Minority children are overrepresented and underserved in the child welfare system. An Indiana commission was set up on 2008 by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and the state legislature. The commission found the following nine major areas of concern among others. In fact, these areas of concern and recommendations for improvement should apply to all foster children.
Problem 1: Aging Out
Too many children are aging out of the foster care system without a permanent home or at least a mentoring relationship to see them through the transition to a self-sufficient adulthood. African-American children are less likely to be adopted or reunited than Caucasian children.
- Develop a new recruiting strategy for foster/adopt parents and mentors of children age 10 and older. Model the program after the successful strategy used by “You Gotta Believe” and founder Pat O’Brien in New York. Invite Pat O’Brien to address DCS state administrators. (website for this program is http://www.yougottabelieve.org). Set up a separate office within the DCS for recruiting permanent homes and mentors for older foster children.
- Implement a full program to identify and utilize kin, preferably using the young person’s favorite kin. Consider granting waivers for barriers to kinship care where appropriate. Provide the same financial support that non-kin receive.
Problem 2: Lack of Employment
Children of color are disproportionately aged out of the foster care system with no job.
RECOMMENDATION: Set up a “Job Search Unit” within DCS solely for this purpose. Use some of the funds currently being used for independent living training to implement this unit.
Problem 3: Lags in Education
Foster youth lag behind their peers in educational achievement at every level. This gap is exacerbated by frequent changes in schools, low emphasis on education and emotional stressors. Those who continue on to college lack the broad supports that all college students need: financial, social and emergency.
RECOMMENDATIONS: This problem requires legislative policy and training changes:
- Extend legislation making it easy to transfer between school systems.
- Pay tuition, fees, and a living stipend for foster youth who maintain a 2.50 GPA in college.
- Extend Medicaid coverage to age 23 for foster youth still in college.
- Develop a DCS educational guidance program for collaboration between foster youth and their school systems.
- Allow foster parents, LCPA’s, and case managers access to school records of foster youth in their care.
- Develop a support program for foster youth in college to cover school breaks and summer.
- Include school issues in the training of every foster parent of school age children.
Problem 4: Homelessness
Emancipation from foster care without considerable preparation over time and/or a permanent home leads to homelessness. When preparation for independent living is provided, it is most often done as a lesson plan rather than through life skills that are developed over a normal maturation process. Practical skills such as managing money, driving a car, proper dress and language, personal hygiene, sex education, dealing with death, and finding a job are skills best taught within a home setting.
- Develop a training module for foster parents of older youth to teach age appropriate life skills from age 14. Make case managers, foster parents and service managers accountable for following the plan to develop life skills.
- Suspend automatic emancipation at age 18.
- Require caseworkers and the judicial system to work together toward specific outcomes such as school attendance, finding a job, and job attendance.
- Require case managers and foster parents to learn from and coordinate with homeless prevention programs.
Problem 5: Unnecessary Removal from Home
Children are removed from a home and parents to whom they are significantly attached. Children of color are disproportionately removed from a home where they are attached when the evidence for removal is insufficient.
- Provide in-home services for up to three months to model and teach basic parenting skills. Rather than removing children to a foster home, use foster parents to provide parent education within the birth home.
- In some states the standard of evidence used to remove a child from the home is a mere “credible evidence.” This is too questionable a standard to justify taking a child out of his home. “Preponderance of evidence” is a wiser and fairer standard to justify such a radical displacement. In addition to training of caseworkers, policy and/or legislative changes may be needed to strengthen the standard.
Problem 6: Children Languish in Temporary Care
Children remain in temporary care too long with insufficient accountability and follow-up by the foster care system. In Indiana African-American children stay in the system an average of three months longer than Caucasian children. Longer stays are associated with higher levels of mental health problems, poor academic performance and anti-social behavior.
- Early case plan: Offer birth parents a reunification plan within 48 hours of removal. Specify the obvious remedies. Begin immediately to monitor and evaluate the success of steps toward reunification.
- Weekly monitoring: require case managers to make weekly checks on the progress of each case plan. Demand that court hearings be held in a timely fashion as set by law. Develop a computerized tracking system to record weekly checks and compliance with the law. Such a system would transcend changes in case managers and would be available for court hearings.
Problem 7: Foster Parents Lack a Full Voice in Advocacy
Foster parents have a limited voice in case plans despite the fact that they are the only ones with 24/7 knowledge of the children in their care.
- Instruct both case workers and foster parents about foster parents’ right to advocat.e
- Enact law to grant legal standing to those foster parents who have had a child in their home for 12 months or more.
Problem 8: Worsening Medicaid Availability
Medicaid services are increasingly unavailable to foster children. Under privatization fewer providers offer Medicaid services at all while other severely limit the number of Medicaid patients they will see.
RECOMMENDATION: Medicaid needs to be returned to a service-oriented system where authorizations are fair and prompt, administrative services are efficient, and payments are sufficient to attract qualified providers.
Problem 9: Insufficient Use of Cooperative Adoption
Birth parents of older foster children are understandably reluctant to terminate all contact with the children whom they have raised for years. Cooperative adoption allows post-adoption visitation rights as agreed upon by birth parents and adoptive parents. Such agreements can encourage voluntary termination of birth parent rights, allow ongoing contact between child and birth parents and achieve a new permanency for the child with far less time and legal maneuvering than is required by involuntary termination.
RECOMMENDATION: Make the procedure for cooperative adoption part of the training for birth parents, foster parents, child welfare case managers, public defender attorneys, and juvenile court judges. Explain the advantages of cooperative adoption. Present sample post-adoption agreements and explain how they are worked out.