As a foster parent there are constantly questions and comments coming at us from all directions. A lot of times I’ll smile and nod maybe give a quick generic answer, especially if I have my children with me. While I wish I could answer every question everyone has about us, our family, our kids’ stories and foster care—it just can’t happen.
I try to give quick answers for two reasons; Number one, my children’s privacy is worth more than answering every question, and number two, answering even basic questions about foster care in front of my kids brings up more hard questions than they are ready to have answered at this point in their young lives. But today someone asked me, “Why don’t you just adopt them?” (referring to the foster children placed in our home) and it made me realize that some questions NEED to be answered. Some people honestly have no idea what foster care is or how it works. So, I’m here to answer some of the most common questions I’ve received about how the system works.
There are a variety of reasons about why a child enters the foster care system. The most common reasons are because of neglect, abuse, or parental drug use, followed by the less common reasons of abandonment or death of both parents. And let me be clear about one thing – no child who enters the foster care system does so because of his or her own choices. These children are placed into the system because their basic needs were not being met and they could not safely remain in their home or in the home of a family member. Their parents have their own demons and can’t safely deal with them while caring for their children. The state only removes children in the most extreme cases and does everything it possibly can to keep children with their birth families or with extended family or friends before resorting to placement in a foster home.
“Why don’t their parents want them?”
There are actually very, very few cases that I’ve heard of where parents just “don’t want” their kids. In my personal opinion the things these parents are up against are just too strong for them. Addiction is a very real thing. Fighting against the cycle of abuse and neglect is a very difficult thing. Being a parent is not an easy task and when you’re dealing with your own inner battles, sometimes selfish desire wins. This is why the state becomes involved. They remove children so that they can get the parents onto a case plan to work towards bettering themselves so they can safely have their children returned to their care.
“What do the parents have to do to get their kids back?”
Each parent’s case plan is set up to target the exact issues that caused the children to come into care. This plan usually includes counseling, parenting classes, Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, random drug testing, stable housing, stable job and attending regular visitation with the child that is in care. Things are added and taken away based on the particular needs of the parent who is working the plan.
“How long are kids in foster care?”
Again, this varies heavily case to case, and state to state. Federal law says that a child can only be in foster care for 12 months before permanency is to be decided. But each state varies on how many extensions can be given to parents who are working their case plan and how many “extenuating circumstances” arise in the duration of the case. In the United States the average child is in foster care for almost three years (31 months) before being reunited with family or adopted—and over 20% of those children are in the system for over five years. More than 20,000 foster youth age out of the system every year. Aging out means that they were not reunited with family members or adopted before turning 18. Most children who age out literally grew up in the system, bouncing between various foster and group homes, and are unprepared for life on their own as an adult without family support.
“Why don’t you just adopt them?”
Foster care was put into place to not only to protect kids, but to maintain the parent/child relationship. When a case starts the goal is always, always, always going to be parental reunification. Everyone (including foster parents) must be on board with helping parents acquire the life skills needed to regain custody of their children. The process of proving stability takes several months. Getting a person’s life back on track isn’t a quick process. Adoption is always a last resort in foster care. Adoption is only laid on the table when the parents and family members of a child are not willing or able to provide a safe and stable environment for that child. Do not become a foster parent if the only thing you want out of it is to adopt a child. There are several children waiting in the system to be adopted by an awesome family. Please, look into adopting a waiting child if that’s all you’re wanting out of foster care. As foster parents your first priority is the child’s safety, but you must be willing to love, support, and walk beside these hurting families when it can be safely done.
“I couldn’t do it. I would get to attached.”
This is a whole other post on its own, but I just couldn’t leave out this comment. If you ask any foster parent what the most common statement said to them is, it would be that one. Most foster parents understand that it’s supposed to be a compliment. It’s supposed to make us feel like we are some type of super hero, or something. But what we are doing on the inside is screaming “Good! You should become to attached! That’s what every child needs! They need someone to get ‘to0 attached.’ They need someone to show them that they are worth it—that they are worthy of love no matter the cost!” Why? Because just as a child can’t make the choice to be born into a life of privilege, a child doesn’t choose to be born into a dysfunctional mess.