Opinion | Foster Care: ‘We Must Not Fail More Children’

To the Editor:

Re “Our Foster Care System Is Broken,” by Sixto Cancel (Opinion guest essay, Sept. 17):

Mr. Cancel’s heartbreaking account of his childhood as he traveled among group homes and foster homes is too familiar. It is a tragedy that U.S. policies and services are not designed to adequately support the 2.7 million children growing up in the care of relatives or close family friends.

For each child with relatives in the foster care system, about 20 are with kin, like grandparents, outside the foster care system. Decades of research prove that being raised by loving, supported kin, children have better outcomes than those who live with unrelated foster parents.

Without kin stepping forward to raise these kids, the foster care system would be overwhelmed. So why aren’t we designing a system that supports kin?

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Cancel. We must do everything we can to keep families together. We must work with kinship families to create programs that are responsive to their needs, and increase services and funding for these programs. We must not fail more children, and instead rethink a system that should better serve us.

Donna Butts
Washington
The writer is the executive director of Generations United, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of children, youth and older people.

To the Editor:

In six years as foster parents, we have observed the harmful effects of group homes on children that Sixto Cancel describes. Yet, to lessen the system’s reliance on institutions, we need more licensed foster parents.

It takes time to locate and approve kinship homes. Meanwhile, it’s common for social workers to call us after 5 p.m. seeking immediate placement for a child. Even though the child may be out of the age range we’re prepared to foster, or we have no more beds available, the social workers keep trying because they can’t leave the office until the children have at least a temporary place to sleep.

At the same time the state agency desperately needs more foster parents, it puts up hurdles that can frustrate the ones it has. Foster parents need a stable source of income yet still must have the flexibility to attend review meetings and transport a child to a school that may be miles away. Social workers with large caseloads often fail to return phone calls or pass along relevant information.

The system is failing not only the youth but also the foster parents who want to care for them.

Peter S. Cahn
Donald T. Hess Jr.
Boston

To the Editor:

I first met Sixto Cancel in 2011, soon after I became Connecticut’s commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, when he was a young college student and a budding advocate for youth in foster care. I was immediately impressed by his passion, insight, determination and wisdom well beyond his years.

We remained in contact, and his voice was in my ear as we significantly transformed practices during my eight-year tenure. We embraced a family-centered approach and were guided by the neuroscience of child and adolescent development.

These shifts allowed us to reduce the percentage of children placed in group homes from 29.8 percent to 7.7 percent, increase the percentage of children placed in kinship care from 21 percent to 43.1 percent, all but eliminate the placement of children out of state, close 40 congregate settings, and shift our spending from congregate care to community-based supports and mental health services.

There is certainly more to do in Connecticut and elsewhere in the country. Sixto’s voice is an important one to listen to. I did, and Connecticut has been the beneficiary.

Joette Katz
Stamford, Conn.

To the Editor:

Sixto Cancel details his poor treatment in the foster care system, but his case is the exception.

I served for 13 years as an attorney for the Kentucky foster care agency, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The many social workers I worked with were hardworking and dedicated.

When arrangements were being made to remove a child who was neglected or abused, the parents were always asked for names of relatives who might take the child in. Sometimes parents would not give names of relatives. Other times, parents would give reasons that the relative would not be suitable, such as alcohol or drug addiction. If the relative was satisfactory, the child would be placed there.

The author cites his bad experiences in foster care. Like every population, some foster parents are unsuited to the job. But the vast majority are good and dedicated, loving and caring for children as if they were their own while knowing they may be removed from their home at any time.

I agree that there are still problems in the foster care system. But the system should not be considered broken because of a few bad cases.

David T. Adams
Louisville, Ky.

To the Editor:

Sixto Cancel’s essay paints a damning picture of the state of our child welfare system. One proven intervention that lessens the length of time children and teens spend in care, improves their well-being and academic performance, and increases the odds that they will be reunited with their primary caregivers or find other safe, permanent homes is Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA.

Operating in many communities in almost every state, CASA recruits, trains and supervises lay volunteers who work with individual children and sibling groups to advocate for their best interests while they are in the child welfare system. We need many policy changes to ensure that at-risk children receive the services, attention, resources and opportunities for safety and permanency that they deserve. CASA helps.

Martha Gershun
Fairway, Kan.
The writer is former executive director of Jackson County CASA.

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