Themes and Solutions in  Access Denied

Katherine Reddick, our founder of Save Us Too in Pacific Grove, CA, highlights the many shortcomings of the American foster care system in her book, Access Denied.

Challenges for Social Workers 

Social workers are not the bad guys in the foster care system; they are victims of a dysfunctional and inadequately funded system. They are asked and expected to do the impossible with extremely limited resources.

The problem begins and ends with our federal and state governments’ failures to build a national child protection agency that does exactly that— protect children. The failure to develop and fund a high-quality national or state program has ensured we “store” rather than “save” our foster children.

As a result of “storing” children, we have abandoned them and instilled a future of failure in American society when they are emancipated from the system. America’s abandoned foster children are left to survive in a system that continues to victimize them and fails to build strong, independent adolescents prepared to successfully transition into American society. The current conditions offered to foster children prepares them to be little more than future prisoners. Is that the best we can offer America’s children?

Yearly, our government spends billions to house prisoners in America. For decades, research on the prison population unveiled data reflecting that 70% of prisoners had gone through the foster care system. We must take a proactive approach that provides more than “storing” our foster children.

In fact, any discussions with social workers will quickly reveal they are forced to leave children in abusive environments because there aren’t enough “beds” to store them in the current system. Somewhere along the way, even they have lost their resolve to not “store” but “save” children.  Social workers must remain vigilant, and we must give them the tools they need to succeed.

Social Changes Needed

First, if we have not yet made it clear, significant funding from the government, private foundations, and philanthropic organizations is fundamental to building and supporting structure and accountability within the system. Second, designing an entirely new system that addresses all the developmental needs of children in ways that consider the unique challenges they face as foster children and future adults is critical.

Therefore, the recommendations we offer consider foster children’s uniqueness and should be reflected in an organization’s action plan. Each organizational plan should have fundamentally sound policies and procedures that follow child development guidelines and utilizes a systematic approach to developing “the whole child and young adult.”

We have developed one possible model plan using Katherine’s life experiences and extensive education in child development, psychology, educational leadership, and organizational psychology. The highlights of her business plan are described here, but a more detailed plan is available upon request. However, collaborative efforts among community experts and members can improve upon Katherine’s plan by creating one that is unique to the needs of each community.

In most cases, foster homes are not adequate nor safe places for children to recover from the trauma they have experienced. Children exposed to abuse and neglect initially entering the system will not flourish with strangers whose behaviors, communication styles, and customs are entirely foreign. They will not feel a sense of belonging or safe even in the best of homes unless their emotional and psychological needs are addressed.

However, the best home is not usually what they find once isolated in a foster home. Traditionally, they encounter homes where they are not only abused and neglected further but are made to feel shame and inadequate to overcome their situation. They are often shifted from home to home and made to feel they were the cause. Eventually, they give up on the belief they will find a permanent home and often become angry and isolated until they finally reach a point of “learned helplessness.”

Learned helplessness occurs after they experience continuous failure or an inability to achieve a positive outcome after numerous attempts. It is then that they truly become victims. From that point forward, their survival instincts take over, and they blame others to justify their failures as a natural method to contain their self-hatred. They no longer accept responsibility and unknowingly give away their power. They no longer feel they control their own basic physiological, social, moral or behavioral norms expected in our society. Isolating abused children without proper care is more destructive by adding to their already traumatic lives.

Boarding school-like academies can be more beneficial and efficient, if properly designed, staffed, and monitored to ensure the developmental, educational, and emotional needs of the children take priority over all else.

Benefits of academy-like boarding schools:

  • Allows siblings to remain together. Siblings must be kept together during childhood. When we isolate siblings from each other, we damage their chance to experience lifelong family relationships. The ability to sustain strong family relationships is the foundation of who we are as a society. Without family bonds, children will become adults who cannot bond and build strong family relationships. 

  • Allows foster children to heal together in a safe and monitored environment that guides them through the healing process with others having similar needs. This is important because in foster homes and in public school settings, they often “stand out” as being abnormal or different. Through intensive and ongoing supervision and behavioral modification techniques, they can learn together and help each other continuously adjust and adapt newly learned behaviors in everyday situations.

