Image credit: Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times
“I pulled out my phone and searched the distance between my aunt’s home and where I grew up: 58 miles. That’s how close I’d been to family members who would have taken me in, who I would have loved to have lived with. But the system never thought to find my family.”
Sixto Cancel – who founded Think of Us after aging out of foster care and with a drive to transform the system into one that invests in child and family well-being – wrote those words as part of an op-ed for The New York Times titled, “I Will Never Forget That I Could Have Lived With People Who Loved Me.”
Let his words sink in. Growing up about an hour away from family who remained out of reach, but for a simple phone call or two. The irony that these same relatives had raised others in the family – kinship care, it’s called – during times of need. But no one even bothered to look for SIxto’s family. It didn’t need to be this way.
In the op-ed, Sixto unpacks his personal story to make the case for strengthening efforts to place children and young people with their own families or with known, trusted adults when their parents are unable to care for them. Children and young people in foster care deserve to grow up in families, preferably with relatives or close family friends, not in facilities or group homes. In the NYT op-ed, Sixto calls out critical, transformative steps we must take, including:
- “Children should not be placed in foster care because of poverty. If children do enter care, it should be because of true abuse or neglect. And these children should be placed with kin first and with foster families as a last resort. We want to see an end to the use of unnecessary group home placements in foster care.”
- “We can reduce the scope of group homes by placing children in foster care with kinship relations first. These are the nonimmediate family, community and other relationships surrounding children before care.”
- “In those instances when kinship is not possible, we should redirect funding to help foster care services find, engage with and aid eligible and loving foster families and homes. Removing children from their communities and placing them with complete strangers, as happened to me so many times, should be only a last resort. A more data-driven approach can help the system select foster care parents who live nearby, speak the same language, have the same faith and affirm all elements of a youth’s identity.”
Sixto’s closes the op-ed with this powerful call to action:
“Ending institutional placements and reforming our foster care system will not be easy. Part of the journey will require preventing unnecessary entries into foster care and providing the right support structures for families while encouraging and supporting kin to take in foster children and growing the number of loving foster families available.
But waiting to start that journey puts more youths at risk of abuse, trauma and harm in group homes. Foster care youths need stability, and they need continuous, personalized care — not long-term group homes, which are traumatizing, punitive and debilitating. We have to make changes now.”
Read the full op-ed here.