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Sending foster kids away

The ADN has written some pretty amazing articles recently about foster kids sent to outside facilities. Same kind of articles that were written a few years back and resulted in a push to bring kids back to the state. Once the spotlight left the topic, it slowly and inexorably slid back to the good old ways.

I’m not here to actually discuss why a state as rich as Alaska is can’t afford to treat its children here at home rather than sending them to the lower 48. That’s a travesty that is best handled by voting out the idiots who think we should be the only people on earth not taxed for the services we receive. Because, quite frankly, once the oil companies have paid their little share, they really don’t care what we do with the money. That is never a good thing to hand politicians – money with no strings attached.

Rather than the above topic, I’d like to discuss the fact that these stories always carry the tag line that the kids need to be closer to their families and communities so they are supported in their recovery. The fact that these same families and communities created these problem kids is rarely mentioned.

I had a lot of kids on my caseload, both as a GAL and a social worker, who had to be sent out to locked facilities. They were too violent and uncontrollable for any Alaskan program to handle.

These kids came into custody with a myriad of problems. They were a virtual cornucopia of letters – FASD, ADD, ODD, ARD… the multiple diagnoses were always the same and always so intractable as to be frightening and exhausting at the same time.

Many of these children came from villages where sexual abuse, domestic violence and alcohol and drugs were rampant. For many, there is no strength to lean on in either their family or their village. How many times did I try to place a child with a relative only to be told that either A. they didn’t want to piss off the parents because they were friends/relatives or B. they didn’t want to be involved with the family because they were violent and would threaten them if they took the children.

So placement in their village is a nice dream but hard to realize.

Placing them in locked facilities here in Alaska while trying to get a good diagnosis and plan for the child’s future falls apart when the family is a constant no-show for family counseling sessions or case planning sessions. Just about every time the child is again disappointed because the family doesn’t keep their word – whether it’s about not showing for a session or a visit – that child will act out and become more intractable and problematic. After all, the only things these kids know for sure is that the world is unpredictable, you can’t count on adults to keep their word and you never know which adults want to hurt you so you are suspicious of all of them.

Keeping a child in this state to keep them connected to their culture is an admirable goal. And many tribal entities work hard to be there for these kids so that they are not lost to them in the future. But that’s a whole different thing than having family support you, show up for you, act as though they even give a damn. And it makes it hard for counselors to develop viable plans when the participation needed for those plans to succeed is iffy at best.

We need to bring our kids home. That’s just common sense. They are our children no matter the color of their skin or the language they speak. But bringing them home under the almost laughable pretense that the same parents that destroyed this child from birth are suddenly going to become parents of the year and participate in their child’s wellness plan is not realistic.

Sometimes parents – or one parent – will surprise you and get sober and work with the program. The very few times this happened in my almost thirty years of doing this work is proof that if parents are sincerely involved and willing to own up to their part in their child’s dysfunction, life can have a happy ending.

But those cases are few and far between. So let’s bring the kids home and work on helping them get through life as best possible. But let’s not hinge those plans on the positive cooperation of the people and places that created the problems in the first place.

One thought on “Sending foster kids away”

  1. Beverly Metcalfe says:

    Absolutely correct. I, like you,worked in several child protection and probation positions in several states. I recently retired from FAP in the military system. I enjoy talking with you one of these days.

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