Respite Care

Caring for displaced children can be taxing on the individuals caring for them. This may be a factor that deters people to become foster parents, further contributing to the issue of foster children not having adequate places to live. An existing solution to this problem is respite care; however it is in need of some improvement. Respite care is a secondary home for foster children; this is set up in such a way that the children are placed in a primary foster home where they reside most of the night, but they will temporarily stay with another approved care giver for a few days in a month – depending on the needs of the foster children and parents. This is a very healthy solution, as it gives the foster parents a break from full time care of someone with intensive needs (foster parents are not allowed to hire babysitters), and it gives the foster children a secondary role model to offer them support and compassion. The issue lies in that respite care is not readily available to most foster families; we spoke to a respite caregiver who told us that the primary foster parents of the children she cares for had to fight to receive respite care for just one weekend a month! This is unfortunately the case in too many circumstances – there are very few people available to give respite care, so it only goes to the most extreme cases. Many people do not even know such an option exists. Respite care may be a much more attractive option to those wanting to help displaced children, but cannot dedicate the time and resources into being a full time foster parent, and by increasing awareness of the option of respite care and recruiting more nurturing and supportive respite parents will strengthen the foster care system and allow these children to become successful.

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Solutions

Education

One of the reasons there are so few foster parents is the lack of education about foster care and lack of promotion. Foster Care is stereotyped as terrifying and difficult. Many people who would make wonderful foster parents shy away because they are told again and again that it will be too hard to handle and they will not be happy. Educating on the reality of foster care helps destroy these poor stereotypes that keep so many potential foster parents away.

Educating on the reality of foster parenting, what it requires, and what methods to use to help foster children takes away the fear associated with foster parenting. A knowledgeable foster parent is not afraid and is educated in how to best deal with any problems their foster child may be experiencing.

Implementing programs and workshops to help educate potential foster parents and those curious about the foster system can negate harmful stereotypes and promote foster parenting.

 

Budgeting 

One of the many flaws of the foster system is the lack of money. A higher salary could draw in more qualified foster parents and help foster parents take the best possible care of their foster children. With a higher salary, foster parents can put their foster children into sports and after school programs, rather than having to budget what little they are given into basic necessities like food and clothing.

 

 

Foster Home, Group Home, or Orphanage?

When a child’s home proves unfit, they can be taken into the foster system for a period of time and live in a more suitable environment – hopefully only until their original guardians are better equipped to parent. This process of relocating can prove challenging for children of different needs. First and foremost there is a general lack of foster homes, as well as the challenge that whilst some children need full-time care, foster parents are not paid a sufficient wage and therefore must work in a different career. Children in the foster system are categorized into three levels: level one children are typical to most children, aside from the trauma they endured in their home resulting in their removal; level two children pose a somewhat greater challenge upon their caregivers due to developmental or health issues that interfere with their daily life; level three children are children with significant challenges that require constant attention, and cannot function in their daily lives without assistance. The higher the level, the more difficult it is to home a child, as many people cannot afford to tend to the needs of these children full time without additional income. Another option, usually reserved for higher need children, is a group home; these are places which house multiple children who are monitored by a person who is employed solely to tend to their needs twenty four hours a day. This is a better option as this individual will be paid a reasonable salary and, thus does not need an additional job and can dedicate their time entirely to the children in their care. A Group home differs from an orphanage in that the children will all have their own living space, and there will be far fewer people living there. Orphanages are no longer considered a viable option to house foster children, as they encourage peer dependency in young children, limits the attention and care they can receive, and ultimately destroys their chances of flourishing on an individual level. Though there are of course faults and not all homes are suitable, foster homes and group homes offer a stable environment for displaced kids to grow and succeed in spite of the hardships they may have endured early on in life.

Flaws in the System: Lack of Funding

The most discussed and most clearly evident issue in the foster care system is the lack of funding. The main issue with funding is the low wages provided to foster care parents. The low wage (averaging to only $30 a day) is incredibly difficult to raise a child on. Foster parents need to be paid more for what is considered a full time job; this is particularly true for the “ideal” foster parent, with a background in psychology, social work or counselling. These ideal foster parents would require an even higher wage than “regular” foster parents because of their experienced background. The shortage of foster parents  – another detrimental flaw in the foster care system – stems directly from the low wage. It is not a job one can live adequately off of, and thus the ideal foster parent is turned off, despite good intentions, as they can easily get a higher paying job and not save themselves the apprehension of living and providing for other human beings off of so little money. The low wage is a turn-off particularly for potential foster parents who already have a family to support.

