foster care

(This was written with a British audience in mind but I would think some of the issues are relevant in other countries too)

Over on the The F Word there’s a new post by Amity Reed of Fertilefeminism. I for one am really pleased about this. I really think British feminism has dropped the ball on issues surrounding motherhood and reproductive justice issues other than abortion. In my experience lots of feminists are anti mother and those that aren’t are clueless of the experiences, needs and oppressions of mothers. Feminist meetings and conferences often exclude mothers through price, lack of childcare and location and sometime just by not addressing anything to do with the needs of mothers. Because the mainstream feminist movement in Britain is overwhelmingly middle class white and able bodied even the women within it who are mothers have no idea of the needs and oppressions of working class, BME,[Women of Colour] and disabled mothers

Amity describes how she has

a feeling of exclusion from the ‘mainstream’ ranks of feminism is sometimes strong. Many mothers I have spoken to (both self-proclaimed feminists and otherwise) feel the same way. When an entire conference on reproductive rights doesn’t include a single workshop on birth; when stay-at-home mothers are denigrated for wasting their skills and educations; when so many resources are directed towards fighting strip clubs and lads’ mags but so little towards child poverty; when public spaces and services are made inaccessible and unwelcoming to families; when feminist books devote many more pages to the evils of pornography than the fact that mothers are disproportionately the ones suffering the monumental and adverse effects of the gender pay gap…it’s enough to make many mothers feel they’ve been forgotten by feminism, that their struggles are unimportant or inevitable.

and this is not okay, yes objectification of women is a feminist issues, but why the obsession with it? Why is that such an exclusive thing in the British feminist scene. I have a sneaking suspicion its because of the quick hit activism that it often involves, standing in a street protesting, signing a petition, sticking stickers and inserts in lad mags may make you feel good, like you’ve achieved something but it doesn’t entail getting your hands dirty, it doesn’t involve listening to and supporting real people (it should but that’s a whole other discussion)

there is a growing trend in the UK for young working class women with learning difficulties and/or mental health issues to be threatened with having their child taking away at birth and so few people are talking about this, we should be screaming about this, we should be part of the group that supports these women. We should be talking about how little parents on benefits have to live on, how difficult it is for mothers to go back in to education after they have children. We should be talking about child poverty, about the lack of flexibility in employment. We should be talking about the fact that children are taken into the foster care system when very often what their families needs is extra support (It cost £50,000 to keep a child in the care system for a year, it wouldn’t cost anywhere near that much to support a family in crises to keep them intact.) We should be talking about the lack of housing for families, despite all the empty properties, we should be talking more about the lack of funding in maternity and post natal care, we should be talking more about the fact women’s maternity choices are so often dismissed or curtailed

And at the base line we need to unpack the dominant concept of motherhood and the racism classism and ableism contained within that and the unexamined assumptions of what a good mother is and who deserves to be a mother that come along with it

cross posted from my other blog


I always find myself surprised and infuriated by peoples assumption about my position on adoption. So many people, when they find out I am anti adoption automatically jump to the conclusion that I 1) think children should stay in abusive situations 2)think that DNA is more important than love

I do think family is important, I do think genetics is important, really important actually, but I don’t think its more important than security and nurture. The assumption is always made that I don’t know that children get abused and this drives me crazy. The reason my siblings and I ended up in care in the first place was because of physical abuse and neglect.

So I know abuse happens and I know it has adverse effects on children. I still live with the damage that abuse did to me and I probably always will. I don’t think we should have been left with my mother in the state she was, at the point we were taken away. but the thing is I think if the right sort of intervention happens before that point a lot more families could be kept together.

My mother had very little education and was very probably had undiagnosed untreated schizophrenia and postnatal depression. If she had support with her mental health. if she had access to education, if my father hadn’t been sent in prison things may have been really different.

At the point we were taken in to care my mother was 25 ands had six kids under 11 to look after on her own, that would put a strain on any woman. How much more stressful is that going to be for a woman with no support, with serious mental health issues who is living is extreme poverty?

I think financial support, mental health support, education and community support would cut down on the abuse of children massively and mean that lots of children didn’t have to be separated from their families.

However, I also know that with the best will in the world sometimes it just wont work, sometimes children do need to be separated from their families and I don’t think that they shouldn’t be. Children need to be safe and secure and nurtured and away from abuse. But there are many many ways of dealing with that situation without bringing adoption in to it.

