Foster Culture

November 22, 2007

A personal story…

Filed under: foster parents,foster teens,Foster youth,life,me,personal — fosterculture @ 4:27 am

Since I never was able to really connect with a family while in foster care, the family structure/environment is uncomfortable for me. Which makes the whole holiday time of year a little difficult for me.

So for Thanksgiving day, instead of putting myself through the torture of trying to fit in and play the holiday family day, I’m going to a group home I work at sometimes for teenage girls in foster care that are pregnant or already have children. One girl I know that lives there is 16 and pregnant with her second child and is due December 2nd. She has no where to go for the holiday, so I’m going to her. Yes, a few people have said that that is very thoughtful and kind of me, but in reality, it is not that altruistic. Being in that setting, with other people that have no where else to go, that is my comfort zone. I know I will not feel out of place or intrusive the entire time I am there. Places like that is where I spent all my holidays growing up and they were rarely with the same people for more that one or two years in a row.

I have children now and am happy to spend the holidays with them, but when it comes time to visit  the family they have on their dad’s side, I am unable to participate. Sometimes I feel bad about it, but then I remember, that’s just me.

One of my favorite books is titled Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. It is about a girl that goes to live in a foster home and so she renames herself Ellen Foster. I like that.

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November 7, 2007

Kansas State Student Database

It is not uncommon for children and teens in foster care to move placements several times in one year, which also means new schools. Often times the previous school will take longer than necessary to send transcripts to the current school thereby delaying the students enrollment and/or placement in appropriate classes and educational support.

For example, I know a young man that required a full day of self contained classes and was developmentally delayed. The school had not yet received the students IEP and transcripts and so this young man was placed in all regular classes with the rest of the student population. As if moving to a new foster home wasn’t stressful enough, having to go through several school days without proper support made the transition a traumatic experience.

A personal example: I lived in a residential treatment center and went to the local public school. It was determined that I was ready to live in a transitional living group home in a new school district. In the RTC, one of my school books turned up missing (not unusual in these types of placements) and that school refused to release my transcripts to the new school until someone had paid for the book. Well after running away several more times and changing to two more school before the end of the school year, my transcripts still did not follow me. Several years later, when I was on my own, I had to prove to the college I was enrolling in that I had taken a college level algebra course in high school and had no way to do this, because alas, my transcripts were still being held hostage. And of course, I did not have the money to pay for that one book.

So finally, one state was brave enough to try something new, to identify a problem and come up with a solution, something that I find amazing seeing as how it is part of the whole, ya know, “system”.

The state of Kansas created a student database, with a focus on foster youth, that school will be able to access the most current up-to-date records for the youth no matter how often they move or where they move in the state.
The organization I work for will be going to the state capital soon talk to legislatures about this awesome database and how much it could help foster youth.

Click here if yo’dlike to read more about the Kansas student database.

October 17, 2007

Entitlement

Foster youth often have a strong sense of entitlement that shows in their behaviors, especially if they’ve been instituationalized. This often comes from abuses they have suffered intheir lives and as a consequence, having to live in states custody. Yes, the initial abuse is no longer occurring, but for a teen living with the stigma of being a “foster kid” and not having the very nice clothes, the ability to hang out with friends or have freedoms that other teens may have, they begin to feel like they are “owed” even more. Why are they treated this way, when they were the victim in the situation. Some teens prefer to go back to the abuse so they are able to live, at least superficially, a more normalized life.

 Of course, everything I write is a generalized. I meet teens in foster care everyday that are humbling examples of the human spirit. When I encounter one of these youth, I am just so amazed and know that there is something very unique about them.

I feel like getting past the sense of entitlement is crucial so that a teen can progress in their life and learn to be responsible self advocates. I know that in my situation, I overcame this with age. I was an exception in that I lived in foster care my entire life…my joke was, “The state of Missouri is my mom”, so the sense of entitlement came from the idea that I did not feel as if my faux mom was taking care of my properly.

I also feel like allowing teens in foster care to have more control over their lives is important, the expectation must be that they will make several huge mistakes in this process, it is only natural for foster youth to subconsciousy sabotage their placement (a subject I will elaborate on, eventually).

ILP and TLP programs work with this idea in mind, but I feel their expectations of the youth are sometime too high.

October 16, 2007

Foster Culture, wah?

Foster Culture, wah?

