Friday, January 14, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part IX

This week's installment of my Improving the Foster Care System series will no doubt generate a certain amount of ire, because it goes against all the do-gooder's view of how the foster care system should work.

I argue that the job of foster parent should be a profession and not something people do as a charitable activity. Although having a desire to help underprivileged or unwanted kids is certainly laudable, I think it gets in the way of a certain amount of professionalism that needs to be present in the system.

In response to Improving the Foster Care System - Part VII, LK left a rather lengthy comment with quite a few links. Although LK's remarks touched on several subjects, here's the part I'd like to address in this post:
For the most part, however, the news preaches the wrong message because about 90% of it is foster parent recruitment campaigns. Talking about how fulfilling a life it is adopting through foster care, preaching happily ever after, etc.

In our local media, pleas for new foster parents are a frequent topic. Often, these stories are accompanied by soppy stories about how foster parenting is "rewarding."

My opinion here is that if our county treated foster parents with even the smallest shred of decency, the turnover wouldn't be nearly as high. Our county wouldn't be stuck in an endless recruitment cycle in search of more and more gullible foster families who ultimately end up quitting in disgust.

Of the five families that attended our foster parent training session, none are still providing foster care for the county. One man was a grandparent, forced to take the class so he could provide kinship care for his grandchildren, one family adopted and moved away, two more families adopted and then quit, and the last disappeared.

Although two or three of the families in our class might never have been interested in providing long-term foster care, at least one or two might have been willing to stay on.

We likely would have stayed on had the system treated us better. Had the system provided us with a decent wage for our work, appropriate services for the children in our care, and reasonable amounts of respite, the work would have been endurable. Had we been treated like professionals instead of a necessary, but unwanted burden on the system, we might very well have stayed on. However, when we were treated more like criminals than caring professionals, and we had to fight, at considerable personal cost, for things to which our foster kids were entitled, it certainly didn't make us willing to hang around for one minute longer than absolutely necessary.

I would never agree to be a foster parent again.

The real problem with the foster system as it currently stands, is that it sets too many people up for disappointments. Childless families are fed a line of bullpucky that claims they will be building families, perhaps even forever families, and that everyone will go sailing off into the happy sunset. Foster kids are told they will be living somewhere "better." Birth families are promised they will get their children back. Many kids who ultimately become available for adoption do not find their perfect "forever family," no matter how much they want it*.

I think this Pollyanna attitude is best explained by the article LK linked to above. In it, Laura Eggerston wrote:
I'm also waiting for the day Miranda will call me Mom again — or maybe even Mommy.

At 17, Miranda reunited with her birth mother, who has since died. The struggles with divided loyalties that plague many children adopted when they are older resurfaced. Miranda felt disloyal, I think, as if she was rejecting her birth family when she called me by a title that both of the women close to her heart had shared.

Now she calls me by my first name. It sounds awkward to me, and perhaps to her. I understand that the point is to create distance between us, especially when she feels on the verge of getting too close. She can't quite bring herself to acknowledge our relationship directly.

I think it's unrealistic for anyone who adopts an older child to expect to be referred to by the honorifics of mom or dad. Can it happen? Yes. Should we expect it? No. As much as the world might want me to be, I will never be my adopted daughter's mom. I can be her parent, her guardian, her caregiver. I can even be an important person in her life with whom love is shared.

But, I can't be her mother. I didn't bring her into this world, and I can't hide behind an infant adoption where my child knows nothing different. Her mom is not me or my wife, and no amount of tap-dancing around the truth will ever change that.

So to improve the foster care system, we need to get really honest about what the foster care system is supposed to do. The foster care system isn't supposed to create forever families. It isn't supposed to create wonderful, happily-ever-after stories. It's supposed to provide a safe, temporary spot for abused kids to stay while their birth parents get their lives sorted out.

I think recruiting desperate-to-adopt families into this system is a huge mistake, because it makes it hard for families to say goodbye to the kids who really should go home. Yes, there are kids who can't and won't ever go home, but those children should be in the small minority, not a whopping 50% of the kids taken into care in our county.

Foster families should be recruited from groups of professional people who know the kids are going home and are happy with that outcome. Yes, they should be caring people, but they shouldn't be so emotionally involved that they are blinded to what's really the best thing for the kids involved.

And this is why foster parents should be paid, and paid well, to do the job of foster care.

* Here is just one example of of a foster child who was never adopted.


  1. PREACH IT! this is a fabulous post!
    *standing ovation*

  2. FA: The one thing that I can say about you is that I have honestly never had the feeling that you are trying to sell me a line of BS.

    In fact, I think that you may be onto an actual solution to the mess.

    >> "Foster families should be recruited from groups of professional people who know the kids are going home and are happy with that outcome. Yes, they should be caring people, but they shouldn't be so emotionally involved that they are blinded to what's really the best thing for the kids involved."

    Love it. In fact I will honestly say that I am saddened that you wouldn't reconsider foster parenting because you're perfect for the job.


  3. I agree with you completely and I will not foster either. I know too much about how things can turn out and feel that it would endanger my own children, both in the sense that a foster child could harm them and also because I have to open up my household and parenting to people who could actually TAKE my children if they disagree with what I do. Doesn't seem worth the 20 bucks a day. I can make more than that doing in-home child care for 8 hours a day, why do 24?

  4. Oh.My.Stars. It is indeed hard, hard work being a foster parent - but I feel good about caring and advocating, and good about it when they go home (after I am done being sad, of course!) and I gamble crazy risks for far less than $20 a day in our state because it is just something we are drawn to do...kinda like skydiving or bungee cord jumping.

  5. As someone who grew up in foster care, was never adopted, and aged out at 18, I agree 100% with your comments. The foster care system needs to get real - the kids know what's real, and what's just BS. I now work as an advocate to improve the child welfare system in my state and am about to start my Masters in Public Policy, and this is an issue I plan to pursue.

  6. Great post! I tried to be a foster parent...and was denied. Still don't have any answers as to why, because it changes frequently.

  7. wow. I have to be honest, your blog scares the crap out of me. My husband and I are one of those 'desperate to adopt' couples just starting the PRIDE classes for the concurrent planning program. Although my husband and I did actually discuss fostering after our children were grown prior to marrying, and wading through 4 years of infertility, I really had (or should I say have) no idea what the system is like. We didn't want to adopt internationally since there are so many domestic children that seem to need loving homes, but after reading some of the blogs I am re-evaluating my motivations and trying to assess if this is truly the best step. My husband is a police officer, and he sees abused children returned to parents every day, he sees the violent and defiant kids, and I guess I thought if maybe we catch them young enough, we can help make it better. After reading this, and a few other blogs, I am just not sure.

    Maybe we're not enough. Maybe our love and devotion, etc. is not enough to save the child. I appreciate your honesty, I can't imagine going into adoption and the anger I would feel to find out vital information about my child's birth medical conditions or history etc. that may be pertinant in development AFTER the adoption papers are signed. WTF! I am blown away by dishonesty in the system, although I shouldn't be surprised. My heart breaks for the children, like the one mentioned in your blog that was never adopted, and I completly agree that if they provided a decent wage (as in the equalivant of minimum wage at 40 hours a week for the parent if they don't work outside of the home to better provide care would be a nice start) then more could be done.

    I am outraged and yet terrified of what we may encounter.

    Again, I really do appreciate your honesty, but wow. It's a lot to take in.


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