America’s foster system got its biggest overhaul in 40 years. Here's what's changed.

The foster care system in the U.S. is complex, and until recently, it was largely still acting under the original law — passed in 1974.

Over 400,000 children are placed in foster care each year in the United States, and the stories they each have to tell can be staggering. Articles online can detail child abuse and neglect, and there are stories after stories of people who have been through the system on both sides.

The issues of child abuse and neglect are complicated problems with no simple solutions. Keeping kids safe is the first priority, and sometimes removing them from families and placing them in foster care is necessary. However, that's not always the ideal method. There are many awesome foster care families, but the system can be traumatic for kids who go through it — and just like any family, some foster families have their own issues.

While there is an ongoing debate over what is best for kids in abusive or neglectful households, much of the available research shows that kids who remain with their families, even dysfunctional ones, tend to have better outcomes than kids placed in foster care.



But what if we could do more to help at-risk families create a safe and healthy home environment and funnel fewer kids through the foster care system?


Congress has passed a law that could change everything for the next generation of potential foster kids.

Tucked quietly into a massive spending bill passed by Congress and signed by the president in February, the Family First Prevention Services Act is the biggest overhaul of the foster system in four decades. It changes the way that states can spend their federal funds in certain areas. The biggest change? Funneling funds toward preventative programs to keep kids from having to enter the foster system in the first place.

Making families safer for at-risk kids isn't a new idea. The 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) required agencies to make reasonable efforts to help parents remedy safety concerns as a first step. However, only a small percent of federal funding went toward prevention programs, so the majority of support occurred after a child had already been removed from the home.

With this new law, priority is given to providing parenting classes, mental health services, substance abuse recovery, and other prevention programs aimed at creating a healthier home environment. It’s the first time that evidence-based prevention services will be funded as an entitlement, like Medicaid.

Upworthy Presents: Superman Foster Dad

He wants to make sure no other child in the foster care system has an experience like the one he did.

Posted by Upworthy on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The hope is that increasing prevention services will help keep kids from having to enter the foster care system by giving families the resources to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Most child advocates say this law is a big step forward. However, there are a few issues of concern.

While there’s a lot of good stuff in this law, there are also a few things that are raising eyebrows in the child advocate community. Kinship care — grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other extended family caring for a child when parents are unable to — is not covered by foster care payments. Research shows that kinship care leads to better outcomes than foster care, so funneling funds toward those family members seems like it would be a good idea.

Also, there’s a bit of a conflict with the funding for group homes. While group homes are the least desirable option for a child, sometimes they are necessary. This bill severely limits funding for group homes.

Again, there are no simple solutions and no unlimited sources of funding, so clearly something has to give. And since research backs up the importance of keeping families together if possible, it makes sense to push resources in that direction.

The most striking thing about this law is that it humanizes people who might desire to be good parents but who don’t have the tools or resources to do so.

No doubt some people are never going to get themselves together and be able to raise a child, so the foster system remains a necessary way to keep kids safe. But there are many parents who simply need help to overcome their own upbringing, manage mental health issues, recover from addiction, or learn healthy ways to parent in order to create a safe environment for their kids. Giving those parents whatever resources they need to be good parents and keep their kids is essential to success — for everyone.

Another thing this law does is it removes the requirement that states only offer prevention services to extremely poor families. “That’s significant,” said Karen Howard, vice president of early childhood policy at First Focus. “Because abuse happens in rich homes, middle-class homes, poor homes. This is a game-changer.”

So often, abusive or neglectful parents are demonized as monsters. While some undoubtedly truly are incapable of raising children, many simply need assistance, education, and support. This law recognizes that helping those parents and keeping families together is often the best option for everyone in the long run. If we can help a family be healthy and strong enough to be safe for a child, that's where we should be placing our resources.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."