There are so many questions related to the foster care system in general. The media and other social outlets can be very critical when describing children in foster care. Over the years, many of my friends who were considering adoption have dismissed foster care. Many times their reasoning fell into the following statement, “children are too damaged,” which always broke my heart. I come with a lot of professional and personal experience regarding the foster care system. I worked in child protection as a social worker for 11 years. I have adopted three children from the foster care system. 

The first thing to know about the foster care system is each state varies in legal rules and expectations. It may be important for you to research specific laws that can affect your individual case. For example, some states require certain time restraints on how long a child must remain in care with a reunification (return to parents if deemed fit) goal versus an adoption goal. Other states may have limitations or expectations regarding post-adoption contact. If you are of the LGBTQIA community, there may be additional challenges legally to adopt a child. That said, most states have the goal for children not to remain in their foster care system for a long time, so they provide support around children getting adopted. 

Protection Concerns 

When a protective agency gets a call of neglect or child abuse, it will come through an intake department. Sometimes this is at the individual office or can be through a police or medical facility. Regardless, the information is evaluated for truth and urgency. When determined an emergency contact is warranted, the child protection agency and sometimes law enforcement will begin to interview the family. This includes the child, parents, and any important person or agency that had direct contact with the child. This can be very intimidating to the child and family. Often, the children have been told not to communicate with anyone regarding what they are experiencing in the home. This is a crucial time for the child protection agency because they must decide whether the report should be supported or unsupported. Once it is supported, the family then gets a case. Here are more examples of why foster care is important.  

There are times that the child may be removed at that initial contact. The family and child are then part of an assessment process that weighs strengths and needs. Risk is always on the department’s mind. Next, the family will either have their case open longer or they can close it. When a case is open, there are at least monthly visits to monitor progress. This is when the family has opportunities to seek out specific tasks that can limit further risk to their children. In most cases, families work with the department until their case is able to close. 

Sometimes the family is unable to complete the tasks and the children’s risk of harm increases. These are the cases that cause the court to become involved. Once the court decides the child or children are not safe to remain in the home, they enter foster care. There are going to be many emotions experienced by the children. Children, in general, do not recognize the risk in their living situation. They may have a sense that things are not okay or even dangerous. The trauma related to their experience is often all they know. I’ve heard a lot of people over the years commenting how these children love their parents even after what they have endured. In my experience, some children understood and were relieved. 

Foster Care Placements 

Once in foster care, the children will have an opportunity to have family or kinship (unrelated but important person in the child’s life) come forward. It depends on your state laws and how quick the process of getting them with identified family or kinship is. Some states require the person or family coming forward to have a background check, and others require more of a home study process. During this time, the child may be placed in a temporary foster home.

What foster care actually looks like may depend on the foster home requirements from state to state. Most require extensive background checks, home studies, and psycho-educational classes. The child protection agency tries to navigate the local, state, and federal databases to detect if an adult is suitable to become a foster parent. In most cases, they are able to find individuals that meet these standards. Each state and sometimes individual communities decide how many children can live in an individual home. There are other types of homes that a child may live in, such as a group home or a residential home. These placements usually have a diagnostic component for children exhibiting more symptoms of their trauma. That said, oftentimes, the foster care system is overwhelmed, so any child has the potential to stay at one of the facilities. 

There are also independent, often non-profit, agencies that have created their own foster care system funded by the state. They will have a range of foster homes, from basic to advanced care. These agencies may provide additional support and casework for the child. They also have activities where children in foster care can connect to others. Often, the child struggles with more loss than just their immediate family. They may have to change schools and lose peer connections. 

There is also a misconception that one can get rich off of the foster care system. There will indeed be financial support, but often it is a small amount. Most times, the children will have insurance provided through the state they are residing within. There may be additional funding for children that have higher needs, either medical or mental health. This funding may be available once the adoption is processed through the courts. Some states even offer sibling contracts that guarantee a stipend after the adoption is finalized. Here is more information regarding foster care and taxes › foster-care-income-taxable. There are usually questions around taxes, exemptions, or adoption tax credits; hopefully, this can answer a few.

