Housing Can Break This Foster Care Cycle

At last Thursday’s Council hearing on the DHS budget, Raynette Tolen shared with Councilmember Jim Graham and other members of the Council’s Human Services Committee her desperate wish to reunite with her two oldest children – boys who are presently in the foster care system and who won’t be reunified with their mom and siblings until Ms. Tolen has safe and adequate housing. Ms. Tolen, who herself grew up in foster care and aged out of that system with little more than a “good luck” wish from the child welfare system, presently resides at the DC General family shelter. She and the more than 280 other families with whom she lives at that shelter are in dire need of a decent, affordable place to call home.

Testimony of Raynette Tolen

My name is Raynette Tolen and I am the mother of six kids. I became homeless at the age of 21 when I emancipated out of CFSA. They gave me a check and I was out of foster care. I had already had my two oldest sons and was pregnant with my daughter. When I went to FRC they told me that I needed to get letters from everyone that I was staying with saying that I could not stay with them. After I got those letters together for FRC I was referred to DC General were I am currently staying.

Right now I have four of my kids with me. The other two are in foster care. I granted temporary custody to my grandmother while I look for housing. The Judge on this case said that I could not get my oldest two sons back until I have housing. I want to be able to take care of all of my kids and I want my sons back. Right now I have a job but want to go back to school for my CNA. I had to drop out of school and go to work because I was homeless. Permanent Supportive Housing will help me. I am out here by myself. I do not have any family to get help from. My mother and father have never been a factor in my life and I have been the system all my life. I want to be able to take care of my kids. One of my sons has autism and I am Bipolar. We received SSI and need PSH. I want to be able to get the help I need for our illnesses and take care of my family.

If I get housing I will be able to go back to school and support my family. I just want all of my kids and want to be able to take care of them. The last thing I want to see is my two kids growing up in the system like I did and feeling like I don’t love them. I am grateful for where I am but this life I have been living is not easy and my first goal is to get my housing. Then I want to go back to school and support my family.

Foster Care Awareness Month brings several events in May

Foster Care Awareness Month brings several events in May

The Human Services Agency of Ventura County, which coordinates the county’s foster child program, will highlight the need for foster parents for teens, siblings and children with special needs in May, which is Foster Care Awareness Month.

Some 240 foster families, 70 Foster Family Agency homes and 170 relative caregivers provide support for more than 800 foster care children in Ventura County.

“The need for couples and individuals to open their doors and hearts to foster kids is ever present,” said Judy Webber, deputy director for the county’s foster care program. “Our most pressing need is to find foster parents who will take in teens. Many older kids have lived in numerous family settings during their young lives. When they must exit foster care their foster parents are typically the only adults who have given them the hope, understanding and guidance needed to achieve their dreams.”

HSA also strives to place siblings in the same foster household.

The average stay in foster care is about 10 months in Ventura County. Youths range in age from newborn to 20.

Foster parent training is required, with additional training needed for foster parents accepting special needs kids. Foster parents receive regular payments to feed and clothe children in their care. Medical and dental coverage is provided.

To find out more about becoming a foster parent, call (805) 654-3456, go to www.vchsa.org/ foster or attend an informational meeting. Upcoming meetings are May 22 and June 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Human Services Agency of Ventura County, 855 Partridge Drive, Ventura.

High Workloads and Limited Resources

High Workloads and Limited Resources May Prevent Children in Foster Care from Returning Home

High Workloads and Limited Resources May Prevent Children in Foster Care from Returning Home

Salem – A state audit released today found that while the Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare Program returned children home at a higher rate than the national average, high caseloads and limited services to parents may prevent children in foster care from returning home. Auditors suggested the agency consider some strategies to help case workers with the challenges they face.

“In this resource limited environment, frontline workers are expected to do more with less,” Secretary of State Kate Brown said. “We found a few things that might help a little in coping with their large workloads.”