Controversially, many consider one of the greatest flaws of the foster system is that many foster parents are ineffectual and only pursued foster parenting to provide a wage for themselves. Individuals who consider these poor foster parents the system’s greatest failing would question raising the wage to give these people more money. However, the low wage in relation to inadequate and self-driven foster parents is already a problem. One would need to severely neglect their foster child in order to make a profit off of foster parenting. This low wage does not deter poor foster parents, but rather lowers the quality of life for children who are already neglected and mistreated.

 

Flaws in the System: Lack of Data

According to Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada, the best estimate of the number of children in foster care is between 76,000 and 85,000 children. This blatant lack of data means there is no way for the provinces which fund foster care and stake decisions on statistics and data can compare themselves in order to determine the best practices. Dudding stated that “It’s impossible to create good policy without good numbers.” 

This lack of data has an effect on the money provided to foster parents, and thus, the overall success of the foster care system. Foster care parents tend to receive between $23 and $30 per day, depending on province and the age of the child. But raising a child on $30 a day is a feat in and of itself, let alone a child who has been neglected or abused, and has issues with forming attachments  and adapting.

 

Flaws in the System: Lack of Foster Homes

One of the main reasons so many foster homes are insufficient or flawed is the lack of foster homes. Some children have to be placed in inadequate homes because there are not enough exceptional homes to support them. Foster homes that are inherently flawed and do not pass all the necessary qualifications remain open because there are so few homes to support the number of foster children. Many children are placed in hotel rooms with a care-worker until a home with space can be found. Others are placed in homes which are over the allowable number of children, which poses safety and surveillance issues. In fact, the welfare system is so desperate for caregivers, according to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (B.C.’s representative for children and youth), that some caregivers with criminal records involving sexual offences are being used. According to Bev Wiebe, a Winnipeg-based social services consultant and trainer specializing in foster care and child welfare, some children are being placed in foster homes in which the necessary extensive criminal record checks have not been completed. According to Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada, the dwindling number of families willing to help troubled youth is a problem that is getting worse, not better.

Foster System + Criminology Theories

Labeling Theory 

“You are who people say you are.” 

 Labeling Theory explains criminal career formation in terms of destructive social interactions. People are given a variety of symbolic labels in interaction with others and these labels imply a variety of behaviour and attitudes. For example, the label “foster kid” implies neglected, unloved, and lonely. “Abused” implies that one is damaged and even unfixable. Labels affect how one acts in society and their ability to achieve goals; a “foster kid” then views oneself as unloved and worthless, unable of achievement or progression. Because the implications of this label are so heavily enforced upon these individuals, they feel they cannot find a loving home, or be anything but a damaged loner in society.

 

Anomie Theory – Defense Mechanisms 

Anomie Theory outlines the social roles people adopt in response to cultural and structural pressures.

  • Conformity: non-deviant adaptation where people continue to engage in legitimate occupational/educational roles despite environmental pressures toward deviant behaviour; acting in accordance with socially accepted conventions/standards; accepting and striving for the cultural goal of material success by following institutionalized means
  • Innovation:  acceptance of cultural goal but rejection of institutionalized means; movement into criminal or delinquent roles using illegitimate means to achieve success
  • Ritualism: overconformity; the pursuit of the cultural goal of success is rejected or abandoned and compulsive conformity to institutional norms becomes the end in itself
  • Retreatists: the rejection of both cultural goals and institutionalized means; complete escape from the pressures and demands of organized society; escape mechanism wherein the individual resolves internal conflict between moral constraints against the use of illegitimate means and repeated failure to attain success through legitimate means
  • Rebellion: reject the goals and means of the established society and actively attempt to substitute new goals and means in their place; publicly acknowledge intention to change norms and social structure in order to build a better, more just society

