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Foster Care Procedures for Abandoned Child from Age 5 to 16
cxinw wrote in little_details
Hey, guys. Long-time reader, first-time asker here!

Prior Research Topics/Sources: foster care, foster homes, orphans, foundlings, abandoned children, non-citizen children abandoned in states, adoption, sixteen-year-old orphans, foundling citizenship, accents in developing children, memory in five-year-olds, when children learn parents' names, posts in this comm's custody & social services tag

I'm fleshing out the timeline of a work of original fiction that's set in present day California, specifically the Bay Area. The timeline in question spans from 2003 to now. Although if shifting the timeline forward or back by a few years would help the believability of this timeline, that'd be okay. The story is just ambiguously contemporary.

The following is the backstory I have planned for an original character:

At five years of age (2003), this character is abandoned by his parents in a park in California. He has no identification and speaks with a British accent. His parents have left the country and are never found. (First concern: Would this be enough cause to believe that the child is British? Would he be deported? If not, would he be made an American citizen?)

From the age of five to the age of sixteen (2003 to now), he lives in various foster care programs--group homes and foster families. He's never adopted and doesn't usually stay in one foster home or group home. He's well behaved, but still viewed as something of a difficult child with a couple "problems" like undiagnosed ADHD and dyslexia. (Second concern: Is this scenario overly improbable? For a child to remain unadopted? For a child to be moved from home to home rather frequently?)

At the age of sixteen (now), he begins to live on his own. He continues to attend high school (though at a new school), works a part-time job, and receives some financial support from government programs. (Third concern: Would a sixteen year old in this situation receive government support? Research results have been a bit split on this.)

TL;DR Summary of Questions:

1. If a five year old with a British accent is found abandoned in California and his parents are never found, would he be made a citizen and/or placed in foster care?
2. Is it unbelievable for a child to be bounced between various foster homes and group homes from the ages of five to sixteen without being adopted?
3. Would a sixteen year old who's left foster care to live on his own receive financial support from the government?

Extra (not custody/foster care related) Questions:

4. I intend for this character to purposefully keep his accent as a way to remember his parents. If he tries very hard to keep the accent, would it be possible considering he lives in the States from the time he's five? (subject: accent)
5. He also doesn't remember his parents. If he was five when they left, if it likely that he would genuinely have no memory of what they look like and whatnot? (subject: memory)
6. Would it be possible for a five year old to know his parents only as Mom/Dad and nicknames they call each other, and not know his parents' real names? (subject: memory)
7. Is anything out about this timeline completely outlandish? Anything else I should rethink/retool?

Thank you all so much!

First thing, 5 is plenty old enough for him to know his *own* name and probably birthday and talk about where he's been (even if that might be taken with a grain of salt). Unless he's been mislead by his parents on that point, that should be plenty for law enforcement to start looking for records to properly identify him and his citizenship, first in the US and then internationally if that doesn't pan out or he says he was born in _____.

Thanks very much!

I agree that he would definitely know his own name, but if his parents had neglected essentially everything else (birthdays, for example), would it be feasible for him not to know those details about himself? Someone else mentioned the fact they may have fingerprints on file, so I think it might be too much of a stretch for a five year old to not be identified which could make this a moot point. I'll definitely need to rethink his not being identified at all. Thank you again for your input!

As a four year old kindergartener I was taught my name, my parents names, my address and phone number. This was eons ago, granted, when small children were still allowed to roam in the wild, but I can't imagine, in this paranoid day and age, that most parents wouldn't drill this information into their kids.

Editing to add not being adopted isn't out of the realm of probability, especially if he's a boy deemed 'difficult'. The adoption catalogues are filled with older kids.

Also, the bouncing foster kid is a trope sadly based in fact. Changing circumstances of the foster parents. Some who only house certain ages or kids in particular situations - short term, waiting placement in a facility better suited to their needs, etc. They could also be moved due to incompatibility with the placement and so on.

I'm not sure that an accent would impact the kid's default status as a citizen, although it would affect where they looked for his parents. America is full of 'anchor babies' who are citizens by default of their birth. The accent could have been a byproduct of being raised in sheltered circumstances where the British accent was the dominant one.

Aren't people both photgraphed and fingerprinted for passports? A fast run through the database might determine who he is and who his people are. Of course if he doesn't have any people other than his parents that would be a problem. But if he was a British national then it'd be their problem and not California's.