Child in Foster Care 

The children who enter foster care will experience many different feelings. There may be a sense of fear, grief, and anxiety. Often, the children are unable to express these feelings verbally. It takes a lot to trust someone with your thoughts, and all of these new people are strangers. However, foster parents are trained to help transition the child into their home. The children are provided space to live, but it may be shared. On average, the allotted space per child is 50 square feet. Shared space may or may not be welcomed by the children, depending on their experiences. Possible siblings are often placed together in this way. However, this is not always possible due to legal requirements, agency rules, or not having enough foster families. 

The foster family will receive a small amount of money each day per child. What foster care actually looks like often depends on how well it is funded. This is to assist in covering the food and other bills related to the child living in the home. Most states have additional money for clothes and holidays. When a child has additional needs such as behavioral or emotional concerns, some states will provide additional support. 

The children may have the opportunity to remain in their school district, but they are asked to move more often than not. They may get weekly visits with their biological parents and sometimes siblings and grandparents. This varies from state to state and even sometimes from community to community. These visits range but, on average, are an hour a week. Some families may get more time. This often depends on the caseload of the social worker or whether laws support more contact. COVID-19 has caused visitation to be harder, and sometimes the children only see their families virtually. 

It depends on your state, but most have adapted to the idea that the foster care process inflicts trauma on the children. There used to be a mindset that children were resilient and needed love and support to overcome the system. This has been proven false over and over through research. There is now a growing focus on the trauma the children experience with the loss of their biological family and the foster care system. This has allowed more children to get mental health services sooner. It is important to understand that a child from foster care may need additional support when going to their adoptive home. They may have behaviors that seem odd such as hiding food, wetting the bed, or having tantrums. These are all normal expressions of past trauma and can be healed. 

I’m not just a foster child of trauma. 

There is an unspoken and sometimes spoken negativity to children experiencing the foster care system. The first thing that is important to understand is the children have no power in the system. They are removed one day and most likely had no knowledge their life was heading this way. Many don’t have the verbal ability to express what is happening to them in a constructive way. They may have delays related to years of neglect and abuse. You may sit in a disclosure meeting, with the agency providing all known history, and see a list of diagnoses. It is important to listen and understand them, but it should not define the child. Children in foster care are often labeled with harder diagnoses than any other child who experienced trauma but remained in the home. They may have developed such behaviors to be heard or feel seen.

Some behaviors reflect where the children are developing but are not related to their actual age. This is why getting the children into certain types of therapies will assist in the attachment process. Children from the foster care system can attach and go on to have very healthy relationships. They deserve to have a safe and loving home that nurtures their experience. They are not just labels and trauma diagnoses. They are so much more. 

I’ve adopted three children from the foster care system. They are bright and loving children. There are times when the symptoms of their trauma impact their life. In these moments, it is important to remember all they have seen and experienced. Professionals can evaluate whether therapeutic interventions will be necessary when your children come home. Your children may have missed important milestones, so you may consider revisiting them to allow the child the experience. When this work is done effectively, your child will thrive. My children are able to show love and have real compassion for others. They now know love in a very different way. There have been foster parents along the way that were loving along the way. Foster parents play a huge role in allowing children to develop and not lose attachment. Many take this very seriously and allow the children to begin the process of trauma work. 

There is a saying that every child deserves a home, and I truly believe it. I have learned so much over the years from my children. We became a family, and I do not regret adopting them from the foster care system for one minute. Children in the foster care system have to not only adjust to their adoptive family but also live with bias and stigma. There will be ignorant individuals along the way that will put their own insecurity on your situation. It is important to have open communication with your children. The only way stigma and bias can be beaten is to educate or ignore them. It is important to teach your child when to use each tool.

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