April 6, 2010

LKL Web Exclusive: The need to help children in foster care

Posted: 08:20 AM ET

By Joan Brady, photographer and foster care advocate. Her commentary is a Larry King Live web exclusive and her thoughts are her own.

For generations, children in foster care have been among society’s forgotten. While the occasional appearances of foster children characters on TV dramas have helped awareness, most still remain unaware of the plight of these children.

In Fairfax County, Va., there is an amazing woman named Beverly Howard, who, under the umbrella of the county’s Department of Family Services, developed an initiative named Fairfax Families4Kids. This program is comprised of foster kids mostly 12 and older, more than 40 volunteer mentors and two staffers from the Department of Family Services. Beverly’s energy, tenacity and warmth have turned a routine county program into something bigger: a family that would not otherwise exist for these forgotten children.

For almost 6 years, we have gotten together one to three times per month, doing everything from watching a baseball game to playing board games to packing boxes for soldiers in Iraq. In some ways, though, what we do matters less than the simple act of spending time with children who often feel no one is in their corner.

Just recently, we found out someone else may not be in these kids’ corner: Fairfax County. In the name of desiring to more for more children, the county’s Department of Family Services is planning to kill this program. While the county’s broad goal is laudable, it remains unclear exactly how Fairfax’s older foster children are best served by shutting down a program that’s been so meaningful in their lives. In public meetings, county representatives have acknowledged the success of Fairfax Families4Kids, and have in fact suggested more children in the system should get the benefits of the program. On that, we all can agree. But the county’s solution to that is to roll Fairfax Families4Kids back into the larger county system, diluting the impact of its staff and its volunteers.

The return on investment of the program is beyond dispute: Six children have been adopted as a direct result of Fairfax Families4Kids and two more are waiting on a court date for finalization. There’s a committed group of mentors who devote significant amount of time to the program. There are funders who have volunteered to help preserve and/or expand Fairfax Families4Kids. But instead of finding a way to preserve a program that costs – in government terms – a measly $133,000 annually, the county now wants to replace it with something they claim will be as or more effective at serving older children in foster care. This defies logic.

The kids in this program have had difficult lives before entering the system, and being in the foster care system is no picnic either. For the children who have been part of Fairfax Families4Kids, this is a cruel blow.

For more details on this issue, please check out Joan's blog HERE

Filed under: Adoption • Foster Care • Larry King Live • LKL Web Exclusive

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Theresa   April 6th, 2010 10:23 am ET

This doesn't surprise me...what's good for the people usually taken away. !2 years of age & older is a difficult time in the best of families. This age group is the most difficult to get adoptions for. Children @ this time feel insecure @ times anyway. I can't imagine what it would be like to never be a member of a real family...never to know that no matter what...someone is in your court,there's unconditional love. What a great program that is able to finalize adoptions for this age group. Fairfax County...what is your new plan......I'm certain it will look great in print but will have no practicality. The bureaucrats have all those great ideas & usually that's all they are. I guess they haven't heard that old saying...if it isn't broke...don't fix it!!!!

Ana   April 6th, 2010 11:36 am ET

This is a wonderful program and should have never been considered being cut due to budget. Let us put ourselves in the place of these children just for 1 month, then will you see what it would be like not to have a family. With this program, at least the children have a chance of being adopted into a family. I am certain something else can be cut out of the budget, but when it comes to CHILDREN without a solid foundation this program should very much remain in place!

Molly   April 6th, 2010 11:54 am ET

wonderful post about an amazing program. kids 12+ don't usually get the chance to shine. I've seen firsthand the transformation in these older youth when they come into FF4Kids and start to see that there's a whole group of people who love them and are there for them–something that most of us take for granted.

Kathy   April 6th, 2010 11:54 am ET

FairfaxFamilies4Kids is the only family that most of these kids have. They tell us that we're the only adults who listen to them, who care about them, and who respect them for who they are. The other kids in the program are their only real friends, because they don't stay in one school long enough to become part of the school community. They're often teased or shunned by their classmates just for being in foster care. Losing this program is the final blow for these kids. As one 15-year-old girl said, "I get teased on at school. I get teased at the place where I'm supposed to call home. If I lost here there'd would be like there was no reason to do anything any more." I pray that the Board of Supervisors listens to us when we tell them that this program
not only offers a great return on investment, but it's vital to the well-being of these kids.

