Among the innumerable decisions that Lee and I made last year—some automatic and mundane, others considered and calculated—two stand out:
- I should not have children, and
- We would regret not having children.
These decisions bring me to what I am most looking forward to about 2016: We have started the process to become foster parents. At some uncertain point in the future, we will ultimately adopt someone (or two someones) out of the foster-care system. In the meantime, we’ll provide a home to kiddos who need one. Our home will be licensed for up to two children at a time whose ages could range from birth to 18 years old.
I have been interested in being a foster parent since I first worked for a court years and years ago. The details in case files where children are declared in need of care or parental rights are terminated are grim. After one horrendous case where a boy had already been removed from home and then abused in foster care such that he was permanently scarred and lost feeling in parts of his body, I decided that I wanted to be a foster parent one day because I could provide children a safe place where they could just be kiddos. I still think about this little boy and wonder how he is doing.
As we have started to share this news, we’ve had many questions about foster care, and we have also confronted some unfortunate comments that reflect stereotypes and misconceptions about children in foster care from well-meaning individuals. In the interest of providing some facts and combating some stereotypes, I’ve compiled some information about foster care for our friends and family.
Facts about Foster Care
In Kansas, there are about 6,000 children in the foster system and 2,500 licensed foster homes.
On average, most children stay in foster care for about two and a half years before either reuniting with their families or being adopted, but about twenty percent of children wait five years to be adopted. Some children are never adopted; about 20,000 children a year “age out” of the foster-care system nationwide and are suddenly young adults on their own with no safety nets when they make a mistake. (And who among us didn’t make a mistake or two or fifty as a young adult?)
Most children in foster care have an average of three placements. Social workers try very hard to keep children in their foster homes with minimal disruptions/moving because it is incredibly difficult for children to make repeated moves to another stranger’s home.
Even with the shortage of licensed foster-care homes, we as foster parents ultimately decide whether to accept a particular child into our home. We get the call saying that a child needs a home, and we ask questions about that child’s needs to determine whether we can provide for them. One question that we’ll ask, for example, is whether the child has allergies to bees, dogs, or cats. If so, we aren’t going to take that child into our home. Does a child have a history of aggressive or inappropriate behavior toward animals? If so, that’s another nope.
Myths About Foster Care
All the children in foster care have serious problems.
Any statement that begins with “all” is going to end with a stereotyped generalization. In fact, most children in foster care are just children with the same kinds of issues that are common in their age group. Of course, there are children with special needs in foster care. These needs can range from mild developmental delays, to severe mental and physical disabilities, and … to being a teenager with two siblings. Yes, a child can be declared a special-needs child for being a straight-A student with no behavioral problems because that child is fourteen and has two siblings. Teenagers and sibling groups are more difficult to place in foster homes (and to find adoptive families).
I have known plenty kiddos who had serious issues with anger, authority, defiance, learning, lying, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues, stealing, and violence – and none of them were in foster care. In fact, the only person I knew when I was a teenager who was in foster care held down a part-time job, got decent grades, and was always respectful and polite. (I had a mad crush on him.)
What I want you to take away from this myth in particular is that it is not the child’s fault he or she is in foster care. Don’t further stereotype the child when the people who should love the child best have failed so spectacularly.
I’d love the child too must to foster them; I’d get too attached!
Loving a child means wanting what is best for that child. Sometimes, that means that a child will be reunited with their family. Other times, that means supporting the child as they struggle with their complex emotions when the goal of reunification has failed. To me, this kind of comment also has some bite to it: I feel that it implies that I won’t get attached to children, that I won’t love the children who come into my home, that I won’t grieve when they leave… I will do all of those things. But we lose ones we love in life all the time for a myriad of reasons, and we never know how much time we will have with our loved ones. I will choose instead to focus on loving children who need that love.
We’re still several months away from being licensed. Our class starts on Wednesday, and we’re in the fun and not-so-fun process of getting our house ready for that wide age range while meeting the state regulations for foster care. I’m not certain how many children we’ll foster at which ages before we find the right child(ren) to adopt, but I do know that 2016 will be the year that I know what it means to be a parent… I’ll just have skipped a few traditional steps in the process. I’m thrilled and terrified, and my friends who are parents tell me that’s perfectly normal.