Holt Senior Vice President Greg Eubanks talks about the ongoing crisis in the U.S. foster care system and what can be done about it.
In the US, some 690,000 children live under the foster care system as of 2017. Around 269,000 of these kids entered the system for the first time that year. These kids can be as young as newborns and as old as 20. Approximately 124,000 of them are waiting to be adopted, while the remainder look forward to reunification with their biological parents.
Despite the staggering statistics, Greg Eubanks claims most Americans are unaware of the growing crisis in the US foster care system. “It’s more comfortable to think about that as a problem on the other side of the world,” he said. “I can think of it happening over there, but I don’t like to think it happening in my own neighborhood.”
Greg definitely knows a thing or two about the foster care situation in the US. He’s earned 25 years’ worth of experience working in the field of child welfare. He’s currently the senior vice president for Holt International’s US foster care and adoption programs. More importantly, he’s an adoptive father himself and has grown up with adopted cousins and relatives.
Fostered youth need families to give them support, “in whatever form it takes”
According to Greg, one of the biggest challenges that the US foster care system faces today is finding families willing to give children and youth the unconditional support they need, “in whatever form it takes.” These families can provide children a sense of stability until they are reunited with their biological families. Or, if reunification becomes impossible, they can provide permanency through adoption.
Each and every child in the foster care system has a history marked by complex developmental trauma, which can begin prenatally and continue throughout childhood. They cannot safely live with their families of origin, and they grieve the loss of everything that’s familiar and normal to them. The lack of foster homes to take them in adds to this trauma and makes them even more vulnerable.
In Washington State, social workers are forced to spend the night with children in hotel rooms because there aren’t enough families to look after them. Washington’s fostered youth spent 1,099 nights in hotel rooms in 2018 alone.
In Oregon, the state has resolved not to billet foster children in hotels anymore. But they don’t have enough foster families either. So instead, they converted abandoned jails and unused wings of juvenile detention centers into shelters to house children who have done nothing wrong.
According to Greg, most of the kids in the foster care system were removed from their families of origin not because they were being maltreated or sexually abused. More often than not, it’s because of neglect.
“I think of the single mom who’s working two to three jobs to make ends meet and can’t afford childcare because we’re not paying livable wages in our country,” said Greg. “So she goes to work and trusts her older child to care for her younger child. That doesn’t make her a horrible parent. It means she needs support.”
“If we can be part of a system that exists to support her, to get her that help so that her kids can stay with her, that’s fantastic,” Greg added. “When we work to provide permanency to fostered kids, the end goal is not always adoption. The end goal is a safe, permanent family for every child.”
Holt seeks families willing to give foster kids a sense of permanency
According to Greg, Holt International’s work with children in US foster care is two-fold. The first part of the work is to attract more foster families who are well-prepared and trauma-informed. These families will, in turn, be well-supported by Holt.
“I know they’re out there,” said Greg. “Whether it’s getting past some myths about foster care, if it’s an awareness issue, or if it’s all of the above, we’re ready to do whatever we need to do. We’re ready to have all the conversations we need to have.”
Greg believes that when people become aware of the problem, some of them will want to be part of the solution in whatever form it takes. This form could take the shape of either foster care or adoption.
What about people who think that neither adoption or foster care is for them? According to Greg, they can still be part of the solution if they’re willing to support other families who choose to foster or adopt these kids.
The second part of Holt’s work is to broaden the definition of permanency. Permanency for foster kids should include not just adoption but also reunification with biological parents or relatives. Regardless of why a removal occurred, if parents can receive the support offered to them and learn from these services, children deserve the chance to grow up in their family of origin. Holt’s foster families are fully prepared to support safe connections with biological families, whether they reunify with those relatives or finalize an adoption.
The work that Greg and his team does in Holt’s foster care program fits with Holt’s vision of building a world where every child has a secure and safe home. According to Greg, “every child” in that vision means it doesn’t matter that child’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or medical condition may be. Additionally, “a secure and safe home” doesn’t always mean adoptive families. It could also be the child’s own family of origin made more loving and secure through adequate social and economic support.
Holt looks to corporations to back up its programs
It takes a lot of work to make Holt’s vision of a secure and safe home for every child. And while Holt does everything it can to make this vision come to life, it also relies on the help of generous donors and committed corporations. According to Greg, Holt is licensed to provide services to children in foster care both in Washington and Oregon. This means Holt receives state funding to recruit, train, and support fostering families, as well as to supervise placements of fostered children. However, this funding only covers 75% of the direct costs that Holt incurs.
Said Greg, “We’re continually looking for people to invest in these children, by supporting them so that they have a safe and stable family. They’re going to be our next leaders, the next scientists and researchers, teachers or doctors. These children have a future full of possibility. We must give them the foundation needed to turn possibility into reality.”
Linda Wilson | Director of Corporate Social Responsibility
For more information about how you can partner with Holt to meet the needs of kids in the U.S. foster care system, email firstname.lastname@example.org!