Tammy   April 6th, 2010 11:55 am ET

I was shocked to hear this program is on the chopping block! It it is getting a number of older kids adopted into loving families. Each child adopted saves the taxpayers something like $40,000 per year! Not to mention the program provides these kids with a sense of family and a valuable network of peers and caring adults to help them through the difficulties of life while they hope and pray to be adopted before they age out of the foster care system at age 21. If we don't help these kids now where will they end up? What are the prospects for kids who age out of the foster care system and end up on their own at age 21 without parents or caring adults to look to for support and guidance?

Fairfax County's goal of serving even more of these kids is a worthy one, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Why can't the current program stay in place with the help of volunteers and private funding?!? Let's expand it not can it!

Carmen   April 6th, 2010 1:38 pm ET

I have been a mentor with the program for 3 years. This is how it works...The county makes a MINIMAL staff and financial investment. Program Coordinator-Dr. Beverly Howard works with the foster youth, foster parents, social workers, and with other FCFS staff to understand the immediate & long term needs of each foster youth. The mentors, volunteers, civic organizations, & local businesses provide the vast majority of the rest… volunteer hours & in kind and cash donations. The program model provides peer to peer support & peer to adult support for the foster youth thru its activities. It also has proven successful in getting hard to place kids adopted which saves the county $$$ each yr. These foster youth become less likely to become part of the national statistics:1 out of 4 who will be incarcerated within 2 years of aging out of foster care and the 1 out of 5 who will end up homeless or on county public assistance. Do you want these foster youth to age out & become productive members of OUR community or fill our jails and homeless shelters? The solution is SIMPLE, keep the FF4Kids program in budget and allow the community to continue to support our foster youth.

Lynne   April 6th, 2010 9:34 pm ET

I agree with Theresa- If it isn't broke, don't fix it. These children have the ability to become good productive citizens. In addition, when they become parents, they will have learned better parenting, thus ending a bad parenting cycles. This is worth more than money. Leave them alone.

kent   April 6th, 2010 11:12 pm ET

I'm not involved with the program, but I am a taxpayer in Fairfax County. It sounds like investing in Fairfax Families4Kids now will save us all money down the road. If there are so many underserved kids in foster care, why aren't more in this program? They seem to have the capacity to handle more.

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   April 7th, 2010 8:05 am ET

Sounds like a good program, why would they do this to it I wonder? It is a crying shame really. Shame on them for doing this.

Nancy Pell   April 7th, 2010 5:29 pm ET

This program is sooo very important–we need to get message out this this should continue and it should be EXPANDED.

Keith   April 7th, 2010 7:06 pm ET

Once again these children will be abandoned. Fairfax County must make the beneficial decision to keep this program. Fairfax Families 4 Kids has been used as a model for other programs. There is no question what the value of this program is. It must remain intact.

Scott   April 7th, 2010 7:58 pm ET

I don't understand? How could cutting this program which clearly more than pays for itself AND gives children in foster care something they would likely otherwise not have, A FAMILY be the right decision? Doesn't everyone deserve to have people who care about them? People who they can count on through out their lives. This doesn't make dollars and cents sense... and it further reflects an inhumanity on the part of the county government that I find appalling.

Mike   April 7th, 2010 9:05 pm ET

This is a great program that has touched my friends lives in many ways as well as many many kids that may not otherwise get the support, as someone who was adopted I think this need to stay.

Chad   April 7th, 2010 9:20 pm ET

Having volunteered with these guys, it breaks my heart to see this happening. Beverly and Lawrence are 2 of the most dedicated people I know. Fairfax, being one of the wealthiest counties in the US can surely find other ways to save money, than to pull the plug on a kids dreams of a home or brighter future. Fairfax Families 4 Kids is all they have. I can't imagine the impact that this will have on them. Keep posting your grievances, someone will be forced to listen.