Children shifted from abusive homes to foster care are subject to a great deal of change. In order to cope, they often employ one of these defense mechanisms. In order to fit in and be successful, many children will reject deviance and Conform to “normal” society. They learn the socially accepted standards and strive for success despite their difficult and damaging upbringing. Other children turn to Innovation in order to cope: they embrace the goal of success, but do not conform to “normal” society. They use deviance and criminal behaviour in order to pursue success. These children may lie, cheat, steal or use other immoral means in order to achieve success. Others still do the opposite, Ritualism, and reject the goal of success due to past failure and damaged upbringing, but manage to conform to social norms. These children do not believe they will be successful, but do not act out or deviate into criminality. Ritualists and Conformers “fit in” with normal society.

Retreatists and Rebellers do not fit into “normal” society. Foster care children who are retreatists neither embrace the goal of success or follow institutionalized means to achieve it. They are torn between using criminal deviation to achieve success and using legitgimate means to become successful. Rebellers reject both society’s goals and institutionalized means. They substitute society’s goals for their own and pursue their goals through any means they deem just.

 

Freud – Defense Mechanisms

Freud’s defense mechanisms outline the way one copes with distress.

  • Repression: unconscious mechanism employed by ego to keep disturbing/threatening thoughts from becoming conscious
  • Regression: movement back in psychological time when one is faced with stress
  • Displacement: satisfying an impulse (like aggression) with a substitute object
  • Reaction Formation: behaving in a way that is opposite to one’s true feelings

 

 

Bandura – Social Learning Theory

“We learn by example.”

Children of abusive parents can become abusive parents themselves

  • Attention: to learn, one must be paying attention; presentation that improves attention involves being simple, distinctive, prevalent, useful, positive; message of physical/sexual abuse is simple, prevalent
  • Retention: must be able to remember; later, can bring up images and reproduce behavior; abuse can leave physical remains -> difficult to forget
  • Reproduction: have to have ability those images to begin with; ability to imitate improves with practice
  • Motivation: have to be motivated to do it in the first place; intrinsic reason to want to copy it

 

BF Skinner – Reinforcement

Human action is dependent on consequences of previous actions. If the consequences are bad, there is a high likelihood that the actions will not be repeated; however, if the consequences are good, the actions leading to it are more probable. The use of reinforcement to strengthen behaviour is known as Operant Conditioning.

  • Neutral Operants: responses from environment that neither increase/decrease probability of behaviour being repeated
  • Reinforcers: responses from enviro. that increase likelihood of behaviour being repeated (+/-)
  • Punishers: responses from enviro. that decreases likelihood of behaviour being repeated; punishment weakens behaviour; abusive actions
  • Positive Reinforcements: strengthens behaviour by providing consequence an individual finds rewarding
  • Negative Reinforcements: take something away; negative, but BENEFITS you

Objective

ISSUE: Poor parenting can lead to deeply damaged children; foster care is an insufficient solution.

GOAL: To use Sociological Theories to explain the problem and to orchestrate a solution to secure the safety and well being of as many children as possible: both through improvements to the foster care system and procedures which ensure birth parents are capable of caring for their children.

CURRENT FINDINGS: Great numbers of children enter foster care with serious physical health, mental health, or developmental problems in the years in which brain development is the most active. Some of the most detrimental development issues which often occur with children placed in foster care at a young age include the consequences of abuse and neglect on early brain development, and the challenges of establishing a child’s attachment to caregivers. A stable, nurturing environment in the early years of life (or lack thereof) are critical in the short- and long-term development of a child’s brain and their ability to participate in society. The psychological consequences of abusive parenting can range from chronic low self-esteem to severe dissociative states. The consequences of abuse range from poor peer relations all the way to extraordinarily violent behaviors, and thus the effects abuse and neglect affect not only the victims themselves, but the society in which they live. 

The foster care system in Canada is inherently flawed. Children are being placed in homes which host over the allowable number of children, or homes which were not adequately screened. In remote areas, some social workers are not getting access to necessary criminal records in order to properly screen homes. Data has shown that children who spend time in foster care are less likely to finish high school, and of the youth that age out of foster care, 70% say they want to attend college but less than 3% of them achieve a bachelor degree. Youth who attended foster care are greatly over-represented in the criminal justice system.