Forgotten Children article
Forgotten Children UCP Report on Foster Care

On a cold Christmas weekend in Wisconsin, Linda and Craig Campana were called upon to care for Timothy, a two-month-old baby boy born prematurely to a mother who was unable to care for him. As with many premature babies, his medical condition was precarious and his future unpredictable.

At the hospital, the Campanas learned how to feed Timothy, who needed extra help even as an infant, and with his challenges in mind, they took a class in CPR. Then they took him home, without any more knowledge about how to care for a child who might have significant disabilities.

“All I can remember was just how little he was. We took pictures of him with our son Corey,” said Linda Campana, recalling in an interview with National Public Radio her family’s first days with Timothy. “And he was just so little.”

Less than a year later, the extent of Timothy’s disability, cerebral palsy, started to become clear. He continued to have trouble breathing, and his physical growth and cognitive development were delayed. The Campanas did not know where to turn for help. “It took a lot of us educating ourselves about what resources are out there and which programs to get him on lists for,” said Linda Campana, noting that their social worker was unable to provide much information, as Timothy was the first child with a disability she had assisted.
Far from unique, Timothy’s story represents the rule, rather than the exception, for most American foster families of children with disabilities, according to a new report by the organizations United Cerebral Palsy and Children’s Rights. The analysis, titled Forgotten Children: A Case for Action for Children and Youth with Disabilities in Foster Care, examines how foster care systems serve children and youth with disabilities. It reveals a crisis largely overlooked by state and county foster care systems: At least one-third of the more than 500,000 children and youth in American foster care today likely have disabilities, but foster care systems have largely failed to address the unique needs of children with disabilities and the families who care for them.

“Our investigation has found that the special needs of children with disabilities are often entirely forgotten, though they represent a significant segment of all children in foster care. The very systems intended to protect children in crisis were simply not designed to identify, assess and manage the physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities of children with special needs,” said Stephen Bennett, president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy.

Last year, United Cerebral Palsy and Children’s Rights, two national organizations with expertise in advocacy for people with disabilities and children in foster care, joined forces to tackle a problem both identified as paramount. The agencies examined a range of research and academic literature in a first-ever review of how foster care systems serve children and youth with disabilities. As they went to work, the report’s authors found that all foster children were exposed to significant risk factors for disability.

“Children and youth in foster care are exposed to remarkable risk factors for lifelong disabling conditions. Whether due to abuse or neglect or a lack of access to appropriate health care services, all foster children encounter a number of significant challenges to their healthy development,” said Sara Munson, policy analyst at Children’s Rights and the primary author of the Forgotten Children report.

Children who enter foster care, on average, have already experienced more than 14 different environmental, social, biological and psychological risk factors, according to the report. A full 80 percent may have been prenatally exposed to drugs, alcohol or other substances, while 40 percent may have been born prematurely or at a low birth weight.

Once in the foster care system, children with disabilities can face a full range of systemic problems that prevent positive life experiences. Caseworkers lack the tools to identify and assess disabilities, foster parents lack even basic information about the special needs of children placed in their homes, and children cannot access comprehensive health care services to address their special needs.

Tammy Loller, a single foster parent in Indiana, knows these problems all too well. Last year, her caseworker called in the middle of the night and asked her to take a two-year-old child who could not stay in the care of another family because he had a cold. The young boy, in fact, had serious disabilities, including a developmental delay of 18 months and emotional disabilities that led him to harm himself. In addition, he had great difficulty communicating, which intensified his already challenging behaviors.…Continued in ABILITY Magazine

by Jim Baker

ABILITY Magazine
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Forgotten Children UCP Report on Foster Care

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