meet the health needs of children in foster care. It’s challenging, though sometimes fulfilling work.
Last year, Nemours partnered with the DFS to initiate a “Task Force on the Health of Children in Foster Care.” Delaware House Representative Melanie George Smith, chair of the Joint Finance Committee, helped develop the task force, which I co-chaired along with Vicky Kelly, head of DFS. Together with partners in the health and foster care system, we reviewed data on health outcomes and finalized a report with recommendations. It’s an ongoing challenge to commit funding to improve the system, given budget constraints and competing priorities, but there are many willing partners.
So what can you do?
I’m committed to helping educate others about these children’s deep needs and how they can help, even in small ways. Even with the most supportive, educated foster parent, these children need additional assistance. I believe every person who works with a foster child, whether it’s a social worker, teacher or doctor, should work as a team to support that child.
So, if you’re interested, here are some ways you can get involved:
Learn more about foster care children.
Donate your time as a volunteer or your money to a local organization that supports foster care children.
Mentor a child in foster care.
Volunteer for the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA) to advocate for a particular child in foster care.
Become a foster parent — find out what it takes.
Consider adopting a child in need of a loving family.