Local Agencies Help Foster Children Find a Sense of Belonging
● By Kristen Castillo
At 14-months-old, Lilliput Children’s Services placed her with the Bullocks, a family who fought to keep her, even after Destiny’s mother was released from jail and wanted custody. Her birth mother “was unable to prove to the court that she could provide and take care of me,” says the 22-year-old, who was eventually adopted by the Bullocks and now lives in Citrus Heights.
While Destiny forgets most of her childhood, one thing stands out: “I remember having a close bond with my family, especially my mom, Peggy,” she says. These days, Destiny is happy and eager to get rid of foster care’s stigma. “Being a foster child doesn’t automatically make one bad or damaged,” she says, explaining kids need good role models and a positive environment. “The key is to surround children with strong role models who can build [them] up and teach them how to be a good person,” Destiny says.
Being in foster care isn’t easy. Children are separated from loved ones, friends, schools, teachers and everything they know. “It’s very scary for a young person—they are typically removed from their home suddenly, by a stranger, and with little understanding of why,” says Dr. Laura Heintz, PsyD, chief executive officer at Stanford Youth Solutions in Sacramento. “Then they await placement or go to a shelter. Wherever they go, it’s different than [what] they know. It’s hard to have a sense of belonging.”
Heintz explains kids in foster care also face emotional family visits, as well as court hearings. Life feels “unpredictable and it’s very hard for them to trust adults,” she says, noting if kids can make a connection, it’s devastating when those adults—such as social workers—leave the child’s life.
Many kids get reunited with their birth parents, but others remain in the system. The median number of months in foster care for kids in California is 14. Of the kids who entered in the first half of 2012, one year later, 39 percent were reunified with their families and 58 percent remained in foster care.
“There are far more children in foster care that need a permanent, adoptive home than there are families available to adopt them,” says Elizabeth Morabito, community relations manager at Lilliput Children’s Services, noting Lilliput recruits foster families who are also committed to adoption. “In California, about 10,000 children are not going to return home and need to be adopted today”; and as kids get older, getting adopted becomes less likely. Last year, nearly 2,000 youth “aged out of the system,” without a family connection, which means they turned 18 while in foster care.
“All it takes is one caring adult to make a difference in the life of a child,” says Morabito. “With the support of a family, youth have better chances of graduating from high school, attending college and holding a steady job.”