On any given day, there are approximately 400,000 U.S. children in the foster care system.Unfortunately, there are not enough beds, parents or homes to house and feed these children.
We have all seen the desperate pleas on the news for more foster families. The LA Times reports that the lack of foster homes means that traumatized children who are removed from their parents are often shoved into temporary quarters where babies can sit for hours in soiled diapers and teenagers have to sleep on the floor. In fact, sometimes it can take a social worker hundreds of calls to find one bed for a Los Angeles child.
So what are we going to do with the 77,200 immigrant children who are projected to flock to the United States this year, including 59,200 children from Central America? This is a hot topic in the news right now, one that needs to be seriously addressed from a resources standpoint.
The problem is we cant even take care of our own.
Lets look at the facts from a human standpoint versus a political.
Its not a new problem. The problem was reported by Border Patrol agents back in 2011 but has steadily increased by 106% over last year, reaching crisis proportions. What the government terms as unaccompanied alien children began coming from Central America — particularly El Salvador and Honduras — in response to rampant gang violence and increased poverty.Not only are they coming to the United States, but they are flocking to other countries as well, including Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize.
Not all are unaccompanied. It is true that some parents are sending their children alone or are trying to reunite with them in the United States. In fact, a study by the UN Office of High Commissioner for Refugees conducted last Spring found that 36% of unaccompanied children have at least one parent in the United States (many who are illegal immigrants themselves).
Children do not get automatic entry. Children coming from Mexico are interviewed by the Border Patrol who must be convinced they suffer persecution or trafficking in their own country or they are sent back. However, Central American children are automatically put into custody and granted full court proceedings. Some people feel the law should be the same for children from Mexico or Central America.
Where the Central American children go. Central American children are immediately taken to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Then, they are either placed with a relative of various federal agencies are taxed with finding housing for the children and processing their immigration cases. And herein lis a big problem.
Unfortunately, the federal agencies are ill equipped to accommodate this surge. One suggestion is that the United States set up emergency shelters on Air Force bases. For instance, 600 children are residing at Naval Base in Ventura County, CA and the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio can house another 1,200. The goal is to provide these children with housing, food, education and medical care while they are in federal custody awaiting their immigration hearings (which can take up to 19 months).
However, this creates many problems on all levels. First, the Border Patrols purpose is to catch criminals crossing the border versus babysitting and screening immigrant children, which is probably best done by child welfare representatives. Second, the emergency shelters are almost prison-like and do not provide vulnerable children with a family-like setting. And third, who is going to foot the bill for this?
Some critics have suggested that these Central American children be placed in foster homes with loving families. Unfortunately, although this may sound good in theory, it is not practical. Our foster care system is already over-burdened and the demand exceeds the resources.
Our government needs to look elsewhere for a solution, and not in our foster care system that is already broken.
About The Author:
Jeffrey A. Kasky, Esq. is a Florida adoption lawyer and Vice President of One World Adoption Services, Inc., a Florida-licensed not-for-profit child placing agency. Jeffs diverse career experiences include co-authoring the book, 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Choosing Adoption with Robert A. Kasky, Florida-certified law enforcement officer, and involvement in the autism community, including a TV show focused on helping families with legal issues related to autism called Spectrum at Law on The Autism Channel. A practicing attorney since 1995, he has worked on more than one thousand adoption cases.