The Child Welfare Program is responsible for removing children from their homes when their safety is threatened. The Department also tries to return these children to their homes or primary caregivers whenever possible. According to federal data, about 29% of about 13,000 children in foster care in Oregon went home, compared to 22% nationally. However, they found this success is threatened by high caseworker workloads and tight program funding.

Certain caseworker tasks deemed critical for safely returning children home were not occurring at adequate levels and, in some cases, were not occurring at all. Most noteworthy were inadequate parent-child visits, decreased efforts to engage parents, and limited resources to address parents’ mental health, substance abuse, and housing issues.

State auditors observed several district practices that, if explored further, could increase return rates. For example, the Department’s Klamath County Office has a visitation center located away from the child welfare office, which can provide a less stressful environment for parent-child visits.

Auditors recommended central management consider assigning a central office program manager dedicated to returning children home who could help set priorities and provide better direction and caseworker support. Auditors also recommended consideration of assigning some administrative tasks caseworkers now perform to support staff.

“We conducted on-site work in five of Oregon’s 16 districts and saw their challenges and some strategies that could help. We believe these strategies could help caseworkers a bit, and perhaps return more children to their families,” said Audits Director Gary Blackmer.

The audit report, including the agency response, can be found at www.sos.state.or.us/audits.

For more information, contact

Andrea Cantu-Schomus

New child welfare audit says Oregon can do more to reunite parents and kids in foster care


SALEM --While Oregon child welfare caseworkers do better than the national average in seeing that children taken into state foster care are returned to their parents, a new audit also finds caseworkers often do not include parents in critical discussions concerning their families and have little time to ensure meaningful visits between parents and kids.

Overall, the
28-page report portrays a system under stress.

Overworked child welfare staff do not get much help from the central office in prioritizing their work. Parents were unable to get addiction treatment, mental health care or other services they needed before they could bring their kids back home.

"We read a lot of stories about what's happening with caseworkers and children and we thought it was important for us to go out and see what areas we might be able to help improve," said Gary Blackmer, director of the
secretary of state's audits division.

Auditors analyzed data, visited child welfare offices and reviewed case files from October 2009 through September 2010. During that time caseworkers removed 4,736 children from their homes because of suspected abuse or neglect. In total, about 13,000 kids spent at least one day in foster care during that period.

The report found 29 percent of the children in foster care were reunited with their parents; nationally 22 percent of the children returned home. Oregon had a lower rate of children returning to foster care because they were abused again.

"Safely returning kids home to their parents is a priority and has been for the last several years because children do better at home -- as long as they are safe at home," said Gene Evans, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Human Services.

But Oregon also takes proportionately more children into foster care than other states. Auditors were unable to measure whether there were some youngsters taken from their parents who shouldn't have been, said Andrew Love, the report's lead auditor.

Much of the report connects the rising number of reports of child abuse and neglect -- up 20 percent in the last five years -- to a mounting load for caseworkers.

Tasks that state officials consider critical to returning a child home were not being done regularly, if at all.

For example, while policy requires caseworkers to meet parents face-to-face at least once a month to monitor progress. Those contacts occurred 62 percent of the time.

Auditors found that "action agreements," forms signed by a parent or caregiver were not completed in 20 of 91 cases reviewed. Of the 71 agreements that were done, 22 were not signed by a parent and some had no date indicating the form had been reviewed by a parent.

Even though experts stress the need for parents and children who have been separated to have quality time together, across Oregon those visits typically happened for one hour once a week at the local child welfare office.

"In all the districts we visited, child welfare caseworkers and other stakeholders noted the amount and quality of parent-child visits was rarely adequate," the report said.

There were exceptions. In Klamath County, auditors noted families have access to a visitation center located away from the child welfare office and where parents can also seek drug and alcohol treatment.

