While there’s more awareness about the plight of foster children, we need to focus on two of the most vulnerable and fastest growing populations -- children of the opioid crisis and those whose undocumented parents who have been detained or deported.
Both groups experience unique trauma and require more targeted care.
Children of parents addicted to opioids are often bewildered by how quickly their lives change. Left to care for themselves and younger siblings, they must find food, stay safe when left alone, keep clean and get themselves and siblings to school. Their insecurities continue day after day until child protective services removes these children from their home and places them with relatives or in foster or group homes. These youngsters must also cope with parents who move in and out of rehab and sometimes overdose.
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With the federal immigration crackdown, more U.S.-born children have been separated from parents. Children often see family members and neighbors arrested by immigration officers. The children left behind are forced to move in with relatives or are placed in foster care. Siblings are often separated, and contact with siblings or parents is logistically complicated. States lack policies for reuniting children with their parents, and reunification hearings sometimes drag on for years. Children of deported parents face the difficult decision of remaining in the U.S. without them, or moving to a country they do not know.
For both groups of youth in foster care, uncertainty is ever present. Children’s responses to forced family separations vary depending on their age and resilience, how other family members react and support them, and whether they can maintain contact with parents. The separation can cause or worsen mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, withdrawal and aggression. Their success in school can suffer.
These youths need intensive support from the foster care system. They need foster parents who are carefully selected and trained to understand their fears and scars. They need health and mental health professionals who are aware of the traumas. Community agencies need more resources to conduct proper assessments. They are now responsible for these youths and must make sure they receive the vital services they need.
Andrea Zetlin is a professor emerita at California State University, Los Angeles. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.