Time to Foster Change

A Foster Parent Perspective

No one wants to see a child yanked from his/her family, friends, school, and a life they hold near and dear to their heart without credible evidence. I honestly do not believe that sheriff investigators, dependency judges, case workers, or the Guardian Ad Litem wish to see the unnecessary removal of a child from their home. I think great care is taken to avoid this outcome at all costs. However, if the evidence presents itself there is no other choice, but to err on the side of caution.

With that being said, I don’t believe the intention behind the system is the issue. In my opinion, the underlying problem of the foster care system is in its execution starting with the ill-equipped, under-trained and under-staffed third-party contractors of DCF who can’t appropriately handle the influx. Most of the case workers hired are recent college graduates with absolutely no experience who are thrown into the system with way too much power. When a foster family is unfortunate enough to be assigned an inexperienced and oblivious case worker or worse yet, an arrogant one, it does not turn out to be a pleasant or rewarding experience. A foster parent can’t help but to empathize with their foster child’s plight and come to love them as their own. As with any other loving parent, a foster parent won’t think twice about stepping up to the plate to protect their foster child. In many cases, foster parents become the child’s only advocate because the Guardian Ad Litem program is unable to fulfill its obligation of providing every foster child a guardian/advocate. There are just not enough volunteer guardians to go around. Due to that shortage, a decision has to be made on which type of abuse warrants an advocate. Sexual, emotional and mental abuse do not leave obvious marks, but it’s still abuse. The children that suffer from these scars are just as much affected in the end as the children that show signs of physical or drug abuse. However, a good portion of the children taken into the state’s custody who show no signs of obvious abuse go without the assistance of a guardian or any advocate at all. Everyone in that dependency courtroom, including the abusive parents/guardians have the right to counsel, all parties except for the one innocent that should be entitled to the most protection.

A foster parent has a tremendous amount of helpful knowledge, they are with this child every day. Their opinions and perspectives should be taken into account. But, the impact that they could make on behalf of their foster child is constantly being interrupted by the foster care agencies that control every aspect of the child’s case file. The “case” we are referring to is an innocent child not a file. I have found out, however, that if a foster parent interjects their opinion or if their observations contradict those of the case worker or the case worker’s manager, this will cause a disruption in the flow of the case. This disruption, first of all, causes the case worker/manager to appear incompetent. But more importantly, it creates a challenge for case workers to close the child’s case file within the timeframe required by statute. Needless to say, the system doesn’t care to hear from the foster parent. I guess what they really want are place holders who don’t ask questions. I, for one, felt like a subordinate peon who was given the side eye every time I dared to speak up. I truly believe the lack of foster homes stem from families not feeling respected or appreciated. A foster parent should feel empowered not impeded by this intimidating system. The goal here is to do right by the child, not to make the agency statistics look good. Foster parents with heartfelt intentions voluntarily open their homes and strive to give a traumatized child a safe and nurturing environment which includes unconditionally care, concern, protection and love. But, it is such an awful feeling to witness the fate of a young and blameless child heading down a wrong path and feeling absolutely helpless. I certainly can understand why some folks would choose to throw in the towel. It takes a special kind of person to become a foster parent. The whole undertaking can be quite frustrating and depressing.

The saddest part about this broken system is there are not enough viable options for the courts to choose from in regards to the permanent placement of these children. Most of the time in a situation where the parent is unfit, the extended family is as well. There are numerous cases where there have been generations of families in the foster care system. When there becomes a lack of foster homes it follows that there are now a lack of prospective adoptive families. Per legislation a child needs to be permanently placed or have a permanency plan in place within a certain time frame. The Court in many cases is forced to place an abused and/or neglected child back within the precarious circumstances from which they were originally taken because of the way the dependency laws are written. Every abusive, dangerous and/or neglectful parent is rightfully entitled to complete a case plan. If they complete that case plan more likely than not the child will be returned to their custody even in cases of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Not only does the law allow them to work through this case plan, the State will actually help pay for the cost of the programs they may need to attend. Doesn’t it make more sense to allow the child to remain in a safe, supportive and beneficial environment such as an established and proven foster home? Isn’t the cost of paying a monthly board payment to foster homes a more viable solution rather than allocating funds to assist in the return of the child to an unpredictable and troubled family unit? It seems to me that our laws and legislative actions are more concerned about protecting the parent than the child.

The bottom line is that in the course of about one year a judge will decide the fate of this innocent child based essentially on the input from individuals who in some cases have rarely met with and/or never knew the child at all. All assumptions are made from what has been read on the case file. I find this quite objectionable and totally unfair. Every person and agency that comes in contact with a removed child needs to employ a realistic perspective of what these children go through. Such as, the relationships they form, the bonds that are created between themselves and their foster family, what their life would realistically be like if returned to the parental home, what quality of life awaits them if they are not reunified. These are questions that deserve honest answers. These kids don’t stand a chance unless we activate some compassion. The foster care system will continue to spin its wheels and these children will continue to struggle and suffer until the legislature enacts better solutions. It is long past due for the needed change these children desperately seek. They deserve better futures than the ones being handed out due to laws that diminish them.