I was in the foster care system for 18 years of my life before I was emancipated by a judge on my eighteenth birthday. In that 18 years, I lived in countless foster homes, residential facilities, group homes, transitional living programs, hospitals and even juvenile detention. Running away was just part of who I was a teenager and demanding to be moved for little or no reason was standard.

I am now an adult and work with older foster youth. There are many things that have come to light through this job. The dysfunction of the foster care system, the subculture of foster youth and even the grave statistics that they face when entering adulthood.

Through this blog, I will retell my own stories and those of people I lived with while in care, enter injustices as I see them, statistical facts and mostly, information about the subculture of foster youth. The last for the important reason that it is a subject I have never been able to read about and one that I am very much a part of. People that have lived in foster care think differently, relate to others differently and survive differently.

I will say this, I am not a writer by nature. I am going to put it down in the most real way that I can and hope that it all makes sense.  Word.

Run

 

In a panic, S ran to the sliding door balcony of her bedroom. She went out onto the porch and looked down. The porch was on the second story and she knew that her only way out was to jump. It was the only way at that point and once she jumped she couldn’t turn back. The rock collection she loved so much was spread out all over the porch, rocks that she’d been collecting for years. Some were just pretty, but some reminded her of other places and people. They were her only photographs and the only way she had to remember everyone and everything.

I can make it, she thought ot herself. She swung one foot over and straddled the rail. Shit, I forgot to close the door, they’ll know how I got out if I left it open. She swung her leg back over and slid the door shut. Back over the rail. Hold on tight. Squat down, hang on, just hang on. Her feet were dangling now from the balcony; she figured her feet were only about ten feet off the ground. This isn’t far; I’ve jumped further from trees. And S let go. She landed on her feet in a squatting position and her head flung forward and her hands landed in front of her keeping her head from banging into the ground. Crack. She knew here neck was messed up, but it was OK for now.

She looked in both directions and stood up close to the house. Siding, blue house siding. Luckily this house was in the middle of the woods, so there were no neighbors to see her in action, to see the dramatic display. She stood tight with the house inching her way along and listening for anyone that might be looking for her, so far no one. As soon as she made her way around to the front of the house there was no way to go but down the driveway to the road. But no one can see me, no one can know that I’m even gone yet. I want them to just find me gone in a few hours, I want them to worry and I want them to feel bad about how they treated me.

S made a run for it, down the driveway as fast as she could. Her neck felt weird, but it was OK for now. She was fine. She looked back at the house through her mad run, no, no one’s looking out yet, I can make it, I got this. Finally, the winding driveway opened up to the road. It was just about dusk and S straitened herself up and looked both ways down the road. What now?

That was always the question. Well, just start walking. This was not the city. If someone was walking along the side of the road in these parts it looked weird or suspicious. There were no sidewalks or crosswalks. If you saw someone on the side of the road, it usually meant their car was broken down. Or maybe that no one liked them enough to give them a ride to go where they needed to go, or worse, they were so poor that they just couldn’t afford a car. You couldn’t survive without a car in this country hick place.

S walked for a little while and noticed the next door neighbors drive heading up a hill, it was less than a quarter of a mile down the road from Patty and Carl’s house. Well, it’s not like I can forever sleep in the woods, I might as well go up and ask to use their phone. The thought of wiping her ass with leaves grossed her out a little and she was convinced to take a chance.

She started up the steep winding driveway towards the house. There were a few lights on and an old pick up truck in the driveway. Shingles were at the edge of the roof of the garage, just waiting for wind to hit em from the right direction ot free them up enough to fall to the ground. It was kind of a dump, but S didn’t care, hopefully they’d help her and not call the police or worse Patty and Carl. At this point a night in jail was tolerable, but going back to that house was out of the question.

Paint was falling off the door and she could smell weed. Even though she’d never smoked pot, she knew its flavor. She knocked lightly and immediately heard rustling around inside and whispering.

“Who is it”, a voice from inside demanded. It was a woman’s voice.

“Um, it’s your neighbor, my name is S”

“Who”

“S, my name is S. I’m your neighbor”

The door flung opened, “Can I help you”. A middle aged woman stood at the door. Looking a little drunk and suspicious. She wore a house robe and slippers and was obviously not happy about the unannounced visit.

