The President’s Thoughts on NM’s “Broken” Foster Care System

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An article by Colleen Heild appeared in the September 23rd issue of the Sunday Albuquerque Journal that caught my eye. It’s entitled Advocates: NM’s Foster Care System ‘Broken.’ A lawsuit, filed by a group of child advocates, alleges that “thousands of abused or neglected children in New Mexico are removed from unsafe conditions at home only to end up in a ‘broken’ state-run foster care system that fails to treat their trauma and, in some cases, puts them in inappropriate or overly restrictive housing where they continue their downward spiral,” (quoting Heild who is quoting the lawsuit). This article does not bring in attachment theory proper, however, it does talk about how kids in foster care often experience multiple placements. In one case, the lawsuit alleges that a boy “had at least 11 placements during two stints in state custody.”

In the 1950s, John Bowlby, working with James Robertson, put together a poignant film entitled A Two Year Old Goes to Hospital. It shows the attachment trauma that a child can go through separated from parents during a hospital stay. Back then, children exposed to multiple hospital stays could end up suffering from what was known as “hospitalism.” Today we call it “institutionalism.” “The predictable result of New Mexico’s failure to recruit an adequate number of foster care parents,” writes the lawsuit, “has been to subject children to a series of temporary placements in which any [attachment] bonds they can form with caregivers are promptly broken.” So, even though this article never brings in Bowlbian attachment theory, it’s there in the background. Personally I’d like to see it brought to the fore. A term like “trauma” paints a picture using wide brushstrokes: Attachment trauma brings the picture into greater focus where such things as cause and effect, and treatment effectiveness can be scientifically assessed. Our Foundation has supported the work of several researchers working in the area of attachment trauma. Dr. Karlen Lyons-Ruth and Dr. Alan Sroufe would be two such examples. Here’s a link to the article“ by Heild.