Photograph by:  Arvind Balaraman
Halloween is right around the corner.  This “holiday” that is first and foremost for kids, seems to be gaining in importance every year.  As the stores fill with Halloween treats earlier and earlier each year and we, consumers, are asked to start buying sweet treats and costumes as early as August, I’ve started thinking about what Halloween is like for all of our children in foster care.
As so many children are indulged (and, let’s admit it, over-indulged) this coming Sunday, I think it’s imperative that we all take a moment to think about what it is like to spend this holiday when you are being raised by “a system”. 
Recently, I overheard the experience of two of our clients who live in a group home.  They were sharing their Halloween experience.  They had two options….go to watch a scary movie or go to the dollar store, pick up a mask (not a costume, just a mask) and go trick-or-treating.  These two boys were lucky.  Not only did they have options but their options resembled those of non-system children.  However, I’m forced to also think about the differences.  These boys got to choose a mask…not a costume, a mask.  That’s it.  Plus, what to do with their candy when they returned home?  Sleep with it under their pillow to make sure one of the other kids in the home (maybe a kid who chose to go to the movie instead) wouldn’t then decide to help themselves?  What about the joy of opening the door when smaller children come around to collect their treats?  There are so many aspects to the holiday and, as a part of a group being raised by the system, it’s hard to imagine that each aspect will be able to be experienced.
Then, I think about the children who are being raised in foster homes.  We know that foster parents receive far less each month than the actual cost of raising a foster child.  So, will the foster parent reach into their own savings (again) for a Halloween costume? 
Even in a foster home, children are still being raised by a “system”.  Foster parents are bound by regulations to apply the “prudent parent standard” when deciding which freedoms to provide to their foster child.   However, it’s a hard question to ask….does a prudent parent allow their young teenager to go out trick-or-treating without an adult?  What if that prudent parent has the watchful eyes of a court system, social workers, and a licensing department on them?  What if that foster parent feels comfortable allowing their own young teen out alone but just met their young, teenage foster child?  What if something happens? 
What about carving a pumpkin?  Foster home licensing regulations require that sharp knives be kept out of reach.  Have you ever tried carving a pumpkin with a butter knife?  And that doesn’t even answer the question about who will buy our foster children their pumpkin. 
When looking at the simple childhood joys of Halloween, it becomes easy to see that a system has a difficult time raising a child.  With each experience of a foster child that mirrors the experience of a non-foster child, we are able to create a more closely-even playing field upon adulthood.  However, we must acknowledge that foster children are raised with a different set of experiences and, as much as we try otherwise, a different set of rules.  These differences shape who they become as adults. 
As you are enjoying the holiday with your children and your family, please take a moment to think about our children who are being raised by our State.  Let’s think about how we can make next Halloween just a little bit more child-friendly for our system-raised foster children.

– Christina Riehl
Senior Staff Attorney at CAI

About the Author:
Christina Riehl serves as CAI Senior Staff Attorney in the San Diego office, primarily handling CAI’s litigation and related activities. Before joining CAI, Christina worked as staff attorney with the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, where she represented minor clients in dependency court proceedings. Prior to that, she interned with the Honorable Susan Huguenor. Riehl is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program.


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