When foster care becomes a business, children may suffer
July 30, 2008
It seems everyone is talking about the sad state of the American economy these days. I had a lengthy conversation recently with a Canadian banker who told me his firm had cut 170 employees, 50 of whom were partners. He didn't get the call this time but told his wife to be ready for the next wave of financial shocks.
With gas prices exceeding $4, companies downsizing and unprecedented numbers of homes going into foreclosure, the economic crisis facing Americans is front and center. It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room who cannot be ignored.
In my last column, I talked about how Chicago is going through a transformation and that what occurs in the city has an impact on us in the suburbs. In some parts of the city, the real estate market continues to flourish, but other folks are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Interestingly, one of the ways in which increasing numbers of suburbanites are attempting to cope with the crisis is through the Illinois Foster Care Program, said Dr. Barbara Jackson, author of "Throw Away Kids: A Case Study of the Unique Educational Needs of Foster Children."
"In the early 1900s, foster care homes began to replace orphanages and institutions as homes for neglected children," Jackson writes. "Early foster care parents served as volunteers and were expected to meet the child's basic needs of shelter, food, clothing and education. These volunteers were not professionals, teachers, nor social workers. They simply came forth when they heard of a situation where a child or children were neglected. In exchange for their basic needs being met, the foster care children worked in the family home, on their farm or other business.
"It was in the 1930s when states began to select and approve foster care homes. The selection, approval and the use of foster homes continued through 1960, at which time small financial rewards were instituted for the volunteers who were called foster parents."
By 1997, there was the perception that foster care was lucrative because reimbursements often exceeded $1,000 per month per child.
For many foster parents, that has made it a business. The money involved has foster parents who take children into their homes, not solely for the good of the child, but for financial gain, Jackson says.
(Jackson will discuss her book at 7 p.m. Friday at River North Coffee Cafe, 369 E. Sibley Blvd., Chicago.)
When financial gain becomes the focus, the potential for misuse and abuse of children and the system increases exponentially. We see stories cropping up across the country of children being abused to the point of death or severe injury and psychological damage.
These children become a challenge for the public school systems, which already are heavily burdened with state and federal mandates, yet are expected to perform up to state and local criteria with less-than-adequate funding. Many of these children find it difficult to focus on academic matters because their lives have been turned upside down and they are in emotional turmoil. It is a daunting challenge for teachers and administrators to reach a child in such an emotional state.
As the economic crisis in the United States spreads and increasingly erodes the middle class, it is important to remember there are thousands of faceless youths who are being ground under foot by the economic pressures of suburban mortgages, taxes, car notes and gasoline costs.
In June 2003, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 11,0118 children are born in this country every day. About one out of four will become a foster child. Clearly, not every foster home is a source of abuse. These figures are cited only to provide some indication of the extent of the problem.
We are living in an era that calls out for change in our individual and social priorities. The first step is making people aware there is a problem so we can organize and take steps to do something about it.
David Johnson is a professor at South Suburban College in South Holland. E-mail him at djohnson@ southsuburbancollege.edu.