Edited at 2014-04-23 03:36 pm (UTC)

Thank you so much!

I intend for his parents to be, well, not the greatest and have neglected to educate him on a lot of these personal details such as his address, phone number, etc. I may bump his age down a year or two, though, if his not knowing these things at five is too much of a stretch.

You make a great point about fingerprints. I'll definitely need to do research into this and see if there's any way for this backstory to play out with his fingerprints on file somewhere out there in the world. Thank you again for the help!

I don't know anything about foster care, but on the childhood memory questions:

5. Absolutely, if you mean "by the time he's an adult." It would also be entirely plausible for him to misremember some important fact (the color of their eyes, what their hair was like...) He'd almost certainly have no idea of their height (everyone's tall when you're that age!).

6. Possible? Maybe, I guess. Seems unlikely. My 6-year-old sister (yeah, big age gap) knows the full names (first-middle-last) of both our parents, and she's homeschooled (so no need for the deliberate drilling on names) and we all use strictly Mom/Dad, not their first names. A 5-year-old is almost certainly going to know their own full name (if nothing else, they'll have been practicing writing it) which would usually reveal the last name of at least one parent. They'll also have heard other adults calling their parents by their first names.

On the other hand, if the parents have a nickname that everyone calls them by, the child might reasonably only know that and not their legal first name. So if Mom is "Missy" and Dad is "Junior" (or what have you) to everyone, the child might give those as their names when asked.

Thank you so much!

I do mean for the parents to have nicknames that they call each other and that the other adults in their life call them, so I was thinking those would be the names this child character would know them by. This helps a lot to confirm that that scenario's possible. Thank you again!

Quick note: The only confusion I have above is that they don't usually let foster kids out of the system till 18 - "living on his own at 16" seems odd. If you've found a loophole, you'll want to make that clear in the work so the reader isn't thrown out of your story by that.

As a rule, most people lose their accent who come before teenager years - there are exceptions, but in part it's often because they grow up in community with others who have the same accent (this is anecdotal, I have no citation for this).

The other oddity is that you have BOTH:
a. "keep accent as way to remember parents" and
b. "doesn't remember parents at all"
Those don't work together - and I suspect a quick survey would tell you we (at least think) we remember our parents from earlier. I have memories of mom and dad at 4 - but I wouldn't have known their real names - tho I would have known my own, including my last name, even that early, because they taught it to me.

I'll leave the rest to those who know the system (and memory/accents) better :>.

Based on the articles I did manage to find on the subject, I've seen some people mention cases of sixteen-year-olds living on their own, but thank you so much for bringing this up. I'll definitely have to confirm again if that's possible.

Regarding the oddity, I do hope to make it obvious that the dissonance is intentional. He grows up with some understandable resentment of his parents and willfully forgets them, but (for a minor plot point) tries hard to keep the accent as a way to keep at least something of his past. However, I'm definitely going to rethink that since there are probably issues with him just willing himself to keep an accent when he's so immersed in a community with a different accent. I may be able to get to the same plot point with some other thing fro his past rather than the accent. Thank you so much!

First issue is - "British" accent. Saying this is as accurate as saying "American" accent - there is such a huge diversity of accents that saying "British" is unhelpful.

Also, to which country would the child be deported? Without ID, name, parents, there would be lawsuits that you would hear detonating from Osaka, with every single step being appealed.

Thank you very much!

I do understand that there are many accents under the umbrella tag of "British" and although I think the case worker/police officers on this character's case would know that as well, they may not be able to identify the specific accent themselves. Perhaps they'd bring in a specialist later? There would be clarification on the specific accent in the story (if this element doesn't prove to be too difficult to keep), though it would take time since the POV character is a different character who wouldn't be able to distinguish between "British" accents.

As for deportation, I'm hoping that it would be believable for him not to be deported. Originally, I thought he might remain unidentified, but some other points brought up make this seem unlikely and there may in fact be immigration issues involved. Is there something specific about Osaka that makes you bring it up? I'd be very curious to know if this is where I should start extra research if the need comes up. Thank you again for the help! These are both things I need to think more about.

