“There are a great many misconceptions and false beliefs about the foster care system. There are also not enough advocates for children in foster care.”
The past several years have seen the foster care system in crisis in the United States, due much in part to the Opioid Epidemic that continues to strangle the nation. With more children in foster care in recent years, the foster care system, as a whole, and from state to state, is struggling in a number of ways. Children being placed into foster care; a foster care system where there are not enough homes. Caseworkers overwhelmed and under resourced. Lack of funding. Myths and misconceptions abounding in the general public. The system needs to be improved, for all involved; the children and youth placed in the system, foster parents caring for the children, agencies and case workers, and the biological parents of the children, as well. Here are 15 ways to fix foster care.
1. Kinship Care
The placement of a child into a foster home is a distressing, harrowing, and life changing experience for a foster child. For many, it is a frightening time, as the fear of the unknown can quickly overwhelm a child. Others are filled with anger, as they emotionally reject the idea of being separated from their family members. Feelings of guilt may also arise within the foster child. For all, it is a traumatic experience that will forever alter the lives of foster children. When possible, Kinship Care should be considered. Kinship foster care is an out-of-home arrangement for full-time care by relatives, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sometimes even older siblings. Kinship care allows families to stay together, and studies indicate it helps improve mental health, stability, and behavior.
2. Education and Advocacy
There are a great many misconceptions and false beliefs about the foster care system. There are also not enough advocates for children in foster care. Perhaps the biggest impact one can make with those children placed in foster care is to become an advocate of change. Do your research, and find out as much about foster care and foster children as you can. Contact lawmakers, politicians, through means of emails, letters, phone calls, and other means of communication, and bring attention to the needs of children in care.
3. Rules, Policies, and Paperwork
Far too many social workers and foster parents spend a great deal of time on paperwork. In addition, there are countless policies, rules, and regulations that foster parents, and case workers, must abide by’ rules that are not “normal” for everyday parenting. It often interrupts services many walks of life for the children in foster care, as well. In the end, many times these policies and regulations foster families, case workers, and children in care from living as “normal” a lifestyle, leading to frustration on many levels. There needs to be less paperwork, less “red tape” and more action on behalf of the child.
Many times, children placed into foster care suffer from mental health issues. A placement disruption may be so severe to the child that it feels as if their entire world is falling apart. Issues from anxiety can manifest themselves in a number of ways. Perhaps the one that foster children face the most is separation anxiety, an excessive concern that children struggle with concerning the separation from their home, family, and to those they are attached to the most. Other anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder, where a child repeats unwanted thoughts, actions, and/or behavior out of a feeling of need. Panic disorders find a child experiencing intense bouts of fear for reasons that may not be apparent. Another anxiety disorder that foster children may face includes social phobias, or the fear of being embarrassed or face the criticism of others. Children in foster care, in many cases, do not receive adequate services in regard to mental health and developmental issues and will not likely do so in the near future, due to lack of government funding and lack of resources. Professional therapy and counseling is essential for the well being of the child.
“By becoming a foster family, you can provide stability, safety, and hope for a child in foster care.”
5. Become a Foster Parent
With roughly half a million children in the foster care system in the United States alone, the need is strong for good foster homes and foster parents. By becoming a foster family, you can provide stability, safety, and hope for a child in foster care. You can give love to a child who may never have been given it before. Not only will you change the life of a child, your life will change, as well.
6. Bringing Resources to School-Aged Foster Children
Children in foster care face a great many challenges in the school system. Most are far being in reading and math skills. Teachers and school administrators are not fully equipped to meet the needs of these children. Disturbingly, 55% of youth who age out of foster care will drop out of school. More reform needs to be placed upon children in foster care while in school.
7. Helping Those Who Age Out
Each year, around 20,000 foster children age out of the system and attempt to begin life on their own. Of the 450,000 children in care in the United States each year, this is a large number and disturbing percentage. The statistics are grim for those who age out. One in four will end up incarcerated within two years of aging out. 65% will end up homeless. For many youth in foster care, foster care is a temporary service before returning home to a parent, moving in with a biological family member, or even beginning a new life in an adopted home. Yet, for thousands who do not find reunification with family in their lives, leaving the foster care system when they age out can be not on a time of anxiety, but a time of tragedy. Here are 15 ways you can help a youth who has aged out of foster care.
“The statistics are grim for those who age out.”
Many children in foster care have a difficult time forming healthy relationships and attachments with others, as well as learning how to trust others, too. When way to help children and youth in foster care is to serve as mentor. There are many organizations across the US that offers opportunities to serving as a mentor. Mentoring will allow current and former foster children not only a listening ear as they discuss the many challenges that they face, but wisdom and guidance during times of struggle. With as little as an hour a week, volunteers and mentors can help foster children with many important life and social skills, while at the same time creating stable, positive, and healthy relationships, perhaps for the first time ever for the young adult.
9. Post Reunification Support
The end goal of foster care is Reunification, when the child is reunified with birth parents and/or biological family members. Yet, there are far too many instances when the child is once again removed from the home and re-placed into foster care once again, after reunification first happened. Birth parents and biological family members must receive ongoing support from child welfare agencies in order to prevent reentry once again.
The cycle of abuse and neglect is often a generational one. For many children in foster care, they come from a long cycle of family members placed in foster care before them. By showing compassion, by reaching out, and by helping birth parents of children in foster care, we not only help them we also help their children, as well. When a foster parent shares the nurturing of a foster child alongside the birth parents and caseworker, reunification tends to happen at a quicker and more successful rate. Co-Parenting sees the foster parent working alongside the biological parents of the child.
11. Child sex trafficking
Commercial acts of sex being forced upon children as young as 10 years of age. Child sex trafficking is not only all around us, it is a business that is growing substantially, mainly due to the world of online technology. Some reports indicate that there are roughly 300,000 children in the United States, alone, are victims of child sex trafficking. What society does not recognize, though, is that many of these children come from the foster care world. More advocates are needed to bring an end to form of modern day slavery for children.
“Child sex trafficking is not only all around us, it is a business that is growing substantially.”
12. Help for the Foster Parent
A study by The Foster Care Institute found that foster parent retention suffers from several different factors. Feelings of grief, loss, stress, and burnout are quite real for today’s foster parents. Foster parents often do not have all the resources or time they need to best help the children they are caring for from foster care. Whether it is by providing a cooked meal, helping out at Christmas time and birthdays, donating to a foster parent fund, raising money for summer camps and field trips for foster children, there are a number of ways people can help children in foster care where they live. More training, understanding, support, and time to heal from grief, loss, and burnout is needed for foster parents.
13. Faith Based Help
Today’s faith based organizations have an opportunity to truly impact the foster care system in a positive way. Hosting a local foster parent association and support group is one such way a faith based organization can serve foster parents. Another way is serving as a location for family visitations. Faith based groups can provide a safe, consistent, warm, and inviting atmosphere for children and birth family members to meet during visitation sessions. Not only will children in foster care benefit, but foster parents and birth parents of the children will also benefit.
14. CASA Program
CASAs, or Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who work with children in foster care as they advocate for their best interests in courtrooms and communities. These volunteer advocates offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while in foster care. Along with this, these volunteers often interact with children until they are placed in loving permanent homes. By becoming a CASA, one can directly help a child in foster care.
15. Relief for Case Workers
Case workers are under-resourced, underpaid, overworked, and overwhelmed. Our caseworkers need to be given more time, more funding, more resources, and more understanding from the public, from the courts, and from foster parents.
Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. He has been a foster parent for 17 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Care Survival Guide: The Essential Guide for Today’s Foster Parents, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, and elsewhere. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.