But auditors did not paint a picture of a situation they expected would improve on its own. They noted that a new computer system had increased caseworker's clerical load. Caseworkers got little guidance from top managers about what in their 1,500-page policy manual should be their priorities. Until last year, child welfare caseworkers did not get job performance reviews.

In their list of recommendations, auditors suggest that the agency designate a manager in its Salem headquarters to focus on what workers need to do to ensure that children return home.

"We didn't see strong communication between central office and the field," Blackmer said.

In a letter of response the agency's chief operating officer, Jim Scherzinger said caseworkers are doing the best they can.

"Child welfare is staffed at approximately 67 percent of the need, given the current workload and there are tasks that go undone every day," he wrote.

As for hiring a manager to oversee this part of the work, Scherzinger said the agency doesn't have the financial resources. Besides, he wrote, "a static list of priorities issued from Central Office will not serve families well and could leave children in unsafe settings."

Group to help ease foster care backlog

Apr 23, 2012, 01:54 AM CDT

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma organization is seeking volunteers to collect documents and information from potential foster parents to help ease the state Department of Human Services’ backlog in completing home studies.

The delays have meant that some foster parents haven’t been paid and others who want to be foster parents have had to wait as long as six months for paperwork to be processed.

“It just boils down to a system that has been overwhelmed by the demand,” DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said.

A proposed state child welfare reform plan announced three weeks ago calls for recruiting 1,000 new foster families while eliminating the use of shelters for children under the age of 13 by June 30, 2014.

But having more foster parent applicants won’t resolve the shelter problem unless officials are able to complete the home studies required, Powell said, so quick help is needed.

“Oklahoma Lawyers for Children has stepped up,” Powell said. “They are offering to recruit, train and monitor volunteers who will collect all the documents and information from potential foster parents and do the initial walk-throughs and assessments of the homes ... These are the kinds of public-private partnerships we need.”

Oklahoma Lawyers for Children is looking for volunteers, said Tsinena Thompson, executive director of the organization, which was created to provide legal services to abused, neglected and deprived children in Oklahoma County. A training session is scheduled for Wednesday.

The volunteers’ work will supplement home studies by DHS employees.

Foster parents sought in Placer, Nevada counties

Foster parents sought in Placer, Nevada counties

A group of foster care agencies has launched a 100-day campaign to encourage more people in Placer and Nevada counties to become foster parents and allow children to remain in their communities.

The initiative, "Today's Foster Parent," highlights the need for local foster parents. The main purpose of the campaign, which runs through July 30, is to prevent children from moving from foster home to foster home, and to improve their chances for a permanent family.

"Far too many children in foster care are forced to move outside of their communities, far from their birth parents, friends, schools and other support groups," Gail Johnson Vaughan, executive director of Mission Focused Solutions, said in a written statement. "We are asking local families to step forward to make a difference in the lives of these children."

The Grass Valley-based foster care advocacy organization is spearheading the campaign in partnership with Placer and Nevada counties and the Sierra Health Foundation. Participating in the program are five nonprofit foster care agencies that connect foster and adoptive parents with children in the two counties: Children's Hope, EMQ/Families First, Environmental Alternatives, Placer Kids and Sierra Forever Families.

For more information, see the website at www.urtodaysfosterparent.org, or call (530) 477-2900.

Bronx couple with three foster children die in fire

Three men tried to save them

A devoted Bronx couple raising three foster kids died in a smoky apartment fire despite the efforts of heartbroken would-be rescuers to reach them.

The pair, both in their 40s, were pronounced dead after the blaze inside the apartment building at 69 W. 225th St., fire officials said Saturday.

“I tried to save them,” said Zelmo Brooks, 32, who was baby-sitting in an adjoining apartment Friday when the fire erupted. “It still hurts me talking about it.”

The Brooklynite was one of three men who smashed through the door of Apartment 2-B, only to find themselves repelled by the choking smoke.

“If my father was alive, he would have said, ‘You tried your best,’ ” Brooks recalled through tears.