“I’m sorry to bother you, I just was wondering if I could use your phone really fast”, S said. She couldn’t offer too many details, since she was now an official runaway, but at the same time was asking to go inside someone’s house that didn’t know her. Really she should’ve been more scared, but she wasn’t.

“Where’d you say you lived?” said the woman.

Just down the road a little bit, we moved in down the road about 6 months ago, in the spring.” S wasn’t sure if she was gonna buy that and was worried that the woman was gonna start asking more questions.

The woman squinted at the thin, pale girl that stood in front of her, she was pretty, but her eyes were sorta red, like she’d been crying. She noticed scraps on the girl’s palms.

“My name is Shirley; you can come in for a minute, just to use the phone.”

“Thanks”

S made her way in the door and could still see the left over smoke from the weed. It scared her a little, that she was in someone’s house that she didn’t know, that did illegal drugs. Shrew it, I’m a runaway, this is just gonna be the life I have to live from now on, rolling with other criminals, that’s just how it works.

Shirley led her into the front room where the furniture was still wrapped in the plastic that it originally came in, but it looked out of date. Stains covered the ugly green carpet and beyond the marijuana funk, a nursing home dog cat type smell invaded her senses. Her eyes welled up she gagged. She knew if she made a face that would seem rude so she played it off nicely by explaining that she’s had a little bit of a cough that’s she’s trying to get over, but don’t’; worry, it’s not contagious. What a nasty ass smell she thought. Gross. Funny enough, there were no animals in sight.

Shirley took the girl down the hall from the living room into the kitchen where there were two men sitting at a brown fake wood kitchen table. Playing cards, empty beer cans, half eaten ship bags cluttered the table.

“Mike, Alan, this is S, she’s our neighbor, she’s come to use the phone, she said she’ll only be a minute.”

“Neighbor, we’d ne’er had a neighbor visit us ‘fore have we, Shirls” Said the fatter one with the camouflage cap on his head and mostly red plaid shirt. He smiled at he strange girl and she could see his teeth were yellow and his very front tooth was sticking out.

Yuck, more rednecks.

“No we haven’t, that one is Mike he’s my husband, and that one is Alan, he just never leaves,” Shirley said in a half joking voice.

S walked over and picked up the phone. 555-4857, she always could remember phone numbers, it was a gift.

“Hello”

“Hey, Sam, it’s S. Can you come get me?”

“Where the hell are you” said the voice over the phone.

“I’m at my neighbor’s house, you know, Patty found out about us sneaking out and tried to ground me from ever having fun so I left. Can you come get me? Maybe your mom will come.”

“She’s not gonna come get you, she told me I can’t hang out with you anymore. I guess Trina’s mom found out we all snuck out and called my mom and Patty. So they all said we can’t hang out with you, they think you’re trouble.”

‘Me, it wasn’t even my idea. It was Trina’s big freakin plan; did you tell your mom that? I didn’t even want to go,” the tears in S eyes were about to burst.

“Well, Trina’s been my best friend forever, I couldn’t get grounded from hanging out with her, plus her sisters gonna have her license soon and will be able to drive us around and I’ll get to hang out with Scott more often.”

Her hanging out with Scott also meant that she was gonna get to hang out with Derrick. Derrick had been S’s boyfriend since they snuck out almost a week ago. Derrick was in the 8th grade and he was the cutest kid in school. He was a skater boy and always wore long baggy pants and had short hair with long bangs. That night they kissed, it wasn’t her first kiss, but it was the first one where she didn’t feel as scared.

S was defeated; she had no one else to call. All she could do now was make sure that Sam heard it in her voice. “Ok, that’s fine. Well chances are, I won’t be seeing you at school tomorrow, and I’m not going back there.”

“Well then where are you going?”

“I don’t know, I’ll disappear from Cedar Hill Middle school just as easily as I appeared. I gotta go, it was nice knowing you”

Click. She hung up knowing she made the impression that she wanted to make. She knew she wasn’t going to ever see Sam again.

She turned around and realized that her conversation wasn’t private. All three of the rednecks were not hiding the fact they were listening in to every detail.

Mike sniffed, adjusted his hideous hat and took a swig of beer. “Well honey, it sounds like you’re in some trouble, huh? Wanna beer?”

“No thanks.”

