In the United States, there are around 400,000 children and teenagers in foster care on any given day. Of that 400,000, just over 100,000 are legally free for adoption. These are children and teenagers in your communities, in your schools, in your churches. Myths abound about foster care. I have been a foster parent for just shy of five years. In that time, I have met lots of other foster parents and many children who are (or have been) in care. Though I do not claim to be an expert, here are a few of the most prevalent foster care myths that I’ve heard again and again—and their accompanying realities.
Myth: Children and teenagers are in foster care because they did something bad.
There are many specific reasons that children come into care, but they all revolve around the sad reality that the adults in their home cannot care for them safely. While it is true that children in care may exhibit challenging behaviors, they are not in care because they did something bad.
Try to imagine being taken away from everything that you have ever known and placed in a completely new environment filled with strangers. Some of those behaviors will start to make a lot more sense.
Group homes for teens in care are not the same as juvenile detention centers. If enough families were willing to embrace teens in care, these facilities would not exist and we could start to make a dent in the abysmal statistics about youth that age out of foster care without a family. Being in foster care is never a child’s fault.
Myth: There are no babies in foster care.
Children in foster care range from newborns to young adults. They are boys and girls of every racial and ethnic background. Sometimes children are placed together with their siblings. Other times, for a variety of reasons, they are not. In my county, there are many, many babies and toddlers in care. So many, in fact, that our local agency has launched an initiative to recruit stay-at-home parents who can care for children who are too young to go to daycare (that means they are less than six weeks old!). I have personally driven a foster placement home straight from the hospital, and I know others who have done the same. The bottom line is that foster parents are needed for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children and teenagers in care.
Myth: Foster parents are in it for the money.
This one is my own personal nemesis. Though they apparently exist somewhere (at least in the media), I have yet to meet a foster parent who is not ferociously devoted to the well-being of the children in their home. Certainly there are a variety of motivations for fostering, but I don’t know anyone who is in it for financial gain. My challenge for anyone who isn’t sure about this: meet some foster parents. Hang out with us. Pay attention to how much of our blood, sweat, and tears (and “our own” money) we invest in our kids. Not for glory. Not for gain (financial or otherwise). But because we cannot imagine doing anything else.
Myth: It’s easy to adopt a waiting child
Lots of people come to foster care with the hope of adding to their family through adoption. They hear about the 100,000 waiting children and may even scroll through some of the online photolistings that showcase these children.
The truth is that foster care laws vary by state and many procedures vary by county. In my experience, families who are being licensed as foster and adoptive resources are often actively discouraged from articulating that they are interested in “adoption-only placements.” Does adoption from foster care happen? Absolutely. But there is nothing easy about it. Even for children who are legally free for adoption, the legal process can drag out interminably. Persevere. Nothing about foster care is easy. But there are plenty of beautiful, rewarding moments along the way.
Are you involved in foster care? What other myths have you encountered?