Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series that will look at life in California’s foster care system for both foster children and foster parents. All names of foster youth or former foster youth have been changed to protect identities.
The foster care system seeks to serve children first and foremost, but it’s easier said than done.
After a foster child has gone through a complex court system (see part one), he or she is sent to a new home, which is intended to be a safe haven for children who have often experienced abuse or neglect. In many cases, the new home is safe – a place where the child is nurtured and loved.
But there are sometimes foster parents who are equally, if not more, abusive as the child’s biological parents. A study done at the New York University School of Social Work indicated that 28 percent of foster children nationwide reported being abused in their foster homes.
Gail, a former foster child of Sonoma County, is all too familiar with instances of abuse that can happen in a supposedly safe home. She was in the foster care system from 1985 to 1990, during which she lived in three different homes.
In the first home, she experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. “That particular foster
mom beat me and my brother with electrical cords and other things. I was also molested by two of her biological sons.”
The foster mother didn’t allow Gail and her brother to go outside. When Gail’s biological mother – who was allowed visitation rights with her children – saw signs of abuse, she contacted Child Protective Services (CPS). According to Gail, the officials said they would talk to the foster mother. “They said that they would tell her not to hit us anymore. But we had to stay at her home, where the abuse continued for a few more months,” she recalled.
Gail and her brother did eventually end up in the custody of their father, but his addiction to drugs raised the suspicions of school officials, and soon the siblings were back in foster care.
At the second home, similar patterns of abuse continued. Gail remembered, “I wet the bed due to emotional problems, and (my foster mother) would rub my face in it and tie the sheet over my head. I can also remember her hitting my brother with a 2-by-4, and it breaking on impact.”
After three violent, abuse-riddled years, Gail’s mother finally regained custody of her two children. Gail said, “I think we were supposed to be adopted after two years, but our social worker believed in my mom, and helped her to keep fighting for us.”
It’s important to note that the primary goal of CPS is to eventually reunite children with their biological parents, as long as it’s determined that the parents are fit to raise their children.
Times have certainly changed since Gail was in the foster care system, and allegations of abuse are taken very seriously, according to Nick Honey, director of Family, Youth and Children’s Services for Sonoma County, “In any situation where there are allegations of abuse, a new social worker comes in to investigate. Whether or not the child is immediately removed depends on the type of abuse. But our primary objective is always to keep the child safe in their (foster) home.”