Genevieve Caffrey ’17 recently completed a summer internship with one office of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&PI), under the Department of Children and Families, in Cranford, N.J. Caffrey’s internship was supported by the Levitt Center through a Levitt Public Service Internship Award, awards which provide funding to students taking up unpaid or minimally-paid summer work focused on public service.
Caffrey's focus on foster care, more so than being an academic interest, is centered in what she believes to be very real deficiencies in the way in which our society handles broad social problems, as well as her own personal experiences. Growing up in a licensed foster home, Caffrey was raised as a foster-sister to a total of over 50 at-risk children before leaving for college, and considers her family’s experience with foster care to be a defining feature of her childhood and young adult life.
Even with such experiences in foster care, Caffrey claims to have made new revelations regarding the field from her work this summer. “I have gained a great deal of insight during my time at DCP&PI, (including) a better understanding of the flaws ingrained into foster care’s bureaucratic structure as well as the obstacles unique to working within foster care.”
The problems with the foster care system, she claims, however are not merely bureaucratic. “When I think about why I am so passionate about foster care, a quote by author Cris Beam always comes to mind.” she said. “‘[Foster children] are a meter of our social problems. [But] not just a meter of how child welfare is failing or succeeding, they're a meter of how we are failing or succeeding as a society.’ The presence and need for a foster care system within our society does not reflect our society’s failure to reform troublesome youths, rather it reflects our failure to solve broader issues of drug abuse, domestic and sexual abuse, racial inequality, poverty… the list goes on.”
She continued to describe what she believes to be a cycle of neglect of these broader issues; a cycle that affects the youth of the foster system at a much greater rate than it does the population at large. Although individuals who spend time in foster care are more likely to end up imprisoned, reliant on social services or subject to other undesirable circumstances, she argued, the children in question neither choose the circumstances into which they are born, nor their status as foster children. “And yet as a consequence,” said Caffrey, “that child enters a system that, statistically, there is little hope of escaping.”
She argued for the existence of an unspoken, unfixed point in every child’s life when a young person transitions in the public mindset from being a product of their circumstances to being held responsible for their situations. ”For children in the foster care system,” she concluded, “this moment of immense responsibility comes much sooner… If there is a hope of breaking this cycle, we as a society must learn to be far more empathetic.”