31 May Fostered
Foster care, foster parents, and most especially foster children have been a part of my daily life for over 7 years now. May is Foster Care Awareness Month and all month I have been thinking about how to portray the meaning of foster care to others. To bring awareness to the public about what foster care means and most importantly how it relates to the children.
Until I became a Court Appointed Special Advocate, foster care was just a concept for me. My life had not been touched by foster care and I naively believed that it wasn’t that prominent in my community. I knew one of the children in my son’s third grade class had been in foster care and lived with his relatives in my neighborhood during that time and that was about the extent of it. My eyes opened fast. There were hundreds of children in my community who had to be removed from their homes for safety reasons.
Let’s pause there for a moment – on the removal. What does that mean? The situation was so dangerous in the home due to either abuse or neglect that the State decided the best solution was to remove the child from their home. Look at that through the child’s perspective. A stranger enters your house. They have a talk or possibly a confrontation with your parent. They take you if you are too young to understand or explain a little if you are older that you have to go with them. Maybe they gather some of your things, like a favorite toy or blanket and some clothes or maybe they don’t. You get in a vehicle with them and drive away. They offer reassurances but you have no idea who this person even is. You might go directly to another home, or to a doctor’s office, or maybe back to the office of the person who took you while they make phone calls to try to find somewhere to place you.
Now we are at the “somewhere to place you” part of foster care. We call it a placement in my circle. Ideally, you enter foster care and only have one placement ever – a place you can stay and grow and be loved and sheltered until you are able to go back home. Ideally. We don’t often live in an ideal world. Most children have multiple placements while in foster care. Maybe they are only able to be placed somewhere temporarily in the beginning until a more permanent place can be found. Perhaps there aren’t any homes open in the county they live in at first and they are placed hours away and later moved to be closer. Maybe there isn’t a foster home with enough openings to keep a sibling group together and so they are later moved to be together. Or maybe a child’s behavior is bad because their whole world has flipped upside down and they have to be moved for safety reasons. Each placement is another adjustment for a child.
So, what about the foster parents? What is their role exactly? Merriam-Webster defines foster as affording, receiving, or sharing nurture or parental care though not related by blood or legal ties. Basically, they step in and fill the role of parent when kids can’t be with their birth parents. It isn’t an easy role. It can be thankless, it can be frustrating, it can hurt to love a child and help them be whole so you can later say goodbye. It can be hard on the other children in the home too. But still, this family has opened their home to care for children.
Then there are the professionals. The social workers in an overwhelmed system who get side-tracked 30 times a day by emergencies both big and small. Professionals who signed up for this but face hardships every day and demands from all sides that it can be difficult to meet. Professionals who get such a close glimpse of trauma over and over again that they can’t help but be traumatized themselves.
The family the children are removed from aren’t technically in foster care but their kids are. And many times, the adults who just had their own kids removed, were in foster care in their childhood. No one wants to be in their position.
There are so many more parts of foster care. So many pieces that make up the foster care system. But at the heart of it all, are children. Children who need and deserve safe and permanent homes with nurture and love and hope and happiness. That’s why I do what I do – children. The kids who aren’t responsible for the system they are a part of and need someone to speak up for them. Court Appointed Special Advocates do that for children in foster care. We need more CASAs to meet the needs of all the children in our community. We also need more foster parents, more foster family support, more volunteers at the Department of Children and Family Services, more individuals, organizations, and churches reaching out to help, more support for biological families, more support for kinship caregivers. We need more. More people, more awareness, more money to do our work and make sure that foster care is a temporary solution to a hopefully temporary problem. Because every child deserves a safe and happy childhood.