“Kimberly” is a middle-aged foster parent with ten years of experience. She has had five (non-kin) foster children. She worked as a nurse while fostering, and her husband worked as a police officer. She self-described as middle class, and at the time, she and her husband made a six-figure income. They originally began fostering with hopes to adopt. The children they cared for were most affected by the abuse they experienced with their natal families. “[Their] alcohol abuse affected one child’s whole life.”
She described their fostering experience as much more successful through a private agency than when working with the state directly. “When we had a private agency, I felt much more supported, but I know we got way less money. When we went through the state, FORGET it.” The worse thing that happened to them was a “Last minute pulling a child that had been with us from birth to age 2.” That their overall experience was more negative than positive is clear. When asked about what makes fostering parenting “worth it,” Kimberly replied, “It is not worth it.” She believes that the child welfare professionals “are out to protect the agency, mainly.” What works well in the foster care system? In other words, what does the system do right? “Nothing.”
“Everything [needs fixing]. Scrap the whole thing.” When asked what could have made them better foster parents she recommended, “More training, and 1:1 support from a social worker, and access to lawyers for our own protection.”
“I believe the state looks out for #1, them. They do not really put the child first. If they did, there would not be stories of children safe and sound with a foster/adopt family and then yanked. It is so hurtful to the child, the foster family, and the foster family’s children! Who speaks up for them? The state hides behind the phrase ‘for the good of the child’ in so many ways. It is hideous they ways they harm families, and there is no real oversight to hold the state accountable.”
The fear of losing a child after a family has been long attached is common fear of foster parenting, particularly those who hope to adopt. It is a justified fear. Reunification is a more common outcome, and the policy of concurrent planning puts foster parents in a precarious position. Ideally, only children who are most likely to not be reunited with their parents are placed with adoptive-prospective foster parents. In reality, this is not always the case—either because the state needs to place kids with any available foster parent or because a parent exceeds the expectations of the state.
Many foster parents who deal directly with the state instead of fostering through a contractor express more negative feelings toward their experiences. There is a particular narrative in Kimberly’s story though about lacking protections for foster parents. This is true. If a foster family is wronged by the state—either through wrongful charges or accusations, or by having children taken away that they expected to adopt—they have to hire their own lawyer. Foster families have very few protections under the law and they risk a great deal: loving children, witnessing their struggles to adjust, their loss of family, their homes and hearts.