While pondering the question of Nature or Nurture, I wanted to apply it to a real world situation. The situation that the study of epigenetics and an ever-changing environment applies to is the foster care system. Observing the foster care system we can understand what conditions it is that influences behaviors that are developed over time. Adoption and twin studies have shown genetic influences on multiple outcomes, including cognitive ability, language development, depression, anxiety, ADHD, school achievement and other outcomes. How negative can removing a child from its genetic environment be? To answer this is simple, there is a feeling of being misunderstood from the child’s perspective. By doing studies and understanding the genetics of a person, we can disentangle the relationship between nature and nurture. Through this, there can be effective interventions regarding an adopted child, or a child in foster care, to help mold their character to what best fits.
December 2, 2022
Utilizing Genetically-Informed Research Designs to Better Understand Family Processes and Child Development: Implications for Adoption and Foster Care Focused Interventions
Faces of Foster Care
Although many American systems are damaged, one that is often overlooked is the foster care system. Foster care, according to the National Adoption Center, is “a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child or children whose birth parent is unable to care for them. Foster care is not where juvenile delinquents go. It is where children go when their parents cannot, for a variety of reasons, care for them.” Foster care is either informal or arranged through a social service agency or court. The goals of the foster care system are reunification with the birth family or adoption by the foster family, but this does not always happen.
Children in foster care experience many hardships. Some will be separated from their siblings, others will bounce between multiple foster homes, and many will be subject to abuse from foster parents and siblings or people in their new areas. The goals of foster care are often not reached, as kids will not be reunited with their family or placed into adoptive homes but rather are tossed from foster home to foster home. According to Children’s Rights, on any given day, approximately 428,000 children are in foster care in America. On average, children remain in state care for about two years, and six percent remain there for five years or more. In 2015, over 670,000 kids spent time in foster care, more than 62,000 children, whose parents’ rights had been terminated, were waiting to be adopted (the average waiting time is two years), and over 20,000 young adults aged out of the foster care system without a permanent family. Those who leave the system without finding a lasting home are more likely to experience unemployment, homeless, and be incarcerated as an adult.
On Foster Focus, foster care alumni reached out to social workers with descriptions of what social work was like for them in hopes to impact the system. Here are some accounts:
“Reaching out for help by telling someone about the abuse at home, getting taken away and having your family blame you for breaking your family apart. Foster care feels like YOU are being punished for the abuse and neglect your parents caused you. That’s foster care.” — Sara I. Gamez
“People ask me all the time, ‘what’s foster care like?’ Remember when you were a kid at the mall with your parents? You get distracted by a toy and lose sight of them. Remember that feeling of panic? How the faces around you were strange and scary? That’s foster care.” — Chris Chmielewski
“Foster care feels like being thrown out with the trash. Dumped. Unwanted. Unloved. Ugly. Dirty. Unworthy of the air in your lungs. As though you’re taking up space meant for a person better than you. That’s foster care.” — Rhonda Sciortino
“Being in foster care is like having an asthma attack. You’re gasping for air! Even though you need help, you just can’t be sure who you can trust. You have to decide whether to accept support from others and breathe calmly so that you may live, or to let go slowly and ‘die a lonely death’ because your fear of trusting another person is bigger than life itself. That’s foster care.” — Pamela Campbell
“It’s kind of like going to a thrift store, all the unwanted clothes and shoe placed in a trash bag. Then left to be sorted and put on the shelves for display. Like someone trying you on for size then getting rid of you when you no longer ‘fit’ their needs. That’s foster care.” —Nikki Thompson
“While attending a foster care fundraiser a man said to me, ‘I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without my parents.’ I responded, ‘I don’t know what life would be like with parents!’ That’s foster care.” —Dr. Vivian Dorsett
Foster care can be a big struggle for many. So how can we fix the broken system? Social Work Today gave five strategies for change (see link for more details).
- Strengthen Families of Origin
- Support Case Workers
- Educate the Public
- Help Children Deal with Unresolved Grief and Loss
- Guide Children in Building Connections
We need to be aware of the foster care system and work to make this place somewhere all children feel accepted, loved, and safe.
Personal Interview with an Adoptive Mother
16 December 2017
How many kids do you have and how many are adopted? Were they adopted through an agency or the foster care system?
“One. It was an open adoption through an agency.”
What propelled you to adopt initially?
“I had trouble with fertility, and it was not easy to have child of my own. Both my husband and I wanted to adopt before even trying to have a child ourselves because we knew it would be so hard, and we could give a child a home.”
What is the biggest struggle you have encountered in the adoption process?
“We had issues with the agency. We had been scammed by a woman who wasn’t pregnant. She had connected with us and promised us her baby. It was horrible, and made us pull away from the agency. I thought they wanted to protect their reputation instead of us.
“We had already offered her money for medical/housing expenses, written her a check when we found out. We had to work with the FBI, El Paso police department, postal department. The postal department was what allowed us to stop the check from going through the mail. She was living in mexico and running her scam. She successfully scammed 30 other couples and scammed the welfare department.
