As families gather for the holidays, some foster children are still struggling to find a way to stay where they grew up.
“There always seems to be a lack of foster homes locally,” said Esther Curtice, executive director of CASA of San Benito (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The nonprofit organization trains community volunteers to provide advocacy, support and resources for children in foster care from San Benito County. “This results in children being placed in counties further away, like Merced, San Joaquin, Monterey, and Santa Clara as opposed to being able to stay in our county. We want them to be able to continue in their same schools and maintain their friendships here rather than dislocate them completely—that is a real difficulty for children placed in foster care.”
Over the previous four years, 117 children have gone into foster care. There are currently 14 children in the program, with eight placed out-of-county and six in-county. Among the most difficult children to place in foster homes are those in their teen years or those with behavioral problems.
“The circumstances that got them placed into foster care are not their fault, but people don’t necessarily want to deal with them as teenagers,” Curtice said. “It is much easier to care for a younger child than a teenager.”
Older children are much more likely to have their own ideas as to how they should behave or what is expected of them, which might clash with their new parents and homes, Curtice said.
“Part of the issue is that teenagers have a voice of their own. And often it is because they have lived a life that has not been emotionally healthy or normal or safe before they were placed in foster care. They might be opposed to certain restrictions, they might want to have a greater voice in how they live, or they might not like the rules of the house. It makes it more difficult for them and the foster parent.”
At times, the conflict between the foster child and foster parent can lead to a revolving door of new placements as previous ones do not work out.
“There have been numerous cases where the personalities between the foster parents and the children don’t match,” Curtice said. “There might be expectations from either side that are not met. When things do not work out, the child needs to be placed in a different home. Something that is more suitable for them.”
Children are put into foster care when they are not living in ideal circumstances at home. They may be neglected or abused by their parents or guardians, so for their own safety, Heath and Human Services or Child Protective Services will step in and remove them. They are kept in foster homes until the parents are able to meet the goals necessary to be reunited with their children.
“Often children are removed because of addiction in the family,” Curtice said. “The parent might also have problems with mental health, like anger problems. The children need to be removed because they are no longer a priority for the parent. A case plan is laid out by social services describing what the parent has to do within a certain time frame to be able to regain custody.”
After custody is reestablished, the home goes through a family maintenance program to make sure the transition goes smoothly. That could include family therapy or further outpatient treatment for a troubled parent.
“We need everybody back to doing what they need to do by the end of the process,” Curtice said. “That would be a success story—but it would take anywhere from six to 12 months.”
If the child cannot be successfully reunited with their family, other arrangements have to be made.
“If the parents have not accomplished their goals,” Curtice said, “we need to start looking at other opportunities for that child. Perhaps they would be adopted or there might be someone else they can stay with who is related to them. If that fails and the child is not adoptable, then the child would stay in long term foster care. That would be a failure for us in my opinion.”
The scarcity of foster parents in San Benito County means that children who are harder to place end up being sent outside the region where more parents are available. That is something Curtice would like to see change.
“We do need more people wanting to become foster parents,” Curtice said, “We encourage people to consider becoming foster parents, to open their house to one of these children. But they do need to be open to understanding that not all children are perfect. Some of them have issues because of where they are coming from or how they grew up. Potential foster families need to be open to that and understand there might be issues we need to help the child with.”
Joshua Mercier, deputy director of Children and Adult Services for San Benito County, said there is an ongoing shift in the county away from traditional foster homes to the idea of resource homes.
“Since 2015 we have become less reliant on foster family organizations outside the county,” Mercier said. “The goal is to certify resource homes locally, which specifically cater to children who have been removed, so that when kids come into care we do not have to place them outside their county of origin. We want to keep our kids here. But we struggle to keep enough local homes.”
For some children, staying local is critical to being rehabilitated back into their homes.
“The challenge is that children need to see their parents,” Mercier said. “They need to have visitation. They need to receive services for any trauma they may have experienced. We have found the farther away they are from their families and county of origin, it makes things a lot harder.”
The problem goes back to what to do with children who are harder to place, such as teenagers, if not enough local people are available to step in to help.
“We have people locally who tell us the demographics of what they are looking for as far as children,” Mercier said. “They will say they want newborns or toddlers, and we have to respect that. But we still have the kids who are school-aged. And if we do not have a resource family that can take a school-aged child, and we can’t find a foster agency locally that can help us, that really ties our hands. Then the children end up far away, which is not the result we want for them.”
Both Mercier and Curtice encourage people who might be interested in caring for a displaced child to look into the programs and what it takes to be a foster parent or a resource home.
“What you want to do is find permanency for these children as quickly as possible with as little displacement as possible,” Curtice said. “Everybody wants to belong somewhere and to somebody. When a child does not have that opportunity to bond or belong to someone, it is just not healthy for them.”
For those interested in becoming foster parents/families, contact San Benito County Health and Human Services, Resource Family Approval team at (831) 636-4382 or visit https://hhsa.cosb.us/
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