As someone who has been a Foster Parent for 2 years, one thing that always irks me is the number of myths out there about the foster care system. These beliefs, never as clear cut as what others think, can be very derisive. Today I want to write about a few of these.
2 Years of Experience in a State Based System
A note, all of the above is based on my experience and knowledge about Delaware’s foster care system. I cannot speak to other states, as each one is different, but my general investigation has shown that most of what I am about to say is true no matter the state.
The Foster Care Money Myth
The most obvious foster care myth is that people make big money working in foster care. Recently I came across a tweet making just this claim. The individual had found a job posting for a foster care worker and assumed that indicated how much a person would make being a foster parent. The point being made is the government should have given that money to the birth parent rather than taking kids away from low income parents.
Do People Do Foster Care for the Money?
Now, we will ignore the political or moral ramification here of helping someone in need (a conversation more attuned to a political site). Instead I want to speak to whether people foster for the money payout. I’ll start by saying up front that I have indicated I will financially receive some level of windfall from our foster care process if I adopt. Note the wording here though, if I adopt. In essence the financial benefit of foster care for me, is tied to the same benefits I’d receive adopting. IE things like government adoption assistance, employer adoption assistance, and paternity leave.
What about the actual stipend we receive for fostering? Just 550 dollars a month. A far cry from our tweeters yearly 40K estimate. Also not far off what it costs to pay for things like diapers, clothes, and other requirements for a growing child.
Not Getting Rich Off Fostering a Single Kid
No one is supporting themselves off $6600 a year. In fact most states, including Delaware, screen potential parents yearly to ensure they have adequate income to support themselves without this stipend. So we can establish right off that I am not making money off foster care and for a single child it’s unlikely anyone is getting very far ahead financially from the system.
How Some People Do Make Money Fostering
So do people foster for money? Well, the answer here is mixed. Here is the deal, you can’t really make money fostering a single child. Nor can you make money having a healthy child. But the government does pay more for children that require more attention. Also, it is possible to have 5 or 6 children at once. In theory if you fed them from the dollar store and clothed them from goodwill you could make a pretty good income with multiple children.
Are people doing this? I am sure there are somewhere. But from my experience and exposure most people have one or 2 foster children at most. So we can assume that most people are not playing the foster system for an income.
I hear someone in the back looking for the loop hole with the adoption gains I mention. Well let me tell you, that’s a one time payout the same as adopting any child. It’s not going to pay for all the child’s expenses until 18. Also if you adopt, the stipend for fostering disappears and the number of children you can foster decreases. So yeah, not exactly a well thought out long term plan. From my experience most people that foster multiples of children tend to be the ones that do not typically adopt (and tend to take older children).
People Believe 8-9 Months After Starting Foster Care You Can Adopt
Which brings us to myth number 2. People join foster care often with the hope of adopting. There is this impression out there that you join and then 8-9 months later you end up with a child you can adopt. Again, not true.
The Short Case for Adoption From Foster Care
The reality is, there are some rare cases where a baby or other child might be up for adoption 8-9 months later. And yes you can ask the workers to call you for children more likely to be in this situation. But it is important to understand there is no crystal ball or guarantee. Fostering a child can go on for years. Typically at 9 months for younger children or 1 year for older they have to make a permanency decision on where the state sees things headed. If the decision to no longer reunify the child is made, the next step is terminating parental rights. Again, this might not happen for another 6 months or so. After the termination of parental rights has occurred, 3-6 months after that you might be able to adopt.
The Reality to the Foster Care Myth is It’s a Long Process
But… They also could decide at that year to give more time to see what happens. A lot of birth parents pick things up when you get closer to deadlines. So things could be heading for adoption for months and then suddenly reverse. A family member could suddenly appear at any point and the child be redirected for kinship care. And yes, even if TPR occurs the birth parents can appeal the decision for another 6-9 months after that.
I guess what I am saying is, don’t go into fostering thinking you are going to adopt. You can go in hoping of course. But realize until TPR and all appeals cease the goal of fostering is to reunify that child with their biological parents or kin. Your job in effect is to support that possibility and help the child to continue those relationships.
