We have just about reached our 10-year anniversary of first becoming foster parents. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade of pouring in the work on foster care, adoption, guardianship, and all things related.
We’ve seen a lot of things during that time including high moments and some low ones too. We’ve seen some truly bizarre things. However, what’s most troubling is the brokenness of the foster care system that children in our care have experienced time and time and time again.
It’s not an overstatement to say the system in the U.S. needs a lot of work. The fact that #fostercaresurvivor is a trending hashtag on social media says a lot. One of my favorite books, “Three Little Words,” details the heart-wrenching injustices that many kids in foster care experience.
What should it look like? Ideally, that is. If the system was may more perfect than it is now. Here are three things needed to start.
A Last Resort
Removing a child from their home should absolutely be a last resort. Yes, there are times when, for the immediate safety and welfare of a child, that they must be removed from their families. This should be the far, far exception rather than the rule – or the easy thing to do.
Some counties such as mine are investing more and more into preventative programs to come alongside struggling families to provide wraparound services to bolster the welfare of children without disrupting them. I got to see this firsthand during my short stint working with the child welfare team here. The result is improved outcomes for children and families while keeping families where they belong – together.
As Short As Possible
Children aren’t always as resilient as we think. The impact of separating children from their families leaves deep traumatic wounds on their souls that can take years, if ever, to heal. When removal is necessary, the time should be as short as possible. Prolonged separation weakens natural family bonds, especially for young children whose cognitive development often outpaces the sometimes glacial-paced reunification process.
Court systems are a particular bottleneck and the pandemic hasn’t helped. Overloaded dockets, over capacity social workers and inefficient court systems all lengthen the time children are away from home. We need innovative solutions to relieve this burden on our counites and local governments. This is where the third ideal is put in place.
Rightly so, education often dominates local government budgets. In my county, it’s the largest slice of the pie by far. Imagine what it would look like if just a bit was trimmed off to make improvements for the most vulnerable among us, adding social workers, funding innovative court solutions and fostering community partnerships to improve resources for those interacting with the child welfare process. The result would be less children in care and less time away from home.
It’s not just our government’s responsibility. Everyone plays a part. A major decision point to choose our new church a few years ago (after beliefs and doctrine) was their prioritization of supporting those engaged with the foster care system. We all can find a way to pitch in. For some it’s volunteering with great organizations or donating funds to bolster budgets. For others, it’s diving deep and becoming foster parents or walking alongside people on the journey.
Too much pie in the sky? Not the right approach? What does foster care ideally look like to you?