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A Journey into the Experience of a Foster Child

An organization that offers help and support for foster and adoptive parents, Foster Adopt Connect, recently gave local officials a glimpse of what it’s like to be a foster child.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky went on the tour and has more.

Imagine being a child—taken by strangers from your home.  Even if the house is dirty and the adults are constantly fighting, it’s the only home you’ve ever known, and it’s terrifying to leave it.

That’s reality for hundreds of children in Greene County every year as they’re removed for various reasons and placed into foster homes.  At the end of October, there were 821 kids in foster care in the county.

A recent bus tour took city officials, Missouri legislators and others to see what a child who is removed from his or her home goes through.

The Journey Home Bus Tour sent participants first to the Child Advocacy Center where CAC employees explained what happens when a child is sent there for investigation of physical or sexual abuse (the center’s director, Barbara Brown Johnson, said it’s mostly sexual abuse claims that are investigated). 

Exam rooms are as child-friendly as they can be with objects hidden on murals on the walls so the health professional can distract the child while they’re being examined.

Each child who comes to the center receives a bag filled with donated items like body wash, a toothbrush, a stuffed animal and a blanket.

"If you can imagine, you're being taken into care now, and you may not have gotten to go home and get your favorite stuffed animal.  You may not have gotten your favorite blankie that you have slept with since you were born, you know, those kinds of things, so here's something that, while it doesn't replace those, it's something that can maybe help start the process and give you something of your own."

Amy Hathcock, CAC’s program manager, said they served 1,320 kids last year in 16 area counties.

According to Brown Johnson, almost every child they see is reluctant to talk because their abuser is someone they love and trust. 

"You know, it's a parent.  Most often it's a parent, so they come in the door knowing that, ok, if this goes well, I may have to rat out dad or grandpa or brother or someone else like that," said Brown Johnson.

She said, while poverty is often part of the situation, they also see children from middle and upper income families.  Drug use is also often part of the equation.

Sometimes children are taken into protective custody at the CAC.

Children’s Division receives custody of the children.  The tour took participants to their office space on Park Central Square, which isn’t at all kid-friendly.  There are a few donated items for the youngsters such as diapers, snacks and clothing, along one wall next to some cubicles, but there’s always a need for more.

According to Tabitha Alshire, a specialist with Children’s Division, they work hard to find a family member to place the children with before sending them to a foster home.  It’s often difficult investigative work to search for even a distant relative willing to take the child in. 

Springfield police officer, Chris Laughlin, said studies show there are many benefits to alternative placement with family members. 

Sometimes parents get their kids back—they accept services offered to them and work hard to make changes, but the reunification rate in Greene County, according to Judge Andy Hosmer with the county’s family court, is only 35 percent.

When a child goes into foster care, especially if they are moved from home to home or go to residential care, and ages out of the system, they have a high rate of homelessness. That’s why Judge Hosmer looks forward to adoption day at the court.  He knows those kids will likely have a better outcome than those who age out of the foster care system.

Julie Murray, a foster and adoptive parent, continues to work hard for children—especially the older ones who are harder to place.  She’s seen firsthand how having a stable home can make the difference for those kids.

"They are becoming successful adults, and we're seeing them graduate from high school, and we're seeing them get a driver's license and learn how to budget and live successfully on their own as opposed to the ones that we see are homeless.  The difference to me there is a foster home that's committed to those kids."

She said Foster Adopt Connect offers a lot of resources for foster parents, including help with furniture, clothing and other items for the children at Sammy’s Window, a large room where the kids can “shop” for things they need.  The person behind the desk at Sammy’s Window is Mark Hay, whose dad was in foster care as a child.  He said they provide foster families with items they need to be successful.

Learn more about Foster Adopt Connect here