Birth Parent’s Foster Care Myths
Which brings us to birth parents. There are a lot of myths here. Most involve picturing all birth parents as ogres that beat their children. The truth here is more like any other walk of life. There are some really bad bio bad apples. Others are generally good people who just have issues keeping them from caring for the child. Odds are you will interact mostly with the later. It will make it really hard if your case approaches TPR as you end up torn between knowing a child would be better suited with another option, your own bond with the child, and wanting to help these other people that are struggling.
Foster Care, A System that Both Helps and Hurts Bio Parents
The thing is, the system both helps and hurts the Biological parents. On the one hand the system does provide the biological parents all types of support. Housing, health care, and even career guidance are provided to biological parents. Note that the resources and support is provided, but the biological parents are responsible for going out and doing the work. The list of things they have to do to get their child back won’t sound all that daunting to most parents things like suitable housing, stable income, mental health/substance abuse counseling, parenting classes etc.
But on the other hand it also holds them back. If a biological parent is holding a steady job, the state will charge them child support from their paycheck while the child is in care. Addiction or an unstable housing situation may be the only thing they are not able to achieve on their case plan, but it will still be held against them. Like anything this situation is not a simple yes or no.
I will note back to picking on that tweeter. The solution is never to write a blank check to the Bio parent. Many of them have things like opioid addictions or other problems. They need support, not a blank check. Lack of money may contribute to their outcomes, but rarely is just being poor a reason a child enters long term foster care. *some exceptions apply for homelessness. Although it is unlikely that just homelessness would result in an extended stay.*
The Foster Care Myth of Your Relationship with Workers.
Which brings us to the workers. When you take foster care training you will be promised the world from the workers. They will call you weekly. They will do this and that. Here is the reality. They never have enough workers to handle the number of cases. Most of the time you will be on your own. In some extreme cases you go weeks without seeing the worker, even if that’s not really what is supposed to happen.
Like anything else your experience depends on the worker and also their workload. But through direct and indirect interaction with at least 10 workers over the last 2 years I have yet to meet one that was not overworked and underpaid. I can basically tell you right now to throw out any expectations you got from your training on worker attention.
The Foster Care Myth of “I couldn’t do that”
Which brings us to the big foster care myth. The one people struggle with the most. The statement so commonly heard from well-meaning friends, family members, or even acquaintances when a child is reunified or moved to kin is always “I couldn’t do that. Them leaving would tear me apart. “
Here is the thing. Foster parents are human too. It tears us apart. To be a good foster parent you have to treat a child as if they are your own. You need to make them feel loved and cared for. No one can do that and not establish a bond. When that bond ends, it hurts. When you say it “I couldn’t do that, it would hurt too much”, it doesn’t sit right with most foster parents. We are doing what is necessary despite the impact. We are not unfeeling monsters without the ability to care when a child leaves. It is devastating to us, but the hope is that the secure attachments the child has with us will follow them and allow them to continue to make secure and healthy attachments throughout their lives.
You Don’t Fix Trauma as a Foster Parent, But You Do Make Improve Lives
Which brings us to the kids. These kids need the love of a family while they wait for reunification or the next step of adoption. They didn’t ask for this situation. Instead they have been traumatized by both the event leading up to their moving into care and the move itself. It’s going to take work, many months to years of it, to help them accept and move on with that trauma. The typical teaching is that for every 1 year of trauma a child experiences, it will take them a minimum of 3 years to recover from it. Note the wording here, foster parents don’t fix a child’s trauma the day they come into their home. But over the long haul they can address the effects of that trauma. To do so they have to accept the trauma, accept the role of helping them to adapt to it. It also can mean dealing with behaviors most of us do not expect from children. That is something a foster parent should be prepared to deal with.
A Great Experience, But One You Need to Understand the Foster Care Myths
The reality is, there are a lot of positives of foster care. There is a real community of foster parents that stick together. There is the love and joy the child can bring while in your home. Of course you have that feeling of making a difference. Impacting that child in a positive way that will hopefully have ramifications for the rest of their life. These things make it all worth it. It’s just important to know that foster care is not the same as the image in most people’s heads, both good and bad.