Seven Interview with Foster Children
December 29, 2007 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I took my video camera to a Foster Care Alumni meeting and asked seven foster kids to tell me about there experiences in Child Protective Services while wards of the state: Tristen, Andrew, Kyle, Aisha, Elnita, Ashley, Joshua.

The author of the video is interested in how these children were drugged from a young age, but they each talk about their experiences in general, which usually aren't that great. I thought Tristen's video was particularly depressing.
posted by chunking express (22 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
While I have no doubt that these kids, and many others, have had terrible experiences in foster care, I hope it doesn't give the impression that ALL foster families are bad. The family know that fosters is probably the nicest most caring family I know and do everything they can to give their kids a good life.

As far as psychiatric medication, again, it is not always the best solution. However, I know people in my own family who have greatly benefited from it, possibly to the point of saving their lives, and subsequently stopped taking it when it was no longer needed.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2007

Great post. Sometimes very hard to watch.
posted by ORthey at 9:08 AM on December 29, 2007

A lot of psychetruth's videos seem to be pushing the anti-psychiatry line. I'm not saying the treatment those kids received was good, or that all possible options were explored prior, but kids being placed on really strict med regimes (eg/Tristan referring to his foster parents calling the police when he didn't take his meds) indicates high-level challenging behaviour. Medication itself is not necessarily abuse, as these videos seem to be asserting.
posted by goo at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2007

Yes, it sucks that the videos are by somebody who has a serious agenda, but the videos are interesting an informative irrespective of that.
posted by chunking express at 9:24 AM on December 29, 2007

I was going to say, this appears to be scientology-related.
posted by Lillitatiana at 9:32 AM on December 29, 2007

I'm wondering if these videos are really informative at all - I'm an attorney in the child welfare system and I represent children. Any child in our jurisdiction who is 12 or over gets their own attorney. Kids who are under 12 get a CASA - a child advocate. The CASA would be responsible for checking in with the child and advising the court on what he/she thinks is in the child's best interest. If the child had his/her own attorney, that person is responsible for listening to the child and advocating to the court for what the child wants.

Watching these videos and the kids saying that CPS was forcing them to be on drugs and they had no one to speak for them makes me a little suspicious about the agenda behind these videos. The information seems to be misleading when weighed against my knowledge of how the child welfare system works in my state.
posted by stardustlane at 9:54 AM on December 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's impossible to know the whole truth behind any particular child welfare scenario because a lot of times the kids themselves and their family members aren't necessarily the best historians and the records protective services keeps on any particular family are confidential.

To understand what happened to a kid like Tristan you need to know exactly what he was prescribed and why, and that's not information you're going to have access to. Tristan doesn't seem to know much about the medication he was prescribed, he doesn't mention any names or dosages. So there's already a self-reporting issue that clouds an outsider's ability to establish a clear picture of what happened, or to know if the situation is being presented fairly.

There are foster care nightmare stories, there are kids that fall through the cracks, but like stardustlane stated there's also a lot of capable professionals in the child welfare system swimming upstream against the funding shortfalls and crushing caseloads to provide adqequate care and protection to at risk kids. There are problems in the system that need to be clearly identified and addressed, but foster care hysteria doesn't help make that happen.
posted by The Straightener at 10:45 AM on December 29, 2007

I was going to say, this appears to be scientology-related.

I was just about to say that.

but the videos are interesting an informative irrespective of that.

You know who else made interesting and informative videos?
posted by jayder at 10:48 AM on December 29, 2007

But then again, Lillitania, we need to be careful not to be glib (Youtube).
posted by jayder at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2007

The Straightener, which of the 7 videos did you find hysterical?
posted by chunking express at 10:55 AM on December 29, 2007

I found the compilation, presentation and comment moderation in these videos by psychetruth to be hysterical.
posted by The Straightener at 11:02 AM on December 29, 2007

When I was 12, my mom died, and my grandma got custody of me. (My Dad left my mom when I was 5, and he didn't want custody, nor did I want to live with him.) At 16, my grandma couldn't control me. They labelled me 'incorrigible' (which *still feels like a compliment to me) and into the court system I went.

First, I was in juvie for about 3 or 4 months, while my DJO (Deputy Juvenile Officer) tried to find me a decent place to...finish growing up I guess. The alternative she gave me at first was a group home, like Boys' Town and the like, but I was a gentle soul, and smart, and very very thin and kinda weakly, so she thought that would be less than ideal for me.

