“The other day, they had 10 children that were coming to the agency in hopes of being selected for adoption. Couples were scheduled to appear and select the children they wanted to adopt. ‘It reminded me of an old movie where couple selected orphans and how the children in the orphanage would prepare hoping to be picked.’ I could not help but wonder what emotional harm this can present to the children if they were not picked. I rushed to my computer and got on all my social networking resources to announce these children and if anyone would come and at least learn more about being a mentor. No one responded. I wept in the restroom. Not one response.” Foster care Recruiter in Phoenix, AZ.
The foster-care system is basically the same where ever you go. Children are abused and/or neglected and are subsequently removed from care. The Agency (public or private) will first seek family members to see if there exists a potential match. These children are usually sent to a foster care facility be it a family or a group home while an investigation and in some cases, permanent placement can be sought. For many, permanent placement never comes. For some, they will endure continued abuse from foster parents, and for many, they will age out of the system by reaching the age of majority.
In an article by Rick Nauert PhD., Suicide Risk Among Abused Children posted in 2008 states that, “[C]hildren who are repeatedly abused, or are abused by a member of their immediate family, are at higher risk of attempting suicide in later life.” Research shows that “[O]ne third of children that are sexually abused are perpetrated by family members and in about two thirds the abuse occurred in multiple occasions. Repeated abuse was generally more strongly associated with suicide attempts than a single occurrence of abuse.”
Children in foster care who have aged out of the foster care system in general lack life skills; little education or vocational skills; and are at high risk for substance abuse, prostitution/sex trafficking, homelessness, criminal activity (i.e. property crimes), and incarceration. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics, reports that, people with less than a high school diploma had a record of 12.4% unemployment rate in 2012 in contrast to the 6.8% median for all workers. That is almost twice the national average. In addition, the same group earned an average of $471 per week as opposed to the average median $815, which is almost half of the national average for this group. The National Archive of Criminal Justice Data reported reported in 2004 that, 28% of state and federal prisoners were unemployed in the month before their arrest. The national unemployment rate was 5.5%. 88% of state prisoners and 80% of federal prisoners had a high school education or less. 70% of state and 58% of federal prisoners had an income of less than $2000 in the month prior to arrest. That means they had an annual income of less than $24000. Median personal income in 2004 was about $34,000. Today, as of 2009 the median income is about $50,000.
I personally interviewed three siblings that had been in foster care, Timothy, Dorothy, and Laurie (not real names). They had been removed from the home of their biological mother as infants because she was allegedly a prostitute and drug addict. They resided in foster care with a family who later wanted to adopt them. They were in foster care for about six years before being removed and re-united to their birth mother after her claims of rehabilitation. Shortly after moving back in they were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by their mother. Timothy ran away and became homeless at the age of 12, after becoming tired of the abuse. Dorothy and Laurie stayed behind and suffered continual physical and sexual abuse by not only the hands of their mother but at the hands of her boyfriends and some of her “Johns.” Timothy located his biological father and suffered physical abuse, which included branding his back with a heated spoon and breaking a 2 by 4 over his back because he refused to cry. Timothy admitted to multiple attempts at committing suicide, had a history of substance abuse, and was incarcerated off and on from 12 years of age until he was about 30. Timothy admits that he has had social problems connecting, especially with members of the opposite sex.
This is just one story. Many foster children have been beaten, branded, molested, raped, or just ignored. If they are lucky, they will be matched with a good family and go on to become part of a place where they can find acceptance and identity. Unfortunately, others will go to a group home. Group homes are basically a house filled with underage room mates. They have a grossly underpaid adult who supervises them, but the family dynamics and structure that a “family” can provide are left wanting. Unless they have a place to go when they turn 18, they will no doubt be dropped off at a homeless shelter, dropped off with layers of traumatic experiences and memories. Gabriella Schwab wrote in “Haunting Legacies, Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma” that:
“Trauma kills the pulsing of desire, the embodied self. Trauma attacks and sometimes kills language. In order for trauma to heal, body and self must be reborn, and words need to be disentangled from the dead bodies they are trying to hide (2010).”
While there are some resources that exist to assist in the transition from a group home into society, the majority of children aging out will not realize those services. Research is still needed to determine how to bridge this gap. Is legislation needed? Are more social services needed? What exactly is needed to help the healing process for the layers of trauma that has been inflicted on these children? What can be done to equip these children with the tools necessary to become productive citizens of society? Turning 18 can be a day where some await eagerly for independence while for others it is the beginning of the end.