The foster care system can seem like a mystery from the outside. There are a lot of myths about who the children in foster care are and how they came into care in the first place. So many of the questions people ask as they are considering foster care are “who are these kids,” and “why are they coming into care?” They want to know “what are these kids going to be like?” Without knowing what to expect, becoming a foster parent can seem daunting if not impossible. But there is a HUGE need in SC for foster families!
I spoke with Greenwood DSS Director and Interim Laurens DSS Director, Robin Smith at Main Street Bake Shoppe in Clinton, SC on #FosterFridayLive to try to spread awareness about just that. Now you can read it all here! We explore who the children in care are and why they are in care. We also discuss those first few hours a child is in care and how a home is identified for them.
Robin was transparent with our audience and shared that she was also a foster parent and then became an adoptive parent in Pennsylvania. Her children, twins, came to her when they were 9 months old and are now about to turn 22 years old. So she knows both sides of the story and it makes her even more passionate. She’s not just doing the work, but she really has a passion for it. It’s not just numbers of kids coming in, they’re not just statistics, because every kid has a story and she knows that personally from her own experience.
The children coming into care in South Carolina are those who have been abused or neglected. We get those reports of abuse and neglect and most of the reports that we are finding in our area are drug related. That’s neglect when the parents are on drugs. So a lot of ours are drug related children coming into care and with that, of course, sometimes there are medical issues, sometimes it’s behavioral issues, and that’s why it’s important that we’re able to support our foster parents and make sure that they’re able to know how to help these children. And it’s not just babies; people think it’s just babies. But we’re getting middle age children and teenagers actually coming into care as well.
We have some cases where there is actually physical abuse. There is educational neglect, and with educational neglect the school has to have done their part first before DSS gets involved. We have seen some where they have been physically beaten- marks and bruises. We see some where the parents are homeless. So it’s not just one type of thing. It changes. There are a lot of children coming into care.
We have a great need to meet for the children in foster care. I just looked on our website and there are nearly 1260 foster homes, but there are 2782 children who need a home. You can see that is such a big difference. So we really need foster parents. And sometimes they think it’s a hard process, and a long drawn out process, but the process has changed and it’s not as long as it used to be. There are a lot of stereotypes about “can I work?” or “can I be a single parent?” and that’s not true. And there are changes with the lead requirement and that’s huge. That will no longer keep families from being able to proceed.
A lot of the questions we get from families in the very beginning stages of considering foster care is about the qualifications. First of all, we refer all our parents (foster and adoptive families) to Heartfelt Calling at 888-828-3555. You call Heartfelt Calling and they can do a quick assessment over the phone. You can call them or they can talk you through the process online. There are also private agencies in many counties. Heartfelt Calling is the public DSS licensing agency, but you have many options.
The minimum requirement for foster parents is you must be 21. So there may be questions about number of bedrooms, maybe they have a record, biological children, being a single person, or dual career couple- they can go to Heartfelt Calling to get some of those answers. We also have Foster Family and Licensing Support personnel that can help with that. They are the ones who actually go out and do the licensing in the homes. We have those around the area in the different regions, and you can reach out to them and they would tell you what the exact qualifications are.
The first thing we do is contact our Foster Family and Licensing Support Coordinator. We have one located in our office. We let them know the qualifications of the child. We can’t know all the details, but we share why the child came into care, if they are on medications, if they have any special needs. We also try to keep the children in the area so they don’t lose those family connections. That’s very important that they can keep those family connections. From there the Foster Family and Licensing Support Coordinator will try to see if we have any homes in our area that are able to take the child. A lot of times, sad but true, we don’t. So then we have to look outside of our county.
At 5:00pm, when everyone is supposed to be leaving for the day which rarely happens, if there is no home identified, we still have to look. There is someone who is on call and we have to continue to look. Last week we were up until 10:00 pm trying to find placement for a child that had come into care because they are not allowed to stay in the office. We try our best even if we have to look outside the region. We have to do that to find a placement for that child. If we’ve called and called and every answer is no, we have to keep calling. We have to revisit. We have a checklist of everyone we’ve called, even if they say no, when we get to the end of the list we have to call again. We’ve had to do that. Some of the children have behavioral issues and a lot of homes are not able to provide for that type of child. So we continue the search… and I order pizza for everyone so we have something to eat.
It’s really challenging. The work of case workers is never ending. It’s not hard to remember why I started. If the why ever changes, it’s time to go. I think about the children, and especially with my children, and I can’t just turn my back on what needs to be done. That’s why I do the work that I do. Yes, of course, I get overwhelmed. Sometimes, yeah. But knowing our work can help the child and the family too.
DSS is all about the family reunification. We want the children to be with their families. So whenever I think about that, I want to do my best. The very best that I can. And foster families can be a part of that too- they play a role supporting the whole family.
It’s all about education. Biological parents and foster parents can work together- sometimes it works better than others. But the goal is reunification. When you’re going through the foster process, you have to understand that. It can be really hard, you can love that child, but you have to understand that the goal is to bring them back to their parents. And when the foster parent and the birth parent have a relationship, the foster parents can be a support throughout the process and even after. After reunification, if the birth parents need a date night or a day off, you have that foster parent who already knows that child. What a great support system! And you get to stay connected to that child after they’ve left your home.
If you’re not connected already or don’t feel comfortable verbally working with biological parents yet, send a card. Let the child draw something, a picture or something that shows them you’re willing to try. It’s the small things.
Keep the conversation going. If you care about child welfare, if you’re a foster parent, interested in foster care, advocacy, ministry, share this blog post with your network on social media. Or host a SHAREfostering event. You can do an online event or have people over to your home or your church. The results are incredible!