In one county of a western state, which will remain nameless here, there is an almost 100% turnover of foster parents annually. Can you imagine that? What could be happening that would result in what could be considered a 100% failure rate for that county’s foster care system?
Could it be that foster parents don’t receive adequate pre-service/licensing training, and consequently have unrealistic expectations of what they’ve agreed to? Could it be that their phone calls aren’t returned by social workers when they are in crisis or don’t know what to do? Could it be that the kids need a lot more than they are equipped to provide? Could it be that foster parents don't have a network of support in their communities? Perhaps it’s all of the above.
Why is it so hard to be a foster parent? It’s complicated, but could it possibly be that the kids are tougher? Could it be that the influences of the culture that is prevalent on the internet is normalizing dangerous thoughts and behaviors? Could it be that kids who used to cared for in 24-hour-awake-staff facilities are now placed with families who have to eventually get some sleep?
Is it the kid’s fault? Again, it’s complicated, but consider that the average foster kid moves four times every year. Just let that sink in for a minute.
Can you imagine moving four times every single year? After two or three moves, you wouldn't bother getting to know the other people in the house. You probably wouldn't even bother unpacking. You'd probably just live out of your suitcase. You would never feel completely safe because you would always wonder when you were going to walk in and find that your things had been thrown into a big trash bag (the official luggage of the foster care system). You'd always have a vague sense of missing something because experience has taught you that if your favorite shirt was in the hamper when the social worker arrived, you'd likely forget it in the rush to leave.
You'd never really make friends with the other kids in the home, the neighborhood, or at school, because chances are you wouldn't be around long enough to actually make friends. It wouldn’t be long before someone would write in your file, “ATTACHMENT DISORDER,” and give you a pill. And that sense of missing things and feeling like an idiot because you forgot the only thing your grandma had given you—there’s a pill for that too. And those mood swings that happen when your mom’s favorite song comes on the radio—there’s a diagnosis and a pill for that too. The truth is that ANYONE would fail to attach if they moved every three months, and everyone would have attention deficit if their address changed, along with the rules, and when and what they ate, and when they were allowed to sleep, wake, and live. And anyone who had been neglected, abused, and constantly on the move would have mood swings or just stay stuck in angry or depressed all the time.
When we want real answers, we have to go to the source. So, we’ve organized a National Foster Parent Survey to be launched at a Foster Parent Townhall Meeting for Friday, June 11th at 8 a.m. pacific time. It’s a zoom meeting, and everyone who has ever been a foster parent in the United States is invited.
The mental health professionals are welcome as are former foster kids. The national survey of foster parents, which will begin on Friday, was created by an alumni of the foster care system. The answers to the questions about what foster parents need must begin with the foster parents. They are the ones on the front lines. They are the ones with the lived experience. They are the ones closest to the kids who have been neglected, abused, or trafficked, and are in the foster care system.
Following the Foster Parent Townhall meeting, we will send the survey out through social media and email to engage as many more foster parents as possible.
After the survey is completed, we will take the findings to individuals, small businesses, houses of worship, non-profit organizations, large corporations, local, state, and national government, and any other community stakeholders, to encourage folks to rally together in their communities to come alongside foster families to help raise the children within their influence.
As a beneficiary of good foster care, I believe that the problems can be solved. I know that people are willing to help. They just need to know specifically what they can do. We want to connect them with the good foster parents in their communities to improve the lives of everyone involved.
We can do this together. Please share this with anyone you know who has ever been a foster parent.
Rhonda Sciortino spent the first 16 years of her life in the child welfare system in Southern California. She credits her personal and professional success to the foster family who took her in for a very brief time when she was 7 or 8 years old. She doesn't remember their names, but she'll never forget the impact they had on her.