May is Foster Care Awareness Month. Nearly 200,000 U.S. children are in foster care — and almost half of them are Black.
Among the common reasons for placing a child in foster care are neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental injury, addiction by a parent, incarceration and voluntary placement. According to Statista, 100,607 Black children in 2017 were in foster care nationally, and in that same year 10,332 Black children were adopted.
Hennepin County reported that 38 percent of children in foster care are Black. Foster care kids “aren’t just those kids. They’re ours,” Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS) Assistant Commissioner for Children and Family Services Nikki Farago told an April 22 invitation-only screening of the new HBO documentary Foster at Minneapolis’ Lagoon Theater.
Minneapolis was part of a 10-state screening tour of the two-hour film that looks at the Los Angeles foster care system through the eyes of current and former foster children, a longtime foster parent, social workers and advocates that premieres on May 7 and will be repeated on HBO throughout the rest of the month (see local listings).
“I found the film really heartwarming and heart-wrecking. It’s urging all of us to do more,” Farago said after the film.
“This film is great, but it’s only a conversation starter,” DeShawn Woods of the Wilder Foundation added. “What I would like to see people do [after seeing it] is to continue this conversation.”
“The first time I watched the film before tonight, I was really angry after watching it because the young people I work with are [ages] 14-24,” Connections to Independence Executive Director Jessica Rogers later told the MSR. Her South Minneapolis-based organization provides programming and advocacy for foster care youth.
“We see more kids that look like us,” Rogers continued. “There is a lot of work to be done, particularly for our African American babies.”
Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman also spoke to the audience after the film. He said he and his wife “couldn’t have children of our own, so we decided to be foster parents,” adopting six Black children, including a daughter with special needs, two brothers, and three siblings.
“The thing that really hit our hearts was that there are so many kids in foster care. They deserve a chance to have a home.”
“My wife and I won’t ever regret it. We would [adopt] all six all over again” despite the ups and downs of raising them, Spielman said. “They gave us something we couldn’t have except as parents — to be a family. To have six African American children for us to see the world through their eyes…we wouldn’t have the same sense of what this world is right now without having that experience of living through our kids living through everything they have to live through.”
Rogers moderated a post-screening panel discussion that included Woods, who was in foster care for 18 years; current foster children; foster parents; and a father who got custody of his birth child.
Now an adult working with St. Paul school children, Woods said of foster care, “I lived it and saw the good and the bad in it.”
“I’ve been in foster care for a couple of years, but I’ve been in and out of home placement since I was about two or three years old,” 18-year-old Leland Campbell said. “I was put into foster care because my mom got into heroin. I ended up with my grandparents until I was 15.”
“My husband and I try to be bridges” for the foster kids placed in their care, Darlene Bell told the audience. She and her husband have been foster parents for 33 years. “We are not superheroes on saving these kids.”
During the audience Q&A, someone asked about placing foster care children back with their families. The MDHS website points out that “kinship” also is encouraged — a kin member can be a relative, tribe or clan member, godparent, grandparent, stepparent, or other adult with a close relationship to the child.
“Unification always is our goal,” Farago replied. “That’s always the first goal we have, to return children safely to their families. Most of the children here in Minnesota who are placed in foster care do end up back with their parents,”
“The foster care system needs more parents, parents who are not trying to save a child but are there to guide them on to whatever their purpose is,” Woods said afterwards.
“On any given day [in Minnesota] we have on average 10,000 children that are in foster care,” Farago concluded. “We need to support parents so that they can reunify with their kids.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.