I understand that my actual position on adoption is going to piss people off because people want to believe that adoption is a win/win/win situation for everyone, because people think that middle class white women deserve children no matter what, because people think that our western society is so wonderful that all children should be bought up here. But seriously? Why make dumb assumptions about things I don’t believe. There is no space to have a discussion about this if people insist on setting up straw men.

The guardian recently did an investigation into the state of Britain’s foster care system and unsurprisingly it is an underfunded chaotic mess. I’m sure the people who work with in it absolutely have their hearts in the right place but they are not actually going to make any difference because the whole idea is intrinsically flawed. It all circles round on itself

Children who have been in the care system are far more likely to become teenage parents than their peers. “We struggle a little bit with children in care having children. There is a very negative, repeated cycle – they have ­children, and their children go through the care system again. Being a looked-after child, there is a significant risk of having another child in the care system,” Delores, who has worked as a social worker for 14 years, says.

“We are always quite shocked when young people who have been in the care system have children who get referred to us. I have seen it a lot with children who were in care, in secure units, in foster care or residential care. We have to remove their children because they can’t parent them, they can’t given them ­emotional warmth. They can’t do it.”

Parents who have been through the care system are twice as likely to lose the right to care for their own children – this is just one of many negative indicators about the dismal life chances for children who are looked after by the state.

So it seems Foster care as it is done now is actually more damaging for families and society. It doesn’t break destructive cycles it perpetuates them

I used to think putting more money in the foster care system would fix it and its clear that the foster care system is deeply underfunded:

It is clear from the state of the office carpets that money is tight. The phones are old, the computers are old, there are old grey filing cabinets, pushed together at ugly angles, there are a lot of unhealthy, deadish plants, the walls are covered with stranded spots of Blu-Tack and dried-up sticky tape

Probably training foster carers would make a difference: according to the government website preparation for becoming a foster carer consists of

Once it has been decided you are suitable to become a foster carer, The Criminal Records Bureau will check that you have not committed an offence which would exclude you from fostering. You will also have a health check, to rule out any health problems.

A social worker will then help you fill in an application form and you will be asked to attend a group preparation session with other people who are applying.

Finally your application will be sent to an independent fostering panel, which will recommend whether or not you can become a foster carer. This can take up to six months.

Which seems like less than adequate preparation for supporting and living with traumatised children. But even if foster carers were given excellent training I still don’t think that would be the answer. It wouldn’t solve or remove all the issues that caused the child to be removed in the first place.Every situation in the report involved poverty, mental health issues, addiction or learning disabilities on the part of the parents. So while there does need to be more money spent on supporting families and keeping children safe, instead of putting it into the foster care system why not spend it on rehab programs, mental health support, training and employing people to help parents with learning difficulties/disabilities to look after their children? Why not train would be foster carers as family support workers. Why not set up community support centers? Why not focus on community regeneration?

There will always be emergencies, there will always be situations where children have to be removed from their parents but putting and infrastructure like this in place would cut down enormously on the children being taken into care. It would also support families who need extra support but are under the radar of social services or families who are to scared to ask for social services support because they fear if they do their children will be taken away,

instead of focusing on overhauling foster care having an infrastructure like this would prevent the double trauma of abuse/neglect and then the removal from the family that children in care have to go through.

So something else people often say to me is something along the lines of “so you think those children who would otherwise be adopted should be left to rot in the foster care system?” and then a tirade about how I better be single handedly overhauling the foster care system if I want adoptable children to grow up in it rather than being adopted. This just really brings home to me how much adoption is about commodity, is about adoptable children,is about the adoptive parents needs rather than about the support and nurture of disadvantaged children.

The foster care system sucks beyond belief, I know that, I spent four years in it, my sister grew up in it, I worked within it for three years. But what people are actually saying to me when they rant about how bad the system would be for adoptable children to grow up in is that non adoptable children don’t matter, that children who are too old, or too emotionally disturbed, or of the “wrong” ethnicity or have whatever else “special needs” are disposable, that we don’t need to overhaul the foster care system for them, it’s only the adoptable children we need to worry about.

In the UK the number of children adopted from the foster system is static at about 4% every year . Which means that 96 % of children in foster care don’t get adopted, are we not supposed to be working to make the system better for them or do we just let them rot?

