By CASEY CHAFFIN
The foster care system is like the youth it governs: perceived as broken, but really just in need of love and support and better adults.
This is what I’ve learned over the past several weeks reporting on a series about foster care in Marion County. I’ve interviewed people within the Department of Human Services, current and former foster youth, foster parents, a senator who worked on care legislation, members of third-party agencies, and an advocacy group.
I’ve interviewed stakeholders at all different levels of the system, and their message for you, reader, is this: They need you to care. They need you to care about these young people and what happens to them.
I believe learning to care begins with looking into the eyes of individuals. It’s easy to read a headline about the foster care system and brush it off. What is that? That’s not a person—it’s a complex bureaucratic organism. There’s no life in that, there’s no humanity in that. So, we need to go deeper—don’t ask what is happening, but who is being affected? That’s a more interesting question. One of the most impactful conversations in my reporting was with a young woman who just aged out of foster care. Her name is Raven, and her story is the one I’d been anticipating and dreading since I began writing the series.
Raven was abused in her biological home. After being removed at 8 years old, she was abused in several foster homes. She moved around too many times to count. She ended up separated from her siblings. She struggled with depression, bulimia, anxiety. For a while, she was homeless.
There’s more to that story. But no amount of ink will ever make you understand how it feels to carry her pain. The point is: The system failed her.
But it didn’t break her.
Four years ago, Raven began working with Oregon Foster Youth Connection. She helped create, lobby, and pass the Foster Sibling Bill of Rights in 2017. Watching the governor sign that bill into law is “one of the proudest moments of my life aside from graduating high school,” she told me. She’s starting online classes at Chemeketa Community College in the fall with the intention of becoming an elementary school teacher. Initially, she just wanted to work with foster kids, but then she was hired to work for a YMCA summer program. And she realized she can be the better adult in any child’s life. “I want to make that impact with everybody and have a relationship with those kids, so they know that they are important,” she told me. “Because they are our next generation, so we have to raise them up and teach them well.”
Raise them up and teach them well. That’s what we need to do. And that’s not someone else’s responsibility, that is our responsibility as a community.
An Oregonian headline published on August 1 reads: “Oregon anger management counselor, son accused of abusing foster children.” The details are familiar. The abuse took place over a period of time, and the appropriate officials didn’t catch it until recently.
The comments from angry readers were predictable. Horrible monsters, how could this happen, the Department of Human Services (DHS)and Governor Brown fail children yet again.
The outrage is both understandable and necessary. But it’s not enough.
We see these headlines, pound out a caps-lock comment. And then we move on with our lives.
We can’t do that anymore. These kids need better, right now.
You don’t have to foster a child. But you can ask yourself: Can you be the better adult?
Yes. We all can.
Now, let’s do it.
(Casey Chaffin, a student at Soka University, is an intern at the Keizertimes.)