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Rent-a-Dad and I often talk about the type of articles we want to write based on our thoughts, feelings, and topics we wished we had guidance on over the years. The misconceptions of fostering and foster care are two intertwined topics that we have strong feelings about and learn more on the subject every day as we foster. Here are some of the top misconceptions from both sides (foster parents and birth parents):
- Foster Parents (through the Department of Children Services) are out to steal children
As a child I worried about what would happen if CPS (Child Protective Services) ever came to our home. My parents had a plan in place in case something happened to them but what if CPS just showed up one day and thought my parents were ill fit to be my parents. It may have seemed to be an unfounded concern but to a child nightmares do not have to be founded to be terrifying. As a child I had heard horror stories from on the news about children dying in care who were taken away from loving homes. For a child being taken away from your loved ones (no matter how imperfect they might be) is a nightmare.
As an adult I heard this concern all over again when we went through PATH training. Some people in my class couldn’t understand why foster parents were seen in such a light when all they wanted to do is protect the children coming into the system. I couldn’t explain my own unfounded fears as a child but thankfully I didn’t have to as our instructor had material to share on the topic.
When Rent-a-Dad and I sat in on a Q&A panel for another PATH class we had several Kinship families bring this topic up by remarking that foster parents are “out to steal children” due to the large number of couples becoming foster parents with the main priority of adoption. I was a taken aback by this comment as Kinship Families attend the same PATH classes that foster parents attend so they are aware of the rules that foster parents must follow. While I was also a little hurt by the comment, I couldn’t deny that there are people who become foster parents with the sole purpose of adoption however that is not the case with every foster parent.
The process to become a foster parent (or kinship parent) is a detailed one. First couples (or single people) need to express the wish to become a foster parent to the state (or a foster care organization), then they need to go through a certain number of training classes while a thorough background investigation (including state and FBI checks) is conducted, a home study is also conducted to determine if a home is acceptable. Part of considering if a home is acceptable is the willingness of the people involved to work with birth families. The first priority of DCS is to re-unite the child in care with the birth family whether it is the mother and father or an extended family member. If a kinship placement can not be found then the foster family has the ability to adopt the child in their care (if parental rights are terminated) but not before being a foster parent for a minimum of eight months (states vary).
- Adoption costs and procedures are so extensive anymore, I’ll just become a foster parent and adopt as soon as I can
I am not going to pretend that after being a foster parent for three years that I know everything but I have heard several potential foster parents use some version of this phrase. Being a foster parent is in no way the same thing as going through a private adoption agency.
First the process to become a foster parent is as in-depth and invasive as it is to become an adoptive parent. By going through the state, if an adoption does occur, then yes the costs are significantly less than going through a private agency BUT the first priority in each case is re-unification or finding a kinship family for placement.
Re-unification can be a lengthy process even if the new laws demand that permanency goals (for the child in care) be met within two years. During that time foster parents will meet one or more members of the birth family and be expected to work with them. Even if parental rights are terminated, there can be birth family that wish to still be in the child’s life from half-siblings to grandparents. Adoption through foster care is much closer to an open adoption. The process from start to finish (from placement to adoption) can take three or more years. It is easier to adopt an older child than it is an infant. Birth families will fight harder to regain custody of an infant over that of an older child (sad but true).
So if the adoption of an infant, with something close to a closed adoption, is the only end goal then foster care is not the right solution.
- Foster Parents are rich
This comment is sometimes linked to the idea that foster parents are trying to steal other people’s children. The idea is that foster parents have unlimited monetary resources and income so they can hire lawyers to fight the system and take away another person’s child.
First, ALL foster parents have to sign contracts that state they have NO legal rights to the child (ren) in their care. So at no point can a foster parent seek outside legal representation to try and take a child in the system away from a birth family.
Second, most foster parent’s I have worked with are either upper lower class or lower middle class. They may be rich in relationship based resources such as friends, family members and church members who they can turn to but they are generally not independently wealthy.
Sadly this misconception can be furthered by the idea that birth families always see their child in a new/different outfit each visit. That makes breaking the misconception very hard even if the clothes come from the thrift or consignment stores. I try to break that misconception by dressing children in the clothes their family provides so the birth family can take pride in that they are providing something for their children. This small step helps build bonds between the children and birth family as well as between the foster family and birth family.
Another side of this misconception is that “people foster just for the money”. It is true that foster parents receive X number of dollars per child in their home but there are limits to how many children can be in a home (at least in Tennessee). The funds that are received are based on tax credits so it is just the bare minimum the government assumes it will take to care for that child. Most of the time it takes more than what is received to take care of those children (at least in the way Rent-a-dad and I want to care for children in our home). Our PATH trainer pointed out that if people are trying to foster “just for the money” that there are plenty of jobs out there that pay a LOT more and are a LOT LESS stressful. Having been a foster parent now for three years, I have to agree with that statement! There is so much paperwork, red tape, etc. that no one should ever consider fostering because “it makes you money”. That just is not true, again, at least not in Tennessee.
- All birth families are bad people
Rent-a-Dad and I even had some form of this misconception. We have all heard the horror stories of why children come into care from VERY poor living conditions to sexual abuse. While it is true that the birth family made some poor choices that caused their children to be removed from their care, it does not mean the birth family is created “from the scum of the earth”. In a lot of cases these are people who have been down on their luck and made very poor choices. What they need are people ready and willing to walk them through the right way of doing things because they never had a family to do that. So the best thing to do is not to make snap judgments, ever.
Rent-a-Dad often tells people that he reminds himself that he tries to put himself in the shoes of the birth family and how much they must be missing their child (ren) each and every day they are apart. After all that is how we feel when the kids are re-united with their family and leave our home.
- Our tax dollars pay for children in the system
This is one misconception I am always talking about. When strangers find out I am a foster parent they commend me on my good works (getting kudos is not why I do it) and then they comment on how it’s not right that “our” tax dollars go to paying for other people’s children. While I do not know how other states function, when a child in our state enters the system their birth parents have to pay the state for their care. The parents have to attend a child support hearing and set up child care payments to the state. If a parent is unemployed then once they have a job they must begin making child support payments, wages are sometimes even garnered. As this process is between the courts and the birth parents I can not comment on how much the parents have to pay but they are expected to begin making payments before they can be receive custody of their children. Now does this money fully cover the children in the system? No, but it is a good thing to keep in mind that those families that work hard to get their children back do have a financial investment in their kids.