Then she tried a program sponsored by a local Jesuit college where they'd take in gifted kids and if they graduated their high school, then college at the university would also be free. That sounded awesome to me, so we tried it. They made me take some IQ test or similar, and were quite happy with the results...but they said I was too old, didn't meet *that* criteria. Man, I was pissed then -- why get my hopes up in the first place, and take their test, if my age alone was going to preclude acceptance? ,,|,, to them. This was also the high school and college that were my eventual path if I'd stayed in this school for gifted children I attended for 5th and 6th grade. But life became more survival-oriented for me and my mom after that, and until she died, and I wasn't able to stay in that school (or any school for very long).

Finally, my Deputy Juvenile Officer turned to the foster care system here. And wow, that worked just grrrreat. They found a teacher and his wife and their two real children (boy of 14, girl of around 10). Another weird quirk of fate here: this teacher worked at the very same university that sponsored/ran the gifted school I went to for a couple of years, which was the same program that ran the associated gifted high school, and that college. I guess the college runs it all. Actually, thinking about it now, that probably wasn't a coincidence. My DJO must have known that this family was a willing foster family, and that the father worked for the very same university that had just declined me acceptance into their 'gifted kids' pathway.

Anyway, this was a great foster family, awesome people, very literate and educated, good senses of humor, kindness but toughness too. They treated me well, gave me some boundaries, tried to help me into adulthood, and eventually saw me off into the Army. I only wish that somehow they'd have been able to get me at a much earlier age -- I was pretty damaged goods when they took me in, and they didn't have a lot of time to work with me and help repair some of the damage, but they really did the best they could. They told me they wished the same thing, that they could have gotten me much earlier. But life is what it is.

So, that's an overview of my pathway into foster care, and my general feeling about the experience. I must say for the record that I'm sure I was probably one of the fortunate few, and that my great experience is likely not the norm; I've heard about really atrocious foster homes too, too many stories. But for me, it was like fate stepped in and out of nowhere gifted me with the loving and stable family environment I'd never had before, complete with a little brother and sister. There are some good people out there!

And sorry for rambling. Heh. ;)
posted by jamstigator at 11:14 AM on December 29, 2007 [10 favorites]

Thanks, jamstigator for the (purely anecdotal) counterpoint to psychetruth's purely anecdotal examples (from a totally self-selected sample, "a Foster Care Alumni meeting" that smells of something Scientology-organized). Too bad there are people like that who are trying to capitalize on the Horror Stories to promote a bad agenda. It sorely muddies the waters of an already difficult issue.
posted by wendell at 11:28 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Straightener, fair enough, I don't actually see YouTube comments when I'm on the site. And I also don't think all foster care experiences are going to be bad. And I don't think drugs for treating depressing, etc, are bad. I do think these children had a rough time and their stories are worth listening to, regardless of whatever agenda is behind getting them out.
posted by chunking express at 11:36 AM on December 29, 2007

My mother was a social worker in Canada for many years, working with foster children. It was extremely hard and upsetting for a lot of reasons -- and this was before today's overmedication of children.

As I remember it (she's gone now sadly), while there were plenty of problems with foster parents, the big problems were with the system first and then unfortunately the kids second. By the time they got into the system, as jamstigator wrote so movingly, they were damaged goods. My poor mother would take it very hard every time she thought she'd manage to get some kid working again and then he got arrested for something stupid like vandalism.

As I recall, the parents were mostly well-meaning but unfortunately often at a lower educational and socio-economic level so were somewhat inept. I vaguely remember the ones I met quite positively but of course you'd tend to get more angels and more devils attracted to this sort of life.

This was 30 years ago. Everything has changed. For example, I don't remember my mother mentioning drugs as an issue even once (this was Montreal in about 1977...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:03 PM on December 29, 2007

stardustlane, are you in arizona?
posted by Hat Maui at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2007

but kids being placed on really strict med regimes (eg/Tristan referring to his foster parents calling the police when he didn't take his meds) indicates high-level challenging behaviour

Indeed. Kids who never had a chance to properly bond with their birth parents, in particular, but many foster kids ("orphans") generally, will be subject to various shades of reactive attachment disorder, one extreme manifestation of which can be oppositional defiant disorder. Both of my nieces (being raised by my parents) have RAD diagnoses, one has bipolar, and the other has ODD. The older one spent most of last night throwing things and giggling as she went through an hours-long manic phase. The other one will grab any object and threaten to hit you with it, whether it's harmless or not, if she doesn't like e.g. being told to pick something up off the floor. Giving them their meds can be an hour-long ritual of persuasion, cajoling, threatening (removal of privileges, primarily) and consequence education. There are three med times a day, and thus three opportunities for staging arguments. Just having an adult conversation can be impossible because they will alternately pal up or fight between themselves in order to attract attention.

