The American foster care system is undeniably broken. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never lived it. Kids fall through the cracks and languish in care too long. Placements disrupt because of a lack of communication or support. Laws are outdated and reactionary. Foster parents burn out. Paperwork gets lost. Social workers are overworked and underpaid. People are shifted from one position to another and things get lost in the process. And sometimes there are so many competing interests that it’s hard to tell who is looking out for the child’s best interest. Are you still with me? Great! Want to make a difference for kids in care? Want to be a voice for progress? Here are three ways to make that happen:
Ignoring the problems won’t fix them. Complaining about the problems won’t fix them. So, choose not to ignore. Choose not (just) to complain. Choose to see and be moved to action. Let yourself see the reality of foster care. Talk to social workers, CASAs, foster parents, and kids in care. Listen to their stories. Believe them. Research laws and policies in your area and get informed. Learn the numbers. And listen to the stories behind them. I believe this is a very powerful first step toward change.
Advocate for kids in care today.
I am a sociologist by training, so I am always interested in the big picture. But here’s the reality. There are around 400,000 kids in foster care in the United States today. Does the system need an overhaul? No doubt. But these kids also need a voice. Today. They need safe homes, educational accommodations, and mental health services. They need daycare and camp and soccer tournaments and ballet lessons. They need mentors who will commit to long-term relationships with them. And, most of all, they need permanence. Want to make a difference in the world of foster care? Don’t underestimate the power of making a difference for one child. Or a few.
Use your voice for change.
There are so many ways that you can do this. Join an advocacy group in your area (if you can’t find one, start one!). Contact your elected officials and voice your support for reasoned reform. Not sure where to start with this? How about here. March, rally, call, write, and show up in offices. Share statistics, petitions and advocacy opportunities on social media. And cheer (and share news reports like crazy) when laws get passed that feel like baby steps in the right direction.
Changing the American foster care system into an efficient program that truly supports children and their best interests is a lofty goal. But I am a relentless idealist. I refuse to believe that any system is broken beyond repair. Are you with me? Let’s get busy . . . we’ve got a lot of work to do!