  • Allows each child to experience a sound and consistent academic program that builds upon his or her current level of education. Currently, data for foster children is no longer available from the government. However, data from the 1980s showed fewer than 30% of foster children obtain a high school diploma.

  • Today’s data is likely similar as a result of a national push in education to “place” students into the next grade level even though they cannot read, write or compute basic math skills. For many, their reading and writing skills resemble those of a second-grader. Imagine how low the skills are for foster children who have repeatedly changed schools. 

  • If foster children are to have any chance, their education is a key link to their future success. Unlike most children, foster children have no safety net once they leave the system at 18 years of age. Therefore, creating an environment of a boarding school staffed with highly competent educators who support these children with extended school days and year-round schooling provides a direct path to academic competence and skill-based educational opportunities.

  • Provides the ability to deliver continuous individual and small-group counseling services in a safe and familiar environment. Children can survive traumatic events if they can reclassify them in ways that separate the event from personal failure and transform it into a learned experience that helps them move beyond its power over them.

Theme 2: Mental Health Issues

First, let us acknowledge that although Katherine has a Ph.D. in psychology, her specialization was organizational psychology. However, between her bachelor’s, two master’s degrees and PhD, her coursework included over 100 college credits in all aspects of psychology. With that said, Katherine’s presentation of ideas incorporates both personal and career experiences, which are supported by academic knowledge and research.

From a child’s perspective, mental illness or wellness cannot be distinguished for infants and small children. They love through affection and bonding, learn through repeated exposure to situations and modeling, and assimilate those combined experiences in ways that shape their ability to trust, feelings of safety and social development.

In the case of Katherine’s foster home experience, they were not only deeply committed to their mother; they loved and defended her no matter what she did to them or others. Her mental illness took their love and commitment to an extreme, which led to them abusing each other and anyone else she identified as betraying her. They were exposed to her mental illness during infancy; therefore, they didn’t see or assimilate anything different. She was their compass to measure love, safety, and social values, and because they were left in her care for so many years, she was their balance and model for acceptable behavior. 

From a practitioner’s perspective: Parents are children’s fundamental models and the teachers responsible for distinguishing between healthy or dysfunctional emotional, moral and social development from infancy through adolescence. Children’s ability to attach to other humans, distinguish between right and wrong, demonstrate effective problem-solving skills and develop self-confidence is developed during infancy and early child development.

In Katherine’s case, each of these significant developmental milestones were developed in haphazard and fragmented pieces because of her mother’s frequent and ongoing patterns of bipolar-type behaviors. In her euphoric stage, she viewed herself as devoutly religious, the ideal mother, loving and nurturing, and as a sexually desirable woman to all men. As a result of the latter, she frequently left her young children to care for themselves while she vacationed with strange men and prostituted herself to prove she was so desirable that men would pay her for sex.

Yet, on the other hand, when her euphoria suddenly diminished, she became angry, suicidal, blamed others for her distress, drank too much, overdosed on medication and abused everyone she determined created her misfortune.

What Katherine learned from years of experiences both with her mother and from living in America’s foster care system are:

  • Years of repeated exposure to severe mental health issues undoubtedly impact every child. Children who are exposed to abuse and neglect as a result of their experiences with parents or significant caregivers believe and assimilate the actions and words of the adult as factual and accurate. As a result, the guilt, shame, and violence become deeply embedded into their developing brain, which shapes their identity, moral development, and establishes behavioral “norms.”

  • Children uniquely package their experiences and use them in future decision making.  As a result, their behaviors often resemble those transferred to them by their significant caregiver. The most effective way to extinguish the abnormal behaviors is to replace them with desired behaviors that provide natural rewards (for example, feelings of competence, developing a sense of belonging, and the ability to develop healthy relationships).

  • Abused children cannot automatically develop desired behaviors because they are foreign to their understanding. Instead, the negative behavior is best extinguished when it is replaced with an explicitly taught and repeatedly practiced desired behavior.  Additionally, it is important they understand (again through experience) benefits from their new behaviors. However, if significant role models and caregivers don’t model the same behaviors continuously, they will not value them. Once accomplished in controlled settings, they must be given multiple opportunities to refine and develop the new behavior in a variety of real-life situations and environments.

