Beaten and Defenseless: Is Foster Care the Better Option?
I stood admiring your perseverance as you continued to suck on your pacifier with bruises all over your face and a collar around your neck to support your spine as a precaution to your injuries. You have only been on earth for 2 months but have endured so much. There is bleeding in the back of your eye (retinal hemorrhage) from the shear force upon your head. The culprit the boyfriend of the babysitter. The odds seem against you with a drug addict mother and a sex offender father. You are not alone, the following day I was witness to a toddler who was covered in welts and bruises after being dropped of at a babysitter’s, and a 2 month old with an erratic mother and unexplained bleeding from the mouth admitted for a child abuse work up. Is foster care the better option? Initially it seems that way…
Over 7.2 million children in America are abused, and during FFY 2015 and that number continues to be on the rise. The major abuse type is neglect, followed by physical, then sexual and psychological. FFY 2015 saw nearly 1,700 children die from child maltreatment and over three- quarters were under the age of 3 years of age. (https://americanspcc.org/child-abuse-statistics/), (https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/research-data-technology/statistics-research/child-maltreatment). Having a toddler myself those numbers send chills down my spine. The next step for a good portion of those who are reported is usually foster care.
“Each day 438,000 children in foster care in the United States. This equates to about 6% of all United States children every placed in foster care from birth to 18. In 2016, over 687,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. On average, children remain in state care for nearly two years and six percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.” (www.childrensrights.org/newsroom/fact-sheets/foster-care/).
Foster care placement can be one of the most tragic events a child can experience. Disproportionately Native American and African American children are at higher risk for placement. Children in foster care are more likely to have depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and suicidal ideation compared to other children. They often live lives of chaos and instability and have increased rates mortality and disease processes such as asthma. (Widerman et al, Cumulative Risks of Foster Care Placement by Age 18 for U.S. Children, 2000–2011,PLOS Online, Mar 2014; 9(3): e92785)
Foster Care Advantages:
- Be a temporary residence for children to provide care
- Parents may not be well enough to take care of their children and are seeking assistance to get better
- Provide financial support for a child’s needs
- May provide a means of adoption into a loving and providing home
Foster Care Disadvantages:
- Most children, no matter how bad the situation would like to stay with their birth parents
- Temporary residence may move the child from house to house creating instability
- The Foster home may not be able to cater the the child’s emotional needs and may be overcrowded
As noted above, foster care is not always the best option for any particular child, and is usually a temporary solution. As a physician and a parent it is heart wrenching to be exposed to these cases day in and day out. But I realize there are always things we can do to advocate for our children.
- Advocate- Speak to your local, regional and federal congress members. Look and or push for legislation regarding child health issues such as child maltreatment. As a constituent you have that right.
- Volunteer- You can volunteer with your local child health protective services or organizations such as American Society of Positive Care of Children (SPCC)
- Speak Up- Use your social media outlets to speak up about child maltreatment. If you see say something, say something to your local child protective services, do not turn a blind eye.
- Help– The perpetrators themselves need help, a majority of them have been abused as a child, we need to break the cycle
If you want to know more regarding pediatric health care tips. Please check out HealthyChildren.Org and search Sylvia Owusu-Ansah MD
Psalm 127:3 Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from Him.
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