National Review this month carries an array of powerful articles on foster care. They blend heart and head, pathos and logical argument in remarkable fashion. Meanwhile, the fact that National Review – widely recognized as a no-nonsense publication on public policy and limited government – is giving such attention to these issues is a testament to the widening awareness of and commitment to kids in foster care.
One article, titled “Fostering Rescue,” weaves the heartbreak-and-beauty of Sarah Zagorski’s life story – from abused child to thriving mother.
Another, “Taking Foster Care Seriously,” argues persuasively that children and families in foster care should be a national priority.
A third includes a symposium of voices urging important changes in the management and culture of the foster system: “What Must We Do About Foster Care?” My own article for this series, “What Government Cannot Produce,” is below – spotlighting why respect, flexibility and support for foster families is essential to a great foster system. Meanwhile, I’d recommend all the articles, which include pieces from Russell Moore, Kelly Rosati and other leading voices.
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What Government Cannot Produce
The science is in: Children need families. Study after study highlights how boys and girls thrive as part of caring families . . . and wither without them. That’s an important confirmation of what common sense and Scripture have always affirmed. It also makes for good public policy, spurring officials to prioritize family-based solutions for kids who lack a safe home, from adoption to kinship care to quality foster homes.
But this also spotlights a massive elephant squatting in the corner: Governments cannot produce families by fiat, especially those willing to welcome and love children from hard places.
Could we ever see a day when there are more than enough families for every child in foster care? Absolutely. But revamping how government sees and interacts with foster parents is essential to getting there.
Fresh recruitment strategies will help. Research increasingly shows that certain populations are especially likely to foster and adopt. This includes faith communities. It only makes sense to put special focus here, including faith-friendly policies and partnerships with faith-based organizations that specialize in recruiting and supporting foster families.
But just as important is foster-family retention. Nearly 50 percent of foster parents drop out in their first year. Any business that lost half of its clients annually would do almost anything to change those numbers. For foster parents, three areas are key:
- Respect: Foster parents often feel they’re viewed as contracted providers of housing rather than vested caregivers. Simply listening and giving more weight to their perspective as parents would go a long way to affirming them as true partners in seeking good for children.
- Flexibility: Many middle-class families would be willing to foster if they could integrate an additional child into their existing lives. But that requires that the system flex more with foster parents’ schedules, including aid with transportation, rather than demand that foster parents be on call for any interruption.
- Support: Government can provide foster families many needed supports, from counseling to training. But just as vital are the less formal supports the system can encourage, and sometimes partner to provide, through foster-parent peer networks, faith communities, and other means.
Government cannot create the one thing foster youth need most: caring families. But championing changes like these in the policies and culture of the foster system could make a huge difference — working toward a day when there are more than enough loving families for every child in foster care.
Read the full series, “What Must We Do About Foster Care?”