A girlfriend told me she wanted to foster but would wait until her own child grew up and moved out, just to be safe.
This doesn’t make her a bad person — it’s a common take on how children in foster care are viewed.
But with the recent uptick in foster care adoptions, there is hope that it is changing.
According to the latest numbers, more than 63,000 children were adopted from foster care in 2018, up nearly 25% from 2014 — an all-time high, according to the U.S. Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.
“It’s hard to know whether it’s a change or a blip. We’re now more aware that institutions aren’t a solution for kids. It’s family and love,” said Jeremy Kohomban, president and chief executive officer of The Children’s Village. Founded in 1851, it started as an orphanage, and while it still provides a home for children who have been removed from their families, the focus has shifted to reunification and finding them forever homes, while supporting them along the way.
For the most part, what lands a child in a group home or with a foster family is parental neglect, often an outcome of substance abuse.
What keeps them there is harder to measure. In Kohomban’s experience, stereotyping and a lack of support are among the main causes.
“The world looks at foster kids as broken, but these are not bad children. They are children to whom bad things have happened,” he said. “We have a history of being quick to remove them from unhealthy homes, but we’ve done a poor job of supporting the foster and adoptive parents who take them in.”
In Florida, there are 23,000 children in out-of-home care. Nearly half are in foster care or living in group homes, awaiting possible family reunification or adoption. Others live with relatives or approved nonrelatives, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Just one counselor per Florida county is listed to provide post-adoptive services. Foster families are given $466.65 to $560.19 a month, depending on the child’s age, and many often need therapy and extra help at school.
Children in foster care are absent twice as much as their peers, go through multiple school changes, lag in reading skills, and are three times more likely to be expelled from high school. Most also want to earn a college degree, according to the National Factsheet on the Educational Outcomes of Children in Foster Care.
Kohomban said children in foster care will have one question that successful foster and adoptive parents will answer over time: “Why me?”
Greg Cruz remembers the pressure of having to give foster parents an instant, happy family. “I witnessed a lot of toxicity, so when you meet strangers who want to take you in, you have a lot of skepticism. It was hard to trust,” he said.
Today he’s the president of Streets of Paradise, a Sarasota-based nonprofit that finds housing for people without.
“Many adoptive families expect perfection. And while our kids want to provide that, their big question is, ‘Will I be rejected again?’ So they test boundaries. The families who succeed are committed. These kids want confirmation, and that takes time.” he said.
If you can’t foster, you can still help create a supportive community:
- Celebrate the families who step up to foster or adopt. These families are heroes, not to be given sympathy, but to be embraced by their community. Get to know them.
- Contact a local nonprofit or agency that serves children in foster care to become a mentor. Make an unconditional commitment to a child and let them know you’ve always got their back.
- Volunteer or donate.
- Talk to your kids about children in foster care to intercept the stigma.
- Become a CASA: A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a volunteer who is authorized by the court to speak on behalf of a child in foster care. Visit CasaForChildren.org to learn more.
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.