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Abuse in Government Care

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Abuse in Government Care

It is unfortunate that in our society some children grow up without the opportunity of having a loving family to raise them. More unimaginable is children growing up with parents or family members that are abusive. Children raised in abusive environments that are reported to social services and removed from their home are placed into foster care. Foster care is defined supervised care for delinquent or neglected children usually in an institution or substitute home set up by the government. Some advocates claim that the government child care system is adequate, but others like David Van Biema of Time Magazine state that, "foster care is intended to protect children from neglect and abuse at the hands of parents and other family members, yet all too often it becomes an equally cruel form of neglect and abuse by the state (Biema)." There is substantial research that looks deeper into the foster care system. It reveals that abuse in foster care is a big enough problem that it needs to be addressed, but what changes can or should be made?

Government statistics, newspaper articles, and thorough research projects have been completed to answer the question, "is there a problem in the foster care system?" The results have revealed that a serious problem exist within foster care in the United States. At any given time there are approximately 542,000 children in the foster care system (Dept of Health). This number continues to rise each year. In 2001, 290,000 children entered into foster care, while only 263,000 children left the system (Dept of Health). Of the 263,000 children that left foster care in the year 2001, 31% were in care for over two years (Dept of Health). Nineteen percent of those children were in foster care for one to two years (Dept of Health). Two years is an unacceptable amount of time when taken into consideration that between the ages of 8 and ten are critical developmental years in a child's life. The average age of the a child leaving the foster care system in 2001 was 10.2 years old (Dept of Health). The amount of children per foster home at any given time is another problem. The average number of children per home in the foster care system is 3.7, which is up from 1.4 in 1983. Although 3.7 children is an average per home, there are claims that tens of thousands of homes have 5 - 8 children at once (Cohen). Raising eight to five children, all from different backgrounds, family histories, and personal struggles is a hard task to handle. These children need a lot of attention and care so that they may live as normal a life as possible and learn to overcome the obstacles their lives will be presented with, goals such as these are hard to obtain with five to eight children in a home. With such large numbers it is not surprising that there is a median of 10.3 percent of children who reentered the foster care system within 12 months of discharge in the year 2000 (Dept of Health).

The effect of our present foster care system is disastrous. Children are forced to move from one foster home to another, suffering abuse and neglect that cause the children to develop harsh psychological damage, severe behavioral problems, and suicidal thoughts, as shown in the story of on foster boy named Terry:

Terry's story is in many respects typical of the plight of America's 500,000 foster children. He entered foster care at the age of one after he was found with his five siblings suffering from frostbite in an unheated home, his mother in a drug-induced sleep. When he was five, he and two of his siblings were adopted by a foster family. To hear adoption proponents of today tell it, this should have provided the happy ending to Terry and his sibling's travails. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a long journey through the labyrinth of the child welfare system. Terry and his siblings had to be removed from their new home due to extreme abuse and neglect after the subsequent death of abuse of his five-year-old adoptive brother. Thereafter followed a sequence of sixteen placements, during which Terry began to exhibit increasingly serious behavioral problems. By the time he turned 11, Terry was placed in a residential facility where he began making suicidal comments, saying that he wanted to go to heaven to be with his deceased adoptive brother. He left the facility during severe thunderstorms without any shoes on. When he was found, he had to be hospitalized for over a month. He has since been diagnosed as suffering from the psychological effects of the extreme abuse and neglect he had suffered while in various placements, complicated by a lack of permanence over his ten years in government custody. The child welfare system responsible for Terry has since been held in contempt for failing to comply with a court-ordered consent decree, and has created an internal receivership to help move toward compliance, thanks to the efforts of the private advocacy group Children's Rights, Inc. For Terry, there came a happy ending. He has recently been adopted by a warm and stable family. But it took years of difficult and costly litigation to bring about this result. (Thoma 1-2)

Neglect and emotional abuse is not the only problems troubling children in foster care. More often than not the abuse escalates beyond neglect and becomes physical, as in the story of Clayton and Kelly Miracle.

The state of Georgia placed Clayton and Kelly Miracle in foster care with Betty and Joe Wilkins in June of 1993. Two months later paramedics would arrive at the foster home in response to a 911 call, finding Clayton barely breathing, with two large knots on his head, one in the front and one in back. Clayton died as a result of blunt force trauma to his head. The doctor who performed the autopsy testified that Clayton's fatal injuries could not have been caused by an accidental fall and that injuries and bruising found all over Clayton's body were consistent with battered child syndrome. Doctors also examined Kelly and found the same pattern of bruising. (Thoma)

Along with receiving physical abuse from the foster homes children often are exposed to extreme sexual abuse. "A Sacramento, California man was charged last December with raping and murdering one of his three foster children, a 16-year-old girl. He was arrested after holding the other two children at gunpoint during a standoff with police." (Thoma) Along with being exposed to physical and sexual abuse by foster care givers, abuse is often received from other children in foster care.

In the District of Columbia, social workers removed four of Debra Hampton's children from her home placing them in foster care. According to the testimony of a social worker, the children were removed because Mrs. Hampton had left them alone and was not properly supervising



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