I want to start off this blog post about the biggest problems in the foster care system with a specific prefix.
I hate to complain, I don’t think complaining solves problems, I believe action solves problems. At the end of this post there are some tangible ways everyone can help and if everyone took an interest in helping I believe we could change the world of foster care.
I have worked in the system as a foster parent in Canada for almost 5 years now. The biggest thing I have realized is I have no control over the broken system. There are too many moving pieces. The only way I can think of facilitating change is awareness, so that is where this post is born from.
To start, a system designed for broken families is never going to be perfect
Everything about foster care is broken. And people with education but not necessarily experience are the ones trying to fix it. Which brings me to my first point.
The foster care system is filled with too many people, and too many rules and regulations.
- The foster care system is filled with too many people, and too many rules and regulations.
We have these laws put into place that are supposed to protect children, keep families together when possible and be in the best interest of the child.
The problem lies with hard rules for very different situations. Kids come into care for a variety of reasons from mental capacity to parent to poverty, to incarceration, to sexual abuse and trafficking.
Blanket laws cannot protect the children in each of the varying situations in the same way.
For example KIN always being the best option? The definition of who is KIN is incredibly inclusive but exclusive of the foster parent regardless of the time and bond the child may have to that foster parent.
When a decision comes about for permanency for a child that has parental rights removed I have heard so many stories of KIN being the plan over foster parents wanting to adopt regardless of things like;
The child has been with the foster parent their whole life and the kin is a super distant relative and has never met the child the whole say 2 years in care.
What about when the KIN doesn’t follow protocal and lets the kids see their bio parents under the influence or has them around criminal activity? Is KIN still the best option?
What about when KIN wants nothing to do with the child in the foster care process but will adopt siblings for the financial incentives that often come. I don’t know what it is like in the states but here in Canada adoptive parents get money for siblings and kids over 8 until the child is 18. Is a choice like that really the best option for the child? Shouldn’t that KIN have had a genuine interest in the well being of the child while they were in foster care?
- Timeline and extensions given when tiny bits of progress are made only to end up delaying the court process by years.
Severing a family relationship is a huge decision and one that should be given time and not taken lightly.
But often I have seen the child’s best interest not being put first and the bio parents having chance after chance.
Timelines are not followed and it makes me wonder why they are even put in place?
I am not going to get into any of the details for privacy but we are almost at 2 years with our little one and our timeline rule of permanency has to be put into place at the year mark. So we are a year and counting past that point.
- Too many people. There are way too many workers and supervisors in the agency for it to run effectively. In theory it should run effectively with this many people but…
In my experience there is always another worker to blame for a missed deadline or something that wasn’t done. There is always one more signature needed for something to be signed off on. There is always someone on vacation delaying and holding up progression on a case.
There is always someone who had to leave their position so now a new worker needs to be trained and delays the process. The kids and families workers often seem to change who then have conflicting decisions and outcomes.
I do not know how to make this better. I know workers caseloads are huge but having so many workers involved in one case does not seem to be the answer. There is a level of accountability that in theory should be there with everyone having supervisors but so often things get missed. Or the worker feels it is out of their realm of responsibility.
I do not say this to say workers are not doing their job. I have had wonderful workers in our fostering journey but I have also had not so wonderful ones and burnout and becoming numb to your work is a real problem with social workers.
They also work in this system where their agency tells them one thing and then the ministry (province or state) has its own rules and then the court has its own rules and regulations. And then those rules are always changing so how a newer social worker might act to a more experience one is different.
Many workers would agree with everything I am saying here and I am sure some would say I am an ignorant foster parent who has no idea. And maybe they are right.
I do not work as a social worker and have to do their end of the job in the system. But, there are certainly workers I have experienced that make me cringe at the way they do their jobs.
I guess that is the case with any job though right? We can’t control people and make them act responsibly and ethically even when it comes down to something as sensitive as a child’s safety and future.
Foster parents need more support
- Overall the role of a foster parent is undervalued and our feelings are the last considered.
In some ways I totally get that. Our needs and feelings are far less important than a child and family in crisis.
We are not in crisis, we are stable.
But ask any foster parent and I am sure they could share an experience that made them unstable, overwhelmed and ready to give up.
In fact many do give up. Foster parent retention is low. There are very few that go onto foster for many years. And the biggest reason is support.
I use to think my agency did a great job at this but budget cuts this year made us lose our resource workers (it is now a combined role for the children’s workers which has a different slew of problems in itself.)
And now that we have no resource (foster parent) workers we now have no support groups. That once a month support group was life giving for me as a foster parent. Now its gone.
This is why I advocate so strongly that foster parents need to find support in other foster parents. They are the only ones who truly get it and understand the value of support. I have an online support group as well as I am starting one with my church. It is vital.
reunification vs best interests of the child
I believe reunification with bio parents is the BEST case scenario for the child IF safe to do so. 100% kids belong with their parents.
But why are we pulling kids into the system for safety issues, putting them through the trauma of removal, access visits and extended time away from their primary family only to put bare minimum requirements to have a child reunified only for the child to bounce back into the system?
Why are foster parent requirements so high and bio parents requirements so low?
I try to have compassion in this situation but the best interests of the child are not always taken into effect. We have heard too many horror stories to know this to be true.
Foster care is often cyclical and I don’t believe the bare requirements for reunification are serving the kids in care best. Every child deserves the chance at a positive future, we need to serve the kids better. Speaking of foster care being a cycle.
Teens age out without support
I do not have any experience fostering teens but I have read enough and heard enough to know a child with trauma aging out at 18 with no family or support is very likely going to end up in the system again with their own kids. They are also likely to end up incarcerated or homeless.
This is probably one of the hardest areas to help because teens are well, teens. Raging hormones and having their own consent combined with childhood trauma often makes them resist any support that the system does try to give them.
But often by 21 a young adult growing up in a stable family isn’t even ready to make it on their own without support. It’s not fair to expect a foster youth to.
how to help?
I do not intend to throw any of the people working within the system under the bus with this post. In fact the opposite I commend everyone involved for sacrificing their comfort to work within the foster care system no matter what capacity.
This is an area of our society that needs help from more people. It’s certainly not working the way it is. We need an all hands on deck approach.
If we stopped living with comfort as our main objective and started caring more about others, and living sacrificially as Jesus demonstrated in His life, I think the system could look a whole lot different.
So what are some tangible ways that we can help?
- be a foster parent – The role of a foster parent is vital. Kids in care need someone who will be there no matter what. Someone who can guide and help shape their lives for the better.
- support a foster parent (emotionally, spiritually, financially, physically (baby sitting, tutoring)
- be a mentor to a foster youth
- volunteer within the agency, play with kids, offer support to bio families (cooking, cleaning, mentoring)
- be an advocate CASA or GAL
- become a worker and do your job in the best interests of the child, see them as a person not just another case you have to work
- practice self/soul care as a worker so you don’t burn out
- emotionally support a worker
- have an all hands on deck approach to the troubles in your community instead of ignoring and complaining
- educate yourself about foster care, why kids come into care and reframe the way you talk and think about it
It takes a village. I blog and create content around foster care and orphan care awareness because I think the saddest thing in our world is a child growing up without a family. You may not be called to foster but everyone and I mean EVERYONE can do SOMETHING.
Kids deserve it. The next generation deserves it. What can you do to help?