Summer is here! And it brings with it the annual Downey Side Gala.
We’ll be celebrating on June 23rd at the Lobster Shanty in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, and online, too. It’s a great night of cocktails and wonderful food by the water with a fantastic raffle that includes a 5-day trip to Costa Rico among other treasures. (Click here for details and pass it on to your friends! For the online auction go to BidSpirit and search for Downey Side Adoptions.)
Not only is this a fun event, but it also raises a significant amount of money for the agency, typically over $30,000. Which itself raises the question, what does Downey Side do with the funds? And perhaps an even more significant question, why does Downey Side need this money in the first place?
Our mission is pretty straightforward: Getting teens, tweens—and any siblings they have—out of foster care and into permanent families. But our logo, a heart encased by red tape, should be a clear sign that this is nowhere near as easy as it may sound. The simple truth is that getting kids out of foster care is an expensive proposition.
Filling the gap
Much of the expense involves paperwork. Not surprisingly, there are numerous legal issues when the custody of a child is transferred from the state to a new family. Getting all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted is painstaking and time-consuming. It is a labor of love but it is labor nonetheless.
Typically, a placement costs well over $20,000. Some money comes from the legal guardian, the government, some from the families themselves, and the rest we have to beg for. Because we help all kinds of families—we don’t judge—there are families who simply don’t have the financial resources to pay for the expense of adding a new member. So, we provide them the support. Which, ultimately comes mostly from people like you.
Why is getting kids out of foster care so expensive?
We believe the barriers to adoption should be minimal. However, the safety of the child needs to come first. And there’s a thicket of bureaucracy in place across the country ostensibly designed to ensure that. On a practical level, the one our agency social workers deal with daily, it means the system doesn’t run smoothly.
The system is starved of funds, starting with the courts. There just aren’t enough judges to handle the volume of cases. Separating children from their birth parents—whether for negligence or abuse—is complicated. Then many states make an attempt to find suitable relatives before adoption by non-kinfolk is permissible. All of which takes time. A typical placement may take up to 18 months. Throughout these processes, the children are under the supervision of social workers and the chronic shortage of money in the system means workers are under-represented and overworked. So actually managing the kids is difficult. Honestly, the situation is so fraught, it’s impossible to determine how many children are in foster care at any given moment! As you can imagine, when efficiency is absent, costs accumulate.
A huge broken family
Imagine thinking through this from the children’s point of view. Kids don’t consider money the way adults do. What they are concerned about is the attention they receive from their parents. In foster care, the non-custodial parent is the state. What type of parent is the state? The most charitable term would be “absent”. A sort of giant absent parent who doesn’t pay enough child support, leaving its offspring without adequate school supplies, clothing and other essentials. (And let’s not get into emotional support.)
To continue this analogy, foster parents are really just babysitters. When one set of babysitters has had enough, the absent parent has to hire new ones. This process gets repeated over and over. It’s not uncommon for kids to pass through a dozen or more foster homes. Much like any broken family, the mood is one of perpetual crisis. Naturally, the system is only focused on the immediate crisis in front of it—getting new babysitters—rather than finding the long-term solution, a permanent family.
So how does giving money to Downey Side help?
Having placed teens and tweens into permanent families for over fifty years, we like to believe our track record speaks for itself. When you give us a donation, it goes to preparing families for the lengthy process of finding kids, then navigating the system to get them out. Ultimately, it means when we place kids they find permanency. And we’re extremely good at keeping all our overheads to the bare minimum. So the vast bulk of any donation, big or small, really goes to serving children.
What we’re not very good at is speaking loudly about ourselves. So, when you do donate, please tell all your friends. And even if you can’t give us a dime, you can spread the word. It all helps the children.
See you at the Gala or online!
Yours for children,
Br. Terry Taffe, ofm Cap., MA, LMSW & Ian Keldoulis