Today about half of all children who are removed from their homes have been abused or neglected. Physical “battering” is the most obvious form of abuse. Neglect is the term for parents not supplying food, clothing, or other needs for the child. Sexual abuse is fairly common. All of these forms of abuse generally are determined as the result of an investigation. If the child’s home is found to be unsafe, the child is removed and placed in foster care. Other children are in foster care because they are considered unmanageable. Such a child may skip school or may roam the streets and get into trouble.
The family court judge or juvenile court judge removes the child from the parents. These unmanageable children make up about one quarter of the children in foster care. A third group of children consists of those who have been abandoned or whose parents cannot care for them. Included in this group are children whose parents are incarcerated or ill. Newborn infants are sometimes abandoned and this may occur as a result of the mother using illegal drugs. When a child is removed from the biological parents, a judge has decided that the environment is harmful for the child.
Generally such families are quite poor and often there is no father in the home. Alcohol, drugs, crime, violence, and jail are common themes with such families. Birth parents of foster children often admit that they are poor disciplinarians. “I just didn’t know how to make my kids behave,” said one such mother. They ignore good behavior and overreact to bad behavior. They shout and hit when they feel that the child is misbehaving. Such an upbringing often results in children who are disruptive and difficult to manage.
Frequently, birth mothers were teenagers when they had their first child. They tried to raise that child and soon had another. Lack of adult guidance, lack of money, and lack of parenting skills resulted in troubled homes for such young families. Unmarried women raising young children may allow men to move into the home. In such homes, there is often abuse of children and violence toward adult women. Weapons may be readily available. “When I visited the birth home, mom’s boyfriend was there and he had a knife sticking out of his back pocket,” said one caseworker.
habilitation program, get a job, or move the boyfriend out of the home, and then the children can return to a more stable environment. Resources for troubled families tend to be focused on foster children, rather than on the biological family of that child. Although agencies have a history of providing a complete program of services for foster children, the child’s biological family generally is not offered a span of services. Such a family with poverty, lack of education, illegal drug use, and domestic violence is often expected to “pull itself together.
” It is expected that more services will be available to these troubled families in the near future. Government leaders have realized that these particular families can benefit from the same attention as their children. Programs designed to keep children out of foster care and “family-strengthening” programs are available in some communities. As agencies develop skills to work with such families, there should be improvement in the future. In the meantime, agencies do try to help troubled families put together a program that is acceptable.
There are usually court-ordered requirements for the parents, such as drug rehabilitation programs, which must be met before the child can return. Families may be required to participate in programs, or may voluntarily find programs, to help them become better parents. A birth parent may take this time to learn to read, to get a high school diploma, or to gain job skills. While a child is in foster care, the biological family may learn about programs that are available and expert help for them to turn to in the future.
The biological parents may have learned how to use their own extended family for help, especially if they have participated in kinship foster care. It is also quite common for a biological parent to stay in communication with former foster families and turn to a former foster parent for guidance or advice. Many teens feel quite stressed by everyday life. They often feel that people are not treating them fairly, that life is hard, and that they are not liked or loved. So there are natural stresses for all teenagers, even those who are not in foster care.
A foster child may discover things about himself or the biological family that make him quite uncomfortable. There may be poverty or drug abuse in the biological family. He may feel that the problems in the biological family will make his or her own life extremely difficult. Lack of financial resources can be quite stressful for a foster teen. The child may wish for possessions and for money. Also, as other teens begin planning for college and career training, this child may feel that there will be no financial support for him once the teenage years have ended.
If your foster child has been in special education or has been considered retarded or delayed, that may cause discomfort when the child becomes an adolescent. Older children may be very unhappy about being identified as handicapped. Sexuality causes difficulty for many foster children. If they are developing an interest in the opposite sex, they may not be able to attract partners. If their development is leading to an interest in same-sex partners, they may have a very difficult time. If a young person is going to become violent or is going to harm other people, this will begin in adolescence.
Teenagers with these behaviors are often worried and feel that their lives are out of control. Foster parents have all taken a training course and all have had foster care explained. They should understand that foster care is temporary placement of a troubled child from a troubled family, and reunification of the biological family is usually the goal. This explanation is widely agreed upon by child care experts, judges, and the federal government. Nevertheless, many foster parents have secret reasons for taking foster children, besides reunification with the biological families.
You may or may not realize that you have these secret desires. Many foster parents secretly want a child to love them, a child to show off to their relatives, a child who will do what they tell them, a child to help around the house, or a child to adopt. The worst problems occur when a foster parent has a secret sexual interest in the child. People become angry and frustrated when these secret desires are not fulfilled. If you have not yet started in foster care, consider these issues.
If you have difficulty accepting the current definition of foster care and the idea of reuniting biological families, do not go into foster care. If, more than anything, you want to adopt a child, consider adopting an older child who is available or a foreign adoption. In the longer term (after two years in care), the association between parental contact and well-being became negative for children who had entered care for the first time when the study began, while change in frequency of visiting between four months and two years was not associated with change in emotional well-being.
These too are co relational findings, and there is no suggestion that parental contact produces psychological improvements in the short term or decrements in the long term. In the long term, for example, it could be that psychological distress causes parents to visit more often and therefore that, if parental visiting were reduced for children in long-term care, their distress could be even greater. All we can confidently say is that among those children who remain in care for long periods, frequent parental contact is associated with lower levels of psychological adjustment.
Further research is clearly needed to uncover the explanation for this phenomenon and to identify any causal connections operating between the relevant variables. What is clear, however, is that it would be unwise to adopt a blanket policy of promoting parental contact under the assumption that this will promote child wellbeing and compensate for family separation. There is indeed a growing crisis in foster care, but this is related more to social and demographic trends than it is to inherent deficiencies in foster care, as a form of out-of-home care.
It is also true that a certain kind and length of placement impermanence is antithetical to child development, but not all forms of ‘instability’ are harmful. Moreover, while parental visiting is associated both with reunification and, in the short term, with child well-being as well, data presented in this book also call for important qualifications to the parental visiting myths identified. Like all myths, those reviewed above tend to be highly simplified ways of viewing things and they can have disastrous consequences when uncritically applied to the real world.
The solution, of course, is not to jettison the mythology altogether because most of it is partly accurate in some circumstances. Rather, the foster care field needs to move to a more sophisticated set of practice principles which take account of situational and individual difference variables. References: Asia Conference on Child Rights and Foster Care. (2006). 2006 Asia Conference on Child Rights and Foster Care: 2006. 9. 15-16, Seoul, S. Korea.
Seoul: Korean Foster Care Association. Askeland, L. (2006). Children and youth in adoption, orphanages, and foster care: A historical handbook and guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. Fanshel, D. , & Shinn, E. B. (1978). Children in foster care: A longitudinal investigation. New York: Columbia University Press. Millichap, N. (1994). Foster care. New York: Watts. Toth, J. (1997). Orphans of the living: Stories of America’s children in foster care. New York, NY: Simon ; Schuster.