“Maria” is a foster parent in her forties. She and her husband have one biological child, and kinship cared for their nephew for the past 11 years. With their combined income, they have a very comfortable family income. They began fostering him when a family crisis occurred and his parents could not maintain his custody any longer.
She believes the continuous mentorship her family has been able to provide her nephew has contributed to their greatest successes. She describes the situation with her nephew has very complicated because of the additional family dynamics involved with kinship care. They had hoped that parental rights would be terminated. At one point her nephew went back to his mother’s custody, and she “later caused him serious bodily injuries.”
She described other foster families she has met as “strong and heroic.” For her, the best thing about fostering is, “The smile on a child’s face as he feels safe and is thriving in your care.” Maria thinks one of the greatest needs of foster children is a “feeling of belonging-when the bio parents keep getting chances to get it right, the child’s future ends up in limbo.” Later, she added, “The biological parents get too many chances, when it is the child taking the chance.” The job of the foster care system is “to protect the children-although this is usually not the case.”
The professionals that Maria’s family interacted with “need to be totally re-trained and brought up to date on new legislation regarding third parties.” She felt that Medicaid provisions were one of the greatest successes of the foster care system. Given her family’s income level, this is particularly insightful. It indicates either the need she saw in other families that needed that support, of acknowledges that even at their very good income level they still needed supports. She also believes that a failure of the system is the lack of input foster parents have on court outcomes. “I am a wonderful foster parent. Being a parent in the sense that you care for a child on a daily basis should entitle you to offer more input on what happens to the child.”
Maria’s frustration with parents who get too much time and too many chances to regain custody is a common theme. And she is correct that the result is that children stay in care longer. A professional once described to me that this is the greatest failure of the system: that kids stay in the system too long. This is one of the greatest tensions of the system: the balance of parental rights to raise their own children against the needs of the children. Professionals have also echoed her thoughts on the logic of care-givers needing to be heard in during court decisions because they see the impact of what is happening to the children on a day-to-day basis. Caregivers are rarely given an opportunity to address the judge about how the child is progressing and what the child has expressed as needs or wants. This includes foster parents as well as caregivers in residential or treatment facilities. This seems particularly odd since it is the caregivers who know the children best. Caregivers may not always have input, but if they do, they probably ought to be given an opportunity to be heard. In regards to kinship care and professional training, kinship care laws are highly variable and legislation is often changing, at least in small ways. Other professionals describe that their peers in other agencies seem not to be aware of the laws that are supposed to be guiding their professional lives.