  • Children, especially older children will not accept a new behavior from someone they do not trust. Foster children have developed keen insight and intuition about adults through observation. They do not value and will not respond to caregiver requests to change a behavior unless they have time to develop a trusted relationship with the new adult.

  • This may explain the difficulty of foster children to adapt in ever- changing environments as they move from foster home to foster home. As a result, foster parents who expect them to blend into the family are often disappointed in the children because they do not appear grateful or respectful. Instead, they may be “testing” the dependability and consistency of their new caregivers. This “testing phase” can be too challenging for anyone who isn’t properly trained to distinguish it from mental illness.

  • Abused children develop degrees of dysfunction and confusion that are manifested by expressions of shame, self-hatred, violence, and promiscuity. It’s unfair of others to expect them to change instantly once they find a loving family. It takes years to extinguish dysfunctional thinking and behaviors because with each one extinguished a new one must be learned; then it must become an automatic response.  However, what caregivers can do to expedite the process is to encourage positive self-talk and self-images so children can value and consciously contribute to the reshaping of who they are and who they want to become.

We Must Stop Vilifying Mental Disorders

As a nation, we must acknowledge the damage of negative stereotypes and rejection of those experiencing mental health challenges. Traditionally, individuals with mental health challenges have been shamed and forced to conceal their need to receive mental health services. As a society, we must find a way to acknowledge that not all individuals with mental health challenges exhibit violent behaviors.

Instead, it is more likely that many mental health challenges are manifested by sudden and severe trauma requiring short-term mental health services. As a result, individuals must feel safe to seek treatment without worrying about a lifetime of negative consequences to their career, personal relationships, and future court events that might try to manipulate their previous condition.

As a nation who claims to value and model a humane society, we must provide free or reduced mental health services for all citizens. Mental health services are costly in many ways overwhelming to most. The financial costs can be devastating for family members or individuals seeking services. As a result of our failure to provide equitable services for all, individuals and families cannot receive services; homelessness is abundant with patients refused long-term treatment; violent crimes and suicides continue to increase.

In Katherine’s opinion, if our government has the money to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the Middle East to train rebels how to fight for their own freedom, we have the money to help our own population fight for their freedom from mental health challenges that bind their lives and steal their spirit.

Theme 3: Abuse Within the Foster Care System

There should be no doubt abuse in the foster care system is occurring and will continue if it is denied by organizational leaders, legislators and other officials called to intervene or identify physical, sexual and emotional abuse. From years of experience, it was easy to see how the abusive adults in our lives suddenly transformed into caring and nurturing role models when they feared exposure.

This tells us that they were aware of their inappropriate behaviors, but were never challenged because their public performance alone gave them credibility. As a result, children and neighbors were not believed, and the perpetrators were allowed to continue their abuse of vulnerable children. This is also a concern for children who have not yet been removed from an abusive caregiver.

Crimes against children must be the most intolerable crimes of all, and punishment should reflect those core beliefs. Laws must reflect wording that outlines specific behaviors projected by adults onto children that have lifelong consequences for all children in our society.

Attorneys should also be held accountable when they manipulate facts in ways that allow those facts to be disregarded during a trial.

Judges should have clear guidelines that outline specific sentences required for each crime against children. For example, a committee comprised of child development experts, lawmakers, attorneys and judges should collaboratively create a detailed flowchart outlining specific punishments for crimes against children. It should be used by all judges for sentencing. This is vital because too often sentences are far too soft on child predators.

A national movement by citizens must be formed in all communities to expedite and develop policies and procedures to “save” all America’s children from abuse. It must also be monitored to ensure it remains effective and keeps current with social changes.

Social Changes Needed:

  • Children exposed to harmful mental health behaviors from parents or caregivers must have access to repeated opportunities that enable them to understand why there is a need to eliminate the dysfunctional beliefs and behaviors. Mental health support should be focused on behavioral therapy first and foremost. Unfortunately, all too often, most foster children receive drug therapy as the first, middle and final solution instead of person-to-person or small-group treatment. They are often only seen by mental health professionals to obtain additional medications or higher doses.

