Appreciating Foster Caregivers for Supporting Families
While we are constantly building our capacity to prevent a child from needing foster care, the reality is that for a small number of families, the immediate safety concerns of a child may warrant temporarily removing them from their home. This is where some of the most demanding work in the child welfare system begins.
Children in foster care don’t have it easy. When removed from their homes, their lives are altered in a way most of us can barely comprehend, and with the strains of this past year’s health pandemic, common issues such as trauma, isolation, education success and safety have been even more pronounced. Fortunately, Children’s Home & Aid has partners ready to respond.
Foster parents, relative caregivers and fictive kin all deserve recognition for the support they bring to children and youth in their moment of need. Our foster parents – standing in the gap as caregivers at a critical time – bring their compassion for the children and youth in their care as well as a willingness to partner and collaborate with birth parents and extended family members.
This year’s National Foster Care Month theme, “Foster Care as a Support to Families, Not a Substitute for Parents,” embodies an advanced, comprehensive approach that centers solutions around families—all of whom have strengths. Each year, Children’s Home & Aid provides services to more than 1,000 youth in Illinois who need to be placed in foster care, and we are grateful to those who have opened their hearts and their doors, knowing that some of these children will need emotional healing and behavioral health supports along with the opportunities to grow and thrive all while staying connected to their birth families as much as possible.
While foster care and foster parents play a vital role in keeping vulnerable children safe, we must also acknowledge more can be done to prevent children from entering care by providing preventative supports early so that the challenges faced by all families—most of which are an absence of basic resources—don’t turn into a crisis requiring a removal from the home. Additionally, we must acknowledge that as a system, foster care has disproportionately ensnared Black and brown families due to an undeniable pattern of systemic racism marginalizing communities of color socially and economically. There’s no question we need and will continue to need caring and committed foster parents when a crisis of safety demands it – but we must also acknowledge that we will not foster care our way out of child neglect and abuse.
Recent national headlines about the tragic death of Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old foster youth in Ohio underscore our need to do better as a system. Ma’Khia was fatally shot by police during a dispute involving her younger sister and other foster youths who previously lived at that residence. The tragedy is that Ma’Khia’s death might have been avoided altogether had we found a way to support a committed mother and grandmother whose ongoing economic struggles compromised their ability to safely care for the 16-year-old. Unfortunately, we have built a system which demands a crisis before resources are committed to supporting the family. Children’s Home & Aid will explore the ways in which our the child welfare system can be reimagined at our upcoming virtual experience, “Breaking Barriers. Centering Families. Transforming Systems.” June 8th at 10 a.m.
As an organization, we are challenging ourselves to do “both and” when it comes to foster care. We both need those committed foster families who step in when children and youth cannot safely remain with their parents and we must invest in a family well-being approach which does more to prevent the unnecessary removal of children and disruptions of families in the first place. This requires a new kind of partnership in our work: with families, with foster parents and with other organizations to better leverage solutions that invest in family strengthening.
But what no organization can do is teach is love. The caregivers we work with daily come with that in abundance. They are committed to the work of reuniting families striving to build a better future for themselves and their children—and to transform futures too often compromised and limited by virtue of race or zip code.
This work is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, it is an audacious ask of anyone to open their hearts and homes when another family is in need. But there is no other aspect of our system more important when the need demands it: helping children and youth find their way to a permanent and stable home.
President & CEO