“So you’re one of those girls that live at Patty and Carls huh? They’re some high fallutin type of folks aren’t they, They own that furniture store in town and all,” Shirley sounded kind of bitter. S wondered if these rednecks were gonna be her allies.

“Yeah, they do and their daughter owns the beauty shop in town too, although she hardly works there that much, she mostly stays home to take care of her kids and just checks in at the shop a few times a week. Are you guys gonna call the police?

“Do you really think we want the police here? Shit no. And if those folks you live with think you’re over here you better get on, we can’t have anyone disturbin’ us up here.” This was the first S heard Alan speak. He’d been quiet, not even to say hi, but S could feel his eyes all over her, she couldn’t tell if it was curiosity, suspicion or lust. A man’s lust was sorta a new thing for her, men, older men, started paying more attention to her lately. She’d come to despise them. If she felt or heard anything other than a fatherly tone of voice and smile, she hated them.

“Sorry, are you gonna call Patty?”

“You really just need to leave and find somewhere else to go, what exactly happened over there anyway, did that stuck up crab ass hit ya or something?”, Shirley asked. S could tell she wanted details, she wanted drama, she wanted Jerry Springer. If she gave it em, they’d help her.

“Now Shirls, leave the girl alone, you come over here, Katie and sit down, sure you don’t want a beer,” Mike’s honey darling sweetheart voice bothered her. She didn’t bother to correct him on the name thing.

S walked over to the table and tried to choose a smart seat, a get-a-way if necessary seat, or a seat that wouldn’t imply anything. All these types of things, the things that aren’t spoken with words, the ones that are spoken with your body are the most important. S was nervous enough that she knew she had to be careful of her actions, especially when it came to the rednecks, especially redneck men. Alan was trying not to look at her, and so she made sure not to look in his direction. She focused on Shirley as much as possible. The kitchen felt dark; there were chickens on the walls. The wallpaper was full of chickens pecking and chickens clucking, the metal relief decorations were chicken, the potholders were chicken, and it kinda smelled like chicken. Chickens were dirty animals. “I like all your chicken stuff, Shirley. It feels cozy, like a place that would be nice to have a thanksgiving meal.”

Shirley squinted her eyes again when she replied, “I’ve been collecting chicken stuff for 10 years, if you look on top of the cabinets above the stove, Mike had a real chicken stuffed for me about 2 years ago. I think it kinda completes my collection.” She proudly gazed aound the room, her kitchen, her joy.

Gross. Tacky. “Well I think you should keep collecting your chicken stuff. You still have more wall space over there in between those hen and rooster pictures and you can still fit some stuff above the cabinets. And do you have chicken plates? What about chicken dish towels?”

Shirley just stared at her for a minute, her cheeks were hollowed in and eyes were half open, like sunlight was getting in them. S didn’t know if she’d gone too far with the schmoozing or if maybe Shirley could hear the subtle sarcasm in her voice. Either way, she wanted her to hurry and say something. Shirley looked at Mike and back at S and back at Mike and said,” Well Jesus Mike, that’s a good idea, don’t you think, I could get chicken dishes. Where do you think I could find something like that?” she asked in S’s direction.

“Jesus, that’s why you can’t put ideas in this woman’s head, then she wants to do stuff, like decorate.” He chuckled at his joke, “let’s figure out what the hell we’re going to do with this little girl first before ya’ll start talking decorations and shit.”

Alan looked up from his beer bottle, Bush, and perked up when it came to the topic of S’s interest. Say something little girlish, say something little girlish.

“I’ve been collecting rocks since I was really young and I just always keep my eye out for a good rock, as long as I’m always alert, I find one when I’m least expecting it. I have a great rock collection.”

“I figure if I took her over to my house, she could sleep in Alex’s room and tomorrow she could stay with Jen and the kids and figure out where she’s gonna go from there”. S wasn’t expecting Alan to speak up so suddenly, she wasn’t sure how to react. Please don’t make me go with him, he looks at me funny, don’t you see it, he’s all gross and he looks at me funny.

“That’s nice and everything, but who’s Jen?”

“Oh, that’s Alan’s wife and they have 3 kids. 1, 2 and 3, all boys. Alex is the youngest; he still wakes up at night. That’s a great idea, she could help out Jen with all them boys tomorrow, damn, she needs a break. I’d go over there more but those kids get on my damn nerves, no offense Alan.” Shirley said.

“No shit”, Mike concurred.