A source said the blaze was an electrical fire that started in the bedroom.

Neighbor Alexandra Vizcarrondo recalled that the victims would often walk hand in hand. Their three foster children — an 18-year-old girl and two boys, ages 10 and 13 — escaped the blaze.

Police search for teen who ran away from foster mom, DHS staff

Portland Police are searching for a 14-year-old girl who ran away from her foster mother and Oregon Department of Human Services Staff.

Ariyuana Robinson took off yesterday afternoon from the DHS offices in Portland, investigators said.

Police told FOX 12 her health may be in jeopardy if she does not receive necessary medications.

Robinson is described as 5'2" tall and 130 pounds.

She has brown hair, which she was wearing in a bun, and brown eyes, police said.

She was last seen wearing a black tank top, dark colored skinny pants and white Nike sandals.

Anyone who knows of Robinson's whereabouts is asked to call 911.

Anyone with additional information in this case is asked to contact Detective Mike Weinstein, Missing Persons Unit, at 503-823-0446.

Why are huge numbers of Black, Latino children in California foster care?

By Charlene Muhammad and Angelita Muhammad | Last updated: Apr 23, 2012 - 6:24:03 PM

Hearings held but a basic question remains unanswered, say advocates

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) - Child advocates and activists charge money is the driving force behind California’s racially imbalanced foster care system and statewide hearings on the disproportionate numbers Black and Latino children in child welfare have offered no viable solutions.

According to statistics, Black children make up six percent of the state’s population but 25 percent of its foster care system. Latino children, 38 percent of the state’s residents, are 51 percent of children in foster care.

“It’s not about racism. It’s about the up to $150,000 cost the system gets for caring for each child and the fact that they’re ignoring current laws that say what can and can’t be done to and with children and families,” said Attorney L. Wallace Pate, a longtime child and family advocate.

That rolls over into people thinking they can do anything to Black people simply because they are vulnerable, she said.

“It’s due to the fact that kids are not getting any due process. For instance, families are supposed to have a trial but they are taking children within 15 days ... and the reason they target African American people is because we’re so disenfranchised, so it’s about money,” Atty. Pate said. The state’s motivation for weighing the plight of Black and Latino youth in foster care could be funding for foster care from the Obama administration, she said.

According to the National Foster Care Coalition, the Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposes a $252 million ($2.5 million over 10 years) incentive fund targeting improvements in the child welfare system in key areas, such as reducing how long children stay in foster care, increasing permanent placements through reunifications, adoptions and guardianships, and decreasing maltreatment, among other things.

“As long as people keep yelling racism, they’ll never get anywhere. If they call it racism, then they know they’ll never have to fix it but the elephant in the room is being ignored: Why don’t they follow the law that’s on the books?” Atty. Pate said.

Jim Beall, Jr., chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care, said the legislature has tried to pass laws to address the disparities but failed. The hearings are a part of its new approach in light of Governor Jerry Brown’s Realignment Plan, which shifts responsibility and control of the foster care system to counties, he said.

The goal is to force local governments to address the disparities through a bill that would require counties to establish outcome measures and goals, and report on them by the end of 2013. If passed, the law would go into effect January 3, 2013.

“The question would then be is the system responding in a culturally competent, correct manner to eliminate the disparities at issue?” Assemblyman Beall said.

More than 100 parents, child advocates, community activists and faith-based leaders turned out for an April 4 hearing at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services to hear more about the state’s plans. A hearing addressing Latino youth in foster care was held in San Jose in January, and a third session is planned for San Francisco soon.

Assemblyman Beall said lawmakers are hearing a lot of anecdotal stories about insensitivity and system wide racism. One former foster care resident spoke about how racial and ethnic disparities affected her in terms of not receiving hair and skin care products sensitive to Black consumers, and feeling awkward and isolated as a young Black girl in a White family.

