I have a terrible sense of direction. Those who know me can confirm.
When I received my first GPS device from family as a birthday gift some years ago, it was truly a life-changing day for me. When it came to driving, I felt like the scales had fallen from my eyes and I could now know where I was going. Ok . . . let me rephrase that. I still didn’t know where I was going, BUT I did now know whether to turn right or left at the next intersection. To this day when someone asks me where something is, I tell them that it is wherever Siri tells me it is.
If we are going to make significant headway in transforming foster care in the communities where we live, we need to know where we are going. It is easy in child welfare to think our goal is just to get a little further down the road – to do just a little better. However, the truth is, as long as that is our goal, children will needlessly suffer. We have to have a better answer to the question “where are we going?”
In a general sense, where we are collectively headed is “More Than Enough.” But what does that actually mean?
We believe that more than enough is possible in four areas:
- More than enough foster and kinship families for every child to have an ideal placement
- More than enough adoptive families for every child waiting for adoption
- More than enough help for biological families trying to stabilize and reunify
- More than enough wrap-around support from the church for foster, kinship, adoptive and biological families
Over the next several weeks, we are going to unpack these four statements one at a time. Let’s start with the first one:
More than enough foster and kinship families for every child to have an ideal placement
In a recent report on the foster care housing crisis, The Chronicle of Social Change noted that “at least half of the states in the U.S. have seen their foster care capacity decrease between 2012 and 2017. Either these states have fewer beds and more foster youth, or any increase in beds has been dwarfed by an even greater increase in foster children and youth.”
It could be said that a shortage of great foster homes is at the core of the foster care crisis. Great foster homes are the pivot point between the two outcomes of foster care: reunification and adoption. And they can play an incredibly important role in both. Well-trained foster parents can provide essential support, encouragement, coaching and accountability for biological parents trying to reunify and give them the greatest possible chance of safely bringing their children back home. If reunification is not possible, foster parents are the most likely candidates to adopt a child that has been in their home. In fact 63% of children adopted from foster care in 2016 were adopted by their foster families.
Foster care at its core is about helping to ensure the well-being of children who have been abused or neglected. It’s no secret that children need more than just food and shelter which is why we no longer rely on the orphanage model of care in this country. Children need nurturing, belonging, and felt safety. It’s not enough to aim for enough “beds” for every child in care. Just because a bed is available, doesn’t mean it is a good environment for every child coming into care. When we talk about there being more than enough foster and kinship families for every child to have an ideal placement, what do we mean when we say “ideal”? We have to start with the simple but profound question, “What is best for kids?” Here are a few things that come to mind when it comes to an “ideal” foster care placement:
- A placement where a child feels safe when it comes to both the foster parents and the other children in the home
- A placement where siblings are able to stay together whenever appropriate
- A placement that is stable (thus avoiding the traumatic experience of a child moving from home to home)
- A placement that is close to home so that positive existing relationships can be maintained and nurtured. Due to foster home shortfalls, children are often sent hours away from their communities.
- A placement where the number of children in a home does not impede a child’s access to the care and nurturing they need
Often, social workers are forced to make placement decisions based almost entirely on one criteria: Is there an open bed or not? Because of the shortage of foster homes nationwide, this is how foster care has been operating for decades. I think we’d all agree that it would be better for kids if we could be a little pickier about their placements. Having more than enough foster and kinship homes in a county would mean that a social worker would have the option of doing just that. When there are many available homes to choose from, placement decisions can be made that give a particular child the very best chance of success.
The other vitally important way to provide safe and loving homes to children who need them is through relative placement or “kinship care.” States are increasingly looking to kinship homes for temporary placement of a child. According to a 2018 article, “Forty-four states saw an increase in relative placements from 2012 to 2016.”
There are a few important observations to note regarding kinship families::
- Kinship families are an important part of being able to provide more than enough families for children in foster care.
- Kinship families very often may not have otherwise considered foster parenting if a child in their family had not needed a safe place to go.
- Kinship families are often under-resourced. In fact in 23 of those 44 states that saw an increase in relative placements, over half of these caregivers received no assistance.
- The number of relatives adopting children from foster care has increased by 31% since 2011. In 2017, one-third of the 57,200 children that were adopted, were adopted by a relative.
- Kinship families are even more “hidden” in our church communities than foster families. They often need as much support (support groups, trauma-based parent training, wrap around support, etc) as any foster or adoptive family, but may not be well-connected to those resources within a church community.
As previously mentioned, getting more than enough great foster and kinship families in your county is going to drive success in both of the other two categories to follow. Great foster families turn into great adoptive families and provide the needed support for families trying to reunify to be able to do so successfully. Getting and keeping great foster and kinship families may be the most important thing you do.
In the weeks to come will explore each of the other three more than enough statements. As baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.”
NOTE: If you believe that more than enough before, during, and beyond foster care is possible in your county, be sure to sign the MORE THAN ENOUGH declaration at MoreThanEnoughTogether.org. More Than Enough is a collaborative movement facilitated by the CAFO community.
This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care. To sign up, go to http://bit.ly/1rwn6eO.