  • This is not to say children do not benefit from medications; rather, they should not be used to “manage” or “control” children. It’s the survivor or “fight” skills that usually need to be retaught and refined. Foster children have a highly sensitive “fight” or “flight” instinct that drug therapy will only mask. They survived the abuse they endured with at least one or both of those instincts. Only through cognitive awareness can they learn to use those instincts effectively.

  • Children must participate in developing their self-improvement plan when they are expected to change learned behaviors. When children are expected to intrinsically accept and adapt new behaviors, they must be able to align them with their unique personality and accept them as their desired behaviors.

  • Laws must better protect foster children to ensure they are not exposed to a variety of harsh drugs to manage or control behaviors. Mental health professionals and social workers who allow children to be repeatedly drugged to control behaviors should be removed from their role as a “child protector.”  That’s right, FIRED!  It is unethical, illegal and abusive to children in their care.

Theme 4: Emancipation into Adulthood

Preparing adolescents for a successful transition into adulthood is critical and must be expedited and intensified from ages 14 through 18. These final four years will:

  • Deliver progressive services through internships that provide hands-on experiences that develop trade skills that can develop into high-paying careers. Children selecting the college track will receive opportunities to complete college courses before leaving foster care and have access to funding to complete a bachelor’s degree.

  • Emphasize that financial planning and budgeting for their release should be a key skill and requirement for every adolescent. Students will obtain paying jobs and will learn to establish realistic financial goals, create plans to support their goals, regularly monitor their progress and make adjustments according to the realities of their income.

  • Focus on gradual release that will benefit many adolescents transitioning into adulthood. At 18 years of age, all students should have access to transitional housing for at least their first year.

  • The goals are to allow them to refine work skills in the real world; independently manage finances and understand the consequences before they fall deeply into debt; allow those in college to complete their bachelor’s degree in a supportive environment; and understand that even though they are of adult age, the academy will always be a safe place to receive ongoing support without becoming dependent on its services. “Gradual release” is exactly that; it is designed for a successful transition to independence.

  • Alumni will always be considered “family” and will be invited to attend traditional celebrations, holidays, and cultural events as they wish. Their roles as mentors will motivate others as they share their trials and triumphs along their journey toward success.

Theme 5: Adoption of Foster Children

There are several reasons foster children remain in the system until they turn 18 years of age. Some lack the opportunity to be adopted because they are isolated in a foster home; others have serious behavioral and emotional problems that must be addressed before adoption is likely to be successful. The academy-like boarding schools (addressed earlier) support these behavioral and mental health issues effectively. It is our strong belief that each child should not only be considered worthy for adoption but also prepared for a successful adoption. Adoption of foster children should require a lengthy transition period with their future family. 

For example

  • Children need time to heal and extinguish inappropriate behaviors and develop successful behaviors that help them establish and maintain healthy relationships in a family setting.

  • Children need to develop a relationship with their adoptive families over a long period of time (maybe, one year). Over the length of the year, children will gradually be released into full-time custodial care with their new family. This allows all members to transition with the support of family counseling while allowing children the safety net of the academy should they face unexpected challenges.

  • Finally, foster children need loving and nurturing homes. The issues we are about to present have been debated in our society and legislative sessions for decades, so we will address them from our perspective.

  • Should race, socioeconomic status, culture, or sexual preference determine one’s suitability for adopting children? Our answers: No, no, no and no!

  • Katherine grew up with 70 children from all races and cultural backgrounds. Living with diversity was likely the most valuable experience she had while living in the foster care system. She didn’t consider any of her family different because they were the same in so many other ways. Together, they shared laughter and tears, sicknesses and beatings and played and hurt each other just like all other children living in one environment.

  • But they also defended each other and bonded to support each other from injustice. Our point is kids don’t care about any of the things we adults are fighting and debating about. Kids want and need safe homes with people or individuals who will be their family for life. That’s where children can teach us a lesson. Adult prejudices and preferences don’t always support the hopes and dreams of children needing a loving family.

Theme 6: Educational Changes

Many children exposed to poverty, abuse, neglect, and other social injustices view parenting from the perspective of how media represents it on television.

Advertisements show cute, happy babies and toddlers always interacting in fun ways with their parents. Young people who are searching for someone to love are susceptible to an incorrect understanding of their role as a parent.

