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Extending compassion beyond migrant kids

Shift in thought

The outcry over family separation at the border has sparked a rise in help for the migrant children. Now that concern can be broadened to include other children in the US also taken from parents in legal difficulty.

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A guard walks by toys placed for migrant children by protesters as they march to Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, in Homestead, Fla. Foster care advocates say the government won’t likely be able to reunite thousands of children separated from parents who crossed the border illegally, and some will end up in an American foster care system.

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The outcry that ended the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant families detained at the border has not stopped at that political victory.

Public rage may now be giving way to private compassion.

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Take, for example, one fundraising campaign – the largest ever on Facebook – that took in $16 million over one week to support legal services for immigrants. A half million people contributed to that cause. Many other campaigns have brought in money or volunteers to aid the divided families.

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This outpouring of compassion for the welfare of families in legal difficulties, however, can be seen with a much wider view. The entire United States, not only migrant families, faces a crisis involving government-sanctioned child separation.

Millions of kids need help each year in coping with broken relationships when a parent has been detained pending a court case, sentenced to prison, or stripped of his or her parental rights if it has been determined that the child has been abused or neglected. An estimated 5 million children have had a parent locked up during the course of their upbringing.

Greater support is needed for the range of responses to such separations, which include quality visits for kids with parents held in a jail or prison, or placement of a child with relatives or in foster care.

In particular, foster care needs the most attention, especially as many more migrant children will now be placed in such care if their parents are detained more than 20 days, as a 2015 court ruling requires, during processing for deportation or of their asylum claims.

Since 2012, the number of US children in foster care has risen 11 percent, according to a report by The Chronicle of Social Change last November, reaching an estimated 443,000. One of the main reasons for the increase is the nation’s opioid crisis. More parents are abusing drugs and neglecting their children. (The average time a child remains in foster care is 19 months.)

While a handful of states have increased the number of foster-care beds, at least half of the states have seen their capacity drop. Citing a foster-care crisis, the report states: “The notion of a national child welfare system, with coherent trends and corresponding lessons, is somewhat illusory.”

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Fifteen states did not even provide enough data for the report to enable a conclusion about their bed capacity, perhaps a signal about the difficulties – and often tragedies – experienced in the foster care system.

Some children may have to be placed far from home, the report finds.

In addition, about 1 in 10 mothers and 1 in 50 fathers in state prisons have a child in the child welfare system during their incarceration. “Today, more children than ever are being raised by kinship caregivers – relatives and close family friends who step in when their parents can’t provide a stable home life,” states the federal Children’s Bureau.

Earlier this year, Congress did provide extra funding to allow state programs to intervene early in the case of troubled families, such as providing mental health care, in order to avoid taking children away. Keeping families together is always ideal. The interests of parents in the care and control of their children is one of the oldest liberties recognized by the courts.

More warm hearts are needed for children whose family bonds are broken. In a number of states, officials now plead for more households to take in foster kids and give them the essential experience of a stable home. Compassion is borderless, even while the US struggles over a migrant crisis at its border.