KidThree got a call this afternoon that a long-time friend, who moved to LA two years ago, was shot earlier today. She made some phone calls to get more information and found that the actual victim was the younger sister of that friend. That girl is not only the friend's younger sister, but her paternal grandfather was for a time the boyfriend of KidThree's paternal grandmother, so KidThree considers her a relation. No details yet on how she is--early info is that her injuries were severe. This girl can't be more than sixteen at the most; more likely, she is fifteen. I'm at a point where I'm for legalization of drugs, along with a total re-vamping of the foster care system (because drugs must be the biggest reason children end up in foster care).
Our foster care system is totally broken. It is set up with the idea that we are all living lives right out of Happy Days, with Marion Cunningham home all day, providing milk and cookies and loving advice to all kids who come by. People are not meant to be able to support themselves by doing foster care, they are supposed to have enough income on their own and then take in extra children out of the goodness of their hearts. That child is to be given living space, with no more than two children to a room, to be given clothing, food, school supplies, etc., all out of the foster care stipend.
That is just wrong. Most people don't live like the Cunninghams any more, they live like the Conners from Roseanne--paycheck to paycheck to paycheck, with no extra money or space or time, no matter how big the space in their hearts. People should be able to make a living as foster parents. Make the screening tougher for those who want to make it their profession, but then pay them enough so that they don't need another job, or so at least one parent can have foster care as their primary occupation.
The discrepancies in funding need to be fixed, too. When KidThree was in her grandmother's custody, the grandmother got traditional welfare for her, as she was a relative. Round numbers, that was about $300 a month. When I got custody of KidThree, I was ineligible to traditional welfare for her as I was not a biological relative. Instead, I got state funding through the foster care system, round numbers, $600 a month. That was for the same child. $300 for Grandma, $600 for me. The child in question didn't change. She didn't need to eat twice as often in my home, or wear half as many clothes at Grandma's house. She had the same needs in her grandmother's home as she had in mine, but for reasons beyond my comprehension, the state felt her grandmother needed only half the financial support that I did. How could that be? Was her grandmother supposed to be happy to fall into poverty by taking on the responsibility of her grandchildren? Was the state penalizing the grandmother for something existential, not being a good enough mother to KidThree's mother? Why pay a relative only half the funding as a non-relative? For exactly the same child? That is a terrible inequity.
The step past traditional foster care is a group home. If a child can't be cared for in a foster home, either because the child has trouble in a home setting or because there is not a home available, that child has to go to a group home. The funding for a child (usually a teen) in a group home is several thousand dollars a month. Several thousand dollars a month for the child who in the care of a relative is assumed to be adequately supported with $300 a month, or in the care of a non-relative adequately supported with $600 a month. There isn't an interim step between traditional foster care and a group home. The cost to the state for that child jumps from $600 a month to several thousand a month. That is insane.
Group homes should be reserved for kids with issues so serious that they can't be adequately cared for in foster care. That's all. Kids should not be placed in group homes just because there aren't foster care homes for them. Unfortunately, that is what happens to a lot of teenagers. It's hard to find foster parents for them, as teens in the foster care system tend to have so many issues, so the teens get sent to group homes. Why not fund foster care homes so that an adult can get enough money through the system to support themselves and stay home to care for those children? What would be wrong with that? Increase the funding for children with special needs (and being a teenager in the foster care system is so definitely a special need), let a loving, supportive adult earn a living caring for two or three children full-time?
More things to pick at in the foster care system:
First off, the funding is retroactive. The money comes the month after, for the month before. Huh? You feed and clothe a child for a month, and then you get the funding? How is that supposed to work? You feed the child on promises? Dress that child in hopes and dreams? I'm sorry, that emperor has no clothes. Pay up front. You get the child delivered to your door with a check. Children don't come into foster care with clothing and groceries. They come into the foster care system with the clothes on their backs, clothes which are frequently dirty and ill-fitting; they come in with lice and scabies; they come in hungry and malnourished and frightened; they are angry and distrustful. They need food, clothing, toiletries, and counseling immediately, not next month. The funding should precede the need.
