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Homelessness, Foster Kids, and Michele Bachmann

Michele BachmannAccording to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in September of 2009 (the last date for which statistics have been compiled), 423,773 American children were in foster care. That’s nearly half a million: Not such a large number these days when applied to dollars, but a very large number indeed when it’s children we’re talking about.

Kids in foster care are in an ambiguous situation, not actually homeless (PDF), but not in their own permanent homes, either. For about half of all the foster kids, the stated “case goal” is reunification with their families, a goal much more easily met if their families are lucky enough to have homes.

Although some are placed with relatives, about half of the children in foster care at any given time are with non-relatives. It seems that about half the total number of children remain in foster care for less than a year. Presumably, the family situation improves, and they are able to return.

Of course, a small percentage of kids “age out” of foster care each year, and their circumstances are often dire. Of the system’s graduates, only about half also graduate from high school. Only one in 50 goes on to earn a college degree.

It is estimated that a quarter of the teenagers too old for foster care are now homeless, and a third receive public assistance. Half are unemployed, and more than 4/5ths become parents at an age when they are not equipped for it, and without the means to prevent their children from joining a cycle of poverty, neglect, and even abuse.

Recently, all the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, all the state governors, and the president received copies of Looking Up at the Bottom Line. An enthusiastic reply came from Michele Bachmann, who represents the 6th congressional district of Minnesota, and hopes to be the next Republican president.

Bachmann’s political activism is said to have originated with her experience as a 23-time foster parent. Sheryl Gay Stolberg explained in The New York Times, saying,

… [I]t was her role as a mother, both to her biological children and to her adolescent foster daughters, that spurred her to seek public office.

The state allowed a family to take care of up to three foster children at a time, and the Bachmanns specialized in teenage girls with eating disorders. The Bachmann biological children were home-schooled or went to private Christian schools, but foster children must attend public schools, and Michele Bachmann became politically active through wanting to influence how the schools are run.

Stolberg says,

By the late 1990s… Mrs. Bachmann was upset by the education her foster children were getting in public school. Teachers gave them ‘little special attention,’ and many were ‘placed in lower-level classes, as if they were not expected to succeed,’ she told a House subcommittee in 2007.

Benjy Sarlin takes the story a bit further, noting that Bachmann, at the same time,

… [P]itched her own legislation that would allow states to use vouchers to move foster children into private or home schools, injecting a hot-button partisan issue into the mix of what had been a mostly apolitical process.

Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the bi-partisan, nonprofit Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, is extremely appreciative of Bachmann’s advocacy for the organization, saying,

She’s been very helpful in speaking about what drew her to become a foster parent and using that for state and local recruiting efforts.

Although many of Bachmann’s ideas are frightening to those who fear the total disintegration of the social safety net, her sincerity and charisma cannot be doubted.

Reactions?

Source: “Foster Care Statistics 2009” (PDF), ChildWelfare.gov, 05/11
Source: “Roots of Bachmann’s Ambition Began at Home,” The New York Times, 06/21/11
Source: “Michele Bachmann’s Foster Care Contradiction,” TPMDC, 07/06/11
Image by Gage Skidmore, used under its Creative Commons license.

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