James Mangaliman

A house, but no home for children in foster care

By  James Mangaliman, Youth Speak News
  • May 22, 2015

Children are our future. While this truism emphasizes that children grow up to either perpetuate or change the legacies left behind by their forebears, it is questionable whether these implications are considered in the system that cares for Canada’s most vulnerable youth.

With more than 23,000 children in foster care in Ontario each year, calls for reform in the child welfare system have steadily increased. Among the calls is an emphasis for youth to be provided with the opportunities to recognize their full potential. But when experienced foster parents are lacking and children’s aid societies are struggling with inefficiencies, how might children’s rights be assured for children in the welfare system compared to those raised by their own loving families?

Children who have grown up under foster care are over-represented in mental illness, homelessness and youth crime statistics. According to Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, less than 44 per cent of children in care graduate from high school compared to an 81-per-cent graduation rate for the general population.

While the experiences of children who grow up under the supervision of a Children’s Aid Society varies across the country, it is typical for children to be bounced from one home to the next, to transfer schools many times and live an unstable and inconsistent lifestyle.

More effort must be devoted towards raising children in foster care with the physical, emotional and financial stability necessary to raise an independent child.

In a recent speech, Alison Alexander, director of Children Services Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in the United Kingdom, outlined her view of successful childhood development as the ability to form healthy relationships, to maintain health and well-being, to remain positive despite adversity and to be economically independent.

Of course, each of these skills depends significantly on the psychological development of a child. For children as young as toddlers, adequate affection and attention are required in order to develop proper social behaviour.

Intellectually, a child benefits most when challenged at a threshold just beyond his or her abilities with assistance from the parent. Physical development is determined by adequate nutrition and safety from harm and injury. Add to the list the sensitive issue of the child’s first family, and the responsibility of foster care is heightened.

Although such necessities for child development may seem costly, as Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Irwin Elman, said recently, “These changes don’t require money, but they do require a shift in the way we view young people by caring about them, rather than caring for them.”

Foster care requires more than just a new roof over a child’s head. Although the purpose of removing a child from his or her first home is to prevent the child from immediate dangers, childhood development must continue wherever the child ends up. Physical and emotional safety is important, but so is physical and emotional development.

What a reformed foster care system can strongly benefit from is more thorough family background checks and increased training for foster families — a change that is unfortunately difficult to negotiate when there is a shortage of homes accepting new foster children.

However, at the heart of this issue is the realization that perhaps the emotional tumult that may accompany a child in the foster care system is just as damaging as the environment he or she was removed from. It is the realization that while the child may have a house, he or she may not have a home.

(Mangaliman, 18, is a first-year humanities student at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ont.)

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