Last week, a teen in Florida, Davion Only, received national attention when he stood in front of a local church and heart-breakingly asked to be adopted by a family, and for them “to love me forever.” Many instantly reached out to the teen with requests to adopt him, but Davion Only isn’t the only child in our child welfare system without a permanent home. Many, like Davion, don’t feel loved.
Today, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative shared their proposal for reforming federal financing for child welfare based off of their research into the best practices in the field–specifically for youth in the foster system.
The proposal focuses on realigning federal policies to promote improvements in four areas:
- Permanence and well-being: reducing reliance on shelter and group care, and focus on placing children quickly into homes with family, or quality foster families.
- Quality family foster care: improve kinship licensing, targeted foster family recruitment, and provide better support for foster families.
- Capable, supported child welfare workforce: federal support for training and skill development, reducing administrative burden on case workers.
- Better access and accountability for social and therapeutic services.
These recommendations come out of a long recognized problem: that the child welfare system often works against the youth it is meant to serve.
The Pressing Need for Improvements
The federal government currently reimburses social workers for administrative tasks, but not for the hands-on, relationship building work children and families need, or even for training and skill-building. The result is that case workers are stuck in the office, children become disconnected in the system, and the homes where these children were taken from remain broken. Reforms to allow for reimbursing case-workers for all of their costs would improve the system for all involved.
Once children are taken out of the home, if they are not placed in a home within three years, the chances of them ever finding a home are close to zero. 80% of children in the system were removed because of neglect, not violent or traumatic experiences. The system currently does not prioritize rehabilitating the homes where children were taken from, and the result is that they lose contact with their families and live in unfavorable group homes. The Casey Foundation proposes prioritizing placing children with family first, limiting the amount of time a group housing can get funding for displaced children, and reforming the foster family system so that capable and loving families are not prevented from receiving children.
The proposal also suggests for improvements to the supports for foster families. Currently caseworkers are not reimbursed for their time spent helping the foster families adjust to their new circumstances. Foster parents are also systematically excluded from their foster child’s care when they are taken out of the home, even for temporary disruptions, and this further disconnects the youth from those they should be developing strong, loving relationships with.
Among many other suggestions for reform, The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s proposal provides an all-compassing, critical look at the child welfare system, and suggests broad changes as a starting point for tackling reforms and improving the system. Last week Davion Only was asking for somebody, anybody, to love him. In the future, let’s ensure that all of our children–no matter who or where they live, in and outside of the welfare system–have permanent relationships with their families, social workers, foster families, and communities so that they never have to ask to be loved.