Firsthand Perspective on the Impact of Foster Care Policy

December 6, 2018 | Sara Tiano

Grandfather and Granddaughter

One of the biggest trends in foster care in recent years has been the rise of relative caregivers. In most parts of the country, child welfare systems are increasingly relying on extended family members to take in abused or neglected children to prevent them from being sent to the homes of strangers. Between 2012 and 2016, 44 states saw an increase in relative placements according to new data collected by The Chronicle of Social Change. In several states, that figure has more than doubled.

This is generally seen as a good thing. Most child welfare advocates will tell you that for kids who cannot stay with their parents, living with a relative or close family friend is the next best option.

But for Alexandria Maldonado, this was not the case. In her article, “Blood Lines: Relatives Not Always the Best Caregivers for Foster Youth,” Alexandria explains that being placed with her relatives only served to increase the trauma of her foster care experience. She also points out double standards in the licensing and training expectations of relative caregivers versus foster parents. 

When Alexandria entered foster care at age 14, the relatives who were considered to take her in included her biological father, who was abusive prior to abandoning Alexandria, her siblings, and her mother; and her grandparents, who had already kicked Alexandria’s family out of their house regardless of the fact that doing so would make them homeless.

“The courts wanted me to stay with my blood relatives, yet none of them ever took a parenting class, foster parent class, relative caregiver class, or even therapy to understand my situation and how I might be feeling,” Alexandria writes. “The court assumed that because it was family, I would be in a safe situation, but it wasn’t.”

In telling her story, Alexandria highlights one piece of California’s ongoing foster care reform process, the Continuum of Change Reform (CCR). While CCR maintains the long-standing preference for foster youth to be placed with relatives, it places standardized licensing and approval requirements on every person looking to take in a foster youth, regardless of their relationship to the child. 

So much of the policy that shapes the lives of youth in foster care is designed by and decided upon by people whose only understanding of the system is from an abstract or academic sense.

As the editorial team at The Chronicle of Social Change works to shine a light on the chronically under-reported foster care system, part of our mission involves lifting up the voices of people who have experienced foster care in the news media. We work with young writers like Alexandria to share their insight and experiences in a way that has the power to effect change that is meaningful to them and their communities. Hearing directly from these young people is important on a number of levels—for lawmakers, child welfare professionals, and the general public.

The vast majority of major news coverage around foster care focuses on horror stories, sensationalizing the worst outcomes and analyzing the failures of the system. This narrative, coupled with bleak statistics, contributes heavily to the negative stigma surrounding foster care and the children and teens who wind up in that system through no fault of their own.

Considering foster care from the perspective of these young people, reading their well-crafted arguments and innovative ideas, can challenge these tropes and foster a more real understanding about the system and how better to serve those involved.  

Sara Tiano is a Los Angeles-based general assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change, covering child welfare and juvenile justice. The article she writes about in this blog post was a finalist in the youth media category for the 2018 Media for a Just Society.