Foster care crisis action


Navigating the Crisis in Foster Care: A Call to Action
By Jessica Munoz

As the founder of Ho’ola Na Pua and Pearl Haven, an organization dedicated to supporting vulnerable youth, reading about the dire state of the foster care system across the United States deeply troubles me. The recent article shedding light on the plight of children and youths trapped in inappropriate placements due to a lack of suitable foster homes and residential facilities is not just disheartening but demands urgent attention and action.

In North Carolina, Illinois, Colorado, and numerous other states, child welfare systems are grappling with a placement crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Stories of children with acute emotional and behavioral health needs languishing in temporary shelters, offices, and hotels, or being left in psychiatric hospitals far longer than necessary are not isolated incidents but rather symptoms of a systemic failure.

As the assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department in North Carolina pointed out, the state’s child welfare system faces the looming threat of a massive class-action suit due to its inability to provide adequate placements for children with complex needs. Similarly, in Illinois, the Director of the Department of Children and Family Services has been found in contempt of court multiple times for failing to secure appropriate placements for vulnerable children.

What strikes me most profoundly is the profound message of neglect and abandonment these children receive when they are left to languish in inappropriate settings for months on end. For children who have already experienced trauma and abuse, this further reinforces feelings of worthlessness and insignificance.

Two Girls Playing Basket Ball

It’s evident that the children most affected by this crisis are those who are hardest to place – older youths with mental and physical disabilities, behavioral health problems, or a combination of both. Many have been through the revolving door of foster homes, only to be rejected time and again due to their challenging behaviors or intensive needs due to their complex trauma and attachment-related issues.

While some may point fingers at a supposed shortage of foster homes, the reality is far more complex. It’s not merely about finding more families willing to open their doors but ensuring that those families receive the support and resources necessary to care for children with acute needs.

One solution often touted is therapeutic foster care, yet the reality is that recruiting suitable parents for such programs remains a significant challenge. Additionally, the option of therapeutic group homes or residential treatment centers is dwindling, with closures driven by stagnant reimbursement rates, staffing crises, and a broader societal push to reduce institutional care.

Legislation such as the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) has inadvertently contributed to the reduction of available residential beds for foster youths. While the intention may have been to prioritize family-based care, the unintended consequence has been a dearth of appropriate placements for children with the most severe needs. Youth who have been exploited or are at high- risk of being exploited need a separate pathway to care and we need to remove the barriers for them to access the services that they deserve.

So, what can be done to address this crisis?

Firstly, we must acknowledge the interconnectedness of the issues at play. Simply focusing on recruiting more foster homes without addressing the underlying systemic issues will not suffice.

Early intervention is crucial in preventing children from reaching a point where residential care becomes necessary. This involves not only reaching out to at-risk families before they become involved with child welfare agencies but also providing intensive support to families already in the system.

Additionally, we must invest in rebuilding the residential care infrastructure, ensuring that facilities meet stringent quality standards and are adequately funded to attract and retain dedicated staff. Legislative measures, such as exempting Quality Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs) from Medicaid restrictions, can help incentivize the creation of such facilities.

As an organization, we remain committed to providing community services, advocating for systemic change, and comprehensive residential care for the most vulnerable youth in our community through the Pearl Haven Program. This article highlights the complex needs of these youth and the systemic change needed to create bright futures for children.

As a nation, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the suffering of these vulnerable youths. The cost of inaction far outweighs the expense of investing in their well-being and future. It’s time for policymakers, advocates, and communities to come together to enact meaningful change and provide the care and support these children so desperately need and deserve. Failure to do so would be a betrayal of our collective responsibility to protect and nurture the most vulnerable among us.




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