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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