Molly   April 7th, 2010 9:53 pm ET

Save Fairfax Families 4 Kids! This is a great program and the kids need it!

Sandra   April 7th, 2010 11:13 pm ET

This is such a valuable program! Let's hope it gets funded.

Amy   April 8th, 2010 12:38 pm ET

Save this promgram and the many kids that need it!

Jen   April 8th, 2010 4:24 pm ET

As a mentor with this program for three years, I have seen the tremendous impact it has on our kids in foster care. Through the relationships they form with the adults and their peers in the group, they are able to regain the ability to trust and a belief in themselves that they are worthy of love, no matter what their past has taught them.

Shirley   April 8th, 2010 5:26 pm ET

Save Fairfax Families 4 Kids! A wonderful and valuable program with a truly dedicated staff.

Linda G   April 9th, 2010 8:06 am ET

These kids need to connect to a caring adult and to have exposure to adoption opportunities. Without it, many (if not most) of these high risk kids will end up in the juvenile justice sytstem. The cost of this program is equivalent to providing correctional facilities for 2 kids for a year. Yes, continuing this program is the economically smart thing to do.

JR Herold   April 10th, 2010 8:45 am ET

Thank you for bringing this issue to light. While I'm sure that the folks who oversee the Fairfax county program believe they are doing the right thing, the story is a great example of how bureaucrats get lost in the weeds of administration and do not know the people they serve. They think they do, which is understandable, but they don't on a very human level. And they really have nothing to lose by listening to people like you Joan who have gotten to know the kids and who spend 1,000s of hours unpaid to do the right thing. We'd all be better off if these foster programs were really a partnership between those who run them and those who have no agenda other than to care for these children and put them on a path for a future that is full of happiness, love and citizenship. I sense that there's a tendency in the oversight of this program to throw the baby out with the bath water for any thought or idea or action that creates out of the box thinking that leads to solutions that work in favor of the kids. - Especially if the ideas come from people outside of the program's offices.

And then of course there are the kids, we must listen to them. They have no agenda other than survival and the pursuit of love. They are not the enemy. Let them know people care about what they feel and think. It's their lives on the line, that's the issue. The issue is not whether bureaucrats deserve the jobs they have or need to scream or bang an hammer to justify their salaries. To be sure, volunteers don't know everything and neither do the foster parents, but they are on the frontlines, not the people sitting behind desks. Re-organization for the sake of reorganization is the hallmark of bad management. Thousands of people in Fairfax county know this from being reorganized right out of their jobs because those in control have screwed up. I don't know, maybe this is one example where re-organization should throw people out of their jobs, except the reorg should be focused on the oversight and management personnel of this particular program. Reorgs are so often excuses to get rid of non performers.

Michele   April 11th, 2010 7:54 am ET

Why would they cut a program that is so positive and has had a positive impact not only in the lives of the children, but also in our community as whole? Age 12 and older are the hardest ages to find homes for and this program was placing children almost at a rate of 1 child per year. REMARKABLE! We applaud you Beverly Howard for your insight and all of the people involved in making that possible. We will continue to support this push to re-fund this program, which has given a voice to those children who have already been abandoned once, at least.

Kristi   April 17th, 2010 12:19 am ET

This is a great program and necessary to help these children thrive and transition successfully into adulthood! Please restore funding.

Kristi   April 17th, 2010 12:21 am ET

This program is vital to help kids thrive. Please restore funding.

AnnW.   April 29th, 2010 12:20 am ET

I'm sorry but taking away this program will not do any good for anyone. It will only cause more problem for the kids. If anyone have the heart to love someone then please love them and restore the program that will help them get a family who will love and care for them. Everyone in this world need love and someone to care for. If a program is that great WHY take it AWAY? There are always other ways to get funding if need be for this program to be restore!!!! A CHILD should ALWAYS come 1st no matter what happen!!!!!

Tom   November 11th, 2010 10:01 am ET

Hey people, quit spending you time on here and go out, get some business support, and do it with out the aid of the government. You are either part of the solution of part of the problem. If you really believe in it you don't need the county, you can work it out with CASA, they are supposed to be involved with these kids anyway.

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