Unformatted text preview: Erica Goldberger 3984503225 WRIT 140 Suraj Shankar 9-17-07 Assignment 1 Making Foster Care Work "We don't want children in foster care," claims David Sanders, the director of the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. This should not be an issue since no child wants to be in foster care either. But how can these children be helped? Nearly one-third of California children in foster care live in L.A. Last year Governor Schwarzenegger "approved an $82 million boost for foster care and child welfare concerns," which is supposed to go toward "reducing social workers' caseloads, increasing housing and educational opportunities..., and hiring more adoption caseworkers." (Piasecki 3) In addition, part of the 2006 state budget included significant increases in foster care funding, including $8 million that will go to relatives of the children in foster care who take them in, and a $4 million increase in the amount allocated to "transitional housing opportunities" (Piasecki 6) for children being released from the system once they turn 18. However, the L.A. Weekly newspaper recently published an article focusing on the dire experiences of six black and Hispanic teenage boys living in a group home, an alternative to the traditional foster care system. The group home situation relies on the expertise of the caregivers assigned to each home, the quality of therapy received by the residents, and the atmosphere the children are raised in. Although the California government is working to improve the foster care system through funding, when the media focuses on the effects that the group home system has on children of poor minorities, the roots of the problems with California's foster care system are revealed. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Community Care Licensing division are in charge of evaluating the conditions of group homes in Los Angeles to make sure the children are getting adequate care. This includes making "sure the kids have therapy, clean facilities, and qualified caregivers." (Heimpel 2) Judging by the L.A. Weekly article, these qualities seem to be the essence of the group homes, and what the government should be focusing on. While funding will help these qualities of the homes, if there is no one to question how the homes are being run, or to reorganize the programs, then the funding will not help nearly as much as it could. The California foster care system is recognized "as a system in crisis, mainly for lack of a strong, centralized oversight body" (Piasecki 3). A perfect example is the Fostering Our Future Act, which was introduced by Congressman Adam Schiff last year. The bill focuses on helping foster care children in the courts by assigning the children qualified attorneys, and forcing data to be kept on what happens to the youth in foster care. This bill has still not been passed yet, but even if it does, the L.A. Weekly article shows that it does not solve any of the most important problems that children in the foster care system face. The bill may indeed be valuable, but from the way L.A. Weekly portrays the situation, starting at the court level may be skipping a few steps. The Fostering Our Future Act is an important tool in helping the children in foster care, but when the media is focusing on individual experiences in a group home, the power of the courts does not seem relevant. Writing about six boys in a group home individualizes their experience, yet an important similarity of all the boys is their family histories. Nearly all of the boys have landed in the group home because their mothers died in murders or violent accidents related to drugs or gang violence. One boy's mother's boyfriend "beat her to death," (Heimpel 1) one was in a mysterious car wreck, one was suspected to be murdered by members of the Mexican Mafia, one is in prison on gun charges, and all are lacking father figures. The boys talk freely about drugs and fighting in crude language, seeming to emulate the culture that had their mothers killed and landed them in the group home. The boys "share a pain, a rage and angst" (Heimpel 1) at their situation in life, yet they do not seem to want to make an effort to change that condition. In fact, Norma Sturgis, the director of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) believes that "good kids can become worse, if they talk about Harvard or come home with good grades, they often end up getting bullied and ridiculed." Which makes it easy to see why "as many as half of Los Angeles' foster youth become homeless shortly after leaving care...many leave the system without high school diplomas." (Piasecki 2) Not only do the boys not know anything other than south-central Los Angeles, if they try to break out of the cycle respectably they face even more dangers. The foster care system in Los Angeles works for a wide range of children, not only those of poor minorities in dangerous neighborhoods, but when the media focuses on those minorities, it directs attention to their situations, and illuminates how neglected these boys can be. There are success stories of children that go through the foster care system, yet they seem to be more occasional than the horror stories. Although The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) "considers [group homes] one of the lowest rungs on a ladder of options," (Heimpel 2) 18 year-old Queenese, who was put in a group home in Los Angeles after her stepmother tried to abuse her and her father tried to rape her, "found support, therapy, and `the closest think [she] ever had to a mom,'...and was able to