Others shared how some resources for emancipated youth, those released from foster care after reaching age 18, have helped them to succeed. But the hearing left some wanting and a few lamented what they called a limited discussion about how Black youth actually came to be an excessive number of the state’s foster care population.

“They cited numbers, evoked emotion, but didn’t get to the vein of the problem. What is the history of the foster care system, why are so many Black children trapped in it, and what is going to be done about the disparities,” one female audience member said to The Final Call.

Congresswoman Karen Bass said California has been studying the best practices and challenges of other states to help children and families. In Miami, she said, the foster care system has been privatized. She said it is an interesting scenario, but did not elaborate.

“Bottom line, what’s at stake, according to the guidance that’s been given to us by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, is a generation doomed for total destruction. And if we don’t intervene on their behalf we already see what the system is geared for. It is the modern day movement and plantation to take us back into slavery,” said Student Minister Tony Muhammad, Western Regional representative of the Nation of Islam.

He continued, “They gave us alarming numbers, such as one in five of those children in foster care is living a slightly sane life. Seventy percent of prisoners come out of the foster care system. Thirty percent of the homeless population derive from foster care. Sixty percent of the children in foster care are on psychotropic medications.”

According to Min. Muhammad, community activists are planning a town hall meeting to further explore the disparities and chase the money trail linked to foster care to get to the cause of high numbers of Black and Brown children under state care.

Foster families needed in N.H.: Why not you?

Foster families needed in N.H.: Why not you?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

CONCORD — This year, between 600 and 900 New Hampshire children will find themselves in need of foster homes.
Most will have been removed from their own homes due to parental abuse or neglect. They'll range from birth to age 18, have a wide range of circumstances, and will hail from every corner of the state. Unfortunately, at this time, there are not enough licensed foster homes that can accommodate all the children in need.

Child and Family Services of NH, a private, nonprofit, was recently contracted by the State Department of Health and Human Services, to serve as the official foster family recruiter for the State of New Hampshire. As such, CFS is reaching out to citizens across the state to raise awareness of and interest in fostering.

"To be a foster parent, you don't need to be rich, be a homeowner, be married, already be a parent, or have a college degree," says Michelle Galligan, foster care recruiter/specialist, from Child and Family Services. "If you have a big heart, a home, and a sense of humor, you've got some of the key ingredients."

While the trend has been somewhat positive, with fewer children in the foster care system today than in past years, the need is great for securing families in communities throughout the state with whom these children can be matched.

"Some children in need of a home are sibling groups, some are teenagers, some have special needs, some have cultural differences, and others are just like your kids or the kids you know," explains Galligan. "This is why we need to build a great pool of resource families. It's traumatic enough for a child to be removed from the only home he or she has ever known, so we endeavor to place the child in the most appropriate environment that will be most conducive not only to the child, but to the foster family as well."

Child and Family Services works with NH State District Offices in every county in an effort to ensure that when children need to be placed in care, that they can stay in their own communities, thereby remaining in their own school with their own friends and familiar comforts, and with the least amount of disruption.

The length of stay in foster care is different for each child. When it is possible, and in the child's best interest to repair and reconnect the family, services are put into place for that. Sometimes, relatives step in and provide kins-care. In cases where the parents will not regain custody, and there are no family options, the children in foster care are freed for adoption.

One of the obstacles to fostering is the fear of what it takes to become a foster parent. But CFS and the State Division for Children, Youth and Families, along with several social service partners throughout the state, provide a clear and comprehensive road map, along with training, resources and round-the-clock support for foster families.

"Fostering can be a greatly rewarding experience," Galligan adds, "not only because you see how you are changing the life of a child, but by the love you receive in return."

For further information on becoming a foster parent, visit cfsnh.org or call 603-518-4294.

