Americans love to celebrate stuff; special months, special days, special events, special causes, holidays… just about anything can be and is celebrated. This is good; celebration heartens the sole. So, can I invite you to celebrate with me an invisible class of amazing people; a group of selfless, hard-working, passionate folks who are not really on our radar screens, surely not the medias’; individuals who make life-changing impact every day in the lives of hundreds of children–Foster Parents!
Did you know that May is National Foster Care Month? I hope many of you do, but don’t feel bad if not – you are in good company. I do think it is disappointing that so many people are unaware of this annual event typically inaugurated by a Presidential Resolution; but I am more disturbed by the public’s perception of the “Foster Parent.” Comments like “they are just in it for the money”, “foster parents take advantage of foster children”, “foster parents are abusive” have grazed my ears far too many times over the past four decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you will bear with me, I would like to educate you about these remarkable people.
First, there are lots of them; but really, not enough of them to meet the need. In the United States, there are around 400,000 foster children in foster care at any given time. This has steadily dropped over the years as a result of important changes in public policy, moving foster children much more quickly out of the system and into a permanent family. With hundreds of thousands of foster families caring for children, you would expect that there will be some problems with abuse and neglect – unfortunately it is the nature of the beast. If you just follow media stories, you would think it is rampant, but it isn’t. In fact, less than 1/10 of a percent of foster children have been the victims of maltreatment in foster care. The reported percentage amongst the general population is higher. Overwhelmingly, children and youth in foster care get really good care!
Second, being a foster parent is not easy. Those of you who are parents know how challenging it can be raising your own children from birth to their transition to adulthood. Think about bringing a traumatized child or youth into your home who you don’t know—you have no idea how s/he has been raised, what horrible circumstances s/he might have been exposed to or his/her behaviors, likes and dislikes, medical problems, special needs, et cetera. It really is a Cultural Conflict for the family and child. Some foster children show up in the middle of the night, some have lice, some have serious emotional or medical problems, some are angry, some are self-destructive, and some are just ordinary kids with no outward symptoms or problems. But, all foster children have experienced trauma, most quite severe, which requires a skilled interventionist to help guide them. Foster parents are expected to be miracle workers – and in some sense, they really are!
Third, over the past 10 to 15 years, the role of the Foster Parent has significantly changed. Once upon a time, a child could be placed with a foster family and stay there until they graduated from high school. “Long-term” foster care was pretty typical, but that is no longer the case. Right now I would like to rebrand (I wish officially) the designation “Foster Parent” to “Resource Parent.” The Resource Parent is a skilled specialist, like someone who works in the emergency room, who is there to initiate the healing and restoration process and help guide the child or youth towards a permanent living situation. Many Resource Families actually end up adopting their foster children/youth. In my agency alone, over 250 foster kids have been adopted by our families in the past decade. How is that for a demonstration of heart, compassion and commitment! Yet, there is still another level of service to foster children and youth provided by Resource Parents–Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC). For nearly 27 years, my agency, the Family Care Network, has been a pioneer, specializing in therapeutic foster care as an alternative to institutional care for children with higher needs. TFC utilizes Resource Parents who are specifically trained to provide trauma-informed interventions, care and supervision, and are supported by a team of mental health professionals in order to provide whatever it takes to promote healing, wellbeing and a speedy move to permanency. TFC is a one child per family model, short term intervention, and it is amazingly effective because there are amazing Resource Parents willing to make incredible sacrifices for these children and youth. What’s more, TFC is becoming the intervention of choice across the country for meeting the needs of foster children and youth; especially for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
I have professionally worked with foster children and youth for over 40 years and I will never cease to be amazed and in awe of the individuals and couples who serve as Resource Parents. Thousands upon thousands of young lives have been positively impacted by these unsung heroes. Frankly, we need more—many more—to meet the growing need for this family-based service. Resource Parenting is certainly a wonderful opportunity to make a lifelong difference in the life of the child. For now, I am so appreciative of those who have responded to the call and have made the commitment to join the ranks with other life-changing Resource Parents. Please join me in celebrating these incredible folks. If you know someone who provides this care, thank them! If not, make a post on your social media sites, tweet this or similar articles, do whatever you can to shed a bright light on this small army of incredible people dedicated to help foster children and youth achieve all the best they can in life!
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Resource Parent, please visit our website FCNI.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please visit National Foster Care Month on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2755795595/events/