graduate from Van Nuys High School." Certainly, Queenese's experience is what the group home system strives to achieve. Queenese found her equivalent to a family, which supported her in her efforts to move up in society. Yet, the L.A. Weekly article describes an experience quite opposite to Queenese's, which brings what is perhaps closer to a worst-case scenario to the public. Similar to the " mother" Queenese found in a group home, Ana McNeil-Lofton is the resident care-giver at the group home in the L.A. Weekly article. McNeil-Lofton talks affectionately of the boys who are then shown "harassing her, calling her nicknames, or throwing stuff in her hair." (Heimpel 2) McNeil-Lofton is described as patient, understanding, and supportive, but she is only with the boys half the time. Sturgis recognizes that "the biggest problem these kids face is a revolving door of caregivers...there is no one responsible for their educational success...the culture of the home can take over." And indeed, the culture of the home is the culture that the kids should be trying to move away from. It is gratifying that L.A. Weekly chose the group home with McNeil-Lofton, rather than a house similar to the first group home of one of the boys, Chris, who talks about how the caregiver allowed the kids to smoke "blunts and dr[i]nk Bacardi." The media chose a home in the worst area of the city, but with average resources, which gives a fair representation of the group home situation in Los Angeles. While the newspaper chooses not to compare the group home to any that may be better, it is clear that there are worse, and group homes are a necessary system to re-evaluate. The lack of qualified and motivated care givers is a huge detriment to the foster care, and especially group home, system. While higher wages should increase the incentive for such caregivers to devote their time to these children, it may not be enough. When they "'just take they anger out on you anyways'" (McNeil-Lofton, Heimpel 2) the social work in inner-city group homes is at once frustrating and dismaying. The fact that the boys are constantly taking their anger out on their care giver, a problem not unique to the one home focused on in the article, in part must be related to the therapy they are receiving. Just as the care-giver assigned to each group home is integral to the chance of success of each child in a group home, the therapy they receive is just as if not more important. The L.A. Weekly article demonstrates that the therapy program within the foster care system is where a majority of the funding from the government should be going. The way the L.A. Weekly article portrays these boys, they are seen as out of control with constant bullying and "assertion of status" (Heimpel 3) through swearing and violent references. These boys play into typical stereotypes of poor blacks and Hispanics living in south Los Angeles, and appear to be in desperate need of a new atmosphere. Yet, it is clear that the whole foster care system keeps these minorities stuck in an ongoing cycle. The parents or relatives do not have enough resources to care for the children, which forces them to be put into the state or city's care. Yet, the system does not have enough resources to really push the children to move up in society. In effect, they can never leave the social class they were born into, and are never truly exposed to an atmosphere other than that which they grew up in. It may not be possible to change where the group homes are physically located in L.A., but the fact remains that although "the homes are meant to be no less than 900 feet apart, South Los Angeles is filled with them." (Heimpel 2) Even if the location of the homes cannot be changed, the L.A. Weekly article seems to suggest that something should be done about getting the boys to experience different sides of the city before they are ushered into a neighborhood gang. It is true that children grow up in bad neighborhoods in every generation. The problems with the foster care system are not new problems, and will probably not go away in the near future. Yet, the way the California government is trying to solve these problems could be altered. The L.A. Weekly article does not go into details about funding or what the government is doing about group homes, nor does it offer any ideas for solutions. In this way, the article allows the public to come up with their own conclusions. The article is almost a narrative, yet its very existence has great effects on the poor and working class blacks and Hispanics that it exposes. In many ways, the article only reinforces stereotypes, yet it also subtly calls upon the public to demand better standards of the foster care system. Other articles have been published about the facts of how much of the budget is allocated to foster care and what the government has to say about the failing system, but the L.A. Weekly puts a face to the children relying on the system, and to the care-givers trying desperately to help children that are being set up to fail. The fact that the California government is beginning to raise foster care on its list of priorities is admirable and imperative. Yet, the government needs to recognize that the system needs actual work, not just money aimlessly thrown at it to truly have a positive impact. Works Cited Heimpel, D.S. "Crossing Hoover." Los Angeles Weekly 22 August 2007. Piasecki, Joe. "No Place Like ...
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This essay was uploaded on 10/22/2007 for the course WRIT 140 taught by Professor Alvandi during the Fall '07 term at USC.
- Fall '07