How does this shit happen to me?

“It really would be OK; Jen’s a real nice lady.”

“Well OK, I guess that alright”

Mike could tell S was reluctant, “You know we’d have ya stay here except this is probably one of the first places they’ll come to look for ya.”

“Yeah, I know.”

I’m a leaf, I blow in the freakin wind.

Overburdening Foster Parents

This is a recent article that caught my attention. Look closely at the money a foster parent receives. In addition to that, a youth, in Missouri, receives $250.00 per year for clothing. That is their coats, socks, underwear, pants, shorts, shoes, shirts, sweaters, jackets, rain slickers…everything. This is all they have to work with. Foster teens work especially hard fighting the stigma of being a “foster kid” to begin with, now try to imagine the burden of trying to not look like one. 

 

Overburdening foster parents

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
October 7, 2007

Estimated printed pages: 3

It’s reasonable to expect that foster parents will provide generous amounts of love, patience and understanding to the children they bring into their homes and care for. It is not reasonable for states to make the parents’ financial burdens greater than they need to be.

But in Missouri, Illinois and most other states, the reimbursements provided to foster parents fall far short of the actual costs of providing for the children placed in their homes. The difference is made up by the foster parents.

The shortfalls also have the effect of excluding those families who simply could not bear the extra financial burden, further limiting the already too small pool of potential foster parents.

Reimbursement rates for foster parents are set by individual states, in most cases without regard for the actual cost of raising a foster child. That’s contrary to federal law, which requires that foster children’s expenses be covered.

Last week, a landmark study was released by two advocacy groups – Children’s Rights and the National Foster Parent Association – in association with the University of Maryland School of Social Work. For the first time, it makes available foster care reimbursement rates in 50 states and the District of Columbia and compares them with specific calculations of the cost of caring for foster children at three different ages.

Only two of the 51 entities – the District of Columbia and Arizona – were reimbursing foster parents more – slightly – than the actual costs of caring for the children they took in. Another 10 states fell somewhat short of reimbursing actual costs.

The remaining 39 states fell far below actual costs. Missouri’s rate – long among the nation’s lowest – ranked 48th out of 51. Illinois ranked 39th. To meet those costs, rates in Missouri would have to more than double; in Illinois, they would have to increase by more than 75 percent.

The reason for these dramatic disparities isn’t particularly mysterious. Most states, the researchers found, do not even bother to try to calculate the actual costs of caring for foster children. According to state foster care agencies, the rates in most cases simply reflect the whims of state lawmakers.

Reimbursement rates for group homes in Missouri used to be set that way. But a federal lawsuit brought by group home owners in 2003 led a judge to order changes. Now those rates reflect actual costs. The rates for individual foster parents, however, still do not.

Legislators in Missouri and Illinois marginally increased payments this year to foster parents, but they need to increase further. In Missouri, the federal judge’s ruling in the group-homes lawsuit suggests that the state’s position with respect to foster parents could be equally untenable.

Advocates for foster children also should take their case to the U.S. Congress. Federal law already says all costs of raising foster children must be covered, but it doesn’t spell out what those costs are. An amendment should set minimum federal reimbursement levels and tie them to actual costs.

Without a specific standard, financially pressed state governments have too much wiggle room to low-ball reimbursements, which shortchanges children and the foster parents who give so freely to them.

AREA FOSTER CARE RATES

Monthly foster care reimbursement rates, compared with actual monthly costs of caring for children at three different ages:

AGE 2 Reimbursement rate Actual cost

Missouri $271 $627

Illinois $380 $661

National

Average $488 $629

AGE 9 Reimbursement rate Actual cost

Missouri $322 $719

Illinois $422 $757

National

Average $509 $721

AGE 16 Reimbursement rate Actual cost

Missouri $358 $788

Illinois $458 $830

National

Average $568 $790

SOURCE: “Hitting the M.A.R.C.: Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children,” October 2007; Children’s Rights, National Foster Parent Association, University of Maryland School of Social Work.Memo:  OUR VIEW CHILDREN
OPINION

Edition:  Fourth Edition
Section:  Editorial
Page:  B2

Index Terms: OPINION;CHILD;WELFARE;FOSTER;CARE;COST;STATE;AID;STATISTIC;REPORT; EDITORIAL

Copyright (c) 2007 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Record Number:  1001116837

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