Foster Care has long gotten a bad rap, with horror stories about foster children and parents alike making the rounds.
But those stories make up a tiny fraction of the foster care landscape, said Christina Cagle, a program manager at Stanford Youth Solutions. Cagle should know. Besides working in the field, she cares for foster children in her own home, and grew up in a home where her parents did as well.
She knows the struggle is real – but that the rewards are worth it.
Prospective foster families who want to help children in need struggle with the decision, and foster care agencies are always on the lookout for good homes (not perfect ones).
But as of Jan. 1, the situation got worse.
A new law was passed to ‘implement a unified, family friendly, and child centered resource family approval process.’ Because the Resource Family Approval Program has the objective of getting kids out of group homes or institutional settings and into placements with families, more families are needed to take in children.
But with more than 2,000 children in care of Sacramento County Child Protective Services, and only about 800 foster homes available, resources are simply not keeping pace with need.
The objective of getting children into homes is admirable – but unfortunately, at least in the short term, the law is making the situation worse, said Bob Herne, CEO of Sierra Forever Families.
The situation isn’t hopeless, but the solution calls for the community to step up for its most vulnerable children.
“The way I see it, these are our children, it’s our community, how can we come together to meet the needs of our children?” Herne said.
The stakes are high. Among children who ‘age out’ of foster care, by age 22, more than 65 percent of young women are pregnant or have had a child; more than half are homeless, imprisoned or dead; and more than half haven’t completed high school, Herne said.
In California, former foster youth are the biggest users of homeless services.
“If we don’t help our youth now, that’s where they’re going to end up,” Herne said.
While it’s tempting to point the finger of blame, it’s more important for the community to come together to find solutions for these children, he added.
LBGTQ and black children are the most at risk for adverse outcomes – but Herne’s agency has been successful in finding placements where these children thrive, so he knows it can be done.
One recent case Stanford handled involved eight siblings from toddler to teenage, Cagle said. Finding a home willing to take eight siblings is a big ask. When they can’t find the ideal placement, they do what they can to help them stay in contact.
Fostering a child is a big commitment, Cagle said – but prospective foster parents shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated to start the process.
“The first step is the hardest,” she said.
Those who think they might be interested are encouraged “to call and have a conversation. If you want to do it, we are going to support you all the way through.”