By Kate Teves
Christoph and I recently completed our training to become certified Guardians Ad Litem for foster children in Florida.
First, some context.
Palm Beach County's foster care system is one of the worst, for a variety of reasons, but most importantly because the system was privatized under the Jeb Bush administration. Combine that with our heroin epidemic, and we've got a big problem.
To give you an example of what privatization looks like in a nutshell, group homes--run like privatized jails-- have become some of the most disturbing places in our state. Staff are untrained and underpaid so they regularly abuse children and rely on law enforcement and psychiatric wards to act as "babysitters." This tends to look like incarceration and/or drugged sedation.
Staff also steal the allowances intended for children's survival. Without any money for their basic needs, children are forced to find income elsewhere. Girls become prey for local sex traffickers.
Sex trafficking of young girls is so common within the foster system that group homes are essentially acting as feeders.
If this upsets you, you might be tempted to see these problems as insurmountable and to look the other way. (After years spent witnessing regular child abuse in the developing world, I took a good decade to myself to avoid these emotions.)
But I hope you will consider learning more about the system and how it is strained by things like the heroin epidemic and Trump's kidnappings.
Guardians Ad Litem:
Over the past six months, we have learned about the Guardian Ad Litem program in Florida. Guardians ad litem, known as CASA volunteers in many states, work to advocate on behalf of foster children. They are not working on behalf of the state, or on behalf of the group homes, or on behalf of the foster parents or biological parents.
Instead, they are essentially field researchers who head into the community to understand what an individual child needs and what the best plan is for the child's welfare. Who is looking out for this child? Who is not? What medical, therapeutic, educational, and other services does this child need?
When it comes time for the state to make decisions about the child's future, the guardian ad litem advocates in court on the child's behalf.
We will be paired with our first child sometime this summer.
The Hardest Part of the Job
I'm never surprised by the capacity of people to do evil to one another. And a lot of times I can forgive ugly human behavior because it is so often rooted in pain, poverty, mental illness, or addiction.
But I am surprised by the behavior of our institutions, and I am terrified by their utter failure to protect children. And that is wherein lies the hardest part of this journey into the foster system.
This work will be a process for me and one that I hope to explore with you as much as I can. To be continued...
We are donating 1% of our product proceeds to help foster children in Palm Beach County. Learn more here.
You can learn more about the privatization of Florida's foster system in this video: