Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Many Children Left Behind

Socialworkhelper.com recently hosted a chat on the financial lives of young people in the foster care system. Carol Behrer, the executive director of the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa, represented The Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative and provided information on Opportunity Passport which is a package of resources designed by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative that teaches young people who have been in foster care how to manage their finances, and matches their savings toward approved asset purchases.

The one hour discussion revolved around some economic problems facing youth in foster care and what services are provided. It was a good conversation, but many more of these conversations need to occur across agencies and across the country to promote the cause of children who too often fall through the cracks. What images does foster care bring to mind?  Though some kids do well, and get placed in loving, supportive homes, one can’t help but think of over-crowded, underfunded and understaffed youth homes with little management and little outside intervention, or child welfare workers with huge case loads and very little ongoing staff training, supports and suitably funded avenues for referral. The mammoth issue of youth in foster care ties into a larger issue in our nation.

A recent joint report from First Focus and Save the Children, America’s Report Card 2012: Children in the United States, gave the nation a grade of C- in terms of overall child well-being.  The report card is based on data from “five aspects of child well-being: economic security, early childhood, k-12 education, permanency and stability, and health and safety.” This combined information presents the strongest indicators of child well-being as “they illustrate the path the life of an American child from birth through adolescence, and their transition into adulthood.  A few facts from the report note: Today, 22 percent of our children live in poverty. The U.S has the second worst infant mortality rate among industrialized nations. And American children lag behind international students in reading and math proficiency at all grade levels.”

We are also failing our children in how we process judicial matters. The numbers of youth in the justice system are staggering. Well over a million kids under aged 16 and under were processed through juvenile courts in 2009, the last year of available statistics. That figure in no way account for all children and youth processed by adult courts, which routinely occurs in most states.  In some states, children as young as 10 are processed as adults in the adult judiciary system and many states exclude certain offenses from juvenile court jurisdiction. Children as young as ten are not consider juveniles in our justice system.  And once incarcerated, they are housed in underfunded, understaffed, underserviced facilities which breed violence and do next to nothing to assist these youth toward a more productive life. If the images of foster care where hard to digest, how much more horrific is this; A ten year old housed with a very large group of 16 and 17 year olds, in a confined space with little comfort and few resources, and an atmosphere of contempt and abuse and violence. This atmosphere breeds delinquency.

We criminalize behavioral actions often stemming from social and emotional issues frequently linked to poverty and family and community dysfunctions. We lock up children without providing the tools and interventions needed for success and once this process starts it becomes almost impossible to break the cycle. Many youth end up in a revolving door, and we allow the cycle to perpetuate while these children grow up and become adults ill-equipped to be productive, contributing members of society. We are failing our children and youth in many of the systems founded to support and nurture them along their journey to adulthood, and in failing our nation’s children, we are failing our nation and ourselves.

Some resources for information and advocacy are: http://www.nrcyd.ou.edu/state-pages/state/ny https://youthbuild.org/ http://www.nrcdv.org/rhydvtoolkit/ http://www.nn4youth.org/about-us/national-network-youth http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/rehab/ http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/ http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/publications/Pub5028.pdf

Child Welfare


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