Agreement with what others have said about child development, but I'd also like to point out that a possibly-international child-endangerment case sounds like exactly the sort of thing the police would get the media involved in. Kid's photo distributed everywhere, reports on local tv, newspapers: DO YOU KNOW THIS ADORABLE FIVE-YEAR OLD? CHILD WITH BRITISH ACCENT FOUND IN SAN FRANCISCO PARK, CAN YOU HELP LOCATE HIS "MUMMY" AND DADDY? It might even pick up national coverage. British embassies would also probably be contacted looking for leads.

This is an excellent point, thanks so much!

To follow up on that, would this sort of media response fizzle out after time (couple months? years?) if they aren't able to find anything? I wonder if there would also be concern for keeping the child relatively sheltered from too much media exposure for fear of traumatizing him further. I'm definitely going to work this media response into the backstory, though. Thank you again for the help!

A sixteen-year-old can't usually leave foster care to live on his own. He'd have to become an emancipated minor, for which he'd have to get a court to agree that he was able to support himself and that it was in his best interest not to remain in foster care. Could he be 17? In California, that means he could be in the Transitional Housing Placement Program, which would let him get his own apartment or live with a roommate while still technically in foster care. It looks like some financial support would be available through the Independent Living Program.

Thank you very much, this helps a lot!

I did imagine him becoming an emancipated minor, but if it makes things a lot easier, there's no reason he can't be seventeen. He just needs to be of an age where he's still got some time left in high school. I'll look into the programs you mentioned to see exactly how his situation would play out if he were sixteen and emancipated or seventeen and living alone. Thank you again!

As far as purposefully keeping his accent from such a young age, my boyfriend and his siblings (fraternal twin brother and younger sister) came to the US from Nottingham when he was 6/7. He kept his accent as much as he could, though it still became ~American (certain words still have British pronunciations). He's 33 now, and even today when we watch British TV shows, his accent will come back through, and when all 3 of them go to visit their father, their accents come back quickly.

Not sure if that helps but I figured it couldn't hurt

Thank you so much, this is exactly the type of information I was looking for on that subject! I'll keep this in mind. Other characters would probably hear his accent and notice something kooky about it, for being something of a hybrid, I'm thinking? Thanks again!

Okay, the citizenship thing, I don't know too much about. I know that the U.S. is filled with "anchor babies" (the other person that said that is correct), that means their parents aren't citizens but the baby was born in the U.S. so it is. I do think that the U.S. government would work closely with the British Consulate to figure things out for this child.

If he were not deported he would be considered a U.S. citizen simply because he's a minor. Minors don't have to go through the same processes to become citizens as adults do.

Most older children aren't adopted, sad to say. Very few people adopt kids older than 9 months old. The parents that do often have "something wrong with them" like they are rather old themselves, or they are a single parent, or they are in a same sex relationship, or have some kind of disability, or they are poor(ish) (unless things have changed since I researched this, it is actually cheaper to adopt older children in most cases). However, bouncing around the foster system happens to almost all children that are in it. The person above was correct about that too. The reasons range from the child or the foster parents asking for the child to be placed somewhere else (children need more of a reason than the adults) to simply aging out of a certain home. The system consists of foster homes, and orphanage type places though they are not really known as orphanages anymore, and group homes. Just an FYI, if a child is stuck in a group home or facility they tend to have behavioral problems and are difficult to place. And by behavioral problems, I mean they are violent, or steal, or start fires (hardest to place), or run away a lot, or hang out with others that do these things. There is also the issue of sexual orientation. If a child is not heterosexual or can't pull off pretending they are, they are usually extremely difficult to place. However, any child can get stuck at a facility temporarily, between placements but this doesn't last longer than a month usually.

In most states a child in foster can get emancipated at 16 BUT the following has to apply to them:

A) They have to have their own income and be able to get by WITHOUT government assistance. If they don't make enough for that it's cheaper to keep them in foster than to give them any other kind of hand out. Note: This is difficult in modern times because most 16 year olds won't be able to get a job for more than minimum wage and I can attest from experience that it is absolutely impossible to survive on that. A person needs more than one minimum wage job to get by and at least one needs to be full time .... so they wouldn't be able to go to school at the same time. ...
B) ... And this causes the problem of judges not liking to emancipate kids that are not going to at least finish high school. If you are thinking G.E.D just forget it ... you can take the G.E.D. test at any time, but the government will not issue the certificate until the person is 18. (I took my G.E.D at 16 and I didn't even get my scores until after my 18th birthday and the certificate came a week after that. And according to kids I know now ... that hasn't changed in the last twenty years.)
C) They have to have a place to live independently or know where to get one quickly. (Also a problem ... no landlord is going to rent to a 16 year old without someone cosigning the lease or rental agreement, and most foster kids don't know any adults well enough for that. (Mostly because they've been bounced around.)) Forget the child saying he'll rely on roommates ... that doesn't fly in the courts. If they have to rely on roommates then they cannot afford to sustain themselves which violates rule number one.

