Mary likes to party. Mary likes to smoke. Mary likes alcohol and consumes several drinks a day. Mary likes anything for a buzz. She will take illegal drugs. She will take prescription drugs. It doesn’t matter the combination, as long as she gets a high. Mary is also pregnant, about 8 months. She has never been to an OB doctor, so she’s never had any pre-natal care and really doesn’t know her due date. Besides, she doesn’t want anyone telling her what to do or not to do. To her the baby is just something that happened because she had sex.
When her baby girl is born and drugs are found in her system, DSS will step in and put the child into foster care. Mom will go back to doing all that she was doing before the baby was born, except now, she will have the Department of Social Services watching her. She will be given a plan to work and regular court dates that she must attend. The goal of the courts will be to reunite her with her baby and if possible get her off drugs.
The baby will be addicted to many of the drugs that her birth mom continues to use: cocaine, heroin, the various prescriptions and she will have traits associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Due to these things her heads will be small, her eyes will look different, and her ears will be really low set. These are just a few.
After a while it will be evident that she has ADHD, and is developmentally delayed. She may have seizures associated with withdrawal and will have to take special drugs to help stop the seizures. More than likely the doctors will follow her closely to keep check on her development. She will probably need both physical therapy and occupational therapy. Her mother’s actions will affect her for the rest of her life.
How do I know these things? I’m a foster parent and I help take care of these small ones. We hear the screams of the babies as they go through withdrawal, we spend time with them in the hospital when problems arise, and we get up at night to feed, calm and clean them up. When the therapists show up we are the ones who help the baby progress and make sure they get the exercises done. We also take the babies to see their parents once or twice a week, if they bother to show.
My wife and I love what we do. We feel that God has brought us to this place in life and we can’t imagine doing anything else. But, I would love it if the birth parents were held more accountable.
When children are placed into foster care, it costs the state money. The more problems a child has the more money it cost the state every month they are in foster care. Due to the back up in the court system the average length of stay for a child in foster care as gone from one year to two years. There are approximately 8000 to 9000 kids in foster care in North Carolina. If the state has to pay $1000 per month for each child (foster care payment, agency administration, etc) that is over $9 million per month and going from one year to two years just doubled the budget for this part of social services.
Birth parents are given a year, sometimes 18 months to get their act together. Many take longer. They do not have to pay child support, buy diapers or formula, or provide anything for the child. But the state keeps playing their game. If DSS doesn’t cross every “t” and dot every ”I” then the lawyers convince the courts the birth parents need more time. When do the rights of the child come into play? If a parent can’t get their lives together in 6 months or at least make a real good effort then the courts should terminate the rights. Laws need to be changed and judges need to be tougher.
I feel that if a child is born addicted, the mother should go to jail. If a couple has a child in foster care, they should be required to be on birth control. They should not be allowed to keep having babies if they have any in the fostering system. If someone has a child in the system, they should be forced to pay child support or go to jail. Yeah, the jails are over-crowded but something must be done. If Mary had given her child drugs after it was born she would go to prison, but she can make the child addicted before it is born and nothing happens. When is it going to be about the children?
What is the problem with long term foster care? Both the child and the family become bonded and very attached. It has to happen or the child will not thrive. After a child is removed from foster care either to go home or to be adopted, it takes 2-3 months for each month in foster care for the child to fully bond to the adoptive parents or birth parents. This is tremendous stress on the child and can cause emotional problems. The children can become failure to thrive, lethargic, pull out their hair, scratch until skin bleeds, etc. It usually takes 3-4 months of transition time to move a child from foster care.
These children need a home where they can be cared for – a forever family. People that will love them, feed them when they are hungry, buy them decent clothes to wear and give them hugs. And, parents that will tell them that they are someone of importance.
The truth is that we need more dedicated foster parents. You do not get paid a lot to do the job but you do touch lives, and change them. You get your heart broken, a lot. But, the needs of the next child that comes into your life soon fill that void.
North Carolina is in dire need of foster parents. If you have ever considered fostering or adoption, please take time to check it out. It is the toughest job you will ever love.
***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo, Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo and Olivia’s Sweet Adventure.