When it comes to the foster care and child welfare system, there are a lot of stigmas and myths that get stirred up and tossed around. While some of the myths and negative stereotypes may be rooted in a bad or partially truthful situation, people should not wholeheartedly accept everything they hear about foster care as true.
To combat the false information that tends to float around, here are five things that EVERYONE should know about foster care.
1) Reports made to state agencies’ child abuse/neglect line do not always automatically mean the child will enter into state custody. The report has to be followed up in some manner, depending on the nature of the call. Often, reports can be just that—a report of a concern. Services can be put into place to prevent a child from entering custody. Sometimes, there is no merit at all to the report. And sometimes, there is.
2) There is a federal law (Adoption and Safe Families Act, 1997) that mandates all states to provide services to the biological parents in order to rectify the reason their children enter into foster care. It allows for 15 out of 22 months for diligent efforts to be made. This is not optional, although the child welfare court can determine to not provide reunification efforts in rare and extreme situations. After diligent efforts are made, the court can seek to terminate the parental rights thus establishing a new goal of adoption, guardianship, or another planned living arrangement. It is important to note that child welfare professionals emphasize the importance of seeking relatives for children in care.
3) Children come into foster care due to abuse or neglect. It is not common for biological parents to place their children into care, although it can happen in desperate situations. Children who have been abused (physical or sexual) or neglected do have higher risk factors of emotional, physical, social, and behavioral issues that result in maladaptive coping skills. This is why it is vital that anyone working within the foster care system (in any capacity) seek knowledge and training regarding trauma and how it affects the development of children.
4) The myth that most foster parents do it for the money has been circulated around for years. With any large system, there are weaknesses as well as strengths. Yes, foster parents get paid; however, the money is issued to help them meet the needs of children in their care, and it does not mean that most are doing it for the money. Most foster parents are in it because they care for children and want to make a difference in their lives!
5) The mandatory training to become a foster parent is vital. Some may say, “I’ve raised kids; I don’t need training to raise more of them.” Nevertheless, this should never be the case. What they fail to understand is that parenting children who come from difficult circumstances has no comparison to raising children who have not been touched by abuse, neglect, trauma, and separation from their family of origin. If one is considering becoming a foster parent, he or she should absolutely take the training seriously.
In order to better serve all children whose lives are interrupted by abuse and neglect, we must all continue to encourage and support children in foster care, foster families, child welfare professionals, and biological parents. If you are considering becoming a foster parent, learn as much as you can from a variety of sources, spend time with foster families, and volunteer with child welfare agencies. The more you know, the bigger of an impact you can make.