~ to be continued ...

As to the other questions:

4) I don't care what Doctor Who suggests ... it would be pretty impossible for this kid to keep his accent. Even if all they did was watch British television the accent would end up coming off as fake after a while because the rest of the time they are immersed in U.S. accents. Also why on earth would he want to remember his parents at all? I've known a ton of foster kids and the ones that were abandoned didn't even like to think of their parents.

5) He would remember at least a bit about his parents. He would start off remembering almost everything to eventually they would be a faded memory. Things about them would be extremely skewed though. Like he could think his mother was fat when only her boobs were big. Or he could think his dad was really well built because he remembers being tossed around by the man. Unless his parents made a big deal about eye color he wouldn't remember that or what their voices sounded like (more reason that he would lose the accent). Stuff like that.

6) Unless there was something majorly wrong with the child, I'm sorry but the child would know his parents names first and last at least. Unless they were purposely keeping it from him. I know my daughter, who didn't talk until she was a bit over 3 and had/has a ton of learning disabilities, knew my first and last name by the time she was four, she could also write down her telephone number and address on top of names. She also knew my mother's first name and my father's and of course my sister's, we all have the same last name so that wasn't hard for her to learn.

*hugs and love*

Part I

1. If a five year old with a British accent is found abandoned in California and his parents are never found, would he be made a citizen and/or placed in foster care?

Which British accent? There are a lot of them. There's the BBC accouncer accent. There's a Cornish accent. There's West Country. There are a variety of Northern England accents (Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, and the Scouse accent of Liverpool, just to name a few). There's the Manchester accent (which you may have heard if you ever saw Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes). There's the Brummie accent of Birmingham and the Geordie accent of Newcastle-on-Tyre. Even in London, there are differences; Estuary English differs from Cockney, for example. And then there are also other countries that use English as a language but have British accents. Scotland, for example. Or Wales. The West Indies. Australia. New Zealand. And all of these have subgroups of accents as well.

The kid's accent could be a clue as to where he grew up and where his parents came from but, since we're talking about the overworked bureaucracy of the foster care system, it's entirely possible that someone could miss this and just pass it off as "some kind of English accent."

It's likely that he would be a citizen already--or at least that he was brought to this country by people who planned to make him a citizen and then abandoned, prior to adoption, when they discovered that he was older than they'd thought and that he had problems they hadn't anticipated. And, sadly, it's easy for such a child to fall through the cracks.

2. Is it unbelievable for a child to be bounced between various foster homes and group homes from the ages of five to sixteen without being adopted?

Oh hell no. It's especially plausible for a boy; for some reason, potential parents tend to steer away from boys, especially older ones.

3. Would a sixteen year old who's left foster care to live on his own receive financial support from the government?

California extends foster care and foster care services beyond age 18. I quote:

it allows youth who were in foster care at age 18 and already exited (or who ran away from care before age 18 but officially remained in foster care) to return to care. This means that youth who have exited foster care in California and have become homeless can seek help from the child welfare agency to reenter care and find a transitional housing placement or other housing placement that meets their needs.

He could become an emancipated minor, but that's not considered optimal.

Part II

4. I intend for this character to purposefully keep his accent as a way to remember his parents. If he tries very hard to keep the accent, would it be possible considering he lives in the States from the time he's five?

Maybe? It depends on how hard to understand his accent is. If people can't understand him, he'd probably learn to speak in a more American fashion. And even if he kept the accent, he'd probably learn to pronounce words he hadn't heard before in the American style.

5. He also doesn't remember his parents. If he was five when they left, if it likely that he would genuinely have no memory of what they look like and whatnot?