Yes, I know that creates the problem of funding being provided for a child who then doesn't stay in foster care. So what? How much of a loss would there be? Eating the loss on some placements would be worth the help immediate funding would be for those children staying in the system for a time. And if people were professional foster parents, with a set target number of children, the funding would already be in place. Another way to help minimize potential losses caused by up-front funding would be to make the payments for shorter time periods. Instead of paying for a month at a time, why not pay bi-weekly? Or even weekly? Smaller amounts out at a time, reducing losses.
Next issue: housing and cars. You have to have the space available before getting a foster child. What if there is a family that is doing just fine as they are, but they don't have the extra bedroom needed for foster children and they can't afford to move to a larger place before they receive that foster care funding. Again, why not pay up front? Get an adult or family all signed up, properly screened and with contracts in place, then fund a move to a home with one more bedroom and pay the different in rent until they are assigned a child or children. Again, paying up front raises the issues of lost money if folks find out they are not suited to being foster parents. With a contract in place, the money expended could be immediately reimbursed, or a lien put on tax returns. The money will come back eventually.
The same issue with cars. What if a couple with two children has a car with only four seatbelts? They need to have seatbelts for the anticipated foster children. Do as above: pay up front. If the couple has passed screening and signed contracts, help them get a six- or seven-seat vehicle. Then give them the children who will use those seatbelts.
I write all that as a person who never wanted to be anything but a mother. Really. When I was a little girl, people would ask me what I wanted to be, and I dutifully answered that I wanted to be a teacher or a doctor. I lied. All I wanted to be was a mother. I wanted a bunch of kids and the ability to care for them. Life didn't work out that way: I had two children and then never enough money to support them the way I wanted, but if my changes to the foster care system were in place, I would have been able to make a living as a foster mother. I love caring for children and am good at it: over the past ten years, I've taken in numerous children for varying amounts of time and have loved doing it. I got KidThree and was able to keep her, but since taking her in, so many of her friends have asked for refuge and I've had to turn them down, over and over and over again. It is awful to have to turn them down, as I would take them in in a minute if I had the resources. Adequate income, a bedroom, etc. I've rescued this one child from the drug culture, but I haven't been able to provide more than respite care to so many others. I couldn't have taken all of them in, but there were two or three I really wanted to keep, kids where I could have made a real difference in their lives.
That is my Lotto dream. To be able to buy a home of my own and have enough money to take in one or two other teens at a time. I'm only forty-seven and have plenty of parenting years left in me.
Change of subject: This morning was my last morning with LadyP. I will miss taking care of her regularly and hope her husband will call me to come some evenings or weekends. This morning, almost as a good-bye gift, she came up with a memory that I hadn't heard before. At one point in her life, a girl asked her if she (LadyP) would tap dance with her (the other girl). LadyP said she hadn't wanted to and didn't. That was all, but it was a totally new memory, one I haven't heard in the nine months I've been caring for her. She also did well with a puzzle that I brought. Since I noticed that she did better when asked to match colors than when trying to match objects or shapes, I brought a small puzzle with a lot of distinct colors. She did great at it. I would ask her to find a piece with a lot of green and she could do that. We also took our regular walk to the park, and spent some time in her backyard throwing a toy for one of the dogs. I do so love spending time with LadyP.
Here are LadyP's other memories: Her mother loved lavender and played the piano beautifully; one of her brothers put worms down the back of her shirt; she got stuck once in a covered slide and was frightened by the experience; a neighbor girl crossing the street from LadyP's home to her own home was struck by a car as LadyP watched; LadyP as a little girl called Patsy roller-skated down a hill so fast she slammed into a neighbor's door and the neighbor woman came out and said how long it had been since she'd seen Patsy; and a tramp staying in LadyP's family's garage wouldn't come in to the warmth of the home until LadyP insisted, then fell asleep on the floor in front of the fire. The LadyP I am privileged to know is still that kind and generous, loving life and laughter and her husband; I'll miss being such a regular part of her life.
I'll stop ranting now. Tomorrow morning will be my last regular Friday morning with BabyJ. Again, I hope his parents call for weekends, maybe for Sunday matinees. BabyJ is such a treat, I may go into withdrawals, even with the babies coming.
The babies start here on Monday. What an adventure that will be, caring for infant twins. "I think I'm up to it," she typed optimistically.