Personal journal of a Christian woman
Butter on the Burn?
Published on January 8, 2004 By wvjcgirl In Current Events



Very little information has been given to the average American in regards to the rapid increase of homeless families in rural communities, and the leaning of the State to criminalize the parents for their plight by taking their children away and placing them in state appointed foster care homes. Although foster care can be a commendable solution in severe cases of child abuse and neglect, it is a poor solution to the often-temporary problem of rural homelessness. The often-ignored importance of the powerful emotional bond between a mother and a child is swept aside for the physical comfort of shelter and a warm meal, causing further damage to an already devastated family. The importance of family bonds, the incredible cost of foster care, and the risk of long lasting harmful affects of foster care are three excellent reasons to find alternative solutions for rural homeless families other than State intervention and foster care placement.

“Primary caregiver.” We have all heard this clinical term, but to a child it means, ‘the one I love the most’. Children form a powerful bond and learn to love and be loved from this primary caregiver, usually the mother. At, studies show that the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Survey of Homelessness in 27 cities found that families compromised 40% of the total homeless population, with single parents accounting for 67%. These proportions are noted to be higher in rural areas. According to research by Yvonne M. Vissing of ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV, there is a marked difference between urban and rural homelessness. Noting a study by the National Coalition for the Homeless (1997, p.1): “Homeless people in a rural area are more likely to be white, female, married, currently working, homeless for the first time, and homeless for a shorter period of time.” It is difficult to attain exact numbers, as few shelters exist in rural areas. In Greenbrier County, West Virginia where this paper is being written, for example, there is no homeless shelter available, unless a woman is the victim of domestic violence. What about a mother whose husband has abandoned her financially, and the child whose father has turned his back on him or her? Even the most calloused of hearts must admit a child’s love surpasses all financial strain, and such a child will need his or her mother more than ever. Most children, if not all, would prefer temporary discomfort for a few months with their mom rather than be sent away to live comfortably with a stranger.

Foster care is incredibly expensive. According to the National Alliance To End Homelessness, “the cost of placing a child in foster care can run from $13,000 per year in a foster home to over $40,000 per year in a group home. With the average length of stay in foster care currently at 39 months, each child who enters this system can cost the public anywhere from $42,000 to $160,000 per stay.” These figures do not include the cost of the judiciary proceedings held to remove and reunite the child with his or her family. Contrast these enormous figures with the cost of putting a family with three children on welfare, for $4,600 per year. During all the “Welfare Reform” hoopla, everyone heard about the ‘welfare parasites’, and demanded they all be sent to work. What the public failed to notice is most of these ‘parasites’ were young children with deadbeat dads. The root causes that lead a family into a crisis often reach much deeper than just “getting a job”, and studies show most of these mothers are working. Imagine yourself as a wife, and your husband develops a drug habit, and squanders all the money, then abandons you with an enormous debt, no home and 3 children. You love your children, and they love you. It seems very unproductive at this point to tear the family apart, and that $13,000 to $40,000 usually given to a stranger/foster care provider could be better spent helping the family stay together as they rebuild their life.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness determines that ‘programs that prevent foster care placement and promote the assistance of the family staying together while living independently must be a priority’ as ‘the foster care system cannot begin to provide the necessary nurturing stability of a healthy, functioning family.’ NAEH reached this conclusion after research showed that ‘families whose heads of household grew up in foster care, (usually a single mother), are more likely to become a parent, homeless, and on welfare than a typical homeless head of household. Their numbers are also significantly higher for substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness.’ These statistics show the potential emotional toll that foster care can have later in life. Many adults who spent time in foster care have memories of feeling like they were being ‘tossed around like a bean bag’ from home to home, and never felt like they belonged anywhere. The State’s action to remove a child based on homelessness minimizes the impact of a child’s feeling loved and secure with their family of origin.

The correlation between homelessness and foster care placement has been clearly defined, and needs to be dealt with together as we break the cycle of family break down, domestic violence, and poverty.” Family relationships and bonds play a significant role in the healthy development of a child. Foster care can be an excellent safe haven for a severely abused or neglected child, and many children’s lives have been saved through its institution. However, it should be carefully used as a last resort, and certainly not for a short-term rural homeless family, that is otherwise lovingly caring for the child. By casting aside a child’s deepest needs for relationship and love from his of her mother or other primary caregiver -and sense of belonging to a family -for the temporary comforts of a strangers lonely bed and strange food has had devastating effects on our society. Why inflict a textbook ideal of the perfect childhood on broken and wounded children-it’s not working! It is time to stop the cycle of homelessness where it starts-childhood-and let the wounds heal as families overcome their difficulties together with the States support, not interference.

No one has commented on this article. Be the first!