Before I go any further let me make this perfectly clear. Children can not consent to sex. Not ever. They NEVER ask for it. They never deserve it. They are never trash, but they are TOO OFTEN powerless to extricate themselves from dangerous situations, especially when the danger lives in their homes be they birth or foster families.
So let's look at some of the reasons that 70% of young men and women aging out of foster care experience incarceration within 3 years and a similar number have "single parent" responsibility for an infant in that same time frame. They also experience high rates of homelessness.
It has been a fairly recent (and far from universally embraced) idea that teens in foster care (who have such low rates of adoption) need and deserve specific training in budgeting, banking, car ownership, finding housing, getting and keep jobs and, all too often as frequent placement changes deeply damage educational opportunities, they have reading and math skills that make acquiring all that challenging. Their only access to computers is often at public libraries or limited service cell phones. They are targets for legal scams like high fee debit cards and pay-day loans, and have little access to legal services when they are dealing with arrests for low-level crimes, with housing or employment discrimination, or with being victims of human trafficking or sexual assault. The amazing thing is that some of these strong, smart, resilient young people find their way out of a quagmire that would flatten most of us.
We need to do a better job of getting all foster care kids access to mental health, physical health, and strong academic resources and it hardly seems reasonable to expect foster parents to bear all this alone. We need to help them identify and stay connected to family and friends in healthy and safe ways.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) does deeply important work, but more ethical and wise volunteers are needed. DFS Caseworkers deserve our covering prayers and thanks because their work is highly stressful, poorly paid and not a little dangerous. And good foster parents can and do literally change lives for the better, but they need and deserve respite care, date nights, and other support too.
Because these are the kinds of things that happen all too often:
- Girls and boys who have been molested and abused do not have ready access to MOCSA/survivor support programs as early intervention resources.
- The older the child is and the more traumatic the "entry event" the more challenges they face in finding long-term placement. Some children have been moved dozens of times in a single year and rarely does that not include disrupted school placements, medical care continuum and survivor support programming.
- Many suffer from PTSD and find it hard to find safe connections in school, church or community especially as they are adjusting to their new normal.
- Many have a parent incarcerated, some in relation to domestic abuse and some for other issues. They still have "connection" to that parent and grieve their loses. Where domestic abuse occurs, residents in the house often understand that there are many contributing factors and rarely is any one adult singularly to blame for all the challenges the child has faced. The more the people in the house turn to drugs to deal with the distress the more damage is done to the child/children and more likely the child is tempted to self-medicate.
- A child who has been molested is especially vulnerable to further abuse at the hands of sexual predators and human traffickers.
Foster care may be related to the child being mistreated by neglect or abuse or both. It can also be a function of having a "single parent" or both parents or other guardians being arrested or incarcerated. It can also be a function of a child having a parent or parents die without having any near relative being able or willing to step in to care for them. I can think of no happy set of circumstances that lead to foster care.
So you have a wounded, frightened child who is a challenge in the foster home, struggling in school, not always welcomed in churches (I speak of this from experience), dealing with physical wounds and mental health challenges related to their status as victims of crime. They may have faced a string of placements that have in no small way added to their struggles, self-doubt, lack of continuum of care in all aspects of their lives, and lacking healthy peer support. Even the best foster families can not fix all this alone and too often see their best efforts being less than enough to insulate their young charges from bad choices.
So the child gets into a little trouble at school and meets all the wrong kids in detention, maybe even including a friendly drug dealer. They attract bullies, abusers, molesters and fellow wounded travelers so it's not too surprising that "status offences start to appear." (These are things like smoking or drinking or being truant from school that are not illegal for adults, but go on a child's juvenile and school records and can affect foster care kids especially seriously.) Before long, frustration and a little self-medication later they shop lift or take a joy ride or become chronically truant and truly don't believe they have anything good to bring to their foster family, school or community. So they get assaulted and, just like school monitors, the legal system has a difficult time figuring out "who started it" and everybody lands in jail. And if there is contraband in a jeans pocket that is another charge.
Hardly surprising that kids being foolish too often leads to kids lured into sex work and drug trafficking. And a person lured into the sex trade is taught early to lie about their status as a minor and they learn no one can protect them from their trafficker, especially when arrests for prostitution do not come with access to legal aid, abuse shelters, or medical evaluations to identify minors. It is not uncommon for trafficked persons to be released from jail directly to their traffickers, as frustrating as I find that.
LOTS to pray about this needed every day. Lots of volunteer and ministry opportunities here. Lots of God's children, our sisters and brothers, need praying mentors and friends. Lots of precious, valuable, children who long to be contributors, yearn for healing, who are needed to be restored for our communities in coming decades.
Come see us at DO Justice Like Jesus. One of our breakout sessions will discuss some of this. Some of our Justice Fair participates have important perspectives to share on this. Join us 29 February 2020 for DO Justice Like Jesus. It can change your life and the lives of the most vulnerable among us.