17. On Their Own: What Happens to Kids When They Age Out of the Foster Care System by Martha Shirk and Gary Stangler
This was an excellent book that chronicled the lives of 10 foster care kids as they were getting ready to age out of the foster care system. It also delved into their pasts describing how they wound up in foster care placement and what had happened to them since entering the foster care system. Most of the stories are incredibly sad. Some of the kids fighting against major odds seemed to be making a go of their lives, but others just seemed doomed to failure. Reading about the things that happened to all of them was really heartbreaking. I’ll give the book a 9 out of 10.
This book and other things I’ve seen and read about the foster care system just makes me so angry about how screwed up it is. The kids that are placed in foster care have already been through so much in the homes they were removed from. Plus they go through the trauma of being taken away from their families. No matter how screwed up a family is, it is amazing how much children want to be with their parents. Then many of these kids get thrown into situations that seem almost as bad as what they left. How can that be I wonder? What kind of system takes you out of a horrible situation just to put you in another one? I know not all foster parents or group homes are bad. Some help their kids thrive, and of course it’s easier to point out the bad ones because it’s more sensationalistic. But really the point is that bad foster care homes should not exist. If the state’s goal is to put the kids into a healthy, safe place then how can they continue placing kids in awful places? How do they not know what is going on? I have never understood the idea of placing a bunch of foster kids in one home unless it is designed to be a group home. How can the state realistically expect one parent or sometimes two to look out for sometimes as many as 10 kids at one time. That is entirely unrealistic and unless a foster parent is taking in a large group of siblings I really think foster care should be limited to 3 foster kids. I really think people that take in that many kids just want the money.
And speaking of just wanting the money, I’ve also read about people who don’t use the money they get to pay for the foster kids. They spend it on themselves and just leave the kids with nothing. One of the girls in the book I read was placed in a home with a bunch of other foster kids where the foster mother would only feed them 2 meals a day and if they missed it they got nothing. Additionally they weren’t allowed to eat snacks in the house even if they spent their own money on them. I have witnessed this in my own personal experience and it’s just so sad. When I was working at a camp for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed kids several years ago, many of the kids were in foster care. One of the boys in my group was obviously falling subject to his foster mother not spending his money on him. His clothes were too small for him and kind of worn out. The saddest though was that on a trip to Six Flags he lost one of his shoes at the water park part of it. We searched all over but never could find it. So the next Monday I was expecting to come to camp with a new pair of shoes, which he needed anyway. Instead he showed up with the remaining shoe from the pair he had and another shoe that didn’t match that was obviously part of an old pair he had outgrown. It was really heartbreaking.
I sometimes think about being a foster parent at some time in the future. It would be a huge commitment and it would mean dealing with a lot of troubled kids. But it would be nice to make a difference and hopefully be a good home for these kids even temporarily. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it, but it’s a thought. Particularly if I do decide I want to have kids, which I’m still unsure of at this point in my life. My body might not be able to handle it. Plus I would have to go off some of my meds to have a baby. One of the side-effects listed on my methotrexate is literally abortion. Nice, huh? So if you take that and decide to get pregnant you have to be off it for at least 3 months, but I still don’t know about that. I guess there is some science that determined that being off it for 3 months is enough to make the chance of birth defects negligible, but if it’s true that women have all the eggs they are ever going to have when they are born, I don’t really see how this drug can’t be affecting all my eggs. So perhaps I should just give a kid who needs a safe and happy home a chance instead of having my own. Who knows? Something to think about for the future.