Imagine trying to navigate a world of giants. You’re a kid, no older than 6. You’ve watched your parents walk out your front door and not return for weeks at a time. Occasionally someone would show up and realize that you’ve been alone — not fully alone, because you have two siblings, both of whom are counting on you to make them feel safe.
Sometimes the people that walk through the door are not safe and you have to go hide in a closet. Other times those people are safe, and they take you home, and they feed you and keep you warm. In a few days, you know you’ll be back home with Mom and Dad.
Then one day, when Mom and Dad have been gone for what seems like forever, complete strangers show up. They’re dressed in nice clothes, they talk to you sweetly, but you don’t trust them. They take you away.
You live with a temporary family, but you see these nicely dressed people on a weekly basis. You play on the mini-slide in a carpeted office and hear them talk in hushed voices to other nicely dressed people.
Occasionally on these visits, a parent will show up. If you’re really lucky, both will. But one day they don’t, and a new mom and dad walk in.
They tell you they are excited to have you in their family, and you will love their big backyard. You leave your temporary home, you stop paying visits to that carpeted office, and you think — just for a moment — that life has finally gotten better. Now it will finally make sense — you can look at your siblings and know that they will be safe … but what if you’re wrong?
• • •
Some of the statistics published by the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2012 may surprise you:
— There is an estimated 4,140 children in Oregon foster care.
— Oregon is ranked fifth among states with the greatest number of children in the system.
— Only 0.5 percent of children entering the foster system were orphans.
— In 2012, 3,615 children left the foster system and were either adopted or returned to their homes.
Of those 3,615 children, how many of them live under the spectre of domestic violence situations?
In 2006, the Oregon DHS completed a study focusing on abuse in the foster system. At that time, 26 percent of children entering foster care were being abused by their temporary families, but there’s a reporting bias, as those were only the cases recognized through a formal assessment process.
When a child is adopted out of foster care, their case is “closed,” meaning the case worker’s monthly visits cease. Anything that happens to the child after this point will be completely out of the state’s hands — unless, of course, someone calls Child Protective Services.
Major hurdles facing Oregon’s foster and adopted children are the lack of resources: not enough people, funding or awareness.
People should be alert and know what they are looking for, but it’s not happening.
Anyone who works around children is required to promise that they will report any signs of abuse. Even awareness is lacking, as DHS statistics on abuse haven’t been updated since 2006, while the U.S. Administration for Children and Families statistics haven’t been updated since 2009.
Not only are some of these children never finding a safe home, they are also being ignored or forgotten by the very society they live in.
Would-be foster families should be screened more heavily. There should also be a program to assist foster children as they leave the system. Many children are just dropped from the system once they turn 18. If they have never lived in a safe home, how will they create a safe place for themselves?
We can all help. We can be aware. We can become enlightened. We can push for funding. We can go through and insist for more training. We can report signs of abuse. We can support young people leaving the system. We can help our abused foster — and adopted — children.
We should set an example for the next generation. We can do better.