Young people view parenting as a way to escape and as a way to be valued and loved. What they don’t recognize are all the dynamics and stressors of parenting require a high tolerance of crying, sleeplessness and unselfishness.  Most young people are not developmentally able to parent. As a result, they find themselves overwhelmed, confused and believing something is wrong with their baby; therefore, they don’t seek help for parenting or to learn self-help skills.

It would be helpful if the media, especially commercials portrayed parenting in more realistic ways. For example, a baby with a wet diaper or diaper rash would likely be screaming. Not that we want to hear 30 seconds of a baby screaming, but 5 seconds of it should replace the cute, gurgling baby crawling happily across the floor.

Some public schools are beginning to add a single course about parenting, but more must be added. For example, a “reality check” system would include creating a realistic budget that includes the costs of medical, housing, food, auto, insurance, utilities, taxes and child care; the understanding that an adolescent parent will likely be prepared for only a minimum-wage job; the understanding that that there will be mental health stressors that come from working (at minimum wage) as a parent; the elimination of any social life, life dreams, college and so on to be replaced with a lifetime of poverty.

We must educate our youth that accepting “welfare” is accepting a lifetime of poverty. They must be taught the reality of accepting welfare. For example: It’s not “free,” and it’s not from “the government;” working people are paying their way in life. Therefore, welfare must never be a consideration for budgeting and planning forward. It must be clear; it is only considered as a “temporary emergency service.” In fact, we must reeducate our entire society about its purpose.

Secondary and adult education must place a stronger emphasis on child development as a way to establish realistic expectations of parents and caregivers.

Adult education should provide social workers with a greater understanding of child development, cultural awareness, diversity, abnormal psychology, child psychology and sensitivity training to help them connect with the children they serve. In other words, they need to focus less on going to court and the technical skills and more on the soft issues that children and families need most.

Theme 7: The Money Issue

The cost to “save” rather than “store” America’s foster children using a revolutionary design as described by us will be high, but not relative to the cost of “storing” them as prisoners. For example, according to the NAACP (2011), about $70 billion are spent housing prisoners annually, and prisons and jails together consume nearly $200 billion for public safety. This is not to say all foster children are destined for a life of crime; rather, they are “set-up” for such a life.

According to data from the US Ways and Means Committee (2013), there were 537,000 children living in foster care; however, those don’t include children sheltered or fostered by other family members or those continuously moving in and out of the system (US Ways and Means Committee, 2013). Consider the previous findings (US Ways and Means Committee, 1987) that 70% of the men in prison went through the foster care system (no recent data found). Therefore, one can conclude a strong correlation between foster children who are “stored” and prisoners who are also “stored.”

We believe that if we proactively “save” rather than “store” our foster children, we can reverse the direction of their future path to prison.

The cost of generational child abuse continues to overwhelm our welfare, medical, and educational systems. Child abuse quickly becomes a “way of life” when it becomes the family culture that is passed from one generation to the next.

The cost of generational child abuse has overwhelmed the current governmental organizations such as prisons and jails, social services and mental health agencies. This dilemma can be flipped if we change the flow of funding to help children recover and give the new skills and equitable education and opportunities.

If we provide quality care to foster children that ensures they are “saved” rather than “stored,” we will simultaneously and proportionally lower crime, poverty, welfare and incarceration rates.

Finally, by creating 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporations under one umbrella called “academies,” private philanthropists and foundations can fund an academy in communities of their choice. This would allow them to put their foundation or private name before the word “Academy” to signify their commitment to “saving” America’s foster children. For those of us who are not philanthropists, we must become advocates and activists to insist our federal and state governments “save” our foster children using the same approach.

Theme 8: Cautious Optimism

The themes and events in this book will likely generate a response from social services that defends their approaches and reassures the public that foster care reform has occurred since the 1960s and 1970s. Katherine has worked in public education for the past 17 years and confirms the system remains highly dysfunctional. Its policies and procedures remain cruel and ineffective for children who are being abused by caregivers.

These were Katherine’s observations and experiences dealing with social services in recent years. First, all educators are “mandated reporters,” which requires them to complete professional development regarding identifying and reporting child abuse or neglect. However, “reporting” doesn’t necessarily lead to social services responding in a timely or effective manner.

