By Shea Backus
According to the latest report by the Administration for Children and Families, there were 442,995 children in foster care nationally in 2017. Of that total, more than half were children of color, and a third had ongoing health related issues ranging from developmental delays to serious mental and physical disabilities. Additionally, more than 60 percent of children spend between two and five years in the foster care system before transitioning out, according to the Adoption Network. In Nevada, there are approximately 4,500 children in foster care throughout the state, including roughly 3,000 children in Clark County.
Currently, there are not enough prospective foster parents to accommodate the growing number of children in the foster care system. This can be attributed partly to the fact that there are misconceptions about the process that dissuade parents from adopting children from foster care. Oftentimes, people see adopting a child as too expensive without knowing that subsidies are available for qualified individuals and families. Those who decide to adopt are also assigned to caseworkers who can help navigate the process and offer ongoing support. Other factors, such as age, gender, race, and health condition, could also impact whether a child is adopted.
Even when children are adopted, foster care systems frequently find it difficult to keep parents committed to staying in their programs. A study released by the Foster Care Institute indicated that as many as half of all foster parents stop providing foster care for their children. The same study found that foster parents felt like they were not provided with proper training or honest information. Others expressed concern about the lack of consistency with the support they receive from caseworkers. In many cases, this leads to adoptees being placed in multiple foster homes over the course of their childhood years, and studies show that frequent placement changes are associated with compromised developmental trajectories.
As an attorney who handles cases involving abused and neglected children, I understand how challenging it is for Nevada’s foster care system to find permanent homes for the children in its custody. This experience has also provided me with additional insight into how we can improve care and developmental outcomes by focusing on the individual social, familial, and cultural needs of each child. Indeed, the United States Department of Health and Human Services finds that keeping children within their own communities is an important practice in promoting permanency, stability, and an overall positive sense of well-being. Unfortunately, when children are placed outside of their communities, foster parents often do not have the time to drive them across town to meet with siblings, friends and other loved ones. This is even more pronounced for children from Nevada’s rural counties who are sometimes placed hundreds of miles away from their hometowns.
In 2017, the Nevada Legislature took an important step toward nurturing stability in the lives of foster children by passing Assembly Bill 491, which requires that a child who enters foster care remain enrolled in his or her school of origin whenever it’s determined to be in the best interests of the child. This year, I hope to build on that progress, and that is why I have introduced Assembly Bill 298. The bill would require child welfare agencies to establish plans for recruitment and retention, particularly in communities with the greatest need for new foster homes. These plans would also take into account issues such as accommodating siblings to remain together, serving children with intellectual or developmental disabilities or other special needs, addressing the socio-cultural needs, and identifying strategies for recruitment and retention in areas where removals are highest.
Nevada’s foster children are counting on us to get this right. This session, we have a chance to ensure a level of stability, improve foster care, and promote better outcomes in their lives. I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting Assembly Bill 298.
Assemblywoman Shea Backus represents District 37 in the Nevada State Assembly.