Senate Committee Grapples with Foster Care, but not Father Care

This article is really about a fairly narrow subject – the ability of foster children to remain in the school they’re currently attending when they get moved to a different foster family (MinnPost, 4/30/10). The piece deals only with that topic and the testimony before a senate committee of a girl who spent most of her 18 years in foster care.

As to the subject of the article, I have no objections to changes in the law that facilitate foster children’s stability by allowing them to remain in a given school for as long as possible. Schooling though is not why I bring up this article. I do so because the case of Kayla VanDyke gives us a peek at the life of a child in foster care.

Kayla VanDyke has lived in seven foster placements in and around the Twin Cities during the course of her 18 years on this Earth and, as a result, has now attended 10 different schools.

Along the way, VanDyke missed entire content sections because the school she”d enroll in taught a subject in a different order than the one she”d just left. She inadvertently skipped the entire fourth grade during a year of homelessness. When she and her mom were finally accepted in a Minneapolis homeless shelter, she went back to school and was enrolled in fifth grade because her academic records couldn”t be found and “no one pressed the issue.’

Although the article isn’t clear on this, it looks like Kayla was with her mother at least some of the time until the fourth grade. That’s when they were admitted to a homeless shelter. So her seven different foster homes were in addition to time spent with her mother. Even if she had spent no time at all with her mom, seven homes in 18 years averages out to be a little over 2.5 years per family. And that doesn’t even mention the 10 different schools. Face it, that’s a pretty chaotic life.

From what we can gather, Kayla herself seems to have made it through that maze in pretty good shape, at least academically. What attachment difficulties she may have, if any, the article doesn’t let on about. But suffice it to say that most kids probably don’t fare as well. After all, Kayla is testifying before the Senate; that means she’s got some exceptionally good qualities. By definition, most kids in her situation don’t possess those qualities. As Kayla herself testified, roughly half of kids in foster care don’t finish high school. That alone indicts the foster care system.

To the extent the new legislation (that looks likely to pass) encouraging local child welfare agencies to keep kids in their schools “of origin,” achieves greater stability in their lives, I’m all for it. To the extent that this legislation complicates the foster care process and therefore encourages local agencies to seek out fathers instead of foster care, I’m also for it. Will it have that latter effect? I’d say it’s possible.

Stopping the preference of CPS agencies for foster care over father care isn’t necessarily a federal responsibility, but neither is the schooling of foster children. The U.S. Senate has taken on the one, so why not the other? It would conceivably cut the cost of foster care and connect a fair number of children with their dads. It would also save local CPS agencies the cost of litigation as more and more dads pick up on the fact that federal civil rights statutes give them the right to sue local authorities for deprivation of their parental rights.

Speaking of which, here’s a citation to the Ninth Circuit case establishing that cause of action.

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