Consider the following situations Katherine experienced as a teacher and as an administrator:

  • Katherine reported a foster parent of a fifth-grade student because she noticed every Monday Ronnie came to school completely lethargic and couldn’t function. He slept with his head on his desk much of the day. As the drug (thorazine) wore off, he struggled to develop socially, emotionally, or academically like other children. At first, he didn’t know how to interact with others, but as she gave him new behaviors to try, he began to flourish.

  • His foster parent didn’t respond well to the positive changes and insisted he remain drugged to manage his behavior. On Fridays, he cried about having to leave school, “They will drug me, and I will not wake up all weekend.” Katherine called his social worker for help, and she defended the foster parent. As a result, he was removed from the school but remained in the foster home. 

  • She never saw Ronnie again. However, it was easy to foresee that without someone to intervene on his behalf, he was going to stay on high doses of a dangerous drug. Katherine anticipates Ronnie can now be found either in the prison system or in a cemetery.

  • Katherine observed other teachers report children who had been beaten with ropes and belts and other objects that left marks across their backs, legs and faces. Yet, social workers did not remove the children, stating “there is no place available to put them.” The social workers felt as frustrated as we did because they didn’t have the resources to do what was needed to protect the children.

  • As a school administrator, Katherine saw and experienced numerous cases that were ignored for the same reason. For example, one child clearly described the family pet being used in dog attacks as a way to control the child’s behavior. Continuous new wounds and scars were photographed and attached to the report to social services; yet the child remained in his home. Other children were more reluctant to say they were being abused, but their extensive abnormal behaviors and interactions with others clearly identified them as children repeatedly exposed to violence and abuse of many types. Yet in each instance, nothing was done to help any of them when social services were called.

  • A set of brothers (one in first grade, the other in second) were continuously abused and neglected by a drug-addicted mother. The mother changed houses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and phones frequently and never responded to school notices for parent meetings. When her boys were sick with fever, they came to school anyway.  When we tried to send them home, we had no address or number.

  • Throughout the school year, we made several reports, yet nothing was done to help the boys despite social workers being very familiar with the mother’s drug habit and dysfunctional parenting practices. The entire school year, the boys were abused and neglected, yet it wasn’t until the mother actually sold her boys for drugs that they finally intervened. Instead of getting the boys the extensive help they needed, they were placed with a close family member who was also highly dysfunctional.

  • As a school administrator, Katherine observed social workers overloaded with cases they couldn’t manage due to the lack of resources available to them. Sometimes, social workers didn’t come at all to investigate, or they came a week or two later. She also found they oftentimes didn’t have the support to thoroughly investigate a situation. This left the children in unsafe situations because the abusers were smart enough to know how to manipulate or intimidate the children.

Children Are Often Stuck With Family Members Who Don’t Want Them

The other issue Katherine discovered was children were often given to family members who didn’t want them but felt they had no choice. As a result, the children were repeatedly made to feel unwanted, often received more abuse and didn’t get “saved,” but instead were “moved” from one abuser to another. Giving these children to other dysfunctional family members isn’t helping their situation.

Children placed with family members should also receive ongoing contact with a social worker to ensure the child is in a safe and nurturing environment. Before considering a family member, social workers must investigate the family to identify any generational abuse among family members.

Grandparents are often the family members asked to take in their grandchildren. However, many of them are not emotionally, physically or financially equipped for the challenges of taking on more responsibilities. They often live with limited retirement funds and have no way to support the children. When family members are asked to take children, they should receive financial compensation, free medical services for the children and a way to transport children to receive services.

Social Workers Need More Resources for Investigations

Systems within social services do not support the needs of social workers to adequately investigate child abuse and neglect or to remove them when there is clear evidence of abuse or neglect.

Systems within social services do not provide enough support for ongoing investigations of foster parents once children are placed in their homes.

The most recent concern is that social services has turned over foster children to private organizations that profit from designating the children in ways that provide the 

highest profit. 

For example, foster children are labeled into behavioral categories: 

  • Tier 1 children have fewer behavioral problems, and providers are paid less to take them, which means they are either moved to a higher level of care that exposes them to more violence, or they are given to anyone who has a bed for them. Social services rarely follow-up to ensure their safety.

