A parent goes into the hospital and is unable to care for a child. A child is found to be a victim of sexual or physical violence and taken from a home. A parent gets into trouble with the law.
These are some of the many reasons why are children in Massachusetts are placed in emergency foster care. A placement generally begins with a phone call. From there, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families works with partner organizations including CHD to place the child in a new residence as soon as possible.
There were 8,590 Massachusetts children placed in foster care in 2013, the most recent year data was available. About 4 of 5 children were placed with families, and the other 1 in 5 were placed in group homes or specialized care facilities.
If you think a family based environment is better, you’re right. A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation concluded that children do better when placed in single-family homes. According to the report, “Group placements often remove children from the familiar routines of school, neighborhood and activities, and siblings are likely to be separated, especially if they are of different genders. Some of these group facilities were never intended as places for a child in crisis to stay for more than a night or two, but they have morphed into residences of last resort.”
So family care is better, but you may not realize that it’s also less expensive than a group placement. In fact, it’s A LOT less expensive. The Foundation estimates that group placement of children costs 7 to 10 times more than placing a child with a family.
It’s crystal clear that every effort should be made to ensure that children needing foster care are placed in a foster family, and CHD does exactly that. We are constantly looking for stable and caring families where children can find shelter and nurturing when a need arises. Last year, we worked with about 240 families, mostly in greater Springfield, and we’re working to extend our network further into Hampshire and Berkshire Counties.
Not surprisingly, before a child can be placed with a family, prospective foster parents go through an intensive screening process. That typically takes five to six months. Yamilca Nogue, who is a homefinder for CHD, explained that process to me. One word she used was “invasive.” After completing an application, the family has its home checked by a social worker, and it’s not just checking for sufficient room for children and working smoke detectors. CDH checks everything: languages spoken, security, parking, neighbors, food on hand, running water, and lots more.
If the home passes inspection, all members of the household over 14 years old must pass a background check. If all in the home pass, prospective parents take a multi-week training course. Even after all that, even after being approved, Yamilca explained to me that the most important factor in fostering is wanting to do it. Families have to want to provide that stable, nurturing environment for a child, whether it’s for several weeks or just overnight. They have to want to be there for a child.
These youngsters require a lot of support: working with their school, getting to and from school, getting to appointments with doctors or other health care providers, and other number of other things that any child would need. Above all, they need to feel supported at home. This can be challenging at times, especially since foster parents must be willing to allow children to remain in contact with their birth families because the goal in most cases is for the child to return home.
In talking to Yamilca, I’ve learned that there is no “perfect” family for fostering. Some are married, others are single-parent families. Some are young while others have grown children. Some are gay, some are straight and all come from a wide variety of ethnicities. Foster parents are needed especially for children of color, those who don’t speak English as a first language, sibling groups, children with special needs, and older children and teenagers.
I want to read something for you, something that CHD received from Joshua Rodriguez. When Joshua was 15 and in a state of crisis, Yamilca helped to connect him with a foster family. Listen to his words.
“OMG, Yamilca Nogue is one of the MOST incredible people I met in my life. She is very inspirational and always was there when I needed her. The first time I met CHD it was nerve wracking not knowing where I was going but when I met Yamilca she didn’t just treat me like another child walking through the doors. I was treated special every second I was there. It has been about three years I’ve known CHD I’m 18 now and they were the one of the best things to ever happen. And if you are reading this Yamilca, thank you and CHD for everything. I love you guys.”
Joshua has since “grown out” of foster care. He’s an adult, a young man in college studying to be a nurse. He’s got his own place. He’s doing well, really well.
Joshua is one example that shows that family-based fostering works, and there are hundreds more. And as the Annie E. Casey Foundation concluded, family-based fostering costs less than placing kids in a group home. Family foster care makes sense and saves dollars. Why wouldn’t you do it like this?