Declaration of the Foster Children

Declaration of the Foster Children

There is no way to adequately start this article. There are thousands of metaphors I could twist into something that will tear at your heart strings, but there is nothing that will make you feel. There is nothing that will make you stop what you’re doing and take immediate action. There are only the strangled voices and the loss of lives before they’ve even begun, struggling to maintain some type of humanity within themselves, to remind them they’re human, too, that stand behind you like evanescent ghosts. This is whom I write for.

In 2010, there was a total of about 408,000 children in foster care across the United States. Out of those adolescents, a mere 53,000 were adopted — that is approximately 13%. That does not take into account those who are “brought back.” This means 87% of those children had no other choice but to remain in the system. The results are staggeringly similar for previous years.

Children are often brought into foster care due to negligence and/or abuse, which is ironic considering the amount of that same abuse that takes place within foster care itself. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that it’s widely suggested by psychologists that adolescents living in foster care are so negatively affected by the situation, that it’s better for the children to remain in the abusive household from which they came.

There are numerous amounts of similar statistics and findings. Despite this being a very well-known issue, there is so little being done to change it that there has been a “Human Rights Petition” drafted and available to sign, designed in hopes of getting the President himself to right what has been wronged for so many decades. It should be shameful to America itself that it has even come to this level.

In all honesty, I write this with experience. Since age seven, I have been involved with Child Protective Services, because my mother was a drug addict and I had never met my father. I ended up living with my abusive grandmother which, in retrospect, is probably a hell of a lot better of an outcome than the children who ended up committing suicide or housed with complete strangers who wanted nothing more than to use them for their own sick pleasure. So, it is with an all-too-familiar anguish in my soul that I personally recall many aspects of how the child care system has quickly spiraled downward, with no sign of ever picking itself back up.

Which is the exact reason that it comes down to the individual to make even the slightest of change. Whether that be choosing adoption over procreating, becoming a case worker who actually, genuinely cares about the children within his/her jurisdiction, volunteering at a shelter near you, or any other various deeds that would be enormously appreciated.

However, this is not a plea to become fluent in humanitarianism. This is meant to be more of an awareness, a declaration of how sickening the foster care system in America has become and been left as. This is not the first roar of a revolution, but more-so a weep of what is and what is sure to remain. Although not amounting to much, this is meant to be a face for the (literally) millions of children who have suffered beneath the name of “not being good enough” and never having found a place to call home, even while residing in the country that boasts every day of its free lands. I, and now hopefully a few other kind souls, recognize their existence and will carry their heavy hearts upon our shoulders every night, until maybe one day they are finally able to appreciate the moon again, and what it is to be part of a family.

Feds Say State DCF Still Struggling On Foster Care, Some Services

Feds Say State DCF Still Struggling On Foster Care, Some Services

By JOSH KOVNER, jkovner@courant.com The Hartford Courant

2:30 p.m. EDT, April 12, 2012

Questions persist about the ability of the state Department of Children and Families to attract new foster families, retain the ones it has, and close gaps in services that are still keeping kids too long in hospitals and emergency shelters.

The federal court has been monitoring DCF since a landmark child-neglect lawsuit in the late 1980s known as the "Juan F.'' case led to a series of performance benchmarks for the agency.

In his latest report, released Thursday, the court's monitor noted a need for DCF to set up a way to track children who are diverted from institutional settings, which are also called "congregate care'' facilities. The monitor, former DCF official Raymond Mancuso, and the lawyers in the Juan F. case, say they want to know where these kids are going and how they're doing.

A process to track the children, Mancuso reported, is important because DCF's shift from congregate care to foster care puts pressure on the agency to line up and retain foster homes – something that DCF traditionally has struggled to do.

Ira Lustbader, one of the plaintiff's lawyers in the Juan F. case and associate director of Children's Rights in New York City, praised DCF for getting more kids out of campus settings and into family homes.

"It's taken real strong leadership to move away from institutions,'' Lustbader said. "But the public needs to know how these kids are doing as they come out of these settings and are brought back from out-of-state institutions. We need to know they're getting the support they need.''

