The nation’s foster-care system is overwhelmed. Thanks in large part to the opioid crisis, more and more children have been left without parents or any relatives who can care for them.
Ohio has seen a 19 percent increase in the number of kids removed from parental custody since 2010. California has half the number of foster families it had 10 years ago, even though it has more children who need them. The number of children in foster care in West Virginia went up 24 percent between 2012 and 2016. And experts say the crisis is quickly moving into the Northeast.
Unfortunately, the system, which is currently responsible for some 400,000 children across the country, seems to suffer from the same kind of bureaucratic incompetence that plagues so many of our other government institutions.
Take a recent story by a woman named LouAnn Rieley in the Independent Journal Review. Rieley and her husband have fostered 30 children in her home in Delaware, including kids with severe behavioral issues. After taking a few years off, Rieley and her husband decided to go back to it.
· Six weeks of in-class training.
· ?Thirty hours of computer training.
· ?Mandatory background checks and physicals, which cost the couple hundreds of dollars.
They even, Rieley said, “submitted to having every area of our lives scrutinized by strangers, even our bathroom habits and sexual functioning in our marriage.”
But that wasn’t enough. The couple was barred from hosting any more children because, I kid you not, they live on a farm. Social workers worried kids might fall in the barn and thought horseback riding was “too dangerous.”
Then there are stories like that of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and his wife. They have raised nine children, four of whom were adopted, and served as foster parents to an 11-year-old girl at one point whom they weren’t allowed to adopt because social workers decided they already had too many kids.
The Bevins aren’t alone. One stay-at-home mother I interviewed in Florida who has five children of her own was prevented from taking in foster kids despite the fact that she had the resources — and, clearly, the patience — to handle a large family.
Such rules might be necessary to prevent inexperienced foster parents from getting overwhelmed. But the effect is that the rules often discriminate against families of faith (including the Bevins) who are not only capable of being great foster parents but also see it as their religious duty.
Indeed, while these families are excluded from caring for children in foster care, there are many children languishing in homes that might be dangerous or ill-equipped to care for them.
To remedy the latter, a bill has been proposed in California that would give child-care vouchers to foster parents. The proponents rightly point out that caring for a child — particularly one not old enough for school — can be a real financial burden. In Los Angeles County, for instance, more than half of foster parents are single parents.
Bevin, for his part, is trying to revamp the entire system in his home state: “We’ve made it so convoluted, so bureaucratic, so confusing, so time-consuming, so frustrating, that people finally say, ‘Enough!’?”
This spring he appointed Daniel Dumas as “adoption czar” to try to cut some of the red tape. Since Dumas was an administrator at Louisville’s Southern Baptist Seminary, critics claim that he’ll make the system more likely to discriminate against gay parents who want to adopt or foster. But the truth is that the biggest strides made to fix this system in recent years have been made in faith-based institutions.
Churches are working to find children loving foster homes in their immediate community, which is crucial to ensuring kids get to stay in the same school and retain connections with friends and family. Churches are also recruiting volunteers not only to host children but also to support foster parents — paying for clothes, offering to babysit, taking children to activities and even paying for summer camp and other extras.
These good Samaritans paper over the fact that government bureaucracies seem to be more of a hindrance than a help in too many cases. It’s time we all said, “Enough.”
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.