I have been working with foster parents and children for over 10 years. I have watched children grow up in the system and have seen firsthand the amazing impact a foster parent can have on them. These parents see fostering as a wonderful opportunity to support a child’s growth and to help them reach their potential, and to help children work through their trauma so they can focus on just being a kid. They know that these kids need the opportunity to form lifelong bonds with stable adults so they can learn that they should not be mistreated and abused, and that their trauma is not their fault. I have seen foster parents grow close to their foster children and have had their lives enriched by having these children in their home.
I have also seen what happens when there are not enough foster parents. This year in particular has been so challenging for many of us [in foster care]. We have experienced over-a-year of uncertainty and fear due to the pandemic, including the fear of getting sick or exposing our families to illness. We’ve also dealt with the uncertainty of maintaining employment or even ensuring we have enough toilet paper in our homes. Throughout this year, I have witnessed many foster parents stop fostering due to these uncertainties and fear, and have received little to no interest from prospective new foster parents. However, I have not seen the need for foster parents diminish; in fact it seems the need is even greater now. We still have children who need to be moved to a safe environment and who need stability in their lives.
So what happens when we do not have a foster parent? The child still needs to come into care for their safety, they still need to be supported. The harsh reality is that when there are no homes available, a child ends up staying in a staff person’s office or is moved to a hotel. The child is moved from their home and literally taken to an office where staff come and sit with them for hours. Multiple staff sit with the child in shifts to make sure their basic needs are being met. Yes, the child has a roof over their head and food in their stomach, but they are surrounded by strangers who rotate 24 hours a day. They are not in a home with a parent. They do not have a bedroom, but instead have a cot folded up in an office. They cannot take their clothing out of their plastic bags as there is no dresser or closet to put them in. They do not have a living room to relax in and just decompress or even a kitchen to walk into to grab a glass of water. They are sitting in an office. And this is where they will sit until a foster family is identified. I would love to say this only takes a few hours, but that is not true. A child can potentially stay at the office for weeks when there are no foster homes available.
Imagine being a child who was just removed from your home because your parents or family can no longer care for you. You have no idea what is going on and a worker you barely know takes you and a garbage bag of your belongings to their office. You look around the room and see a cot in the corner, a few children’s toys, and an old chair against the wall. The worker shows you around and then takes you to a conference room that has a bathroom in it with a shower. You see a closet that has some bottled waters, snacks, and a sleeping bag in it. The worker says, “OK, so here we are. By the way, I am leaving soon but this is Jane* and she will be with you for a couple hours until someone else arrives to relieve her.” Imagine being this child, already traumatized from being removed from your home, and now you find yourself sitting in an office with no idea of what will happen next. You have nothing to do and are being told you are going to stay here with rotating strangers for company. You also fear misbehaving--telling yourself that you cannot have a meltdown or be emotionally dysregulated because this may hurt your chances of being placed into one of the very few foster homes out there. Insane, right? How can this choice possibly be in the “best interest of a child”? But this is what happens when there are no other options. This is what happens when we do not have local parents and families willing to help.
I know being a foster parent is a huge commitment and not for everyone. But I also know if we do not have families who are willing to help the children of our community we end up with children sitting in offices. No child should have to go through this, especially a child who has already experienced some degree of trauma by being removed from their home.
Foster parents make a huge difference in a child’s life. Not only do they prevent children from being placed in office by giving them a real home, they also provide a sense of stability and care that can only be found in a family setting--regardless if this is a single parent or a two parent home. Foster parents help keep children from running away, from being sexually exploited, from becoming drug addicted, or even choosing to self harm because they feel they have no one who truly cares about them. Foster parents stand in the fray for their foster children in so many powerful and necessary ways.
Foster parents are a vital resource to our community. They open up their hearts and homes to help youth who for one reason or another are unable to live with their biological family. They provide safety and stability to youth in need and truly are remarkable individuals. I am so grateful to foster parents for what they do and the huge impact they have on our children and our community.
Watching a child leave an office to move into a foster home is so humbling. You can see the hope return to their eyes as they trade in a lot of uncertainty for some stability and normalcy. By providing a child with the most basic things--a bedroom with a dresser, and some compassion and love--you can make such an impact on their life. You can provide them the opportunity to be a child, which everyone deserves.
If you are interested in learning more about our Foster Care Programs in San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara County, please call us at (805) 781-3535 and ask for Maria Roberts.