Mancuso said there continues to be gaps in behavioral health services, substance-abuse and domestic-violence treatment, and in-home care. He said discharge delays are still occurring in hospitals and emergency shelters, which are known in the trade as SAFE homes. Advocates say children should not be in these places any longer than they have to be, but the court monitor's report said the time it took to discharge kids actually increased in the last quarter of 2011.

DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said the department is involved in a top-to-bottom reform under Commissioner Joette Katz, who came on in January 2011.

He acknowledged that DCF needs to continue to attract foster families, but said that the percentage of those families who are related to the children they're taking in has never been higher.

Foster children tend to stay longer with relatives, meaning they'll be less likely to have to jump from foster family to foster family, Kleeblatt said.

"Relative-care is a great thing,'' Lustbader said. "But DCF needs to increase all of its family-based placements so those options are available as kids come out of institutions.''

Kleeblatt said gaps and delays in services to children and families will diminish as new initiatives take hold. For example, DCF is giving parents a chance to work out relatively minor issues of child neglect in conjunction with a social worker's guidance, rather than the agency taking more punitive action right away.

Held Back From Education

Held Back From Education

 By: Dr. John N. DeGarmo, Ed.D.

Foster Focus Contributor

Placement into a new home for a foster child certainly leads to many areas of emotional anxieties and stress.  Foster parents and caseworkers recognize this, and are trained to help foster children with these issues.  Yet, even more challenging for many foster children is the place many spend most of their time in each day; the school.  Unfortunately, most foster parents and caseworkers have little knowledge or training to aid foster children while in school, and the schools are equally unable to help, as well.

Foster children, in general, tend to perform below level in regard to both academic performance and in positive behavior than those students who come from either traditional homes as well as children from economically disadvantaged homes. The majority of children under foster care supervision experience problems in behavior while enrolled in public schools. These behavioral problems may be indicated by feelings of aggressiveness, which result in aggressive behavior toward others. It has been found that children who are angry and frustrated are more prone to experience conduct problems. Foster children may also experience feelings of low self-esteem, delinquency, and disruptive behavior. They tend to be demanding and lack maturity as they seek the attention of those around them. 

Foster children often have a difficult time with exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day. For many of the children, school is a constant reminder that they are, indeed, foster children without a true home. Their peers are living with biological family members while they are not. This can be a difficult reality for them, and can be manifested in several ways, such as displaying aggressive behavior, disruptive behavior, defiance, and low self-esteem. Some foster children simply withdraw and become antisocial, in an attempt to escape the current environment into which they have been thrust. For many foster children, violent behavior becomes the norm, as they not only act out in a negative and disruptive fashion in the school, but in their foster home. This can prompt another move to another foster home and another school.       

As a result of this behavior, foster children often face greater risks of suspension from school, affecting their academic standing. They may repeat a grade level, or are simply placed in classes that are not appropriate to their age level. Those children who suffer from depression have a much higher rate of behavior disorders, including violent behavior, which often results in school suspension.

New placements may translate to frustration and behavior disorders, due to the lack of stability in the foster child’s life, as he or she endeavors to create new relationships on a continuous basis. Foster children often express these behavior problems because of the large amounts of school time missed with court appearances, doctors’ appointments, or simply from multiple placements. High levels of absenteeism frequently lead to grade retention, which leads to frustration and behavioral problems. Those children who experience multiple placements may face the dilemma of not obtaining the special needs in regard to specific services to assist them with learning disabilities/impairments, as schools often do not have the time  necessary to implement appropriate testing.

Many foster children wish to form strong, meaningful relationships with their teachers, but yet this is impossible if the child encounters multiple placements in multiple schools, resulting in frustration and possible behavior disorders. However, not only is a foster child’s school performance affected by behavior disorders, but problems with emotional, mental, and health related issues also affect school performance. Many children who are removed from their homes and placed into foster care enter the child welfare system with chronic health, developmental, and even psychiatric disorders, because of neglect and abuse they faced while in their birth homes. Add to this the emotional distress and suffering that occurs when the children are separated, or removed, from their birth parents.

