Ages ago, while attending a meeting on the needs and problems of young children, a male religious leader explained to the psychologists and social workers present how all parents automatically and intrinsically love their newborns and are prepared to care for them. That is a noble and worthwhile ideal; it isn't reality at all. Professionals who have worked with children and their families fully understand this.
Some of those thoughts came back to me as I learned about the Ritter Park display of American flags for Memorial Day last week. My first thought on seeing those flags displayed was they were reminders of the brave men and women who have defended our nation for generations.
Yet, those 453 flags were also placed there to remind us of the children right here in Cabell County who need foster families because their own families cannot or will not care for them. In my work as a psychologist, I have met some wonderful and amazing foster families, who have the energy, love and desire to help youngsters in need of a stable environment. But these families are always too few and more so since the substance abuse crisis.
If anyone thinks this need will diminish with the many heartbeat abortion laws passed in many states, they are sadly mistaken. Our society loves children while they are still in utero, but when they get out, all parents are supposed to feel that intrinsic desire to nurture as described by the religious leader years ago. As the song goes, "It ain't necessarily so."
According to current statistics, there are about 400,000 youngsters in foster care in the U.S. About half of them will return to their families, sometimes more than once and often with more abuse and neglect. A quarter of them are ready for adoption, but there is no stampede of able adults to adopt these children. The rest, if lucky, will stay in a good foster home, but for many reasons, more likely they will be moved about and lose any stability they had.
According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) in 2019, 44% of foster children were white, representing about 200,000 kids.
While I have often heard people comment that it's African American kids that are most in need of foster homes, statistics say that 23% of children in foster care are African American and their rate of entering the system is decreasing, while that of white children is increasing.
A foster coalition study found that children living in foster care have a long-term higher rate for homelessness, unplanned pregnancies, unemployment and a family history of opioid problems. There is no mystery about the need for more and better foster homes, evidenced by 57 recent bills offered at the federal level that had foster care in the title or text and 49 bills in state legislatures relating to care for foster children, especially those aging out of the system at age 18.
Today, many grandparents are filling in for parents who are affected by the substance abuse crisis nationwide. For many kids, grandparents are the glue that holds their lives together, but grandparents and great-grandparents often have limited funds, housing and energy.
That display of flags was eye-catching. But will it make any difference? We still want to believe that all parents will unconditionally love their children starting at the moment of birth. Foster care needs prove it isn't so.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.