I have to admit that before I became a foster mom, my perception of foster parents wasn't exactly rosy. I grew up in a rural community where the only people I heard were fostering were tough characters who were "milking the system," essentially providing minimal care and pocketing the cash. Now that I've actually been a foster parent, I know there are more than a few misconceptions about foster care that need to die in a fire. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is as it seems, and stereotypes do nothing more than perpetuate hateful, false ideas about what fostering really and truly is like.
Of course, there will always be horror stories about foster care or adoption that can change the general public's view of the field, but it's important to share what actually goes on behind the scenes, too. I'd venture to say that foster care is by no means perfect in any state, but there are certainly redeeming cases, foster parents, and caseworkers that make foster care an experience more people should consider.
According to Children's Rights, a website dedicated to advocating for foster children, there are about 420,000 children in foster care at any given moment in the United States. And across the country, there is a severe shortage of foster families, at least in part because many people only have that less-than-stellar perceptions of foster care. You know, kind of like the idea of foster care I had before I actually became a foster mom myself. Being a foster parent made me more compassionate, more patient, and more wide-eyed to a system most reject as broken, and without attempting to become a part of the solution. For that, I will always and forever be grateful for the experience.
So with all that in mind, here's a short list of misconceptions about foster care that need to die in a fire, so we, as a society, can maybe start to fix a broken system. You know, one kid, and one family, at a time.
Everyone Makes A Ton Of Money
Foster care does not pay well. It just doesn't. Maybe some people are able to make it work for them, but I can't see how. And I have a bachelor's degree. Foster families in Texas will be paid by the state about $675 per month, per child. And that payment is to cover food, daycare, clothes, diapers and wipes, and school supplies. Many foster children arrive only with the clothes on their backs, so it's not as though you can make it work with what they have.
There are also private foster agencies, which are more rare, and those don't pay a cent. My partner and I sometimes received donated clothes or milk for our foster kids, but otherwise we weren't paid at all.
All Foster Moms Are Super Moms
The other perception of foster parents (not the ones who are milking the system to make $14.00 a day on their foster kids, of course) is that they're super duper parents who are way better parents than the rest of us. They don't yell at their kids or lose their cool when their toddlers spread jam all over the kitchen floor. They're never tired and they cook organic, farm-to-table food, and they nail Pinterest crafts on the first try. Ha.
The thing is, foster parents are normal parents. They are kind and caring, but they're not perfect 100 percent of the time. Just because you're a foster parent doesn't mean you don't make mistakes. You do. Everyone does.
It's An Easy Way To Grow Your Family
Families grow by adoption via foster care often. But as someone who was trying to grow her family by foster care, let me tell you that it's not only not easy, it's also not fair. My partner and I have wanted to have a family for years, and we were willing to take short-term foster children through our private foster-adoption agency. We weren't in a position to foster long term, because we weren't going to be in the same place for very long. But when our agency called to ask if we could take a placement, I often found myself asking, "What are the chances this will go to adoption?"
First of all, it's literally impossible to predict whether that will happen. Second, that question is counter to the entire goal of foster care. The goal of foster care, until you're informed otherwise, should be and always will be reunification with a biological parent or family member. Sometimes those aren't options, and sometimes you'll be able to adopt the child if you're willing, but that should never be your first question when it comes to considering foster care.
It's Expensive To Adopt From Foster Care
It can be expensive to adopt, but not from foster care. Foster care adoption costs a tiny fraction of what typical private adoption costs. The "catch," of course, is that there's no guarantee that you'll be able to adopt a child that stays in your home.
In Texas, children who are adopted from foster care with Child Protective Services are eligible for free Texas university education and free medical care until they are 18. In many states, there is an adoption grant that is given in a lump sum, or doled out over time, for children adopted from the system.
All Biological Parents Are Horrible
That's entirely false and a horrific claim for anyone to make. Yes, some are what you would consider to be "bad people" or "bad parents," but some of them are foster kids who were never rescued or helped or healed. Some of them never had a single example of a stable parent to learn from. That doesn't mean they should be able to endanger a child, but it means that they aren't all horrible people on purpose.
Poverty, lack of education, mental illness, lack of a support system, and even systemic cultural problems can cause children to end up in foster care. And it's not always because their biological parents are horrible. We cannot, and should not, simply a very complicated situation.
You Need A Mansion To Provide Foster Care
My partner and I literally live in an 800 square foot apartment and were licensed to have two children under the age of 2 and one child over the age of 2. Two kids in one bedroom, with the youngest babe in our room. Can you even imagine? That never came to pass, but we did have two babies under 1 a few times. And while it was tricky at nap time, we quickly got them onto the same schedule and it was relatively peaceful.
You just don't need enormous amounts of space to provide adequate foster care. You need an extra bed, an extra seat at the table, and an extra space in the car. Oh, and you need extra space in your heart.
You Have To Be Willing To Adopt
There are a lot of cases that go to adoption by a family member or by a foster parent, but you don't have to be willing to adopt a child just because they are available for adoption. If you aren't in a position to adopt a child you have been fostering, the state system will look for a suitable adoptive family while you continue to foster until they are approved.
You Have To Do It Forever
Obviously the goal isn't to take in a foster child for a few months and then decide you're over it and ship them off to another foster home. But simply because a child might be in foster care for several years doesn't mean that you need to sign up for a forever commitment to foster care. There is naturally a high turnover rate with foster families, and that's OK. You do get to decide what's right for your own biological family, in whatever season you're going through, even if you're a foster parent, too.
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