Those foster children who were taken from homes due to neglect repeatedly suffer from a number of developmental delays. These include poor language and vocabulary development, thus impairing communication skills. Antisocial behavior may result from neglect, and even poor brain development. To be sure, there are high levels of mental health problems with children under foster care.

Sadly, many times these problems are not being addressed. Furthermore, psychological and emotional issues that challenge foster children may even worsen and increase, rather than improve and decrease, while under placement in foster homes and care. Foster children, in many cases, do not receive adequate services in regard to mental health and developmental issues and will not likely do so in the near future.

Foster mother mourns death of drowned autistic girl in Riverview

Foster mother mourns death of drowned autistic girl in Riverview

RIVERVIEW — In a house full of children, silence means only one thing to Marie Cherubin: Something's not right.

A foster mom of special needs children for 16 years, Cherubin, 59, has spent her days learning the language of children who cannot speak. Children with Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and autism.

Children like Arriyanna Pivacek, an energetic 10-year-old with autism who would sing and hum and squeak and chirp from the moment she woke up until the moment she went to sleep.

The house is quieter now.

Arriyanna drowned Saturday afternoon in a small neighborhood pond after wandering away from a birthday party at the home of a family that had been trying to adopt her.

It took eight adults at the party and about 50 sheriff's deputies, including canine units, a helicopter and a dive team, more than three hours to find her. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

"She's gone," Cherubin said, tears welling beneath her glasses Monday afternoon. "And it hurts. It hurts so bad."

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy Sunday. According to that report, Arriyanna died beneath 5 feet of water in an accidental drowning.

The would-be adoptive mother at 11159 Golden Silence Drive, where Saturday's party was held, declined to comment Monday. But Cherubin said the woman "loved that little girl with her whole heart."

Arriyanna had been in the woman's care before, according to Hillsborough Kids Inc.'s records. She was Arriyanna's foster mother when the girl was a newborn in July 2001.

"(Arriyanna) began her life with her, and she ended her life with her," Cherubin said. "It's heartbreaking."

Cherubin said she took care of Arriyanna for about a year. She has four other special needs foster children in her home, all boys. Arriyanna was her "beautiful little girl."

Every day, Cherubin would dress her, brush her hair in front of the mirror, walk her to the bus, hum along to the child's ever-changing song.

"She was so full of life," Cherubin said. "Everybody she meets falls in love with her."

Though the autism hampered her ability to use words, Arriyanna was a vocal child. She mimicked noises and gestures to communicate what she wanted.

"I knew all her sounds," Cherubin said. "I knew which were her footsteps coming down the hall. She was only quiet when she went to sleep."

Cherubin said she was not at the birthday party on Saturday when the girl disappeared.

When she got the frantic call from the adoptive mother, Cherubin said she thought Arriyanna may have wandered off to take a nap; that's why no one could hear her singing.

Neither Cherubin nor the prospective adoptive family has faced disciplinary action in the past, according to Department of Children and Families records. Hillsborough Kids Inc. lauded the would-be adoptive family as one of the agency's most dedicated and well-trained medical foster families.

But even the most well-cared-for children can fall through the cracks. Throughout the investigation, several agencies have misreported Arriyanna's age and the spelling of her name. Records maintained by the state differed from a birth certificate, which differed from the Medical Examiner's report, which differed from the case worker's report kept by Cherubin.

This, officials said, is likely due to human error.

As DCF continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the drowning, Hillsborough Kids is working with both foster families to provide crisis and grief counseling.

"Right now, we're focused on caring for the families and ensuring their wellbeing," said Hillsborough Kids spokeswoman Jeanine Bedell.

The organization also will handle funeral arrangements. It will be a private service, open only to Arriyanna's family and friends.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386.