Meanwhile, my mother -- the "mom" to these girls -- works in a county social services office coordinating resources for families with very similar needs.

Certainly there's no foster care situation that's ideal and there's no medication regime that's ideal (side effects can be a bitch). I'm a bit suspicious of the agenda here. My experience indicates that sometimes medication is the only option available, unless you have infinite resources, which is .... rare.
posted by dhartung at 3:27 PM on December 29, 2007

These videos reek of ENEMIES OF LORD XENU

Isn't it time that we freed him? You know, for kids.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:06 PM on December 29, 2007

"Oppositional Defiant Disorder" is a pretty controversial diagnosis, it seems, as it should be. Do people really medicate for this? I'm so happy that wasn't common in Norway when I was a kid (still isn't common, although more so), or I'd have been drugged to the gills all the time.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:05 PM on December 29, 2007

I hear too much "Behave as we wish, or we'll drug you until you can't behave at all". Drugs provide a much too easy means of controlling "problems". It is perfectly reasonable to question the drugs first and the word of the child second, in a world where we know psychoactive drugs are often over-prescribed.

It's very cute and clever to label some kid ODD, because the kid has low tolerance for being totally powerless to control much of anything in their life, then drug them into cooperation. I saw far too much of the inside of the juvenile system, when I was 12 and 13 years old. I saw the disbelief of a supervisor when the boys complained of a new worker who was a total dick, rude, abusive, and condescending (even when I joined the chorus and confirmed the accusations, and my reputation suddenly meant nothing!).

Later, I knew foster kids in school, as I was well inclined to be friendly to new kids. I knew the kind of crap foster parents pulled on kids that were more easily assumed 'bad' than handled with reason. Mind, there is a bit of selection bias going on here, as the successful foster kids were far less likely to cross my radar. Yet, seriously, there are so many complete religious nutjobs and loosers playing foster parents it's shocking.
posted by Goofyy at 1:38 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

A large proportion of foster care kids will have been traumatized-- by definition, all of them will have had at least one "transition" between caregivers/parents and that in itself can be very traumatic.

Trauma symptoms in kids often look indistinguishable from attention deficit/hyperactivity and conduct disorder/oppositional defiant. For example, you get a kid who has been beaten by his parents who has learned to focus very closely on the parents' facial expressions and body language to avoid being the victim of a shift in their mood. If this kid pays attention to that stuff and not the cognitive material that the teacher is trying to impart in school, he will be seen as "inattentive."

Or he might have dissociative symptoms where a cue related to the trauma causes him to withdraw inwards. he might not even be conscious of what the cue was, but will now appear to be "daydreaming" and may actually not even be capable of responding to commands. Now when the kid doesn't respond to the parent or teacher's commands, he will be seen as "defiant."

Stimulant drugs won't solve these problems, nor will antipsychotics. But these kids will be prescribed these medications because the people in charge don't know the child's history (sometimes there's no way of knowing it because it happened before the kid is old enough to even describe it) or aren't knowledgeable about differential diagnosis in relation to trauma (stupidly, the DSM does not say "rule out trauma" in ADHD diagnosis, for example).

Meds can work fabulously when used appropriately-- but in foster care, this is often not the case and there is overmedication, I am convinced. And it really annoys me that the critics of "drugging" simply align themselves with the scientologists in a kind of "all drugs are bad" position that makes real critiques of overmedication impossible to hear-- and that makes those of us who think medication is incredibly helpful when used correctly likely to dismiss the critiques because they are so unsubtle and could easily produce undermedication-related harms.
posted by Maias at 11:54 AM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hat Maui - No, I'm in Washington State. Many states have similar laws in regards to children's representation, though. The CASA program is also a nationwide program.
posted by stardustlane at 10:04 PM on December 31, 2007

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