Seven years old and unbeatably cheerful, Tim had about five rocks that he had painted and carried around as pets. They'd made him quite the celebrity at the camp for foster kids where I worked.
One day, I asked him what he'd named the rocks. He proudly replied "Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim and Tim," slowly pointing out each one. It was cute and it was funny. But our federal government is attempting to treat foster kids the same way, and it's neither cute nor funny. In fact, it's unacceptable.
With new cuts to social programs in the federal budget, our legislators pretend that all children in our foster care system can fit the same mold, and they ignore the sometimes massive special needs faced by one of our country's most vulnerable populations.
The U.S. House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee recently passed a Spending Reconciliation Bill that will result in nearly $50 billion in budget cuts over the next five years. Many of these cuts will target social programs, including food stamps programs, Pell Grants and aid related to the foster care program.
The result of the new budget will be a decrease of nearly $800 million in available funds to state foster care programs over the next five years.
The cuts will result in changes in the criteria for "administrative" costs in the foster care arena, affecting funds available for caseworker salaries and training, supervision of parental visits and the costs of court appearances. The budget will also reduce the amount of federal funding available for children who are placed in relatives' homes after being removed from their parents.
Certainly, the government's decision to cut spending wasn't hastily made. The bill was fiercely contested and passed by a miniscule two-vote margin.
However, just because these cuts weren't made wantonly doesn't necessarily mean that they were responsible. Taking money that is desperately needed in foster care programs is not the way to solve our budget shortfall on either a financial or a humanitarian front.
Of the approximately 9,000 children in foster care in Arizona, almost one-third is in the care of non-licensed relatives. As funding becomes less available to this group, fewer relatives will be able to take in these children, pushing them into the larger system of group homes and foster families, costing the state more money in the long run.
Living with a relative is often the last semblance of stability that can be offered to a child caught in the bewildering web of the foster care system. These budget cuts will render it that much more difficult.
The cuts will also reduce the quality of care for children in the system. The Child Protective Services budget in Arizona will be reduced by $10-12 million as a result of the federal cuts.
Though the specific changes that will be made are still unknown, things don't look good. According to Arizona's Children's Action Alliance, a cut of $10 million would be equal to the loss of more than 200 caseworkers.
It comes down to this: Scrimping on foster care programs has huge negative financial repercussions. A national study of youth recently out of the foster care system found that 51 percent were unemployed. A 2001 study found that 30 percent of the nation's homeless adults are former foster children.
Obviously, this unemployment and homelessness have huge and harmful financial impacts - and can almost certainly be traced back to the lack of stability early in the lives of foster children and the dearth of transitional programs for those who exit the program.
These new budget cuts will only exacerbate these problems. Causing financial problems down the road is not the way to solve them now.
More importantly than any financial issues, it's our duty to stand for the most vulnerable members of our society. We need to be the voice of the populations that aren't politically viable. These kids are desperately in need of advocates among the voting population.
Let's not let our foster kids down. Voice their importance as you vote. This transcends pure cost-benefit ratio analysis - it's about dignity.
Lori Foley is a senior majoring in French and English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.