Aaron Isaac-Anchor Staff
In 2016 nearly 3,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect. Today, over 1,600 children are either living in a group home, a foster home or living with a non-relative. The Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Development (DCYF) works to match families with children who need care and a stable environment. DCYF held a panel, Publick Occurrences, at Rhode Island College on Oct. 11 to discuss ways in which the organization can address problems that arise when working with foster families and unadopted children.
The Providence Journal recently highlighted DCYF’s problems regarding abuse and mistreatment in group homes as well as poor leadership within the organization. Retired DCYF worker Susan Morris explained, “There is no one magic solution to fixing DCYF, multiple solutions must be applied.”
Dean of the RIC School of Social Work, Sue Perlmutter, stressed the importance of developing a better trained staff. Michelle Sanders, a panel participant who grew up in foster care, added that more information must be available to foster parents in order to help them and their adopted children.
During the question and answer segment of the seminar, DCYF Director Trista Piccola bitterly said, “we still have forty percent of our kids living in congregate homes who should be living with a family,” and she has worked to search for and support those families. Bruce Perreault, who also grew up foster care, emphasized that families need support systems from DCYF and other foster families in order to be successful.
The audience seemed to enjoy the forum and left feeling more positive than they had going in. Rhode Island College Student Kenneth Forsyth-Sears asked what DCYF is doing to support kids in the system who are within the LGBTQ+ community. The Executive Director of Kids Count, Elizabeth Burke Bryant, pointed out that the “incidence of mental health issues, suicides and other horrible outcomes are much more prevalent for LGBTQ youth,” and expressed that foster care communities are doing their best to assist them.
As a foster child and a transgender youth, the discussion hit home for Sears. Sears explained that some foster youth children “see no hope. They see no light at the end of the tunnel because people aren’t trying hard enough or just aren’t understanding.” Sears wants to see better training of DCYF staff because while “There are some people who don’t know anything about the LGBTQ community but want to help, there are some who don’t like the LGBTQ community and aren’t open minded.” An emphasis in training in tolerance and being able to support kids would be best because these are the kids who need it the most.
The Publick Occurrences forum was an opportunity for people like Sears to bring these systemic flaws to the forefront in hopes of positive change. Going forward, we will have to see if DCYF can take the important points made in the discussion to improve the essential work the organization is doing, and implement changes to address its failings.