A superb article by Benjamin Dueholm in Washington Monthly about Foster Parenting and its connection to politics and a whole host of other things. Well worth a read:
In a way that we never really anticipated, welcoming Sophia into our home led us into the wilderness of red tape and frustration navigated every day by low-income parents who struggle to raise children with the critical help of government programs. That same week, the office of the bone specialist who had treated Sophia’s broken leg at the hospital tried to get out of scheduling her for an urgent follow-up appointment. Like many medical practices, his endeavored at all costs to avoid working for Medicaid’s paltry reimbursement rates. (The office went so far as to deny ever having treated her; eventually, however, they gave in.) We went through a similar amount of stress trying to put Sophia into daycare. We had to run down a pile of government paperwork, prove our employment, and then simply wait and hope that our daycare center would accept the state’s stingy pay. And yet, frustrated as we were, we couldn’t exactly blame the doctors and daycare providers for being heartless. As the state’s stinginess pushes more of the costs of caring for foster children onto them, it’s no surprise that they start to balk.
It’s a major bureaucratic process to remove a child from her home and family. The state insures the child, pays for daycare, investigates the claims of abuse, and retains legal custody, but it cannot actually put a baby to bed at night. And so, on the other side of this most intimate public-private partnership are usually people like us, left alone with a stranger’s child and a garbage bag full of clothes and wondering what’s going to happen next. And what happens next depends, to a stomach-churning degree, on the state’s willingness and ability to keep up its half of the bargain.
So it was with an unusual sense of urgency and dread that our family watched the 2010 Republican wave and the austerity budgeting that has followed in ceaseless progression. When Paul Ryan’s budget, approved by 235 Republicans in the House, proposed dramatic cuts to federal Medicaid spending, it was as if they were trying to make it even more hopeless for us to find a doctor to treat Sophia’s health problems. When Scott Walker in Wisconsin sought to cut the workforce that administers foster care in his state, we went up to Madison to join the protests in solidarity, because we knew how helpless we would be if there were no caseworker on the other end of the phone to answer our own urgent pleas for help and guidance. And the threats have continued, as House Republicans repeatedly propose cutting trillions of dollars in domestic spending to reduce the debt while making room for sustained upper-income tax cuts. The way this hits home for us is simple. A foster parent joins hands with the state in order to take care of a dispossessed child. For the last year, the state has been trying to slip free of our grasp.
This is not fully our experience so far, but we are already seeing the way that budgetary constraints are reducing our access to things that M. needs. In most ways he’s doing very well, but we can already tell that coming into care in an economic downslope has its costs. Indeed, it already does – in many places in the nation, removals are down due to budgetary constraints. If this came with additional supportive services and the kinds of programs necessary to help kids stay in families of origin, that would be great – but in fact, what it means is that they simply raised the bar for removal. Instead of removing children from parents who give birth with drugs in their system, the county has to make a case that the drugs have caused the child to be neglected – virtually impossible in the case of a child who has just been born.
M.’s case is something I can’t talk much about, but in order for him to meet the larger goal of going home to his family, things will have to change in deep ways – services that simply aren’t available and don’t exist would have to be provided to his parents. The likelihood that will happen in the near-term is small – that doesn’t mean he will stay with us, he may go home anyway, into a situation that has been band-aided and may be no better. This is part of the deal with foster parenting. Indeed, losing a kid you love and can’t keep safe because you have no right to them is something of a rite of passage – you become a “real” foster parent in the same way that wear and tear made the Velveteen Rabbit real. I’m not looking forward to that transition if it happens – but it is so often part of the process.
The article is well worth a full read, and the ties to the larger economic picture will onlyl get clearer as we go.