It's possible. Parting from them could have been traumatic. And then there's the possibility that he didn't see them--or at least one of them--much before being abandoned. For example, my parents were divorced before I was born, and I never saw my father until I was four. I have no memory of what he looked like. I just remember thinking that he was tall. (And when you're four, everyone is tall.)

6. Would it be possible for a five year old to know his parents only as Mom/Dad and nicknames they call each other, and not know his parents' real names?

As stated, he'd probably know the following:

His own name, as well as any aliases. ("Mummy and Daddy tell strangers that I'm called Colby, but to them I'm Jošt.")

His age...though this could differ according to culture. For example, a Chinese boy from Hong Kong--who would likely have a British accent, due to the years the British spent in the region--could say that he was five. However, in the East Asian way of measuring age, newborns start at one year old and age one year on the first day of the first solar month of the new year.

So...let's assume that he was born the day before the Chinese New Year. By that standard, he was one when he was born and two the very next day. Two years according to one calendar, but only two days of life.

And, to complicate the matter, Hong Kong is now part of China and, like China, uses the Gregorian calendar for official documents, not the East Asian lunar one. There would be no records dating back five years for a little boy who is three according to one calendar and five according to another.

Where he lived. This doesn't necessarily mean that he'd know the address, but even if his family moved a lot or if they lived in a trailer, he'd know that.

The names and ages of his siblings, if any.

The names of neighbors and family friends.

Roughly what Mummy or Daddy does for a living. (Even if it's just "He drives a big truck" or "she works in a big factory and always comes home smelling like fish.")

The names of stores in the area where he last lived.

Who to get in touch with in case of emergency.

And, as someone else said, a small child being abandoned in a major American city would be an absolute gift to the media. The parents could still disappear, but if the story went national, it would be far more obvious that they weren't eager to reclaim their son.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful response and the links!

I've been given a lot to think about regarding deciding on a specific accent as well as whether it would be possible for him to hold on to such a thing. Your point about the authorities possibly just writing it off as "some kind of English accent" is the scenario that will probably play out at first, though it would be identified later when the media response gets going.

The article on California's foster care policies is a huge help. I think I'll end up researching more about the supervised independent living program mentioned there as that seems to be the closest program to the set-up I'd like to place this character in.

This list of information he should know is fantastic. There are a few things, such as neighbors he might meet, that I hadn't taken into consideration. A few of these things (such as who to get in touch with in emergencies) he doesn't know simply because his parents are truly awful, but definitely a few he should know and might give the authorities enough to try identifying him.

Thank you again for your help!

And now for the one thing I know:

Foundlings of unknown parents found in the United States of America under the age of five, and not proven to be of foreign birth before they turn twenty-one, are American citizens.

Which is to say that Superman is an American citizen, and your kid could be too, if you fudge the age a little or they assume he's younger than he looks. (Perhaps he's found the day before his birthday?)

Don't forget about security cameras. The police will get video from every single one in the area surrounding the park: from highway toll booths, from shops, etc. Are the parents deliberately plotting to abandon the child (and have therefore chosen a place which is isolated, not easily observed, etc.), or is it accidental?

And based on having moved around in the US several times as a child, kids aren't really aware that they have one until it's pointed out... which tends to be by other kids mocking them mercilessly. A lot of kids change the ways they talk to stop the bullying. I don't think your child would be aware of having an accent or the need to preserve it until he was much older, and by then the accent might be mostly gone (though he could probably hear recordings of himself as a child and recall).

If you don't want major media coverage, make the kid non-white.

On the accent, I doubt that he would keep any part of his accent (though he could deliberately put one on later) but if he's around people with his original accent it might well pop out unexpectedly. My dad hasn't lived in Scotland since he was 5, and has had an Afrikaans and Australian accent in turn after that, but if he's around Scottish people (especially from Aberdeen) his accent comes back quite strongly.

It's a very nice story. I really like it , firstly when the child was found from the park. If her photo sends to media then.. it was better for parents. If you really want to support foster children, regarding health & education improvement then can support you.

It's a very nice story. I really like it , firstly when the child was found from the park. If her photo sends to media then.. it was better for parents. If you really want to support foster children, regarding health & education improvement then Group Home Riches ( support you.

It's a very nice story. I really like it , firstly when the child was found from the park. If her photo sends to media then.. it was better for parents. If you really want to support foster children, regarding health & education improvement then Group Home Riches can support you. ( (