While most families are enjoying festivities this time of year, some foster parents in New Hampshire are feeling a loss that’s all too familiar to the many birth parents who won’t see their child around the holidays.
Fostering Change: Alliance for NH Foster Parents has been fielding concerns from foster parents since its inception three months ago. The influx of stories surfacing from concerned foster parents indicates that the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) in New Hampshire is needlessly inflicting trauma on the state’s most vulnerable population by abruptly and unnecessarily moving them to new placements.
New Hampshire’s foster parents and concerned citizens are advocating for foster care reform and have proposed through the state’s legislature that a Foster Child Bill of Rights and Foster Parent Bill of Rights be made into law.
The body of research has existed for decades about how children learn, grow and develop into healthy, emotionally secure adults. Many foster parents in the Granite State have concerns not only about the way they themselves have been treated, but the way the child welfare system purports to act in a child’s best interests.
“There are distinct patterns of disregard and misrepresentations from DCYF and these are the reasons I am told why foster parents don’t want to foster anymore,” said Dylan Remenar, a four-and-a-half-year veteran of fostering.
One foster parent told the Fostering Change Alliance about a young child sitting on her lap before she was removed from her long-term foster home. The child kept asking, “Why are you crying, what’s happening, mama? I don’t understand what’s happening.” The foster parent could only reply, “You’re going to live at somebody else’s house now.”
Many foster parents in New Hampshire are also concerned that young children in particular are being moved at alarming rates from foster homes to satisfy agency agendas. Ashley Rossiter, a former DCYF worker, has highlighted in previous news reports that these types of issues are not isolated incidents.
Rossiter, claims her “attempts to ensure the safety of New Hampshire children” resulted in “reprimands,” according to a lawsuit she filed against DCYF in early 2017. Foster parents in New Hampshire share similar concerns and worry that foster children are being removed from their homes as a form of reprisal. There are just too many similarities whenever foster parents try and advocate for their foster child, and it is the children who are suffering the most.
Trauma-informed care is not as commonplace as it should be, especially for young children who can’t speak up for themselves. Child protection agencies around the country are recognizing the value behind partnering with foster parents as part of the foster care crisis. Foster parents devote their time, money and hearts to help protect and support children in need. Empowering them to better engage with the system brings value to family preservation.
Foster parents are taught in training sessions about trauma and how it impacts foster children, but I’m not really seeing the same type of care being demonstrated by DCYF. One foster mother named Alex told me, “My husband and I have been foster parents for about a year, and we don’t think we’ll do it again. We didn’t even get a chance to say ‘goodbye,’ they just never came home from school.”
The concept of resilience in young children is also misunderstood by those entrusted to make decisions about children in foster care. According to research on developmental trauma, experts believe that it’s likely that children are at a greater risk for further trauma and psychological maladjustment than people in our local community realize.
It is dangerous and negligent when an agency does not follow the guidelines put forth by experts in the field by such renowned organizations as the National Traumatic Stress Network, the American Academy of Pediatrics or the American Psychological Association.
Allison Davis Maxon, a licensed clinician who practices in children’s mental health, attachment family systems, adoption and trauma recently shared: “The greatest resource the child welfare system has is its courageous and tenacious foster, adoptive and relative kin parents. They are on the front lines of parenting our hurt and traumatized children and youth. They are in the very trenches of these experiences.”
The recent campaign, Heal Childhood Trauma, brings awareness to how children in foster care are at a significant risk for “developmental trauma.” The professionals estimate childhood trauma impacts the development of 1 in 4 children in the U.S. and how these often-overlooked experiences can adversely impact children’s physical and emotional health.
According to Maxon, who is a member of the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children, “If we do not learn to value these critical partnerships … our mandate to protect children from more harm and suffering is lost.”
The Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, expressed his concerns about DCYF to a local news station in May. “We really need to look at these kids, look at the outcomes we are trying to achieve, look at management, and we need to make sure this is the first and foremost priority in the state of New Hampshire,” he said.
But foster parents worry that almost eight months later, there has been little movement. Members of Fostering Change: Alliance for New Hampshire plan to testify in front of the legislature this winter to support several bills related to foster care and to advocate for the rights of children and youth in foster care.
Sean Morrison is a New Hampshire State Representative, firefighter and an Iraq War veteran who has served the U.S. Army in three combat tours of duty. Sean and his wife have been foster parents for three years.