As a relatively new foster parent, I’ve tried to learn everything I can about the child welfare system, the various court hearings and timelines for each, protocols, state laws, and other relevant factors that guide the system. I only know one thing for certain: I can’t possibly understand it all. And if I did, laws and regulations would change anyway, as they should over time. The legal and ‘business’ side of the foster care system is extremely complex and ever-changing. Laws are in place to protect our state’s most vulnerable children, as well as their parents. At the same time, we know that each case should be handled in a unique, careful and personal manner. How is that even possible?
Everyone involved in foster care faces situations that reveal the system isn’t perfect. That includes social service employees, foster parents, community advocates, judges and lawyers, Guardian Ad Litems or CASAs and many others. We are all expected to do a taxing amount of complex work, and it is humanly impossible to do it perfectly day in and day out. Foster parents are no exception, and I’m the first to admit to my long list of flaws. Every profession in the world includes some wonderfully caring and compassionate people, as well as some who aren’t so great. Child welfare is no different.
Partially driven by the skills I learned during my professional career in public relations and communications, soon after I became licensed to foster, I wanted to get involved in increasing public awareness about the plight of children in care. I quickly fell into a volunteer role that aided recruitment of new foster families, and I’m proud of that work. But I’ll never forget reading a comment on social media from another foster parent who said they could never encourage others to become foster parents because the system is so flawed.
I’ve heard people say ‘the system is broken’ but I prefer to think of it as an imperfect system filled with imperfect people, myself included. If I truly believed the system was broken, what would stop me from throwing in the towel and walking away? I know other foster parents (and case workers, licensing workers, Guardian Ad Litems or CASAs and others) have done this exact thing. I won’t judge others because I haven’t walked in their shoes and don’t know what frustrations or injustices served as their final straw. However, if we lose hope for the system – for this massive machine that requires a million moving parts in order to function – then where does that leave these precious children who need care?
We simply can’t walk away, even if we truly believe the system is broken. Perhaps we temporarily close our licensed home and shift our focus to advocacy and legislative reform. Perhaps we make public some of the injustices happening to families across our state. Perhaps we fill some other void by working steadfast in the background, taking a break from the front lines. I’m reminded of an important line from a great movie, The American President: “Do you only fight the fights you can win? You fight the fights that need fighting!” And these kids are worth fighting for.
I’ve realized that many of our frustrations are caused by shortages: not enough foster homes, not enough case managers, not enough judges and time on the court’s docket. The solution to fix shortages is not to walk away, but to recruit. And fight for additional funding. And show kindness to the overworked and understaffed child welfare professionals. Is that a tough assignment? Yes, some days it’s the hardest. But as foster parents keep proving time and time again: love does hard things.
So I will keep my focus where it should be: on the children in my care. And with other foster parents as my inspiration, I’ll continue to recruit more (imperfect) foster homes into this (imperfect) system and pray for gradual yet continuous improvements. These kids need us, and they are worth it.
Are you interested in fostering? What’s holding you back? You don’t have to be a perfect person or a perfect parent to be an amazing influence on the life of a child. Learn more about fostering on our blog, by LiveChatting with staff, or reach out to Care2Foster@fgi4kids.org. We’ll talk you through your options and help you get connected to licensing agencies near you (SC).