Can I be honest? Today I hate foster care. I hate what it has done to people I love– adults and children alike. I hate how hopeless it has made me about the government’s ability to do anything right. I hate how good people in the system get burned out by how impossible it seems to make any kind of positive change, but bad people (foster parents, caseworkers, lawyers, etc.) can do this for ages because they don’t really care. I hate that I encourage people into this hard work and then they get wounded and I feel in some way responsible. I hate that kids will suffer for the rest of their lives because of what happened to them while in foster care, as much as loving people try to prevent those wounds from happening. I hate the stigma that follows foster kids even after they’re out of the system. Today, I hate it all.
I try to give people honest answers when I talk to them about foster care. I will never tell you that it’s easy. I will never tell you you won’t be frustrated, angry and heartbroken when you see the inner workings of the system up close and personal. To see how the foster care “sausage gets made” is to feel helpless and frustrated in a hundred different ways. It’s maddening how much the actual children seem like an afterthought in the whole process.
Yes, the system is broken. And I don’t just mean the juvenile court system. Every piece of this system is broken because it’s full of broken people. Evil, abusive, manipulative people become foster parents as much as everyone involved works to stop that. There are caseworkers who can’t effectively do their jobs and children and families suffer for it. There are judges who don’t seem to realize the impact on a child of spending YEARS stuck in foster care. There are laws and legal loopholes and unscrupulous lawyers that prioritize the rights of negligent parents at the expense of their children. There are biological families that have damaged their children who will then drag out the process as long as possible even when they know they won’t be parenting again.
I know. It’s a mess. But I can’t stay away. I don’t know what else to do.
Here’s the thing– if you look at foster care and you see the problems, then you’ve got to be part of the solution. We can’t just opt out.
Kids need stability. We may not be able to fix the system, but we can provide the stability these kids need while we wait on the process. We can be good hostage negotiators. We can provide accountability, we can be the squeaky wheel, we can be support for the parents, we can be encouragement for caseworkers. We can do all of that within the confines of a broken system, even when we’re angry. Even when we hate it.
While we were active foster parents, we were limited in our ability to do big picture advocacy for the kids in foster care. We could do our best to meet daily needs, but we couldn’t get our heads above water enough to always see the systemic issues. And even if we could, we weren’t in a position to do anything about them. When you’re intimately involved in a case, you are limited in your ability to deal with some of the bigger issues because people assume you’re biased. And let’s be real– YOU ARE. You see this child in front of you and you want to FIX IT, whatever “it” may be. But that same level of bias, education and awareness makes you an ideal advocate for these kids once you’re out of the system.
You have seen the problems from a “boots on the ground” perspective and now you can communicate to others about where change is needed. We can’t turn our back on the kids still stuck in the system. We can’t adopt our way out and forget. When we look into the eyes of our adopted kids, we know there are many more kids of equal worth, with dreams and hopes, with pains and sorrows, kids just like our kids who are without a voice just like our kids were without a voice. We can be that voice.
We want to leave and never look back. We want to ring our hands and complain about how hopeless it all is, but what are we willing to do to make it better? We spent years developing connections with those within the system and now it’s time to use them. We know who the difference makers are, who is willing to listen to reason, who values the needs of children and now it’s time to talk to those people about what changes could make a difference for these kids. What was the point of building bridges if we aren’t willing to use them? And sometimes, we have to be willing to burn them if the light of that fire could bring needed attention to the major problems we’re seeing.
Right now I can’t continue to be a foster parent, but I can look back at our experience and ask, “What did my foster kids need? What did we need? What can I do now that I’m out?” I can make changes in how my church supports foster families. I can write my state legislators about our experience. I can speak words of encouragement to caseworkers who are doing their best to oversee cases with integrity. The system is broken, but there are things we can do to fix it and people who want to work together to see it fixed.
So today I hate foster care. I see what it’s doing to people I love and it makes me want to cry. Today it feels personal and I want to give up this work of advocacy and support and I’d like to turn my back on the whole thing. But I won’t. Because the kids are worth it. The families are worth it. If we don’t do this work, who will?
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
― Augustine of Hippo
If you are interested in the beautiful messy work of foster care, contact Christian Heritage for more information.