Thursday, May 3, 2007

FAQ About Foster Care

Many people don't know much about foster care in general, so I've done some research and compiled some frequently asked questions, and answers, for us all!

Why Do Children Go Into Foster Care?
Most children go into foster care when they've been physically, sexually or emotionally abused, or neglected by their parents. There can be other reasons too, such as a parent who is incarcerated, a parent is too ill to take care of the children, or a parent voluntarily places a child in foster carebecause they're unable to take care of them.

Did you just say parents sometimes voluntarily place their children in foster care?
Yes, although this isn't allowed in every state. Sometimes a parent decides they cannot care for their children, for reasons that wouldn't usually cause the child to be involuntarily put in foster care. For instance, a parent may be too ill, be going through too much stress, become homeless, etc. Sometimes parents also voluntarily place their child because the child has a serious behavioral problem and the parent feels unable to keep the child or the rest of the family safe. The parent would then sign an agreement listing the parents' responsibilities and the state's responsibilities towards the child. Usually then there is a time limit for how long the child can stay in foster care... the federal law is 180 days.
parents can also voluntarily surrender their parental rights, which would mean that the child would be permanently a ward of the state.

Who has custody of children in foster care... the foster parents? The birth parents? The case worker?
When a child is in foster care, the court is the legal guardian of the child. The foster parents' job is to provide a safe, comfortable home for the children to live in while they wait for their parents to straighten their lives out.
Do Children In Foster Care Remain In Foster Care Permanently?
When children go into foster care, usually the goal is for their parents to be provided with help so that the children can eventually go back to live with them. Sometimes help is provided to the parents, and they are still unable to meet the requirements necessary to get their kids back. If a child is in foster care for 15 out of 22 months, the parents' rights are terminated. About 54% of children in foster care are able to return to their parents, though!

How come the children's relatives don't take them in, instead of foster care?
Actually, when children are taken into foster care, finding a relative to care for the kids is the first plan of action. However, many kids don't have a relative who is willing and able to take them in. When kids are cared for by a relative, but are still in foster care, it is considered "kinship care."

What about orphanages? Do they still exist?
Sort of, but they're not usually called orphanages anymore, at least not in the USA. It is pretty well-known that its better for most kids to live in a family sort of environment. But there are "residential treatment centers" for children who don't seem to do well in regular foster homes. (Click here for an example of one!) There are also organizations that run homes for large groups of children (like an orphanage) for kids in foster care and also children whose parents voluntarily place them in the home without involving the foster care system. (Click here for an example of one of these.)

Don't a lot of foster parents abuse the foster children?
Well, sadly, a lot of people abuse children, and some of those people are foster parents. But according to the US Department of Health and Services, out of the 826,000 children in the US who are abused in some way each year, only 1.5% are abused by a "substitute care provider"... which would include relatives raising children, group home workers, residential care facility workers, and, yes, foster parents.

Why would a foster parent abuse a foster child? After all, they took the children voluntarily, right?
There could be a lot of reasons. Some foster parents who are not prepared for the amount of work and the variety/intensity of their foster childrens' needs can become very overwhelmed and act in ways they never thought they'd act. Some foster parents don't recieve enough training, and aren't sure how else to discipline a child who has severe bahavior problems. And in some situations, in areas wherethere are a lot of children needing foster homes and not enough homes, foster care agencies are not as careful about screening foster homes.

Could I be a foster parent?
You probably could, if it was something you wanted to do. In our next entry, we'll learn more about becoming, and being, a foster parent. Stay tuned!

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