Protecting the rights of foster children

With a shortage of foster parents and an overloaded welfare system, children in America’s foster care system are now being placed in juvenile detention centers.

There are nearly 443,000 children in foster care in the U.S.

As child welfare systems are overloaded due to a shortage of foster parents, children are being warehoused in institutions including juvenile detention centers.

“I think that if people knew what was happening to these kids, they would be outraged. A lot of people think, oh, these kids are all fine because they're all in new homes. Well, nobody knows that, this kid has been in 12 homes in the last year, nobody knows that this kid is now in an institution, nobody knows those things.”, Marcia Lowry explains to Brut.

Violating the constitutional rights of foster children
In 2014, lawyer Marcia Lowry founded A Better Childhood. The non-profit has filed lawsuits against 10 states alleging that agencies are violating the constitutional rights of foster children. “In one state where we are litigating in Oregon, in fact, they were placing girls in a converted juvenile detention center. So, the rooms were like cells. They were small like cells. They had a mattress and they had a cell door and they were locked. And the kids could earn, they had to have good behavior points, and then they could earn tampons. They didn't have good behavior points. They only got sanitary napkins.”, Lowry reveals.

Geard was one of the children who lived in these juvenile detention centers

The most recent lawsuit was filed against West Virginia where 71% of children aged 12 to 17 are institutionalized. Geard Mitchell spent part of his childhood in juvenile detention centers.

“The first one I went to was called the Donald R. Kuhn center, but everybody calls it the DRK and it was maximum security. It was in West Virginia. And it was, it was, it was crazy. It's covered with or surrounded with this like concrete like wall thing. And then over that, it has razor wire fence wrapped in barbed wire and it surrounds the whole facility inside or outside, surrounds the entire outside. Our bed was attached to the wall or like a metal slab and your bed was only like this thick. You get one pillow and so you can get two blankets is what it had to be really cold outside and a heat in the building would have to be working.”, Mitchell confessed.

Geard, whose mother died from a drug overdose when he was 8, attended school thought online courses and had limited access to critical services, such as therapy.

On October 2019, Geard was finally released from the system into the custody of his uncle, who lives in Ohio

“When I actually got out, I was scared because I didn't know what to do, like I didn't know what to do at all. It was just like I did, I felt weird, like walking down the street alone or whatever, because I felt like I wasn't allowed to be alone ever. But I realized like, I'm not in detention, I'm not in jail anymore, this is, I'm free. And I'm like I sort of put myself in that mindset. It was hard, it wasn't easy, trust me, it was hard. But I'm starting to just now get the gist of it and understanding it.”, he expressed to Brut.

In February 2019, President Trump signed the Family First Prevention Services Act

The federal reform aims to keep children with their biological families – but also limits federal funds for putting foster youth into congregate care facilities. “The Family First Act, I think, is right now a very, very mixed bag. It's more money for prevention. That's good. Unless they look away at the problems and decline to take care of kids. There's limited money for group facilities, that could be good, too. But we don't have any and that money is limited, it's only for a specific period of time, so if a kid needs more time in a group facility, the money cuts off. We shouldn't put kids through that. Kids should have a better childhood and fact should have a normal childhood or as close to normal as possible.”, Lowry concludes.