My son is always unhappy when he hears classical music. When I first noticed this, I asked him why. He told me that in the months he was in foster care, the group home caretakers listened to classical music after he was sent to bed. He told me he fell asleep to that music, crying because he missed me. Now he associates classical music with when we were apart.
My son was 5 when I went into substance abuse treatment. After two days in an emergency shelter, he was placed in a group home in the isolated hills of inland Orange County. I was in a facility for women and children – one of the few treatment programs that allows children to be with their parents while parents recover from addiction. Yet for several months my son remained in foster care. I was told the reason he couldn’t come live with me was because child welfare funding does not pay for kids to be with their parents, only for them to be in foster care.
When I heard there was new legislation in Congress that would help children and parents before the children had to be removed from home, I was so happy. That legislation, the Family First Prevention Services Act, means that children may not have to go through what my son did. The bill would allow funding that is now only available for children who are removed from their homes to be used to help parents keep their families together. That makes so much sense to me.
When parents are able to get into treatment programs with their children, two-thirds of them complete the program. That compares with only one-fifth of parents when their children aren’t allowed to stay in the treatment facility with them. The results achieved by these model programs have saved millions of dollars every year in the costs of keeping kids in foster care. But very few of these programs exist today.
Unfortunately, some California state officials are opposing this legislation, the Family First Prevention Services Act, even though more than 400 groups from all over the country, 35 California-specific organizations and nearly 600 former foster youth support it. Supporters include some of the biggest national and California child welfare agencies as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Society of Addiction Medicine.
I just don’t understand that. I know there are complicated issues of how much money California gets, and disagreements about whether programs meet certain standards. But my experience tells me that children like my son would be better off if they were living with parents who are trying as hard as I did to be the best parent I could possibly be. To have some California stakeholders blocking the passage of this child welfare reform for the entire country is hard to fathom.
This legislation passed the House of Representatives in July. My hope is that members of Congress, before they adjourn this month, and particularly my California senators and state child welfare agencies, will support the Family First Prevention Services Act. They need to understand that by helping parents, they help our kids. Delaying this legislation means stopping a great chance to help families because when parents get the support they need, children thrive.
Jamie Origer is an advocate for children and families and a mother of four in long-term recovery.