Foster Care: Protecting Kids Or Harming Them?

This Monday, May 4, 2015 photo shows a drawing by Bre'Ana Henderson, 17, about her family on a desk in a classroom in Los Angeles. Henderson, who was placed in foster care after reporting her mother for child abuse, is a resident at Beachwood House, a group home for foster kids without a home. Among teens in the foster care system, Beachwood is known as the place you go if you’re good. There is no high-security, gated entrance. No 24-hour psychiatrist on staff. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The abuse of children is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies one can imagine. While some ignore the problem, individuals exist worldwide who work to end child abuse through both private and governmental organizations. But what happens when a state-run agency subjects disturbing numbers of children to greater levels of victimization than they typically experience outside of state “care”?

The foster care system was designed to protect children whose families have mistreated them. Agencies such as Child Protective Services (CPS) are charged with rescuing kids from abusive homes. If the family environment is not safe, the children are placed with foster families or in group homes.  Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of the people involved, children in foster care are often subjected to terrible treatment.

The foster care system has a serious problem with various forms of child abuse. While it is difficult to determine the extent of the issue, several studies have turned up worrisome findings. A Johns Hopkins University study found that foster children are four times more likely to be sexually abused than children who are not in the program. Even worse, those in group homes are 28 times more likely to be abused than others.

In states like Washington, Oregon, and New Jersey, abuse in the foster care system has become a concern, with high percentages of children reporting that they have been victimized. In many cases, this abuse occurs because the state’s child welfare programs are overloaded, making it difficult for officials to check on the wellbeing of individuals in the system. Moreover, many foster children do not speak up if they are being abused, out of fear of reprisal.

Liberty Nation spoke with Sharika Soal, an activist and a survivor of child abuse, to gain more insight into the issue.

Soal is a public relations professional who also campaigns on behalf of foster children, motivated by her own experience as a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.

Soal was placed in crisis foster care between the ages of 18 months and four years old. She was then adopted but, at the age of “around six, realized my adopted father was a sexual predator. It never felt like I left a foster home because by seven, I just felt kidnapped because I didn’t like being their kid.”

Unfortunately, telling her adoptive mother about the abuse did nothing to solve the problem, as she was informed that her new father ”was there first.”

Soal is currently working on a documentary that will “show people what life is like after an incident of child sexual abuse and the breakdown of the family.” She is also developing a smartphone app designed to give children the means to report ill-treatment without their abusers knowing. In many cases, adults who are mistreating children prevent them from dialing 911 or otherwise exposing the situation, but the app – which resembles a normal children’s app – will contact emergency services with a pre-recorded message if a child is in danger and has noted their current location for the authorities.

Human traffickers often use disaffected children as sex slaves, and foster kids tend to be their favorite targets. In 2013, 60% of child sexual slavery victims freed by the FBI had been in foster care or group homes.

Foster children are attractive to traffickers because they are often emotionally traumatized and easier to manipulate. These kids do not typically have strong attachments to their foster families, especially if they perceive that their foster parents are only in it for the money. If they are living in an environment that is already abusive, a trafficker can entice children by offering to rescue them from their current predicament.

To combat the lure of sexual predators who operate via the internet, Soal has launched a campaign that would “restrict 13-15-year-olds’ access to certain functions on social media platforms,” as well as pushing for governmental “policy that requires big tech to add social media sex offender bans for people who have been convicted of child sexual abuse (CSA) with minors 16 and under.” Child victims of sex slavery who were in the child welfare program are typically underage minors sold to pedophiles. The average age of child victims of sex slavery is 14. So how can the foster care system address this issue?

The purpose of child welfare systems, as with other government services, is to help as a stopgap measure until they are no longer needed. Therefore, CPS is ultimately supposed to reunite children with their families. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Instead, children are kept in foster care programs for prolonged periods, some even aging out of the system and being forced to go out on their own into the world. But if more resources were applied to an approach that favors reunification, it could make for a healthier environment for these kids.

Some states have worked with the children and their biological parents to create the circumstances necessary for successful reunification. When this happens, the risk of further abuse is drastically decreased, and the children have a much better chance at a productive life.


This article was originally published in Liberty Nation.

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