Foster Care is Like Chemotherapy

I recently met someone who works to help former prisoners re-integrate into society. I asked her what she would change to improve the system. In response, she talked about the need to provide basic things for young children, such as food, housing, and education. I’ve been interested in the importance of keeping young children with their families as often as possible, so I was excited to see how two different causes – recidivism and reducing foster care rates – could be similar. 

In July, Michigan Radio, an NPR station, ran a story about the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which has been operating in Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood for several years. Apparently, the neighborhood has an incredibly high rate of child removal. Although the focus is on Osborn, the Center also serves families throughout Wayne County. The Center provides free legal and social work help in order to keep kids out of foster care. It receives referrals from the Department of Human Services when a child is unsafe because of some unresolved legal issue.

Vivek Sankaran, the Center’s founder explained: “In all the cases we deal with, there’s no doubt that the parent loves for and is providing proper care for the child. But there is sort of a third party that may be interfering with the parents’ ability to provide care for that child.”

Since the Center opened in 2009, none of the children it served entered foster care. And of those already in foster care, 95 percent were adopted or reunified with a family member.

In an attempt to explain the reality of being in foster care, the article’s author wrote, “Sankaren compares foster care to chemotherapy. It’s there for very serious cases when you need it, but it has drastic side effects.”

I really like this comparison because it’s shocking enough to draw attention and succinct enough to be memorable. Plus, I think it’s accurate.

It would be great to see more programs like this, and apparently, other states are looking into it.


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