When kids are taken from their homes by CPS workers, they are viewed as having been ‘rescued’ and will now be placed with a ‘loving family’ that will care for them. Sometimes it really does happen this way. But few people stop to think what really happens to those kids. They are all presumed to be safe and happy, living with their new families or with other loving family members who stepped in to help during a time of need. But are they really?
The idea of ‘foster stability’ is a common one, and yet in Michigan, over half of the children live in two or more placements while in foster care. This means that their loving foster families are not actually forever families. These kids fill their suitcases many times. Often, the “suitcase” amounts to nothing more than a simple plastic grocery bag.
As a result, many important items get lost in the shuffle for these kids. Sometimes beloved toys don’t make it into their garbage bags, if they ever made it out of the house to begin with. Other lost items can include important photos, keepsakes, and even documents including social security cards and birth certificates. Things that children don’t think about during a crisis, but things that they will want and need later on.
However, even more precious things are lost in this process. Things that cannot be put into a garbage bag. Things like stability, a sense of belonging, connections with other people like family, friends, and teachers. Emotional and psychological wellness can’t be quantified. It can’t be packed up and carried with you from place to place. But it’s absence is keenly felt, and can have deeply wounding results.
Every time a child moves to a new home, regardless of whether they are with relatives, a foster family, or another residential placement, that child must adjust to a new place and routine. Each home has a different culture with a varied set of expectations that the kid must get used to in a “sink or swim” fashion. Coming in, the child often has little idea what to expect.
According to The Future of Children, “the foster care experience can be emotionally traumatic, and it is associated with detrimental developmental outcomes and lower educational achievement.” In addition, research has revealed that between 30% to 80% of children in foster care “exhibit emotional and/or behavioral problems, either from their experiences before entering foster care or from the foster care experience itself.”
Moving from place to place, time and time again, makes it harder for kids to feel safe and secure at home, even long after leaving the foster care system. They learn early on they cannot get attached to their friends, caretakers, or surroundings, which makes developing lasting relationships later even harder. Self-esteem often suffers, leaving kids wondering if they are unwanted.
We are not trying to downplay the need for foster care. Some children survive tragic home situations and need to be removed from their family’s care in order to be safe. But not in every case, and even when it’s necessary, there are important factors and side effects that need to be taken in account.
What we are trying to say here, is that there is an inherent value in keeping children with their parents, whenever possible. Kids need a stabilized home life with as little interruption as can be afforded. Experienced CPS Defense Attorney Brandy Thompson agrees, stating, “In my experience, abruptly removing a child from the only home they’ve ever known can often cause as much, if not more harm to the child, as the allegations that CPS is there investigating.”
Which is why we work so hard to help families stay together whenever possible. Because this is something we really, really believe in!