What It Feels Like to Be in Foster Care Event by Jeanette Yoffe, Former Foster Youth-Adoptee
During May’s National Foster Care Awareness Month, on Thursday, May 18th we had a special screening of a film that educates what foster children go through and what it will take to make a difference in their lives.
Two Los Angeles Nonprofits, Angels Nest TLP and Celia Center Inc., co-hosted the “What It Feels Like to Be in Foster Care” event, which aimed to raise awareness and offer solutions for handling the foster care crisis in Los Angeles. LA is home to 33,000 foster children, the largest foster care population in the United States, according to the Children’s Law Center of California.
To better understand what foster children go through, the event will screen the foster care documentary, “Breaking the Cycle.” After the screening, there was a panel discussion with the film’s director, Angels Nest TLP Executive Director, Arzo Yusuf, Celia Center Inc. Founder and Clinical Director, Jeanette Yoffe, and Connect Our Kids‘ Outreach Director, Georgette Todd, who is featured in the film. Jeanette and Georgette grew up in foster care and are authors of books on the subject.
Also featured were special performances by Storyteller, Raymond McDonald, and Singer/Songwriter, Jenni Alpert—artists who have experienced foster care. A special thank you to Natalie Simpson for working the book table.
Here are questions that were raised during the event…
What are the Current statistics on Foster Care today?
There are over 391,000 foster children in the USA.
63% of the children who enter foster care remain in the system for up to 2 years, on average, they experience 3 placements.
Of the children in foster care, just 23% of those in care for at least 12 months received any mental health services. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Approximately 30% to 40% of children in foster care receive services through Special Education.
Recent studies suggest that up to 80% of children in foster care have significant mental health issues.
Foster Children have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems, and more often had physical, learning, or mental health conditions that limited their psychosocial functioning.
Why do kids end up in foster care?
Physical, Mental, and sexual abuse, physical neglect, abandonment, orphaned by a parent, death of a parent, and/or unavailability of a parent due to alcoholism, drugs, or imprisonment and poverty.
Neglect is the biggest predictor for children entering the system, 27% in LA County of children are neglected.
What are the Mental Health Challenges of being in care?
There is a range of mental health issues that are evident among children in foster care clustered into 3 groups:
- Anxiety Disorders: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Depressive Disorders: major depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation.
- Attachment Disorders: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders, conduct disorders, eating disorders, autism, and schizophrenia.
If Mental Health Support is left untreated what can this lead to?
Addiction: Sexual, Substance Abuse, or Obesity
Suicidal Ideation: Foster youth are 3-5 times more likely to commit suicide than same-age peers, two and a half times more likely to think about possibly committing suicide, and four times more likely to make a suicide attempt (source: National Center for Prevention of Youth Suicide).
Violence: Acting out, not being self-aware, and projecting out to the world how unsafe the world feels. Feelings that everyone is attempting to inflict more pain.
PERSONALITY DISORDERS, the most difficult to treat- become ingrained in the person’s psyche and need more specialized treatment i.e. Borderline Personality D.O., Narcissistic, Antisocial, Paranoid, Obsessive Compulsive, Avoidant Pers D.O., OR Dependent Pers
This is why early intervention is CRUCIAL. We believe all kids in care need therapy even if they APPEAR TO be OK “Just because they are not actively talking about their experience, does not mean they are not actually thinking about it.”
What do children and youth in care need?
Attachment, Safety, Stability, & Trust building.
Children in foster care can attach with a secure, regulated, and consistent attachment figure. The brain has plasticity. These children do have the ability to change with consistent, secure, safe attachment figures.
They need a stable parental figure who “will not give up” on them but stick with them. “It is through attachment that we achieve our basic sense of self.”
The stigma with Foster Care today is there is an assumption that Foster Kids will not get better, they are fated to “act out” but this is false.
We need to understand, and take responsibility and see that we need to change to better fit their needs and understand their “acting out” are learning to meet their “unmet needs” for attention.”
Using the trauma lens metaphor: When Foster Youth act out, we often see “What’s WRONG with them? Why won’t they behave like everybody else?” As opposed to seeing them through a TRAUMA LENS that asks and responds with: “What happened to them?”
Trauma is not set in their skeletal circuitry, when a child is able through a secure relationship, to heal their losses and create a narrative of their life with another person they can bear their past experiences.
“what’s shareable becomes bearable.”
One mentor can provide that “seed of resilience”, a sense of belonging, a person to turn to for help, guidance, and support.
What Needs to Be Done to Reduce Mental Health Issues in Foster Care?
- STABILITY of ATTACHMENT: Mental and behavioral health requires the presence of at least 1 nurturing, responsive caregiver who is stable in the child’s or teen’s life over time. this POPULATION needs more “time IN” with the child so we can learn to find out what’s going on in their life emotionally and psychologically. Attachment parenting is a must!
- STABILITY OF CONNECTION: Becoming a CASA Advocate, a MENTOR, a FOSTER PARENT, and extended Family Members need to get involved.
- STABILITY IN ROUTINE: Children and teens thrive when their families have routines, structure, and reasonable expectations; and parents display warmth and nurturance. Consistency and reliability breed security.
- STABILITY OF FAMILY CONNECTIONS: We need more involvement of extended families in their children’s lives, so they know where they come from and can integrate their ethnic, cultural, and racial heritage.
- STABILITY OF FOCUSING ON THE FAMILY’s STRENGTHS: We could partner BETTER with birth parents and older children/teens in foster care to identify family strengths that can become the foundation of healing for all.
What are the Future Calls to Action for the FOSTER CARE SYSTEM?
- Increase access to Mental Health treatment for youth in care/alumni via outreach, support and education.
- Extend foster care to age 21 to help ensure that young adult mental-health needs are met through state-funded mental health treatment.
- Provide thorough mental health screening, assessment, and treatment of children and adolescents in foster care on a yearly basis for all youth in care.
- Provide specialized universal Foster Care Competent trainings to ALL therapists working in foster care to increase their capacity to identify & treat these Mental Health challenges.
- Establish coordination and bridge collaboration among all systems involved in services of care: DCFS WORKERS, COURTS, SCHOOLS, GROUP HOMES, CORRECTIONAL