  • Tier 2 children have moderate behavioral problems. Care providers are paid more to take them, but the services they receive are minimal in order to be profitable for the organization. Again, the most profit comes from having Tier 3 children (see below), so many are moved to the next level of care. Also, these children are more likely to be treated with medication rather than receiving a structured-behavior, re-teaching program.

  • Tier 3 children have the most behavioral problems, and providers receive significantly more to take care of them. As a result, it benefits everyone but the children to classify them as Tier 3. Once classified as Tier 3, children most likely receive medication to manage their behavior, are placed in more “mental hospital-like” settings, which exposes them to institutional care that mimics a prison-like atmosphere.

A Flawed System 

The tiered system (used as it is today) promotes ongoing abuse of children and provides a greater gap between what is normal and what is dysfunctional. Not all abused and neglected children have the same needs, but each child must receive the services they need to “heal.” The current system isn’t “healing” to children; rather, it has become a place for “storing” America’s children.

Finally, county and state departments of social services must provide open access to data regarding the foster children in their care. We must require more financial and service accountability within the system. 

For example:

  • Annual numbers of children receiving services from either private or public organizations, group homes, and foster homes.

  • Each type and amount of prescription medication/ foster children are prescribed.

  • The number of children receiving Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 services and which organizations provide those services.

  • Organizations must provide documentation of services provided, who provides the service and their qualifications, schedules and other accountability to ensure children receive the services.

  • The number of reports of abuse (from either children or adults) within any of the systems providing care to foster children (whether substantiated or not).

  • The specific results of their investigations; for example: what was investigated, who conducted the investigation (identified by a number code), what evidence was presented, and the investigator’s conclusions. These will be used to identify patterns and act as a preventative measure to ensure everyone is being held accountable for the safety of our children.

Theme 9: What We Can Do

Please consider that “saving” America’s foster children is among our core values and beliefs for all children in the United States. When we recite our Pledge of Allegiance, we think of them when we say the words, “with liberty and justice for all.” We know we haven’t ensured that fundamental right for our foster children. Although we have failed them in the past, we can and must save them now.

Consider the ways you can create change in your community and state.

  • Become a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). Foster children have no one to stand up for them if left as wards of the court. They are alone and helpless to defend themselves against continuous abuse and social injustice unless you join us and become their advocates. Our first mission is to ensure every child has a CASA representative who will protect them from further abuse and neglect while they live in the foster care system.

  • Insist your state and federal politicians provide adequate funding for social services, specifically child protective services, mental health services, drug treatment programs and public education. If we truly want to redirect the massive influx into our incarceration system, it begins with how we care for our children.  Government policies must reflect what we value and our core beliefs.

  • Avoid welfare or “free” government services. They are traps that cannot produce freedom or independence for anyone. Once trapped in the “free” lifestyle, it is difficult to build dreams or visualize anything beyond a life of poverty. Once poverty becomes your norm, it sucks you into the depths of despair and ultimately to “learned helplessness” behaviors.

  • We must recognize that learned helplessness behaviors are dangerous and can be found in nearly every “victim” serving time in jails and prisons.

  • Politicians create “victims” when they lie to those who don’t understand “free” never leads to freedom. The government has trapped them into believing they are entitled to receiving everything free, which has doomed them to a life of continuous failure and learned helplessness. As a result, they have lost the spirit that moves people toward self-actualization and genuine freedom.

  • Think about it: The only place one receives free medical care, free housing, free food, a free education and free security is when one is incarcerated. We must insist government policies stop developing future prisoners with “free” programs. We must respect that humans have the innate desire and ability to survive. Our social norms should allow and expect everyone to contribute to our success.

  • Don’t let this issue die. These topics must remain at the forefront of social conversations that demand purposeful change.

  • Get involved and don’t remain silent. These issues are occurring in every community, even yours.

  • Our future is devoted to creating purposeful change for future generations. We hope Katherine’s book leads the way, but without your involvement, we cannot free America’s foster children. Every time we see the advertisements to protect animals from harm, our hearts break because our society values its animals more than its foster children.

We must save America’s foster children.