The foster care system is one of the places where the poisoned underbelly of patriarchal racist capitalism exposes itself. Dorothy Roberts on the Pro choice public education web site explains

We should extend our struggle for reproductive justice to challenge the foster care system because it violates thousands of women’s right to parent their children. Most of the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. child welfare system go to removing children from their homes and maintaining them in foster care. Foster care is a political institution reflecting social inequities, including race, class, and gender hierarchies, and serving powerful ideologies and interests. The U.S. child welfare system is and always has been designed to regulate poor families. Most cases of child maltreatment involve parental neglect, which is usually difficult to disentangle from the conditions of poverty. Nationwide, there are twice as many neglected children in foster care as children who are physically abused. The child welfare system hides the systemic reasons for poor families’ hardships by attributing them to parental deficits and pathologies that require therapeutic remedies rather than social change.

Foster care is also marked by shocking racial disparities… The racial disparity in the child welfare system also reflects a political choice to address the startling rates of child poverty in communities of color by punishing parents instead of tackling poverty’s societal roots.

While this is about the American foster care system it describes the UK system as well. The racial disparities in the UK system are not so large but they are still there. According to community

Children from ethnic minority backgrounds are over-represented in foster care: 17% of looked after children are from ethnic minority backgrounds compared with only 13% of the general population. The largest groups of looked-after ethnic minority children have one or both parents with an African Caribbean or African heritage. There are much smaller numbers of children with Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani backgrounds…

A 2004 study found that 70-80 per cent of children who are looked after will have left care within two years, but that children from some ethnic minority groups: African Caribbean, Pakistani, those with one white and one African Caribbean parent, and those in the “any other black” group, were more likely than other groups to stay in care for over four years.(1) The same study followed up the cases of 297 ethnic minority children placed in the 1980s. Fifteen years later, it found that one third had been placed as permanent foster children. An important finding was that children with both parents from a ethnic minority background were more likely to be permanently fostered than adopted.

so it seems to me that all those people who claim that adoption is about the child’s needs should damn well be working to overhaul the foster care system too, firstly by working out why so many kids end up in foster care and putting preventions and supports in place to stop that happening and then for those kids who do end up in care, who really need to be there we need to make sure that it is a safe nurturing supportive place for them whether they are deemed “adoptable” or not. Just because white middle class people do not view a child as consumable, doesn’t mean they are not important.

I am really excited about this! I stumbled across this charity on The One Show

Currently if a family become homeless social services has a legal obligation to take the children into care, which is horrendous, why they don’t have a legal obligation to house the whole family I don’t know

Save the family are a charity that houses and supports homeless families to stop their children being taken into care and teaches them life skills to deal with family life.

As well as being a humane and compassionate way to support people it is also very cost effective. It costs 50,000 pounds to keep a child in care for a year. Save the family can house support and reeducate/train a whole family for slightly less than that. It also will have an enormous positive knock on effect for the economic and social future. According to the After Adoption web site people who have spent time in the care system are sixty six percent more likely to have their own children taken into care. So it’s really important to find ways of supporting families without splitting them up and without taking their children in to care if at all possible

I found these vids about the charity (the presenter is kind of annoying and patronising but they are worth while watching anyway)

like we didn’t already know this

Article in the society section of the guardian: Surge in children taken into care as recession stress takes toll on parents

The recession is being blamed for a massive surge in the number of children being placed in care. Fostering agencies say that local authorities are making record numbers of referrals, partly because rising poverty levels are placing greater pressures on families, with the result that more parents are unable to look after their children.

The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (Tact), the UK’s largest charitable provider of foster care, reports that referrals from local authorities have more than doubled in the past year and attributes a significant part of this increase to the recession. Between April and September, the agency received 5,194 referrals, compared with 2,377 for the same period the previous year.

“During a recession, we see unemployment rise and poverty increase,” said Kevin Williams, chief executive of Tact. “These structural issues will inevitably have an impact on family life. The pressures will cause people to behave in ways they normally would not.

“For instance, they may be more likely to smack their children. Or it could exacerbate mental health issues and trigger drug and alcohol dependency, all of which have implications for child protection.”

So instead of supporting them financially and socially we take their children away because I’m sure that will help them deal with their problems and wont cause their children who get taken into care to have mental health issues