Thursday, August 2, 2007

More Support Needed for Young Mothers in Care

by Sabra Jackson, New York

In 2004, my two children, ages 10 years and 3years, were removed from my home and placed in foster care. I was one of the lucky ones: they were returned to me in 2005 and to date my children have made successful transitions to reunification.

I am a Parent Organizer for New York City’s Child Welfare Organizing Project, a parent advocacy organization that helps parents who are involved with the child welfare system. As a CWOP organizer, I help other parents learn how to become effective advocates and I advocate for child welfare reform.

Thankfully, my own children are able to live with me again and I can give them the stable and nurturing life they deserve. Unfortunately, this is not true for many young people in care. Some of the most frightening stories I hear are those of young foster girls becoming mothers. These girls, who are already victimized due to the abuse or neglect they received in their own homes, are being victimized again when their children are removed from them. The children are not being removed because they are being abused or neglected—they are being removed solely because these girls are in state custody. To add insult to injury, these young women are often denied a reasonable chance of ever getting their children back.

Young girls and boys who become parents while in foster care should be given a chance to be good parents to their children. The system should help them break the cycle of abuse and neglect. They should be supported with education, jobs, and housing, and should get guidance on how to prevent pregnancies in the first place.

If Congress wants to help these young people, it should provide enough funding to prevent the need to break families apart in the first place. When children do need to enter foster care, funding has to go to help parents get the services they need so that families do not have to be separated for long. And when parents can’t care for their children, we should permanently connect the children with relatives or other adults who can give them the love they need. In addition, teen pregnancy prevention programs should be in place to educate young people; transition services should help them learn how to manage their money and stay in school; and funding should be available to help them become educated and employed.

I’m lucky that my children were able to come back home and I can watch them grow into young adults under my own roof. They are lucky too. We need to do more for those young people who are not so lucky.

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