“Fran” is a 30-something foster mom who has been a non-kin foster parent for a year and a half at the time she shared her experiences. She has fostered four children, and has one biological child. She and her spouse both work full-time in addition to foster parenting resulting in an upper-middle class income. They became foster parents with the intent to adopt. The cost and red-tape involved in a private adoption pushed them toward fostering to adopt. Fran believes that their family, church and daycare were all crucial to their successes as foster parents.
She described drug use and poor parental decision-making as the “root” of all problems the children they cared for have experienced. And correspondingly, her greatest fear was that the children are reunited with unsuitable family or in unsafe conditions. The hardest thing about fostering for her is the “letting go. Loving children for up to 18 months, to have them sent back to parents – not knowing if you will ever hear anything about them again.” They learned that the families of the children they fostered were not “as horrible as I initially thought. There are some severely abusive homes, but there are also parents that have fallen into abusive patterns because of poor decision making or additions–I believe the latter set can be successfully rehabilitated!”
Her family had a bittersweet experience with two boys they intended to adopt: “[The boys were] 8 months and three years when they came to us. They were a pre-adoptive placement for 8 months. At 8 months, their bio father began speeding through his case-plan, getting his act together, and ultimately – got them back after we had the boys 10 months…just a week before the 18 month deadline for the case. We were able to transition the boys back into his father’s home – and have maintained a positive relationship with the entire family for over a year. We feel that it is a true success story. We are able to participate in family events with them, have sleepovers, and see them at least monthly.”
They believe that they professionals they worked with are “over-worked and under-paid. Many of them begin their careers with a passion to serve children, then become jaded and hardened after seeing years of hurting children.” The financial supports of the system were “completely adequate for the caring of our foster kids. The stipend covered most of the costs (even though we declined WIC support), medicaid was sufficient for health coverage, and in our city – daycare is covered for parents that work full-time.”
Fran had clear ideas about what needs improving from her perspective:
• “Ultimately, I believe the focus (at least where I live) needs to be drawn back to the BEST interest of the child above all else. Parents are given chance after chance to accomplish minor goals in their case-plan, and are STILL not held to the same standard that Foster Parents are held to. Completing parenting classes, counseling, clean drugs tests – I believe these are not items in which parents should be getting second chances on. I do understand giving parents extended timelines on getting a suitable home, etc – sometimes the reality of all that can be overwhelming – but believe in bending timelines ONLY for financial/logistics goals. • Caseworkers need more time off. I would say more money, but I believe that forcing case-workers to take a least one three day weekend a month would tremendously benefit their mental health. I also believe that counseling should be offered, maybe even required in some cases (like for some police officers after shootings). • Drug tests should actually be RANDOM – not only at visits or court dates. • Missing visits should be a big deal. It hurts the child, lets them down. • More should be done to create a relationship between bio-parents and foster-parents. There seems to be an “us against them” mentality on both sides – when all anyone wants is what’s best for the child. Post-reunification follow-up should be more standardized and continue for at least a year. • Transitions for the children should be standardized. Children that have been in a foster home deserve more than just a few days to say goodbye, and they should receive the same benefit of counseling that their bio-parents most-likely did!”
The greatest reward of fostering for her is, “Knowing that you are able to love children in a way that they may not have been loved before!” She described two different kinds of ideal situations for foster parenting. “1) The ability to enter into a Foster Parent relationship knowing that the child will be returned, then mentoring a parent successfully. Then maintaining a supportive relationship with the family after reunification. 2) Receiving a Foster/Adopt placement in which the parents realize that we my be able to better care for their children than they could and allowing us to adopt, then maintaining a relationship.”
Fran believes that foster children can thrive with love and stability and that the “One Goal” of foster care is “to ensure that all children are in a safe environment and loved.”
Like other foster parents, Fran’s family faces terrible loss when foster children that they develop deep relationships with are reunited with their families. This is a significant paradox of the foster care system’s goals: It simultaneously pursues adoption for children and reunification with parents.
Since Fran mentions substance abuse as an issue for bio parents, it is useful to note that while 18 months is a long time for children and foster families to attach, it may not be sufficient time for a person to make it successfully through a rehab program, and then find and maintain employment. Many people need to attend rehab multiple times before they successfully overcome addictions. A parent’s desire to be with their children cannot be measured by their success in a rehab program. Addiction and recovery are different for everyone. The government felt obliged to put that 18-month cap on reunification so that they can they push adoption. This increases a child’s chances of stability through adoption, but it is a reflection of a financial bottom-line. The state does not want children in foster care longer than that because of the costs incurred by the state. Even if 18 months is sufficient for rehab, it may not cover the amount of time it takes a parent to find a job (especially in the economy of recent years) and then save enough for suitable housing and establish their ability to care for their children.
I am not advocating for parental rights over child safety or even over foster parents rights (or the other way around). The point of these stories is to hear about one perspective and then balance it against another. (Stories from biological families are still needed!) The bottom-line is that foster parents’ needs and worries are at odds, or at least in tension, with biological parents’ needs and worries. Fran’s story is encouraging because it shows that there can be a healthy resolution to that conflict. There are also stories of foster parents keeping bio families in the loop after non-kin adoptions. (I hope I can share some on this site soon.)
Fran’s story highlights the problems of simultaneous pursuit of adoption and reunification.