May is National Foster Care Month – what does that mean for REAL LIFE?

Spring is in the air and there has been an increase in clients here at the REAL LIFE Community Center. The increase in foot traffic brings a variety of new backgrounds. We recently spoke to a client who grew up in foster care, as did many of our clients. There are horror stories about children growing up in the system—but here is our insight on those who report abuse and/or foster care placement.

It is no secret that in order to grow up socially capable and emotionally secure, children need a safe, supportive, and stable home environment. This, unfortunately, isn’t always possible at home with their parents. Homes are sometimes riddled with substance use, domestic violence, neglect, or complete lack of supervision. There could be a multitude of issues, all of which stifle a child’s emotional and physical well-being – the premise behind trauma-informed care or adverse childhood experiences. The children, however, are the innocent ones in this scenario.

Often, it is difficult to ‘find’ cases of child abuse and neglect lack, which in turn causes children to suffer. In Virginia alone, every 90 minutes a child is found and there is an incident of maltreatment, the most common being physical (i.e., lack of food, clothing, shelter or leaving the child alone for an extended period of time). This maltreatment gives us the heartbreaking statistic of a child dying every 8 days, 91% of these children being 4 years of age and under!

At the same time, there are plenty of cases were Child Protective Services intervenes and places children into foster care due to familial situations. Nationally, in 2014 there were approximately 415,000 youth in foster care. More than half of these youth had to change schools, some as often as five or more times. Even more troublesome is children in foster care are diagnosed with PTSD at twice the rate as our U.S. war veterans. If these statistics tell us anything, it partially reveals that our current care system lacks stability and, most importantly, safety for the children involved. Yet, being taken from the home after being exposed to traumatic situations, is the first driving factor of issues such as PTSD and other adverse childhood experiences and exposures. It is as if, the child is often hopeless before even entering the system.

Children need to feel loved and safe, and when subjected to so much turmoil, either at home and/or through foster care, it is no surprise often many turn to drugs or alcohol or other negative behaviors to cope with their stressors.

At REAL LIFE, our team tries our best to reverse these negative effects that most frequently stemmed from childhood through classes throughout the week and through the relationship developed between the case manager and the client. The sooner we are able to step in and interrupt the cycle of traumatic experiences and coping with the past, the more likely an individual is to be able to move positively through life to develop a thriving life. Fortunately, through the Center, we are able to intervene, but sadly, it is often after years of these negative behaviors that started as children and now as adults, they are pleading for help.

In order to reveres these outcomes, there must be preventative measures – prevention instead of intervention, for children. Incorporation of trauma informed care and dealing with adverse experiences is critical to surround children through school, after school activities, and in the home, so we do not have so many adults acting out due to childhood experiences. It’s 2018! As a society, we must holistically address the issue and not just put “Band-Aids on the wound” (as former Sheriff C.T. Woody, Jr. would say).