In the U.S. nearly 300,000 children have been placed in the foster care system due to neglect or abuse. They need stable families who can provide temporary homes and safe, loving environments while their biological families work to become better parents.
Unfortunately, there are more foster children than foster parents and 58,000 kids will be placed in group homes and other state institutions rather than in a family. Oftentimes, suitable adults are misinformed about the foster care system and don’t realize how they could play a part in the life of a young person needing their support. Jessica Parks, Program Director at local foster care agency Necco, discusses the issues commonly misunderstood about foster care.
It’s actually not that complicated
The overall functions of the foster care system are pretty simple. Most children are referred to Child Protective Services for neglect or abuse. The state then evaluates the family situation and will decide whether or not to put the child in foster care. When it comes to the nitty-gritty details like legal questions and family placement, the foster care agency helps you as the foster family work through these issues. They provide the training and license you must obtain, perform extensive background checks and then choose a child they think would be a good match for you or your family.
After deciding to become a foster parent, the process only takes about three to six months, and the agency won’t leave you high and dry. Most agencies offer support and advice throughout the entire training process as well as after a foster child is placed in your home.
The money issue is a moot point
“A lot of people always ask us what the cost is, when in fact we pay them,” explains Parks. But that doesn’t mean that foster care is a get-rich-quick scheme. Caring for children still takes time and money. Depending on the needs of your child, the training compensation and per diem payments won’t always completely cover your cost.
You don’t have to be a perfect parent
Or a parent at all, for that matter. Foster agencies are not looking for the Brady Bunch, and they welcome people from many different homes and lifestyles. During training, you do have to prove that you are financially stable and can provide a safe environment, but otherwise you can be a 21-year-old who lives in an apartment alone, parents with kids of your own, or 65-year-old empty nesters. Most agencies don’t discriminate against marital status or sexual orientation. At Necco, Parks says, “That is not a factor, we just want you to provide a safe, loving environment for the child.”
You are not adopting these children
“A lot of [potential foster parents] ask ‘what if the child goes home?’ And that certainly is really what happens…the foster care system is built to foster children while their parents are working on services for reunification,” Parks says. There are times that the biological family is not going to be a placement option, and then the court will offer permanency. But those are extreme cases, and still, less than 15% of foster care children are adopted by foster families. In fact, you will often work with the biological family as they learn how to make choices that will provide a safe, nurturing environment for their kids. It is important to remember that foster care is not a roundabout path to adoption.
None of this means that foster care is easy
Becoming a foster parent is not going to be for everyone. According to Parks, people who are flexible, nurturing and can provide a sense of normalcy for these kids are best suited for the job.
Most foster children have suffered abuse or neglect. Although you will receive training and advice on how to care for children who have suffered trauma, it is often an uphill battle. Many kids do have behavioral issues that are not going to change overnight, and caring for them takes patience and perseverance.
More foster families are desperately needed
Perhaps the greatest misperception is that foster parenting is too hard to manage or that someone else will take on the challenge. “I think people think the process is really difficult, but it’s not,” says Parks, “We want to be convenient for this process, because we’re always in need of foster parents. I’m always looking for homes.”