“She was arrested and then released on bail, but the agency totally abandoned us. They scolded us for going to the press because it would scare potential adoptive families away. It’s very difficult to prosecute against adoption fraud. There are very few laws to protect us.
“We met another woman who had been scammed by first woman. We put ourselves together and found a local investigator. Dealing with this was a full time job for about 3 months. It felt like a miscarriage and armed robbery at the same time.
“The happy side of this bad situation was that another amazing woman found our online profile and fell in love with my husband, me, and our dogs, and we received a wonderful baby to complete our family. [Our son] was the result.”
What changes would you like to see in the adoption system?
“Should be some way to share information about issues like this because so much is confidential. Agencies need to protect couples that want to adopt and help us when things go wrong.”
Child sexual abuse in foster care
Dear future president,
A topic that needs to be more discussed and problem solved, child sexual abuse in foster care. “As many as 75% of all children in foster care, will have experienced sexual abuse.” “ About one in ten children will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.” A topic as disturbed as this does not create a comfortable atmosphere for discussion, but there are barely ways to stop the problem after the assault let alone to prevent it from happening on such a large scale.
The number of identified incidents of child sexual abuse decreased at least 47% from 1999-2006. This percentage makes it appear as if something is helping to prevent it, but only about 38% of child victims disclose the the fact that they have been sexually abused. It is so common that nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults occur to children aged 17 and under. Child sexual abuse is defined in Federal law by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (42 U.S.C. sec. 5106g(4)) as“…the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”
The problem with such a broad term is that not enough people know it, discuss it, or try to let the victims know that they’re there for them and are going to help.
Dear Mr. Future President,
My name is Tavona Lindo, I am here to talk to you about the foster care system because it seems that this issue always go unnoticed and more and more kids get placed in a bad home every day. Many people assume that because so many people want to adopt etc., that kids who end up away from their family have a place to go but in reality, there is not enough homes for us and majority of the time it takes a long process just to get into a placement and not a group home. There are many problems that us foster youth face in the system but because no one takes the time to help us and create a voice for us a lot of our issues get ignored whether it’s licensing to the right people, kinship care, money distribution, the transitions of placement, expertise in social workers and many other things that I can go on about that people never heard of neither. Being a current foster youth myself I have been through so many struggles with the foster care system and If it weren’t for my strong personality I probably would end up like the rest of the 80% that does not become successful after the system.
As a president, you have the power to get things passed and have all the resources to help these issues. If I may I’d like for you to consider doing a few things; 1. Create a better law that makes background checks go more into debt about people who want to foster, we need to make sure that no more kids get abused and neglected in homes because the system won’t properly evaluate them. From my personal experience I was put into a foster home with my sister and because social workers will give them appointments in advance they had enough time to gather everything and make it seem like the home was good on the outside but behind closed doors our relationship was terrible. There needs to be something more to make sure that people who want to adopt or foster are doing it for the right reasons, we need to stop letting these ill people take in our youth who desperately want a family and then just leave them to survive in harsh environments.
We need to fix this kinship care rule, just because a relative may seem to be fit to take care of their kid later on in life doesn’t mean they want to, living with my aunt taught me a lot, I learned that no matter how much family say they are there for you when it comes down to that foster check every month.
Anyone can make love seem real. When the system puts us foster youth back into homes with our blood relatives that most likely is a bad thing because we are not used to them anymore, we don’t get the same love and attention like any other kids living with their family would, and there it is even more likely we will get abused going back to our relatives than being put in a placement. So with that being said, we need to take a look at the reasons relatives want to come back into our lives after not being fit, to begin with.
Not many people understand this and most of the time they just brush it aside but the transitions into placements are the worst times when being in the system. The system takes so long to process a home that by the time we actually find one it’s already too late. Another experience I had that I would never forget is sleeping in my former social worker’s office with my older sister. When my sister and I were taken from my aunt’s custody because of extreme abuse we did not have a place to go, we had to sit in the county jail for hours until our social worker was able to leave work and even after that it took her the rest of the night till morning to find my sister and I a placement so that we wouldn’t be sent to a group home.
People believe that group homes are for just bad kids and that was true, a few years ago. When foster youths don’t get placed into a home because of whatever reason of it being unavailable we get sent to group homes until a placement is found, and even after that, they get sent to the juvenile facility. Now many people may say “No that’s not true ….” but it is, and that’s how bad the system truly is. We need to create emergency homes just for situations like this because the majority of the time kids get taken at random and not having anywhere for us to go after just being abused etc., can take a great toll on us.
I understand some of the things I’ve asked you to consider may seem like a lot but I assure you those are just the beginning of the problems in the foster care system and it is time to start helping out and finding us better homes so that we can have a safe haven and be able to call a place our home and not be scared to go there. The government needs to realize that foster care is as real as an issue as gay marriage, legal age drinking, etc., so it’s time that us foster youth stop being pushed aside and become a priority in this country. I hope for the best of your years in office and I would look forward to seeing you make these changes.